It’s week seven on GBBO and we’re on the home run with the quarter finals in sight.
As if the pressure wasn’t cranked-up enough, we had a Bake Off first - and probably last - with vegan week. Some hysterical viewers tried to stage a boycott due to the breaking with tradition, but at least we had challenges we actually recognised as the contestants made tarts, meringue and cakes as the order of the day.
There’s nothing in the world that doesn’t taste better with butter, be it meat, fish, vegetables or cake - everything is improved by one of the culinary wonders of the world, so my hopes might not have been high had I not recently started embracing my inner-vegan. Aquafaba, nutritional yeast, oat cream, cashew milk, arrowroot cheese – the vegan world is now my oyster chickpea. I’ll be teaching vegan dishes at my cookery school next year, so this week’s GBBO was like homework.
Jon had a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the day’s task: “Every meal I have contains meat,” he said, “can we have kebab week soon?”. He had the crazed idea of deep-frying his falafel and putting them in a tart case with purple potatoes. His other batch looked like he’d made them with a hammer and it set the tone for an episode in which he did a great deal of eye-rolling and huffing.
Kim-Joy gave us the shock of the series so far by claiming she wasn’t an animal person, and then produced meat-free tarts decorated with squirrels - perhaps she was inspired by my review of last week. The poor lady also received the back-handed compliment of the season from Noel, who said she looked as if she “knew her way around a vegan recipe”.
Briony caramelized her onions with Prosecco (a senseless waste of booze) and Rahul gave us something call Ghugni Chat (which I’m sure is kitchen French for cat). “Poetry,” said Prue of Rahul’s tarts, “who’d have thought that was vegan?”
Vegan and French is not something you often hear together, yet Manon impressed the judges with her summer and winter tartlets with vegan béchamel and chestnuts. I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of them.
This week’s technical challenge was to make a chickpea-water meringue (or Aquafaba Pavlova as the trendies call it). First, you must milk your chickpeas: I’ve washed more tinned bean water down the plughole than I care to remember, it smells odd and the thought of it in one of my favourite desserts makes me quite queasy. However, they all made a decent fist of it. Manon’s was, once again, the best, but Rahul still won the challenge. I’m telling you, Paul is blinkered in his adoration of Rahul: never trust a cook who looks permanently pained and clearly doesn’t enjoy the task of baking for others. Misery isn’t an ingredient you want in your dessert.
On the note of misery, Kim-Joy really struggles in the technical challenges and this week was no exception – her pavlova looked like a paving slab from the 1970s and while she triumphs in other rounds, this one always sees her fall flat. Like a chickpea meringue.
Prue and Paul ran out of ideas for the showstopper, and so asked for a vegan celebration cake with no brief other than no butter, eggs, cream, milk or beef. Briony had the advantage because (like my almost-three-year-old grandson) her brother can’t tolerate dairy and so she wasn’t phased in the least: it showed as she produced a beautiful hazelnut mocha number complete with roses.
“Not an animal lover” Kim-Joy went for a fox theme, with lavender and lemon cake with an unappetizing sounding vegetable shortening icing. Then it was all hands on deck to try to save Ruby’s wonky chocolate, lemon and coconut effort, which slumped like Jon’s attitude to vegan week and, despite some fine teamwork, couldn’t be saved and finally wonked its last as the bakers left the scene of the crime. A horrified Ruby watched from outside the tent, her face dissolving into tears as quickly as her cake dissolved into the floor. Meanwhile, Manon made an enormous three tiered apple spiced cake that promised more than it delivered and a sour-faced Rahul made a car-crash of a chocolate and coconut layer cake – obviously, Paul liked it. Well he would, wouldn’t he.
At this point, I was distracted at home by a celebration cake of my own: a pink iced fondant fancy by my star baker, Mr Kipling.
It was left to Jon, then, to totally lose the plot which he did in some style by making a Del Boy tribute of an Only Fools (and Italians) Eat Horses cake – a shocking departure from his usual baked tribute to Wales. There were layers of leopard print (Noel approved), sheepskin and pineapple which was served on a Trotter suitcase. Paul hated Jon’s “claggy” cake and described it as “hideous” and crude in decoration, although he may well have been talking about his shirt. I think we all called it this week - although Ruby questioned the decision - as Luvverly Jubbly Jon’s reservations proved to be well-founded and he left the tent in his three-wheeler.
Kim-Joy had the last laugh as she was crowned star baker with her second woodland-themed cake of the week – not only does she look like a vegan, according to Paul, she cooks like one, too. Edible animals don’t count, do they?