Last night's episode of Great British Bake Off saw the focus on pies, with weighty Wellingtons, perplexing hand raised pies and sweet American dessert pies. Urvashi Roe, food writer and contestant from last year's season, gives Great British Chefs the lowdown on this week's show
Blog post by Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker
Pie week. Hmmmmm. I didn’t get to pie week last year and I was really rather glad because I was absolutely dreading it. And by the challenges the contestants had this year I think they all were too.
Giving it some Wellington
For the first challenge this week, the bakers had to make a Wellington which is traditionally made with a beef filling and puff pastry. For Paul it was “all about the pastry” and Mary was looking for “a lovely even bake and rise in the layers and flakes”.
Manisha and James opted for puff pastry which takes longer and to be honest I cannot bear to make anymore. When I was practising for the show, I made about 20 batches and just looking at all the butter on the show today made me shudder. The others went for rough puff which is easier to make but still has lots of butter! (It does taste great, though.)
There was lots of dialogue about the method of folding the pastry. ‘Single turns’ seemed to be the order of the day for most and so Paul (very helpfully, I thought) demonstrated his ‘book turn’.
Fillings were interesting, too, this week. John’s Haggis with Venison went down a treat with the judges despite the pastry being undercooked, and Manisha’s Rosemary and Lamb was also a hit but again the pastry was poor. The big hits were Ryan’s Malaysian-inspired sea bass and lentils, Brendan’s Norwegian Salmon and Cathryn’s huge sausage roll. How she continues to miss the brief each week and stay in the competition continues to completely baffle me.
Personally, Wellingtons don’t appeal, but if you do fancy having a go, top tips from the show are as follows:
Take time over your pastry – it’s an essential part of the recipe and, as we saw, let most of the contestants this week down.
Partially cook your filling so it cooks in line with the pastry’s baking time.
Let the filling cool down after you’ve cooked it, because otherwise the sides of pastry will melt and you’ll do a Sarah-Jane and be left with an ‘alien’ as Paul so vividly described it.
Tightly wrap the pastry around your filling to avoid it blistering and leaving large gaps like Danny’s.
A double whammy of historical interludes
I do love the historical breaks. I find history fascinating and I think we have so much to learn from the techniques and skills of our forefathers. I did a lot of reading when I was preparing for the show but the contestant I learned the most from was Mary Ann. She was obsessed with history and always had a story to tell about her bakes each week.
The lovely Mel was back this week and she took us back to Victorian London where eels were a staple cockney grub. Eels are strong fish and survived the pollution of the Thames. They were cheap and nutritious, too, so the workforces could fill up relatively cheaply. This was the original London street food, it seems, with as many as 500 street vendors at one time. However, pie and mash shops soon took over and the eel was replaced with beef.
The second historical outing took us to America and the humble apple pie. Created from the first crops of apple trees planted by the fussy British settlers who didn’t like the local vegetation or were too scared to try it. They planted apple orchards, which took 10 years to bear fruit, and the settlers made apple pies from the harvest to remind them of home and also because they were one of the few things that could be made in the primitive ovens. These have since evolved as the origins of the settlers have diversified with Scandinavian and Germanic variations for example.
Hand raising up to the technical challenge
This week’s technical bake was incredibly similar to last year. Hot water crust pastry again but this time the contestants had to use wooden ‘dollies’ to create the shape of the base which baffled them all. It would have been really nice if Paul had showed us all how this ancient pie making device worked, but perhaps this will be one of the masterclasses this year, which are towards the end of the series.
I don’t think any of the bakers did very well. Most of the pies were lacking something – no gelatine in most, thick crusts, no layers to the filling. It must have been a tough one for the judges to grade this week, but Cathryn came out first and Ryan took the bottom, leaving him in the danger zone.
Showstopping American Pies
The theme was American Pie: a pastry base with a set filling. Great challenge in my view. So much scope for creativity and there was piles of it, which was great to see. My favourites were Ryan’s very highly commended Key Lime and Ginger Pie which Mary and Paul both drooled over and which earned him ‘Star Baker’. I was very pleased about this because it was nice to see Asian flavours succeeding on the British Bake Off. I also loved Brendan’s Chiffon Pie. I feared the judges would resort to their 70s comments again but he escaped this week with nothing but praise for his flavours.
Shocking were Cathryn’s Peanut Butter and Squash Pie. Why?! It looked nice but Paul and Mary both agreed that it tasted rather disgusting. A very fair judgement, but I do think they just had it in for veggies in pies this week as Danny faired little better with her Pumpkin Pie and James with his Sweet Potato Pie.
I think the clue in who was going out this week was at the beginning of the show when Paul said that it was all about the pastry. Many of the contestants were bad but Manisha’s pastry was consistently terrible and she was the one to leave this week with a few tears in her last interview.
It’s interesting what the experience of being on the show gives people. Manisha talked about gaining more confidence in herself despite making mistakes. Would you agree with this? Do you learn from your mistakes or do you simply get irritated and give up?
Blog post by Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker
We've seen some incredible baking talent on Great British Bake Off, but also some moments where contestants couldn't quite make the grade. Nonetheless, it takes incredible drive to be able to compete among some of the best amateur bakers in the country. Well done to all! We can't wait to see what's up next on Great British Bake Off.