Intro: Mel and Sue enter our screens, agree that an analogy has gone too far when it has reached only the foothills of their usual mountainous punnery, and the bakers stride across the lawn while the cameraman still lurks in the undergrowth. Plus ça change.
I don't know how much of the introduction will make sense to transatlantic viewers, but it's an absolute delight to people like me who avidly watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Quick run-down: every country around Europe (and several which have little-to-no claim to be part of Europe) send some singer given to costumes and histrionics off to a big tent in the middle of nowhere, where they caterwaul and strobe-light their way through a song consisting half of 'la-la-la' and half of vague encouragements towards world peace. It's glorious. It's my second favourite big-tent-in-the-middle-of-nowhere event of the year.
Equally glorious is the way Mel and Sue re-enact the infuriating time-lag and presenter-waffle of the voting section of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Nancy leans against a fence and brags about all the holidays she's been on; Richard says he's aiming for mediocrity; Martha babbles about nerves. We're good to go. And the first challenge is... yeast cakes. I love bread and I love cake, but I can't help but feel that this combination is a terrible mistake. Still, the rest of Europe apparently live for the things, so let's see what happens. (Incidentally, this show - like almost everyone I know in the UK - uses the word 'Europe' to mean 'all of Europe except us'.)
Blazer-watch? Nothing exceptional here - but Mel and Sue should maybe have discussed shades of yellow before getting dressed this week.
|Paul remains resolutely in line-dance mode.|
Paul steals a march on History of Cake by telling us when baking powder was invented - in protest, I don't listen - and uses the appetising sentence 'these cakes have been around an awfully long time, and they're all embedded right the way throughout Europe'. Mary nabs the first "Not too long or too short in the oven" of the episode, while seemingly perched on a bird table.
Luis isn't gilding any olives this week, but does have an amazing tin, which gives fancy ridges and the like. Chetna is making a 'mainly orange-flavoured' (mainly?) savarin which gets a very sweet Mary Berry Reaction Face:
Mel has a field day with pronouncing 'savarin' - rolling the r so much she could be mistaken for a rolling pin - and also with the tin looking like a piles cushion. Never having seen said object, I couldn't say.
I do, however, want this natty food mixer; it would match my toaster and kettle.
|A shade that Argos lovingly describe as 'bubblegum blue'.|
Nancy - who, in this episode, I think has become my favourite - tells us that she is making "what is called a sponge", which is either astonishingly patronising, or 'sponge' is different from what I think it is.
Richard is making a guglhupf (bless you) with lots of fruit and things, and (he emphasises) rum. He knows what Boozehound Bezza is after. But Paul is disgusted to hear that Richard is going to 'wing' his decoration; he rephrases to 'go with his heart', pointing somewhere in the region of his liver, but saves this when adding that his heart is in his stomach. Quick thinking, Richard. Nice work.
'Renegade baker, Nancy' (as she is introduced) is doing a Diana and entirely ignoring the theme of the challenge. Rather than make something from Europe, she's opted for something Caribbean. Apparently Bez is fine with that, so long as rum is involved.
|Sadly those decorations are depicted all too accurately.|
She also confesses to Kate (who appears to be taking a moment to microwave some popcorn) that she doesn't know what a savarin is.
|You and me both, love. This link will tell all.|
Kate cheerfully confesses that hers also isn't European - excellent work, guys! - and, moments after I say that Israel (the country that inspired her bake) is in the Eurovision Song Contest, she uses the same defence. (Azerbaijan Roll, anyone?) She also adds that, having lived in Israel, she didn't actually like their cakes. What a triumph this is turning out to be.
Incidentally, I'd have loved to see what Norman would do in this challenge. But at least he could have used the defence that the UK is in Europe, and flung a Viccie sponge on the table.
Chetna, as always, is kneeling on the ground and pressing furiously at a timer.
|I'd argue that this could be done equally well standing.|
There are lots of shots of people pulling out proving drawers, making sauces, and - inexplicably - gasping at nothing quite a lot. And then we turn to Richard talking us through some white gunk he might (but ultimately does not) put on top. I'm more interested in whatever curious activities are going on in the background. Are they casting some sort of spell on the dough?
|In all likelihood, no.|
Luis continues to treat GBBO like his own baking show (actually giving good advice, while Nancy - presumably - falls off her stool in the background), Mel continues to utter dire voiceover warnings about baking-caused world disaster, and the cameraman continues to have a curious obsession with shots of footwear.
|I guess he has to get his kicks somewhere.|
Geddit, KICKS. It's funny because the word has two meanings.
Luis' money is on Nancy to win the whole series; "defo" he adds. (Don't forget that my money is on YOU, Luis. Adam's money is on Nancy, fans of my office's sweepstake will be pleased to learn.) Some lovely editing leads us straight to a shot of Nancy's cake looking rather a mess.
"Looks more like a Yorkshire pudding," she says, "It would probably do it a favour if I dropped it on the floor." If she'd said "throw it in the bin," she might have won my moment of the series. Still, she has the Cockney Barrowgirl's sense of perspective, and womanfully carries on - and by 'carries on' I, of course, mean 'douses in alcohol'. And... well, let's wait and see her decorations.
They all look pretty impressive (except for Chetna's, which is rather bland) but - although I can take or leave cooked apple - I have to say that Luis' steals the show, appearance-wise.
"When you chew it there's no chew to it at all" - this paradox from Paul is, apparently, a compliment.
Mary gets quite waspish over Nancy's decorations. Let's have a little look at them. "I don't think they add anything," says Mary.
|Would that were true.|
"Even as I put them on," says Nancy, "I thought they looked a bit naff." That presumably means that, in the shop, on the morning of the bake, and at every moment before she put them on, she was under the impression that green tinsel and a fake flamingo would spell 'classy' to the casual observer.
Cake: As Time Goes By is just an excuse for Sue to gorge at the Danish Embassy.
The technical bake is a Swedish 'princess cake'. It sounds bizarrely, and deliciously, complicated - creme pat, cream, sponge, jam, marzipan, etc. 26 separate ingredients, apparently. Like the alphabet. "I've never heard of it, never seen it, never eaten it," says Martha - the last of these probably didn't need saying, unless she's given to eating anonymous food, blindfolded.
The sample that Mary and Paul have laid out before them doesn't have the DEFINED LAYERS that they so ardently (and arbitrarily) demand, but it does look delish.
|Those layers couldn't be less defined if they were a word yet to be added to the dictionary.|
Nancy, taking inspiration from Norman, becomes the jam expert of the tent, and talks about how she makes 'tons of jam'.
|"I make SO MUCH JAM."|
And Chetters - gasp - decides to start again, because her sponge hasn't risen enough. From this moment until the end of the challenge she looks frantic and terrified, several stages behind everyone else.
|[Note to self: insert swannee-whistle sound effect]|
Martha, in a moment unlikely to still any qualms her parents might have about her maths A level results, is entirely stumped at dividing 5 by 3. She then seems uncertain what shape a circle might be.
Nancy: "I didn't know if I was Arthur or Martha, first thing."
If you thought that was good, wait for what comes next...
"What did the male judge say?"
They play it like she's avoiding Paul's name out of crossness at his critique, but... she clearly had just forgotten it for a bit. I love how unbothered she is by it all. It's so wonderful.
Also wonderful is:
|Wonderful but unsanitary.|
Everything is looking pretty impressive all round, until they start piping their chocolate - at which point almost everybody seems to lose any sense of style or precision. And... Chetters finished hers! She does this across the tent to Sue, and it's adorable.
Mary is fixated on the dome shape and the distinct layers, neither of which would bother me at all. Paul thinks the piped cream around the cakes looks awful on almost all of them, which I can't see. They're quite critical considering how difficult the challenge was. Kate comes last, and Nancy comes first. Chetna comes second, even with her rushed effort. How do you think she would react?
Richard's pencil has SWAPPED EARS. This is NOT a drill. Repeat, this is NOT a drill.
Mel cheerfully enquires whether there is, or is not, a curse for the Star Baker. Paul responds by pointing out that Star Bakers have done quite badly the week after they win - which is obviously what Mel was saying already. Avoiding the question, hmm? Just what a CURSE MASTER might do.
|Is it just me, or is the effort to British-theme the table rather cursory?|
The showstopper this week is 'a contemporary version of the Hungarian dobos torte' - i.e. a cake with more than one tier and an emphasis on sugarwork. I loves me some caramel, and I'm basically salivating throughout the rest of the programme.
Luis is making a structure based on a local landmark - one, I note, that he carefully avoids naming, presumably so that nobody can question the resemblance.
|He's taken the same approach to British-theming, it seems.|
Being a graphic designer he has, of course, drawn up plans on paper. Mary Berry Reaction Face says she's pretty impressed.
And, moments later, she's stunned by Richard saying he's going to make 20 layers.
|Either that or she's trying to catch one of Chetna's grapes in her mouth.|
I hear the words 'salted caramel' too often, seeing as I don't have any in front of me. No fair. Everything sounds entirely amazing.
Mathematician of the Year Martha announces that 24 is 'a lot'.
Sue feels like nobody has mentioned that Richard is a builder for quite a while, and takes it upon herself. He doesn't help himself by bringing in modelling clay.
Alex/Kate is making a three-tier cake "because I think two-tier cakes look like hats". Oh right, she's mad. (But still great.) As my friend Andrew pointed out, while we were watching it, it looks like Kerplunk.
|And, now I look closely, a hat with a cake on top of it.|
|Oh good lord, Kate is wearing a sheriff badge. Amazing.|
Should those layers be clearly defined? Yes, they should. Who'd have guessed?
Nancy continues her streak of being entirely unflappable by saying that, although her chocolate has gone grainy and wrong, she'll 'scrape it off and start again'. During this pronouncement Chetna has been wandering into shot, and it ends with her giving a wonderfully shocked look in our Nance's direction. She is the Starting Again Queen this week, so it should come as no great surprise.
|Also - doesn't Chetna have her own sink?|
Luis' caramel skillz are crazy good. I don't understand how he's built this and kept everything the same colour - did he make lots of batches of caramel, or build it super quickly, or what? He's even finished before everyone else. While Chetters is still dipping grapes in sugar (sure, why not?) he starts cleaning up the workspace, cleaning spray and all. What a man.
And... time is up! I want to eat all of them. But first, the bakers must stare at their creations while the cameraman pans around them.
Here are my favourite (and it was the pick of an incredible bunch):
- Nancy gets a good critique in general, and calls Paul 'lovely'.
- Richard's is 'a bit sad', but he has got a lot of caramel elements.
- Luis' is praised for appearance, and Mary tries her hand at a pun ("monumental!") and adds, in Miranda's-Mum-mode "It's what I call a showstopper" - but the flavour is lacking.
- Kate's is criticised for not having enough caramel - which is apparently a worse crime than pretending that Israel borders France.
- Chetna's grape construction is praised. To my mind it looks a bit mad, but each to their own. Mary says that 'everybody will be copying that at home', showing a sweet. albeit misplaced, optimism.
- Martha's is disappointingly messy considering it was a great idea. Would it have been so hard to flatten out the surfaces? And - shock! horror! - she used a bought mould for her chess pieces. Where was the modelling clay?
The judges and presenters have their repetitive recap backstage. It comes down to taste vs. challenge-adherence... Richard vs. Kate? Only a superfluous and, frankly, extraordinary clip of mooing cows separates us from the announcement of the Star Baker. It's...
Chetna! Who saw that coming? Nothing in the episode up to this point seemed to be heading this way, but she's a sweetie, so I'm happy.
Who will go home out of Rich and Kate? Mary and Paul waffle on for hours, recapping the whole episode for anybody who tuned in a little early for the next programme (including Paul saying to Alex/Kate "you never did enough caramel" - a life-indictment), and eventually (eventually) tell us that... neither of them are going home! Absolutely nobody is surprised by this point, but it's still lovely to keep them both for another week.
|Kate takes it in her stride.|
I'm afraid there probably won't be a recap next week, as I'll be away - so I'll see you when I see you!
Hope you've enjoyed European week. Au revoir! (And, Helen... which is the ODO update word?)