Great British Bake Off 2018: Spice Week

Great British Bake Off 2018: Spice Week

by Howard Middleton 26 September 2018

The nine remaining bakers attempt to spice up both our and the judges' lives with their bold, flavoured creations in Bake Off's first ever Spice Week. Howard Middleton has the inside scoop.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients. He now demonstrates his creative approach to gluten-free baking at numerous food festivals and shows and by teaching baking classes around the country, including at corporate events, commercial promotions and private parties. Howard continues to entertain audiences as a public speaker, compere and broadcaster.

Following in the solitary footsteps of Botanical Week, Batter Week and Caramel Week, Bake Off’s annual attempt to try ‘something different’ brings us to the first ever Spice Week.

The signature is a ginger cake, which Prue says is her favourite spice. However, Prue warns of the danger of using fresh ginger, which she tells us loses flavour when baked. Immediately ignoring this advice, Manon cheerfully grates fresh ginger into her sponge batter, though wisely adds more to her lemon curd filling and pristine Italian meringue buttercream. Briony supplements the fresh ginger in her cake with some dried spice, hoping the flavour will still endure an encounter with honey, apricots and dark chocolate ganache.

Dan aims to transform his mother’s recipe into a four-layered ginger and lemon drip cake filled with lemon Swiss meringue buttercream. However, he’s horrified to discover some odd flecks of ‘cheese’ in his batter, which he guesses are a sign of curdling. He briefly agonises over what to do with his already-full cake tins. I’m shouting ‘Bake them!’ at the TV, but to no avail. Dan’s dilemma occurred four months ago in Berkshire and here am I in Yorkshire… plus I don’t possess one of those two-way TVs anyway. Dan bins his batter and begins again.

Rahul has also opted for Swiss meringue buttercream in his Bonfire Night ginger cake with cinder toffee and salted caramel, whilst Karen looks forward to a boozy November the fifth, adding a generous glug of brandy to her traditional Yorkshire parkin. Noel confides that it’s his role to keep Prue’s hip flask topped up with brandy. He alleges it’s a full-time job.

Ruby is also hitting the bottle with her ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ ginger cake. The rummy sponge is sandwiched with orange mascarpone cream, drizzled in toffee and topped with ginger snaps. Jon’s ‘Family Christmas’ cake features a festive gathering of gingerbread folk atop his stem ginger sponge and lemon Italian meringue buttercream. Following last week’s lesson in creating fruit juice ‘egg yolks’, Jon gets his chemistry kit out again to make gobs of glittery lemon globules.

Kim-Joy and Terry seem to start off with similar ambitions for their cakes – stem ginger, poached pears and cream cheese frosting. Sadly it’s a cruel fact of the Bake Off tent that recipes that begin with so much in common rarely finish that way. She crowns her creation with a little forest of poplar-shaped pears and a perfect snow-capped gingerbread house in miniature. Terry’s ‘upside-down’ cake seems destined to disorientate the poor baker – as he bravely pipes filling on the still warm cake, it melts and slides towards an inevitable avalanche of disappointment.


As Prue and Paul deliver their judgements, Dan’s is ‘too dense’, Terry’s is ‘very gluey’ and Briony’s ‘looks impressive’ but is ‘very dry’. Prue surprises herself by admitting there’s too much booze in Karen’s cake and though she thinks Jon’s cake is ‘a little claggy’ she’s impressed by his ‘lemon goldy balls’.

Ruby’s cake is ‘deliciously rummy’ but Paul says it’s ‘not a ginger cake’. Rahul’s, on the other hand, is ‘lovely and gingery’, Paul calls it ‘awesome’ and offers his hand and Prue calls him ‘one hell of a baker’. There’s a handshake too for Kim-Joy and Prue praises her cake’s ‘most beautiful texture’. Manon makes it a handshake hat trick and gets a ‘Prue pat’ too. Paul says it’s ‘one of the best ginger cakes I’ve had for some time’, which is high praise from someone who’s just eaten nine in succession.

Paul’s advice for the technical challenge is it’s ‘all about delicate baking’. Tasked to produce two batches of mamul (or ma’amoul) – an ancient Arab pastry filled with dried fruit and nuts. Sandi and Noel ‘explain’ that six must be filled with a spiced walnut paste and flattened in a shallow mould, whilst the others are filled with date paste, rolled into balls and decoratively pinched with mamul tongs. The two admit they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Gingerly balancing a tricky trapeze of exotic spices, the bakers grind their mahleb and spoon their mastic, relying only on the recipe’s minimal instructions and their own natural instincts for Middle Eastern patisserie.

Terry finds the ghee-based pastry sticks to his fingers, then melts into little pools in the oven. Expecting to take the bottom place, he’s ‘saved’ from that fate by Karen who kicks herself for putting the wrong filling in the wrong mould. Ruby is shocked to be technically triumphant.

Now we all know that the Bake Off producers have come up with some pretty weird (and often not so wonderful) showstoppers in the past (biscuit towers, éclair towers, stacked cheesecakes) but this one is close to taking the biscuit. Allow me to introduce you to the spectacle that is… the biscuit chandelier! For fans of the Great Pottery Throw Down, this is essentially the bone china chandelier challenge reworked in biscuit dough. With four hours on the clock the bakers must be thankful that their chandeliers aren’t required to light up… though applicants for series ten would be wise to start practising.

It appears to have all been too much for Prue, who we’re told is ‘under the weather’ today. That’s the excuse I usually use for a hangover (and Noel did warn us about the hip flask) but whatever the reason I hope she gets well soon. Paul is flying solo and frankly enjoying it a bit too much.


After kicking off with Paul over the ‘ridiculous’ challenge, Dan takes flight with a kaleidoscope of biscuit butterflies. Dedicating them to his six-year-old daughter, Constance, he decorates the cinnamon biscuits with pretty feathered icing flavoured with apple juice. Paul says you won’t taste the apple.

Karen returns to her Yorkshire school days with a Pontefract-cake-flavoured ‘school reunion’ chandelier. She says that the brown school uniforms earned them the nickname of ‘the brown knicker girls’. Paul quips, ‘Was that due to the liquorice?’

Manon re-establishes a little decorum with her Art Deco creation – neat chocolate and tonka bean checkerboards hang around with timut pepper biscuits and cinnamon ganache. Jon keeps it in the family with his chandelier – a birthday treat for daughter Emily’s twenty-first, including cinnamon biscuits filled with marshmallow and raspberry and chilli jam.

Ruby’s ‘Peacock Chandelier’ is a vibrant array of azure-coloured pistachio and cardamom biscuits whilst Briony favours orange, pink and the skin-staining yellow of turmeric for her creation. Rahul goes wild (in that typically controlled Rahul way) with his ‘Durga Puja Party’ of over 150 orange and cardamom biscuits. He admits ‘I know I’m crazy’.

Once again Terry and Kim-Joy are baking on a similar theme. Kim-Joy creates an ‘Ice Chandelier’ of Christmas-spiced biscuits, whilst Terry attempts to recreate all seventy-eight characters of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s a tall order and sadly it proves to be too ambitious in the end as his birds burn and his ladies fall from grace. Paul admits it was ‘a good idea but you took on far too much’.

Jon’s creation is judged to be ‘a bit messy’ but his biscuits are ‘delicate’ and ‘buttery’. Ruby’s ‘pistachio is lost’ but the ‘cardamom is delicious’ and Paul decides the unusual cracked-texture of Briony’s biscuits is ‘unusual’. Trying to boost the apple flavour of his icing, Dan has resorted to an apple essence, which Paul says is ‘almost synthetic’ but his butterflies are ‘impressive’. Paul is less impressed by the ‘chunky’ appearance of Karen’s biscuits. She fights back: ‘We’re big girls in Pontefract’.

Manon’s chandelier begins to drop biscuits on the judging table but Paul says it still ‘looks amazing’ and is ‘very impressive’. Ruby tells Rahul he’s ‘so annoying, so annoyingly good’ as Paul decides that despite being ‘messy in places’ his showstopper is still ‘fantastic’.

Kim-Joy’s ‘exquisite’ chandelier makes her the Star Baker of Spice Week and both Karen and Terry are told they’re cumin home. They sob about their experience and then something remarkable happens as Terry talks about the death of his wife and how Bake Off his helped distract him from his loss. It’s a moment so poignant that I don’t know how to write about it to do it justice. I had the great pleasure of meeting Karen a few weeks ago and I really will miss seeing her in the Bake Off tent, but when Terry thanks Paul and calls him ‘a gentleman’, it’s clear the tent has just lost someone very special.