Just when you thought The Great British Bake Off could not get any tougher they bring out Pastry Week. Tarts, Cypriot Flaouna and Vol au Vents, baking never seemed so stressful.
This late in the contest you either go big or go home, even with something as seemingly plain as Frangipane Tart. Christmas had come early as Tamal had Mulled Wine Poached Pears, which looked gloriously chaotic and Paul’s Christmas Spice-infused Pears brought a festive flavour that Mary Berry raved about.
Sometimes watching Alvin you get the impression that the clock really is ticking a bit faster. Time issues plagued his Plum Tart as he nervously checked the oven so obviously Paul Hollywood knew it was undercooked. Pineapple worked for him last week and Mat tried it for a Pina Coloda complete with rum; a bold choice with a bland, doughy result.
Other contestants were looking for an extra touch to make the difference. Nadiya toasted the almonds for her subtle Bay Leaf, Rong Tea and Pear and escaped with a minor soggy bottom. As ever, Flora went for added bonuses of amaretti biscuits to hide a slight burn on her overbaked Apricot and Rosemary Tart. However, Ian’s little extras were more understated as he used home reared guinea fowl eggs in his Pear and Raspberry Tart, not that you could tell as it looked distinctly unfinished.
Flaounas? No, Mary had not heard of them either but the cheese filled Cypriot delicacy had Paul’s smug, know-it-all face out in force. Were the sesame seeds for the inside or the outside? To knead or not to knead? At least Flora noted it was pastry and not bread week. Tamal was last, largely for gambling that seeds went on the inside, while Mat won as his looked like the real deal.
Then for the most fiddly, tedious showstopper of them all; vol au vents. Time has not been kind to these dinner party delicacies and little wonder when they induced nervous breakdowns. The fillings were crucial yet get the pastry wrong and you were in trouble. For once there were no real disasters, rather several disappointments.
Even Ian’s wife failed to enjoy his Scallop and Squid Ink filling, hardly surprisingly when they looked so intimidating in their formal black irregularity. Similarly, Tamal’s Pulled Pork as well as Chicken and Coriander efforts did have the hipster flavours but did not look appealing, especially as the latter could be mistaken for snails. In a week of doing just enough to escape getting noticed, Paul’s Garlic and Chilli Prawn were deemed raw and his Crème Patissiere looked hideous, but he had done enough.
Flora finally learnt to provide something different, not extra. Distinct, flaky layers and flowers decorated the chocolate dough with her Chocolate Ganache and the stunning flavours continued with her daring Asparagus and Parma Ham. From a shaky start, Mat has steadily improved and shone in this final round. His fillings of Smoked Trout with Horseradish and Eggs with Bacon may have sounded pretentious yet his pastries had a good rise and Mary enjoyed the runny yolk. Arguably he had triumphed again and was rightly awarded Star Baker.
Having had to begin a second batch of pastry, Nadiya was struggling and tears were falling as hers melted in the oven. A distinct shame as her fillings of Bengali Korma with Cod and Clementine (no, really) blew Paul away, even if he did have to fill the pastries himself. Alvin went full on 70s with Chicken à la King with Smoked Salmon En Croute yet when he needed to provide perfection he fell short and was sent home.
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