Monday 6 October 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Semi-Finals

This post was delayed because I was preparing for Issue 3 of Shiny New Books (do go and check it out, thankyouverymuch!) But I'm here now...

The end is nigh, folks, and in case you don't know what 'semi-finals' means, the bakers are on hand to help. Get ready to be told ad nauseum that the final is next week, that there is one more week before the final, and that next week will be the week after the week before the final.

It's patisserie week, a term which is apparently broad enough to encompass anything that comes to Paul and Mary's minds. Frankly I'm surprised they didn't just ask them to knock together a chest of drawers, or give an engine a good oil check (if that is something one might do to engines): anything goes in patisserie week.

Mel and Sue have made it into the tent for this intro - revealing how flimsy the fabric of it is (and how pointless the odd bits of pastel furniture they've got lying around). Innocently, I had also presumed that this was part of the same tent but - lo - there is the main tent in the background.

Class segregation, if anything.

They're back outside for the next shot, though, with their best cod French accents. I don't think they've done an intro in their own accents since about episode two. It's the joke that just keeps giving.

We get a recap of the semifinalists' GBBO careers to date, which is apparently Luis' ingenious designs, Chetna's sensational flavours, Nancy's precision and knowledge (by which I think they mean 'she's the oldest one left'), and Richard's 'natural flair for baking', which sounds like the sort of meaningless thing somebody might write at the top of a covering letter with a job application. The little clips of the bakers reveal that Chetna is feeling confident, Richard talks about his 'graft', and Nancy would be quite happy to pop home and put her feet up. Luis restrains himself simply to acknowledging that it's the semi-final. They're all adorable.

Blazer-watch? We've got some bright colours on, which I'm enjoying. Sue's T-shirt is... odd.

Mary is giving it definite side-eye.
The first challenge: baklava. This is pronounced many, many ways in the episode, so I'm grateful that I'm writing. I love baklava (and my colleague Adam made some for the office once: impressive) so I'm intrigued to see what they'll make.

Richard says that, in London, "most shops have baklava". This has not been my experience, and would be a major inconvenience when buying clothes, books, etc.

Outside, carefully matching the flora, Paul says that the baklava has to have good pastry, syrup, and filling. "If any of those ingredients are missing, for me it's a no-go," he confides. Yes, Paul. All three ingredients are pretty essential. If someone missed out pastry (say) it would just be a pile of soggy pistachios.

"I don'ts be wanting none of that."

Mary breaks from her careful half-statement that filo pastry is "one of the most difficult pastries to make" to give an impromptu rap song 'Smack My Kitchen Up'.

(Time for my first apology of the night. My first of many.)
All the bakers agree that nobody at home bothers making filo, and Chetna puts on a fairly convincing sales pitch for Just-Roll, while Richard marvels at the fixtures and fittings, doubtless intending to nab them for his next building project.

"Lovely job."

Luis, as ever, gives us helpful and precise instructions about what he's doing. C'mon, Luis. If you want to be our favourite, you have to speak in strange witticisms or convoluted platitudes. We're not here to learn.

Paul tells Chetna that she shouldn't trust her eyes ("sometimes your eyes kid you") and she looks genuinely horrified, perhaps wondering whether or not she is actually in the tent at all. Before we have time for her to sink into a nihilistic meltdown, Mary (as is now her wont) tells her to ignore Paul. "Absolutely!" Chetna replies, with palpable relief. Then she whispers panic at the cameraman... before shrugging "oh well!" and getting on with it. The spirit of Nancy is spreading.

I can't work out if Luis describes his flower baklava as 'putting a slight slant on it' or 'putting a sly slant on it'. I desperately hope the latter. Also: colouring pencils man has apparently never seen a flower.

Send him a bunch; educate him.

"Get pulling!" says Mary.

He's a married man, Mrs Berry.

But my favourite inexplicable moment has to be over at Our Nance's baking station. Guess what she's putting in her baklava? "Well, I make muesli anyway," she shrugs, in the tone of one who might as well make a cuppa, since the kettle's already boiling. Lord knows what would have happened if she'd been halfway through assembling a casserole when the challenge was announced. She decides she might as well fling some muesli into the mix. What's the worst that could happen?


To encourage us further, she throws around the word 'inedible'. Mary and Paul wander over, and Mary conspiratorially leans in to say that she doesn't think anyone makes filo pastry. Paul bridles. Nancy wisely skates over the muesli baklava, and announces of the other "this one I'm calling coffee and chocolate". Guess what's in it? It's a Miranda's Mum Moment.

And, while we're guessing, guess which national treasures are back perched awkwardly on the table, muttering to themselves?

"And then I took up tightrope walking."

"Everyone's just got their heads down and trying to get on with it, to be honest," confides Luis. I appreciate your honesty.

And what they're getting down to is stretching pastry, which reminds me a lot of last week, when they stretched pastry.  Have I told you how much I love Richard? "I'm aiming to get this... flipping massive!" I love that bit so much. The Luises of this world will give us accurate instructions enabling us to bake at home, and do it excellently and charmingly - but it's the Richards of this world that make GBBO such a riot.

Although I hope he demonstrates more precision in building.
"How high are you building this wall?"

Sue is apparently keen to put the pastry on her face. It's difficult to know quite why.

I'm not going to show the clip where she does put some on her face
because I don't think she needs the encouragement.
Luis has spotted that Nancy is adding a bizarre ingredient into the mix, and thought 'two can play THAT game - hand me a carrot'. When rose and pistachio is the most traditional filling in the tent, you know something has gone awry.

Quick question: wut?

The first batch comes out the oven. "They're probably ok," says Nancy, in a fit of enthusiasm. It gets worse with her second batch: "I think I've messed up 'ere."

"Ovens, luvvly ovens, get your ovens here."

"My only saving grace is that they've got to be gooey anyway." Oh, The Bright Side.

Paul looms around the tent in a manner that would have his mailbox full of restraining orders in any other situation. Sue lightens the mood by openly mocking him.

The soundtrack works itself up into full Fantasia mode, and the bakers are done. ("It lacks finesse," is Nancy's damning indictment of her own craft. It certainly doesn't lack oil. The tray is awash with the stuff.)

But - she does well. "You've got what baklava is!" says Mary, damning with faint praise par excellence. Having said that, Luis doesn't do so well, because - although his flowers are beautiful - they apparently aren't baklava. Nance could give him a tip or two.

Even Frances would call these Fancy. Norm wouldn't know where to look.

Incidentally, Paul always says 'baklava' while swallowing heavily, which he obviously fondly believes to sound authentic. Mary delights by saying 'baklava' entirely differently, immediately afterwards.

Richard gets praise; Chetna gets mixed comments. Outside, she starts to do the usual reality show waffle about being happy whatever happens - but, halfway through, realises that it isn't true, and corrects herself. And it's Chetters, so of course she laughs.

"Ha ha ha - you'll have to pry me away with crowbars - ha ha ha!"

Richard, sweetly, says "I am all right at baking, aren't I?" And a horse whinnies. Sure, why not?

Onto the technical challenge. It's a Schichttorte. It seems monumentally pointless to me. Perhaps it is a big thing in Germany, I don't know, but grilling twenty layers, one after another, to achieve what is essentially a sponge cake... ain't nobody got time for that. I'd also be intrigued to know how it counts as patisserie.

Mary fakes excitement at the sample Paul unveils:

"Oh, you shouldn't have."

"What we're testing them on is concentration skills," says Paul, as though they were at dog-training class. What they certainly aren't testing is ingenuity. They are just making a sponge cake mix. And then grilling the layers one by one. It's all so dull. Poor choice of challenge, GBBO. You've let everyone down. *Shakes head* *Eats cake* *Remembers to shake head again*.

The best moment is Mel saying to Richard (at his dismally thin first layer) "Spread it out with the old spatch." I love an abbrev, me, as my colleagues are all too well aware. My heartfelt "commiz", should anyone be in strife of any sort, is well-known.

Otherwise it's just a lengthy montage of people saying "light, dark, light, dark" and mumbling about how many layers 20 is. Realising that this makes for tedious viewing, only marginally lightened by seeing people synchronise their standing up and peering into ovens, The Powers That Be have hastily re-commissioned The History of Cake.

They're made on spits. Spit-cakes. A bit like spit-takes, but cakier.

This History of Cake section is stranger than all the others put together. And - although we get a Princess who doesn't speak, a reference to Ghost, and Mel saying "chocolate" like an addict on day release, we never actually see them cut into one to count its layers.

Meanwhile, the bakers have nearly finished - and Luis is apparently 'listening to the voices in his head'. Richard fondly thinks they won't notice whether or not there are 20 layers in his cake... oh, Richard. When it comes to judging, Mezza and Pezza essentially ignore absolutely everything except those twenty layers. Whoever gets closest to the correct answer wins! Luis comes top, Chetna comes bottom, and everyone laments for their wasted lives.

"Yes, Mary, I was right - I think it's a cake."

(At my house we wonder why Mel said 'please bring your twenty layers up to the gingham' rather than "bring 'em to the gingham", which would have been both excellent and the name of a new spin-off gameshow on BBC3.)

Finally - the showstopper. And it's actually patisserie, rather than an elaborately inept way of making an everyday baked good. Entremets it is. Paul is looking for precision and beauty, apparently, and has 'seen patisserie chefs crumble, let alone the bakers in the tent'. The cameraman then gives us a sweeping shot of the tent, lest anybody be unclear what Paul is talking about.


Luis is using pomegranate and cherry - which is just as well, since the episode of sponsored by the colours purple and pink.

Nancy is also making jelly. I don't think she's ready for this jelly. And she even dares mention the word 'freezer'. There are dozens of layers to what Nancy is making, and they all sound pretty delish - but Paul is cross because it's being covered in white chocolate. You know how they love their distinct layers, Nancy. They're obsessed. But perhaps it's good for Mary and Paul to go cold turkey on distinct layers. It's for their own good.

Having got the Pink Sponsorship Deal memo, Richard is making this:

I suspect he misheard the quantity of entremets needed, and thought he had to make 200 miniature entremets. He's adding grapefruit - one of the words that Paul repeats in astonishment - and, for once, I'm with Paul. Not a fan of grapefruit. But he does say the words 'crisp layers', at which Mary practically jumps with glee. Richard - you're feeding her habit. Chetna is giving her a binge, with six-layer thingummies:

But when NORM does it, apparently four thousand ingredients are too many.

Speaking of, have you noticed how nobody is using alcohol in their entremets? Surely this would have been a prime opportunity? Or has someone had a quiet word to give Mezza a week off, so she can indulge to the max for the final?

This challenge is the exact opposite of the previous one, which tested about half a skill. In this one, everyone is doing dozens of things, and there are so many things going on that it's quite hard to keep track. All I got from the dizzying montage of piping bags, spatulas, and baking tins was Richard worrying that his sponge might be 'monkey'. What?

"Cooling time is a luxury" - Nancy unveils her plans for a dystopian future.

Lest you wonder if these patisserie delights were essentially trips to a health spa, all rapped up in dotty sponge, we then see Chetna admitting that cream has been put in everything, and Richard flinging hunks of butter into his mix. Somehow putting them in by hand like this makes it seem much more unhealthy.

I call this artwork 'Shades of Beige'.
Nancy grimaces at the idea that Luis is assembling his entremet ("nowhere near there") then cheerfully opens up a tin of condensed milk, from which the label has been thoughtfully removed, to maintain BBC non-partisanship.

I mean, it's obviously Carnation.

There are so many things going on. Let's just look at one: Luis is bathing his jelly in a hot bath. He's learnt from Voiceover Mel, and is warning that a moment too long and the jelly will turn to liquid; a single second too soon, and that jelly ain't going anywhere. It's tense.

Nancy, meanwhile, laments that chocolate is 'going everywhere' - it is, indeed, flooding her desk - but still continues merrily pouring. Correlation may not imply causation, Nance, but I think I can spot a pattern here.

Gravity is to blame, if anyone. THANKS NEWTON.

And then, recollecting that she is the baker with the predilection for instruments of capital punishment, she makes a cutthroat gesture. I think she's supposed to be suggesting that she's for the chop, but it's equally possible that a terrified Mary is cowering at the side.

Let's show entremets from everyone, shall we? They deserve it; everybody's looks astonishingly good.

"It takes a lot of guts to show all the layers," says Paul. ENOUGH WITH THE LAYERS. "I can see every layer, every flavour" says Mary. She's clearly got synaesthesia now.  She also adds that she could 'do with a little more flavour in the mousses'. She means alcohol, doesn't she? But Richard gets a well-deserved thumbs up, in general.

Nancy's critique is mixed - even her decoration of the white choc ones, which I think look amazing.

Luis gets good responses for appearance and flavour, and Paul likes the 'richness of the chocolate married to the sourness of the cherry'. Richness married with sourness? This sounds like [insert celebrity couple here]! Amirite?!

In a moment of astonishing hypocrisy, from the judges who thought a twenty-layer sponge cake without any filling was a good idea, they criticise Chetters for not having enough variety in the layers of one entremet - although they like the other.

Then this lad:

"I'm ready for my close-up."

Backstage, they do their thing of repeating everything, and pretending that it isn't (sadly) obvious who will go home. Then again, it also seemed really obvious that Luis would win this week, and that didn't happen. I love Richard, but this was Luis' week. (In other news: I've discovered that only ten people have paid into the office sweepstake, so my potential win is only £10, rather than £15.)

Winner is Richard (and look how happy everyone is!)
Mary: "you can hardly believe those builder's hands can produce such delicate results". Calm yourself, Bezza.

And, sadly, going home is lovely Chetna. She smiles to the end.

Everyone gets a bit teary at the end - even our Nance - and I'm excited about the final.

While I've got your attention - another plug for Shiny New Books. Lots of recommendations for things to read that have come out in the past three months! Sorry to be so shameless, but it's been a lot of work and I think you'll enjoy it :)

And - see you for the final! Who will win?

(P.S. Helen - I've slipped two new words in this week, to make up for forgetting last week!)


  1. Thank you so much for doing these recaps. They make me weep with laughter.

    "'Cooling time is a luxury' - Nancy unveils her plans for a dystopian future."


  2. Wonderful! We didn't notice the tin with no label so have lost our own competition to spot the things you will spot!

  3. Two words?!?! I didn't even spot one, so assumed you'd forgotten again! Will have to go back and re-read. That's why you do it, right? So people will come back again and again?

    OK ... maybe "wut" and "side-eye"?

    1. Side-eye is right! And the other is.... spit-take, which I shoehorned in shamelessly.

  4. Everyone crying at the end - I was firmly convinced Luis' tears were because he knew he'd been robbed of the sheriff star for yet another week. Has he actually won star baker in any week?

  5. Luis has been robbed of the sheriff star for several weeks now. Loved your 'richness married to sourness' comment. Brilliant. I'm sorry the GBBO is coming to an end, please take up the suggestion for GB sewing whatever. Yes, I know you are busy but we will miss the humour so much.Thanks for all the laughter and huge enjoyment. Lisa

  6. Definitely worth the wait, great recap as ever. Also loved the Pink Sponsorship Deal and the "spatch" - keeping my eye out watching for things you'll spot! See you at the Final :)

  7. Your recap arrived just in time to be devoured along with my breakfast, your timing was perfect. I am very sad that the bake-off is almost over, watching the lovely Chetna's elimination was awful.
    I fully agree with you about the aptly named Schichttorte. I loved the taste test on Extra Slice that exposed how dreadful it actually tastes.
    Finally, I am disappointed with Richards repeat wins as star baker because it doesn't reflect how truly talented the other bakers are. I am still hoping for Nancy to win because she is just too funny. But at this point she's the underdog. (who would have thought that could be possible?)
    Perfect Custard

  8. I enjoyed that, thank you...I agree that Luis should have got Star Baker, and now I hope he wins. How we will miss your recaps Simon.

    kind regards


  9. So entertaining, thank you again. Enjoy tonight!

  10. Fantastic recap! I did not care much about GBBO, but now thanks to you (I should actually curse you for this) I cannot miss an episode.
    Since I do not live in Britain, why is Mary Berry called Mezza Bezza?

    1. I think it's because of Gazza. Happy to help.

  11. You know what, I'm actually going to watch the final tonight, just so I can anticipate the enjoyment of what you'll write about it. Love these posts so much! Oh but I have made baklava and it's simple with pre-made filo pastry. I would never, ever make it myself, why on earth would you?


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