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Great British Bake Off 2017: Italian week recap

Great British Bake Off 2017: Italian week recap

by Howard Middleton 11 October 2017

It's Italian week for the first time ever in the Bake Off tent. Howard Middleton sees which bakers are able to produce a Mediterranean showstopper.

More from this series:

With at least half the country still suffering from Brexit blues, Bake Off rubs a little sale into the wounds by welcoming us to the first ever Italian week. Sandi hurls her pizza dough claiming that Paul has been teaching her how to toss. Noel cheekily comments ‘he is an expert’.

In the tent it’s literally baking with an early summer heatwave. Boldly buff Steven says ‘if we have to do a naked Bake Off, so be it’. I’m probably not the only one searching Channel 4’s catch-up service to see if there’s a post-watershed edition.

For this week’s signature challenge the six remaining bakers must produce eighteen cannoli with three different fillings. Pastry discs are wrapped around steel tubes and deep-fried, then filled with a sweet ricotta filling.

Stacey’s dipping into her all time favourite desserts, which include a ‘jam roly cannoli’ filled with raspberry jam and custard, a lemon cheesecake and white chocolate and a tiramisu flavoured one. Adding cocoa powder to the dough means she runs the risk of misjudging the frying time and in a last minute flap, she puts freeze-dried raspberries on the wrong cannoli.

Yan is also colouring her cannoli dough with dangerous cocoa. She says she’ll use ‘instinct’ to judge when the shells are cooked. Prue looks decidedly dubious of Yan’s instinct. Trying to raise the bar with a mix of cocktail-based fillings, Yan infuses mint with amaretto and combines it with rose and lime, adds more amaretto to honey and completes her tipple trio with a passion fruit and vanilla mojito.

Kate also gets in the mood for a happy hour with spirited stuffings of limoncello, lemon and cream; Negroni-inspired Campari, gin and orange and the caffeine kick of an espresso martini.

Steven’s Italian grandfather is reputedly the driving force behind his flavour combinations – coffee and hazelnuts, almond praline and chocolate and Sicilian lemon curd. Liam’s highly personal flavours are allegedly inspired by a cheesy sense of humour, his love of Turkish food and a camping trip – white chocolate and lemon cheesecake, Baklava-style honey and nuts and toasted marshmallow with chocolate.

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As the only baker not filling with ricotta, Sophie risks the wrath of traditionalists, judges and Italians in general as she stuffs her cannoli with a questionable combination of mascarpone and gelatine. Despite more familiar flavours of amaretto and almond, chocolate and hazelnut and ginger, limoncello and lime cream, the jury is definitely out.

Stacey achieves ‘great flavours’ but her pastry is chewy and doughy. Noel mistakes the chunky brown tubes for Hollywood fingers.

Paul’s ‘stubby’ little digits point out that Kate’s cannoli are ‘not quite identical’ and Prue is ‘disappointed’ by a lack of alcohol in the espresso martini. However, Paul thinks her Negroni is ‘delicious’.

Finding himself a tube short of a full batch, Steven’s forced to craft a solo cannolo. It’s worth the extra frying time as he hits the spot with ‘perfect bubbles’ on his crispy pastry and a lemon flavour that’s scrumptiously sharp. Prue adds ‘the mocha one is very unctuous – lovely!’

Yan’s batch is sadly short on bubbles and her ‘tender’ pastry leaves Prue with a handful of cream. Sounding like a strict teacher at tortoise school, Paul scolds ‘your shells have let you down’.

Despite some runny fillings, Prue praises Liam for his robust flavours, calling the baklava variety ‘sensational’. Sophie’s well-set centres are ‘not at all sloppy’ and the controversial cannoli get the thumbs up from Prue as she decides ‘I think you might have converted me’, adding that the amaretto flavour is ‘heaven’.

Noel helpfully advises perma-tan Paul that the perfectly golden brown pastry is an ideal match for his next spray booth session.

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Technical challenge

Re-entering the tent in dark glasses, Paul, Prue, Sandi and Noel introduce the

technical challenge of pizza margherita.

Yan bravely opines that it’s ‘bread with a bit of cheese on top – what’s the worse that could happen?’ Realising their rolling pins have been confiscated, the bakers are expected to spin the dough aloft. Cautious tossing gives way to bolder flinging but Yan has to start again when her neat twelve-inch circle turns into an unruly tablecloth.

Kate swoons, not just in the intense heat but with the horrific realisation that she’s chopped off the end of her finger on an electric fan. Bravely returning to the task in hand, she struggles to slide her pizza from the peel to the stone and ends up scraping it into the oven like a little creased mound of Margherita’s laundry. Kate calls it an ‘absolute disaster’ and it’s little surprise when she’s placed sixth. Steven skilfully stretches his way to the top slot.

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The showstopper

Heralded last week as the ‘most demanding pastry showstopper the Bake Off has ever seen’, we now discover the task is to make twenty-four sfogliatelle – filled fans of fine filo-like pastry often called ‘lobster tails’. The bakers must produce two varieties of flavour. With fourteen metres of dough to roll and stretch in a tent temperature hitting forty degrees, Prue calls the task ‘pure murder’.

Sophie is happy to settle for traditional ricotta this time, mixing it with semolina and flavouring one batch with mango and passion fruit and the other with cherry, almond and chocolate. Kate favours dark chocolate and hazelnut and an innovative lemon and tahini combo.

Inspired by a trip to Canada, Yan flavours twelve of her sfogliatelle with lemon and blueberry and the other dozen with pecan praline and maple syrup, topping them off with a sprinkling of salty bacon dust. Trying to avoid duplication, Liam opts to leave his bacon in the fridge but perseveres with maple and pecan and fills the rest with orange-soaked raisins and rum.

Stacey had planned to achieve extra stability with a layer of choux paste beneath the pastries’ flaky exterior. It’s an interesting idea but sadly not a successful one. With time running out, she wields her syringe of praline cream and tries to inject the stubborn bakes with a little flavour. Instead she ends up with crème patissiere ‘shooting out of every orifice’. It’s not a pretty sight and Paul exorcises all hope by saying ‘your nightmare’s come true’. Prue exercises her ultimate rebuke, deciding they’re ‘not worth the calories’.

It’s not the first time Prue has pointed out Kate’s failings and she does it again. ‘This was supposed to be a showstopper and it doesn’t look as if you’re proud of them.’ Kate dutifully looks ashamed. Paul says she’s had ‘big problems’. Kate knows it. Managing to offer a desperately craved flaky crumb of comfort, Paul decides her flavours are ‘quite pleasant’. Poor Yan’s pastries are ‘quite raw’.

Steven’s parcels are packed with chocolate, orange and ginger and Sicilian lemon marmalade. Paul praises the ‘authentic’ taste and ‘excellent lamination’ and Prue agrees ‘the pastry is so perfect’.

Brilliantly displayed on fake ice like a fine fishmongers, Liam’s ‘lobster tails’ are judged to be a little inconsistent in size but with ‘great lamination’. Prue calls it ‘a hell of an achievement’.

Sophie’s prayers for divine lamination are also answered. Paul praises the delicate layers and Prue adds it’s ‘quite a showstopper’.

Deciding on the bakers’ fates, the judges and presenters reflect on their experiences working in intense heat. Prue recalls cooking in a Hong Kong kitchen without air conditioning, Paul tries to better that by describing toiling in a bakery in only shorts. (Brief pause whilst we imagine that sight… and there… I’m over it). Then Noel tells the surreal tale of just getting on with his job as a fire juggler on the edge of a volcano and it’s in that moment that I think he’s finally at home in the madness of the Bake Off tent.

Steven is back on top as this week’s Star Baker and the tension mounts as the cameras flit between Kate, Stacey and Yan to go. I audibly gulp as Yan’s name is announced. It’s a shock – not just because I’ve been a big Yan fan but, well, no disrespect to the other bakers, I really don’t see how she should have been the one to go this week.

Sadly it’s all too late now and Sandi is already announcing that next week’s show has ‘the most elaborate sponge showstopper the bakers have ever faced’. Oh surely, not again?!

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