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Great British Bake Off 2017: caramel week recap

Great British Bake Off 2017: caramel week recap

by Howard Middleton 20 September 2017

It's caramel week for the first time ever in the Bake Off tent – Howard Middleton lets us know if it was a sweet idea or left everyone feeling sickly.

More from this series:

Watch your fingers as we dip into another of those ‘Bake Off firsts’ and welcome to the tent a week devoted to burning sugar… it’s ‘caramel week’. Yes, not shying away from the controversy caused by last year’s batter week in which the nation argued fervently (‘I’m telling you Bernard, batter’s not baking’) the producers are risking another baking backlash.

Eighteen identical millionaire shortbreads is the brief for this week’s signature bake. Paul is looking for ‘three distinct layers’ and both he and Prue stress the importance of caramel having the right consistency – firm, but not chewy… soft but stable. It needs to yield to the tooth with a caramel caress, yet be supported with shortbread that has genuine architectural integrity. They don’t actually say all this but the judges really do seem to be paid to poetically overstate.

Obedient bakers are taking the quest for perfection very seriously; explaining the ideal ratio of their component ingredients and whipping out the rulers to check for perfect proportions. Sophie uses acetate collars to keep an eye on consistent construction. Her Jaffa caramel shortbreads have an extra layer of ganache, topped with a thin layer of tempered chocolate. Sadly time gets the better of her and the collars are still on when judging commences.

Brave Yan dispenses with all this thermometer malarkey in favour of a more free-spirited approach, keeping a lookout for the moment when her caramel stops steaming. She decorates her crystallised ginger and hazelnut shortbreads with a spray painted portrait of the queen but insists she’s not Banksy.

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Tom’s stem ginger caramel takes longer to make than he expected and he develops a sweaty ‘stress sheen’ of tent time trauma. Pouring molten chocolate over his almond shortbreads, he sees it sink into the soft caramel and has no option but to firm up the trays in the fridge. Fearing the disaster that cutting could bring he presents the judges with two trays solidly intact. Wielding his trusty knife Paul reveals that the caramel is still soft though the ‘flavour is great’.

Favouring huge individual shortbreads, Steven constructs his layers of macadamia biscuit, orange caramel and coffee liqueur flavoured chocolate in a muffin tin. Paul doesn’t care for the ‘bitter’ caramel but Prue loves it.

The fledgling partnership of Sandi and Noel differs over how to pronounce ‘pecan’. He goes for a familiar British ‘pee-can’, whilst she opts for a more Southern American ‘pick-ahn’. Noel gets to present his pronunciation for James’ maple pecan shortbreads and Sandi announces the alternative in Julia’s pecan salted caramel batch.

Liam, Stacey and Kate are also salting their caramels. And they’re adding extra ingredients – Liam favours peanut butter, Stacey opts for rum and Kate does a little horticultural pruning to infuse hers with bay. She explains that her tree at home is now looking a little sparse. You can just imagine Sue Perkins saying, ‘so Kate, I hear you’ve been over-trimming your bush?’

Nevertheless, it turns out to have been worth Kate baring her bay – Prue loves the aromatic flavour and it’s a perfect match for the crunchy walnut shortbread.

Paul calls Yan’s work ‘more toffee than caramel’ and Prue disappointingly adds ‘I don’t think the texture of anything is right’. Texture is also a problem in James’ batch, judged to be ‘a little unpleasant’.

Prue thinks that Stacey’s heart-shaped creations are ‘so pretty’ but she doesn’t like the flavour. Julia’s ‘bulging’ caramel is too salty but her nutty shortbread is good. Paul decides that Sophie’s millionaires ‘look hideous but taste amazing’.

Liam’s vanilla shortbreads are a real winner; the peanut butter caramel behaves beautifully and the young baker buzzes as he sees the prestigious Hollywood mitt reaching toward him. ‘Oh my days!’ he exclaims.

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Technical challenge

Moving onto the technical challenge, which is a dozen stroopwafels; thin Dutch waffles, sliced in two and sandwiched with a gluey caramel. Noel takes a trip to Gouda to talk us through the origins in the series’ first ‘love them or hate them’ historical segments. Of course this diverting excursion is no help to the bakers and neither is Prue telling Paul privately that the secret to the caramel is to ‘go low and slow’. Oblivious to this tip, the bakers achieve pan after pan of grainy caramels. Stacey’s are admittedly ‘the best of the worst’.

Discussing the prospect of who’s doing well and who is in danger, fickle Paul says that Kate’s ‘doing well’ coming sixth in the technical, while James (who came second) is at risk.

The showstopper

This week’s showstopper is a caramel cake that must include some spun sugar work. Paul calls for culinary choreography – ‘make that cake dance,’ he cries. I picture him directing old MGM musicals with a megaphone in jodhpurs and a fetching visor. I really need to stop picturing Paul in various outfits – it’s keeping me up at night. Anyway, the bakers do as directed and bring on the dancing cakes.

James opts for a nutty cake with amaretto liqueur, peanut praline and sesame brittle. He tells us he’s going to dip his nuts in hot caramel, which should certainly make him hop around a bit. Unfortunately his cakes aren’t so animated – they dip depressingly and he has to start again.

Tom’s also suffering from a lack of elevation; after a flattened failure he’s forced to remake his hummingbird cakes. Flavoured with pecan praline and passion fruit cream, he tops off his creation with a spun sugar bird’s nest.

Humidity begins to devour the bakers’ spun sugar work before the judges can but there are still some impressive creations.

Stacey’s chocolate and coffee cake supports a caramel butterfly. She tells Prue ‘there’s not as much of an erection as I wanted it to be’. Prue nods with a knowing smile that says she’s come across this situation before. Sagging sugar isn’t Stacey’s only problem – her icing is too thin, though the cake itself is ‘delicious’.

Yan worries about her tiger striped orange and chocolate cake with its rainforest of praline trees and a caramel waterfall. ‘It looks better in my head sometimes than translated onto a plate’. She needn’t have worried – it looks ‘fantastic’ and the flavours are ‘lovely’.

Julia’s poppy seed cake with caramelised walnuts and decorative shards is ‘elegant’ with a ‘beautiful taste’. Sophie’s Italian meringue buttercream won her a Hollywood handshake in the first week so she’s hoping it will go down well again. It does – along with a salted caramel ganache and chocolate mirror glaze it’s called ‘magnificent’.

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Steven ostentatiously claims ‘the royal family is my second family’ as he presents his majestic caramel crown of a red velvet cake. Drenching the dome in a crimson mirror glaze he comments, ‘sexual, isn’t it’. Moving swiftly on from the prospect of feeding the tabloids with a royal sex scandal, the judges feed their faces instead. Sadly Steven’s sparkling showstopper seems somewhat ‘stodgy’.

James’ sponge is judged to be ‘rubbery’ but with ‘lovely flavours’. Tom’s cake lacks caramel and is ‘underbaked’.

Liam offers a layered ginger cake with white chocolate buttercream and spiced caramel ‘drips’. Paul seems never to have seen or heard of a ‘drip’ cake before, which makes him seem strangely ignorant to one of the biggest trends of the past few years and uncharacteristically self-absorbed. Yes, it’s the pride of Pinterest and the idol of Instagram – a tall smooth cake with purposeful drips of chocolate, fondant or indeed caramel. Paul loves the effect and tells the young baker ‘you should be very proud of yourself’. Liam dares to dream that through the aroma of caramel he can also smell the tantalising whiff of Star Baker. Unfortunately it’s not to be, as Kate gets the prize this week. Prue says her ‘sensational’ toffee apple cake is ‘I think the best cake I’ve ever eaten in my life’.

Tom, who had the kind of unlucky week the tent delights in distributing, is sadly kicked off to rejoin the scrum with his rugby pals. However, even sweet-toothed Paul reflects on a particularly saccharine week and says, ‘I crave a bag of crisps’. Next week it’s puddings – would anyone mind if we included a cheeseboard on the menu?

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