Yikes, caramel week. Beautifully intricate sugar work, salted caramel and chocolate pots, tooth-destroying nut brittle and millionaire’s shortbread. Or third degree burns and a trip to A&E.
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So, baking. “The tricky thing about caramel is….pretty much everything,” said Julia. We hear ya. The signature challenge was to make 18 identical millionaire’s shortbreads. Three distinctive layers: shortbread, gooey caramel, and a thin layer of chocolate. Doubtless some idiot would flavour their offering with bloody cardamom.
All the bakers set to work with their shortbreads and as per usual stared anxiously at their ovens, as if wishing were all it would take to make them perfect. But shortbread is a breeze compared with caramel, which requires the sugar to reach a precise temperature* (Yan chose not to bother with such fripperies, despite being a molecular scientist) and also tends to crystallize the second you turn your back. There were salted peanut varieties, lime and chilli chocolate varieties, one based on jaffa cakes (YES), one using bay leaves (NO) and one containing rum (WINNER). Paul swigged from the bottle like a tramp in a park.
Steven’s orange and macademia efforts looked sensationally good, natch, but Paul didn’t like the flavours or the textures; Prue adored them. “I don’t really like sweet things.” You don’t say.
Architect Tom had fucked up big style. Prue put on her Primary school headmistress face and told him: “The textures are all wrong, the flavours aren’t good and you didn’t finish the task.” Tom slunk off to detention.
Technical challenge time: Stroop Waffles (my mate Sam can’t get through a morning without at least one of these. How he isn’t the size of a bungalow astounds me. He knows his food though, so check out his blog here)
Prue darling, as with puff pastry, this is the kind of thing you BUY, not make. Still, she was keen to share her stroop expertise. “You have to go low and slow.” Advice to live by, I think we can all agree.
The tedious history lesson returned – I thought we’d got rid of this tripe, Channel 4? – and then everyone had to present their stroops (not a euphemism). Prue had abandoned her Primary school headmistress persona and was now behaving like a university vice chancellor who had just been told tuition fees were to be abolished. “Very grainy. Dry. Yes grainy again. Very, very grainy. Can none of you get caramel right?” The bakers all looked as though they would be joining Tom in detention.
Finally, the showstopper. One tier cake, three layers, spun sugar, caramel everything. “There’s obviously a danger it will be too sweet,” warned Prue, who by this stage had abandoned all pretence of niceness and had gone full on Miss Trunchbull. Meanwhile James shared his technique for making a particularly delicious cake. “I dip my nuts.” I’m sure you do darling. But perhaps not before the watershed, even if this is on Channel 4. The temperature in the tent must have been hotter than the sun as everyone had a puce face – even Noel.
I joke about them, but my goodness, I don’t believe Bake Off has ever had such a universally talented bunch of competitors. Everything looked fabulous. There is boundless talent to spare with this bunch, even from those who were having a complete ‘mare, particularly Stacey. “It’s not as big an erection as I’d hoped.” We’ve all been there, Stace.
Prue, who has a full on crush on Liam (who knows it, and flirts with her), adored his cake. Stacey was told her icing was too thin. “It looks slightly slimy.” Cheers, Prue. Julia’s effort “ticked all the boxes”. Yan’s was pronounced “fantastic” by Paul, but the “sponge is a little bit tough” corrected Prue, who was unstoppable in her disdain. Steven’s red velvet concoction looked great but was judged to be “stodgy”, Tom’s cake was “basic, gluey, under-baked.” He looked as though he had been called out of detention only to be handed his blazer by his parents and told he would be going to a new school next term. Kate’s toffee apple bonfire thingy however was “masterful”. She won Star Baker.
Tom was indeed sent home. “He really did make a mess of it,” Prue threw after him as he dumped his homework in the bin and defiantly drew a penis on the blackboard.
Prue’s not someone you’d want making a speech at your wedding, is she?
*For a soft pliable caramel suitable for making fudge or praline, you want a boiling point of 112-115 degrees C. For a firmer caramel (good for making sweets), 116-120 degrees C. For nougat and toffee, 132-143 degrees C, and for the real deal, tooth-cracking toffee, 132-143 degrees C. Although I daresay Paul knows differently.