Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Great British Bake Off: Semi-Finals!

Drum-roll please, ladies and gents - it's the semi-finals!

This may seem to have come around rather quickly, since I only started recapping two episodes ago, but hopefully that just means that we're all still super-excited, and my jokes have yet to wear thin.  I'm definitely in the right mood for a GBBO recap, since on Monday I made gingerbread cake from Mary Berry's Bakes and Cakes.  I didn't have the right fat, flour, sugar, or treacle/syrup ratio, and my hopeless oven took 1hr 40 to bake it instead of 50 minutes, but... they are delish!

Last week they made crackers (yawn), chocolate teacakes (why?) and gingerbread structures (astonishing) and my favourite baker, Cathryn, went home.  It was past her bedtime, and the producers were worrying that she'd get sulky.  So we're left with just four bakers battling it out for the final...

Brendan, a.k.a. The Brend, who is using GBBO to audition as the voice of the Speaking Clock:

At the third stroke, the time... sorry, I mean, "I'm nervous."

Danny, who is lovely and proficient but, in that mysterious way of some reality contestants, entirely unmemorable.

"Danny who?  Oh, ME!"

John, whose distinguishing characteristic is bleeding a lot, and having wildly different hair in his VTs than he is sporting in the tent.

It was all swoopy before.

Scottish James, who had better be wearing jazzy knitwear this week, no matter what temperature it is, or Edinburgh Woolen Mill will be filing for bankruptcy.

It's no use looking over there, James, I can see UNPATTERNED BLUE.

I'm totally Team James now (which, following recent episodes, almost guarantees his exit) so, with that in mind... on with the semi-finals!

It's French Week, which is appropriate given the news that France will be showing their own Great British Bake Off (presumably with some sort of change of name, non?) and inspires this attractive shot of presenters Sue and Mel.  (It feels wrong not to call them 'Mel and Sue' - maybe they, like Ant and Dec, should always stand in alphabetical order?)


The bakers are definitely feeling the pressure, as they tell us in those vague sort of interviews which don't really achieve anything other than reminding the viewer that it's the semi-final.  "The stepping stone towards the final," The Brend confides.  "The final is just one step away" adds John, helpfully.  Scottish James (who is wearing a PLAIN BLUE T-SHIRT, the horrors) says that people seem more 'withdrawn'.  Lots of people have been withdrawn, James.  That's how the show works, m'dear.

For the Signature Challenge, they're making three types of petit-fours (oh, the irony, &c.) - meringue, choux pastry, and so forth - and twelve of each.  Since we've not seen lovely Mary Berry and fierce sweetheart Paul Hollywood yet, here they are.  Paul, it seems, is mid-linedance, but we shan't hold that against him.  For all I know, Mary's about to launch into a do-si-do.

Petit-fours were originally served as an after-dinner course, Paul tells us, and while Mary simply requires them to be small (I reckon I could do that), Paul stipulates that they be small, exquisite, and perfect.

The Brend is making these delights:

He tells the camera that he is a perfectionist, and impossible to live with.  Yes, I imagine it would be a nightmare to have those clipped tones tell me the time, sponsored by Accurist, every three seconds.  But I'm always impressed when people make pastry swans on this show, and presumably pastry cygnets are the same, writ small.  Yet again, the BBC Colouring-in department has only the least appetizing shade of yellow available - those friands look like Victorian baths filled with melted traffic cones.  (Incidentally, Heston Blumenthal is considering that very recipe for his new show.)

Paul goes up some points in my estimation by asking Brendan whether or not his cygnets will be sat on a blue  buttercream sea, fish and all.  Maybe he'll go minimalist this week?  The Brend disregards the question altogether, and ploughs on with his description of lime-filled friands.  I love me some limes, so I'm not going to argue with him, although nobody has explained what a friand is.

The other three bakers are making macaroons.  Mel warns, on the voiceover, that one baker is being a bit risky with the traditional recipe.  Without being told, I knew this would be Scottish James.  He has become the tent's version of James Dean - unpredictable! rebellious! called James! - and, adorably, he smirks guiltily when admitting that he's making chilli sugar...

He laughs at Paul for not having had chilli, raspberry, and lime together before.  Oh, Scottish James, please win.  Although answering Paul back might not be a longterm strategy... look what happened to Cathryn "Oh, that's a bit harsh" er, Baker.  I don't know her surname.

Precision is the order of the day; to make sure each is the same size, the macaroons are being piped out into circles by Danny, John, and Scottish James.  Although there doesn't seem to be a huge similarity between the drawn circles and the piping in this particular shot:

Danny is making, amongst other things, Orange and White Chocolate Langues de Chat. Literally translating as 'cats' tongues'.  In case that wasn't clear (and an electric whisk is being used throughout Danny's interview with the judges, so it's entirely possible that the typical BBC2 audience member can't hear a word that's being said) Mary, amazingly, does this:

I love her more each minute!

Danny, perhaps bravely trying reverse psychology, suggests that they are usually 'hard and disappointing', and resists all attempts on Mel's part to get her to adopt a French accent.

We've not visited John yet - he's usually the sage of the group, dispensing wisdom in the form of irrelevant platitudes, but today he settles for promising 'bejewelled' madeleines (which gets an 'ooo' from Mel and Mary, and stony silence from Paul).  I was hoping for something along the lines of 'The madeleine makes me contemplate mortality', but I can wait.  I can wait all day, John.

Brendan's choux pastry cygnets, if prophetic, don't bode well for his eventual placing in the Great British Bake Off...

Sue then sidles up, and he offers to let her put one of the cygnet necks into a bun - before immediately transforming into everyone's strictest teacher, and telling her to watch him do it properly, and that if she acts like a child she'll be treated like a child.  (Well, maybe he didn't say that bit.  But the point stands.)

To do him justice, he does declare it perfect afterwards.  Good old The Brend.

While Sue is enjoying herself, it's up to Voiceover Mel to put on her usual tone of danger and doom, warning that one baker is about to commit a 'potentially disastrous patisserie faux-pas.'  (I'd eat a patisserie faux-pas right now; sounds delicious.)  Is it Danny, under the watchful eyes of Hollywood and Berry?

At least we now know what Mary would look like with a big blue beard.

No, nothing so interesting.  It is - but of course - Scottish James, doing something even I know you shouldn't  do - adding water to his melting chocolate.  But apparently he does know what he's doing - melting them together, then whisking them together over ice to make a mousse.  Impressive, Scottish James, you renegade, you!

This obviously isn't a chocolate mousse, but it encouraged me.

There are so many different types of cake to get through here, so I'm just going to give you the vaguest of impressions of the judges' comments.  And, after three recaps, I still haven't screencapped Mary Berry eating like a pirate.  I'll save something for the finale.

James gets commended for his flavours and originality, but Paul considers his tarts too big - 'afternoon tea' rather than petit-fours.  I reckon I could manage.

Danny's cats need to see a vet asap, if their tongues look like this, but she gets a mostly positive assessment.  Mary comments on the 'good bake', while Paul's grammar is either improving, or I'm ceasing to notice it.

John's don't fare quite so well.  Mary says that his madeleines 'somehow or other, should have a better appearance'.  In Paul's less delicate parlance, 'the look is terrible'.  John begins to look rather folorn.

The Brend has somehow managed to restrict his colour palate to beiges and browns, and gets excellent critiques for all his petit-fours.  Mary thinks she's in Paris - perhaps angling for a job on the new French series, or perhaps the amount of sugar she's eaten in the past few weeks has addled her brain?

Paul seems obsessed mostly with the size of everyone's petit-fours, and I get the feeling that he'd have greeted little cardboard cut-outs with joy, so long as they were the right size and shape.

For the Blind Challenge they all have to make a Fraisiere - which I have never heard of, but which makes Brendan raise his eyebrows in consternation, and thus MUST be difficult.  Or pose no opportunity for bright orange fondant flowers.  I imagine either would chill The Brend to the bone.

The recipe they must all follow is very sparse - the first step is 'make a genoise sponge', for instance.  Here is the one which Mary Berry made earlier - I hope she made it herself, anyway, although she calls it 'scrummy', which isn't very modest.  But she's right, it does look scrummy.

Mel says it's the 'little black dress' of the patisserie world.  It's that sort of inexplicable nonsense which reminds me that we haven't had the Here's Some Facts About Regional Cakes segment, where poor hapless Mel is dragged up to Lancashire to witness the genesis of an Eccles cake, or Sue is forced to sit through an out-of-work actress pretending to be a boisterous 18th century cook.

Oh.  I spoke too soon.

I'm going boldly to ignore the history of someone who made ovens, or something.  Mel and Sue have obviously revolted, as neither of them are present in this segment - various biographers and 'experts' are forced to babble, instead, at anonymous cameramen.

I don't know what they were talking about, but there were nice pictures.

Back in the tent, everything's a little tense.  They all comment that they've never made a 'creme pat' quite like this.  Well, folks, I've never made a creme pat at all.  Adorably, Mel and Sue gossip at the side ("How's Danny doing?"  "Danny's doing well."  "Oh, good!") like anxious parents on the side of a school football field.

"Was that offside, do you think?"
"I have no idea what that means."

John especially is struggling, and the way the editing is going, I'd be very surprised if he weren't on the first train back to whereverhe'sfrom.  Over on the prehistoric table, The Brend is getting along pretty well.  Mel pops over to offer some encouraging words (among which, no joke, is included "Amazeballs") and he not only completely ignores her, he basically shoves her out the way:

That's not gonna win you any friends, Brend.

But when they're all unveiled, it's actually Danny's which is looking rather the worse for wear...

...and a few minutes later...

Could John be safe after all?

Overall, I'm pretty impressed - but Paul just says "One or two of them look pretty good."

The placings, you ask?  In last place, of course, is poor Danny.  Believe it or not, The Brend is third.  It's very close for first place, but James just pips John to the post.  John, brilliantly, calls James a 'wily minx'.

This establishing shot is so gratuitous, but... awwww.

And onto the Showstopper Challenge - a choux pastry gateaux!

As usual, I'm flagging in my recap by now (always by the most exciting challenge!) so here are some quotations, before we see the finished results...

"I'm interested in your passionfruit curd."

"Less is more is my new motto." (The Brend, no less!)

"Although the gateaux is usually in the shape of a bike-wheel, James is planning to go further."  (Oh, James.  Never change.)

[Mary] "How are you going to construct it?"  [James] "I... don't know."  (Attaboy.)

"What the hell is that?" (Sue's encouraging words.)

[Insert Yet Another Historical Segment Here.]  But Sue gets a trip to Paris out of it, and a man in green trousers gesticulates at her.

AND she's not wearing a blazer! 

Before this programme started, I was trying to remember John's distinctive characteristic - and now I've remembered; he has mini-breakdowns every episode.  His choux pastry doesn't rise very well, and he starts madly wandering back and forth, gibbering, while Mel becomes ever increasingly like a tired single mum with a stroppy teenager, and beseeches him to calm down.  Bless them both, it works.  If Cathryn's spin-off sitcom never happens (and it still should), then I want Mel and John to have their own guidance counselling segment on morning television - are you listening, TV producers?

Time for the final judging of the episode - once we've seen three more rabbits in establishing shots.  It's like a casting call for Watership Down, here.

The Brend's actually does look understated, somehow!  'Exceptional job on the display', says Paul, shocked into proper grammar.  No 'displayingly good!' or 'it's the exceptional' in sight.  They love the flavour, crust, colour, and everything.  I worry a little for Mary's teeth when she comments on the 'crunch', as they sound like they're disintegrating.

Danny's also gets complimented on appearance, but they think it's gone a bit over the top on the amount of rosewater.  "You were brave to pick rose," says Paul.  That's what they said to Jack in Titanic.  Badoomtish.

James' bike amuses everyone, and declared absolutely lovely by Mary, but Paul had hoped for more volume.

Finally, John's is another one which is complimented on its appearance - they have all got that in the bag this week - and they love the passionfruit flavour too...

So, who will go home??  My money right now (some hours after it finished being broadcast, and thus null and void at any bookmakers) is... Danny.

Am I right?

Er, yes.  Star Baker is James, again, and leaving is, indeed, Danny.  A lucky save for John.

"Er, let go now, Danny..."

She gives the sweetest exit interview ever - about how the people in her life have been excited about her success, and that she feels valued.  Now I feel a bit bad for being mean to her... but I love them all, really, even The Brend.  Honest.

Next Tuesday - the final!  And an all-male final, at that.  I am man, hear me whisk!

My predictions are Third: John, Second: The Brend, First: Scottish James.  What do you reckon?

See you then!


  1. I'm a bit bored with John. Too flakey.And you're right about Danny being forgettable. I hadn't even registered that was her name.
    But you are naughty, Simon .. I hadn't watched this episode yet!
    Not sure they would have approved of my frangipane tarts this evening. Got distracted blog-reading instead of peering through oven door with a stopwatch. Still, they tasted okay.

    1. Aha, I've just twigged why I never warmed to Danny enough to remember her name. She is the spit of a character on Eastenders years ago!

    2. I desperately want to believe that this is Mary Berry herself speaking.

    3. Maybe I should have warned of spoilers at the top! But I assumed that people would take it for granted ;)

      I am now very intrigued as to which Eastenders character Danny looks like... can you remember a name?

    4. Oh, and Mary - you know I love you, but I would have died of joy if you had turned out to be Mary Berry!

  2. Okay, that's it, James has to win. His renegade ways, his snazzy knitwear (which is sorely missed), his general air of making things up as he goes along ("I...don't know" being a perfect example) could he not be my favourite after all that? I particularly love when the Mel/Sue voice over talks about how delicate a certain baking process is, making you realise you had no idea of the many perils involved in baking a biscuit or a simple cake, and there James is, doing just what you ought not and coming out with fantastic results. I will sort of miss Danny (as much as you can miss anyone whose presence you forget about the second the camera isn't on her) but I am excited for an all-male final!

    1. "you had no idea of the many perils involved in baking a biscuit or a simple cake" - hilarious, Claire! My problem is now that I have no idea how difficult the things are that I *haven't* tried. They make the simple cake sound so complex - perhaps the difficult challenges are similarly easy?

  3. I like Scottish-James, and I think he has a very good change of winning.
    Very nice post about it again, Simon, I was laughing really hard while I read this,
    thank you, greetings,

    1. Thanks, Bettina! That's lovely to hear :)
      And go Team James!

  4. Yes, James just has to win. Poor Danny, though, she made such a sloppy mess for her 'Fraisiere', but her sponge looked really good - I'll miss her. Somehow the programme wasn't the same without the lovely Cathryn.

    1. It definitely wasn't the same without lovely Cathryn! A spark was missing from the whole show.

  5. Yaye for Scottish James! I am really sorry about Danny, though. I can't work out why you didn't find her memorable! I thought she was absolutely lovely!

    Have you tried any of the GBBO recipes? I printed out the recipe for that apple Calvados upside down cake thing Cathryn made back in one of the earlier episodes but haven't tried it yet. And now I'm very tempted to try a Gâteau St. Honoré. I do love me some choux pastry.

    P.S. Sadly, Mel dropped a little in my estimation following the amazeballs incident.

    1. I love abbreviations and silly words - I had to fight with myself not to put 'delishingtons' instead of 'delish' at the top, and that was silly enough - but I hate 'Amazeballs' and Mel loses some points with me too...

      I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, although I want to try a croquembouche one day... but my current oven is so useless that it doesn't seem worthwhile trying anything fancy.

  6. I loved your Titanic joke - absolutely brilliant!
    By the way I think Lakeland sell Friand tins...

    If Brendan wins I shall ... be extremely disappointed. Scottish James to win in our household.

    1. Heehee, thanks Annabel! I was quite pleased with it myself ;)

  7. I'm another one rooting for James to win, which may be the kiss of death to him. As long as Brendan doesn't win, I'll be happy, he comes across as a bit up himself to me.

    1. Everyone seems to be Team James! I've noticed that Sarah-Jane and Scottish-James have the same initials...

  8. I've never actually seen this programme, but I would much rather read your re-caps! I laughed all the way through this. Plus, I am amazed that anyone can add water to melted chocolate in any way at all. I did that once and can still remember the extent of the catastrophe.

    1. Thanks Victoria :D
      I was impressed by his RENEGADE WAYS.

  9. I was glad poor John didn't go home, he looked like he was going to cry the whole way through this episode!
    I was just defending Brendon to my housemates ('he may be evil') by saying, 'it's not his fault he looks like a cartoon supervillian', when he came out with the line, 'I want ABSOLUTE UNIFORMITY' and sounded a bit like a fascist. I'm sure he isn't one. Poor man.

    1. I want to watch this with your housemates!! I watched one or two of the early episodes with Mum, but the rest have been tout seule.

  10. I'm with you on your predicted placings. But poor John, the man has no confidence in his own abilities! Each week he manages to convince me that his bake is a disaster - but then it isn't! Just look at his doom-mongering about his choux pastry this week - and then Paul and Mary thought it was great.

    1. That's true! His baked goods probably aren't worse than The Brend's, it's just that Brend has unassailable confidence...

  11. I will be quite happy if James wins although I do have a soft spot for John and his mini-meltdowns. I don't dislike Brendan - it's just that he is a bit too perfect (I'm probably just jealous that my baking usually tastes good but is distinctly amateur in appearance and I can't cope with fiddly bits)
    Did miss Cathryn though!

    1. Maybe it is just jealousy on my part! I'm like you - taste above appearance. Which is the more important part, I suppose! Although I do like sticking sugar shapes on things, because it's so easy and looks impressive.

  12. I think you may have the result spot on!! Don't care as long as it isn't Brendan, that man is taking perfectionism to *creepy* levels. I did *so* want to squash his swans!!!

    1. Ha! The look on his face would have been priceless...

  13. Thank you for this Simon - I enjoy your recaps almost as much as the programme!

    I was sorry to see Danny go, partly because she was the last woman standing, but also she was good. It was also proof that my cunning plan had failed - as my support has so far proved a kiss of death, I tried to cheer for The Brend (since his smugness has annoyed me for the last couple of weeks).

    As for final placings, I agree Poor John will be third, but I fear the The Brend will pip Scottish James to first place. Especially since Scottish James is now my favourite (sorry James)

    1. Oh, and this went to spam too! I'm sorry your kiss of death didn't work... obviously it wasn't convincing enough (!)

  14. These were really tough challenges - I could feel Danny's pain when that cake just melted. Also wanted to eat the hell out of that bike - yummy!

    1. I am wondering how tricky choux gateaux would be... I'm thinking achievable (but, alas, not with my awful oven - I might try at a friend's house.)

  15. I want Brendan to win. I'm sure I heard in one of his interviews that he's always wanted to be a pastry chef, but when he left school he had to go straight out and earn money, so had to put his dream to one side. It's his dream! It's his dream that he had to put to one side! And now it might come true! How can you not want him to win?
    At least I think it was Brendan that said that, it might've been one of the others.

    1. Haha! Oh, Joanne, you had me feeling all guilty, until your last sentence... hilarious!

  16. This one had me giggling, but the programme was a teeth-sucking nail-biter. Choux pastry is a synonym for 'impending catastrophe' in our house, so we were all impressed. And then daughter 2 (aged 14) brought in her raspberry and white chocolate biscuits while were watching, so the programme is clearly inspiring her.

    We want adorable John to win, but think darling James will pip it. Both are exceptional cooks. Brendan is not playing the TV game, he's playing to win. Kate

    1. Kate - I've only made profiteroles twice, and the first time they went really well - I was amazed by how easy it was. The second time taught me not to be overconfident...

      Well trained daughter, bringing in baked goods! I just a hideous bus journey on a cramped bus, trying to hold a bakewell tart...

  17. Thanks for this Simon - I enjoy your comments almost as much as the programme!

    Sorry Joanne - I don't want Brendan to win, he has just seemed too smug lately. I even tried to support him this week, since my support has been the kiss of death, but my cunning plan failed.

    I think that Simon is right and John will come third, but I fear that Brendan will pip James to the winning post.

    1. Sorry, your comment went to spam, Rhian! Don't know why - but it's back now :)

      Thanks for your comments! I think the BBC must know the The Brend would be an unpopular winner, and might *suggest* to Paul and Mary that he doesn't win...

  18. I am so enjoying your re-caps. The programme is brill, and I feel bereft after each episode. It is wonderful to pop in here and re-live it.

    James is certainly a bright cookie (!), and slightly off the wall. He thinks as he goes along. I want him or John to win. I hope that Brendan will just be content to be a finalist. I am still wincing after the shredded wheat roof and blue love birds.

    1. Aww, thanks!
      I think John is lovely, but it would be rather bizarre if he won, as he definitely hasn't been up to par... and nobody who sticks shredded wheat on gingerbread (can you imagine how disgusting that would be?) can possibly be allowed to win.


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