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Great British Bake Off 2018: Vegan Week

Great British Bake Off 2018: Vegan Week

by Howard Middleton 10 October 2018

No eggs, no dairy – how will the remaining bakers cope? Howard Middleton reports on the first ever Vegan Week and lets us know how they got on.

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The chickens and cows of Berkshire (and doubtless far beyond, when you consider the quantities of eggs, cream and butter the tent normally ingests) are taking a well-earned break for Bake Off’s first ever vegan week. Noel and Sandi admire the choreography of ‘Paul and Prue’ (how we wish it really was them) in a pantomime cow costume and Noel sings his special composition: ‘It’s Vegan Week, Chop up a Leek’.

Briony isn’t chopping leeks but she is slicing celeriac for her Signature bake. The remaining bakers’ half-dozen must produce eight savoury tartlets in two flavours. She adds sweet potato and some controversial apple, which the judges worry will add too sweet a note to the filling. Briony assures them it won’t and proceeds to make some French onion tartlets with vegan goat’s cheese (that’s a tapioca-based substitute, not the cheese of a vegan goat).

Despite wearing a particularly cheerful Hawaiian-style shirt, Jon’s really not a happy bunny. Vegan week is ‘not my thing’ he admits. However he’s committing himself to some pretty complicated bakes, including making falafels, hummus and sweet potato mash for one batch of tartlets. Garlic mushrooms and vegan cream cheese fill the others… well, I say ‘fill’, Jon soon realises he’s underestimated the amount of filling needed for his generous pastry cases.

Rahul has no such problem – he piles vegetables and coriander ‘posto’ (apparently a Bengali version of pesto) on a layer of cashew nut paste and spoons chickpea curry and vegan yogurt into his Ghugni Chaat tartlets.

Ruby and Manon are both attempting to recreate a buttery creaminess with cashew milk. Ruby adds arrowroot to thicken the sauce of her ‘Cheesy Greens’, whilst Manon whisks up a béchamel to coat the chestnuts and mushrooms of her ‘Winter Tartlets’. Noel, who’s still learning that baking tins come in all shapes and sizes, thinks the little rectangular ones are ‘like mouse beds’. Moving on to her ‘Summer Tartlets’, Manon packs her cases with aubergine and courgettes, which she charmingly pronounces as something like ‘hatatouille’.

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Noel thinks that Kim-Joy looks like she might know her way around a vegan café or two and she proves him right with her sincere admiration of the merits of tofu. Relatively conventional broccoli and tomato quiches are joined by a quartet of balsamic beetroot-based tartlets, filled with a nutty ‘mascarpone’ and topped with stencilled squirrels that nod to our memories of the infamous Bake Off nut flasher and the equally unconventional series four champion, Frances Quinn.

As judging begins, Paul seems genuinely impressed by how successful coconut oil is in pastry (fortunately filming took place well before some Harvard professor declared it ‘poison’), exclaiming ‘it really works’ to Manon (and just to clarify that’s as a pastry fat, not an extreme form of contestant elimination).

Briony’s pastry is described as ‘flexible’ and the judges confirm the addition of apple is making it too sweet. However her poppy seed pastry fares better and, despite a mountain of onion, the overall flavour is ‘lovely’.

Of Ruby’s chilli-flecked sage and butternut tartlets, Paul says ‘I get the sage, the heat and nothing much else’. He’s also ‘a bit underwhelmed with her ‘Cheesy Greens’; ‘I can taste the broccoli… and the broccoli’.

Paul thinks Rahul’s tartlets are over-filled but Prue admires the pastry and the ‘very good flavours’. Sampling the chickpea curry batch her eyes mist over and she declares them ‘poetry!’

Sadly Prue isn’t waxing lyrical about Jon’s bakes, deciding they ‘look a bit of a mess’. Paul agrees they’re ‘not good’ and, despite liking the falafel flavour, he thinks the pastry is ‘rubbery’. ‘It’s not your thing, is it?’ says Paul. Jon doesn’t need to answer.

Kim-Joy’s coconut pastry is judged to be ‘amazing’ and Paul thinks ‘the flavours are great’. ‘Delicious,’ affirms Prue. Visibly wrestling with his carnivorous conscience, (and the fact he’s been doling out handshakes like they’re ten a penny) Paul reluctantly proffers his mitt.

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Prue’s advice for the Technical is ‘trust me, trust yourselves and it will work’. A vegan Pavlova with coconut crème patissiere is required and the bakers must begin by putting their faith in a couple of cans of chickpeas. Draining off the infused water, known as ‘aquafaba’, they’re expected to whisk this with sugar into something resembling meringue. Before too long there’s a tent full of uncannily good results, though Kim-Joy is worried she’s over-whisked hers and she starts again. The crisp but incredibly fragile meringues need to be spread with vegan white chocolate, then layered with passion fruit crème pat and topped with fresh fruit. It’s one of those challenges where the end results look remarkably similar, so Paul and Prue have to resort to being even more picky about who’s arranged their kiwis most artistically and we can’t really see the difference but we have to accept they probably know best. Kim-Joy’s worried re-whisking is wasted as she still comes last. Rahul is delighted to win a Technical… delighted for precisely ten seconds… and then he looks anxious again.

On to the Showstopper, where the bakers are attempting a vegan celebration cake. Briony dedicates hers to her dairy-free brother, producing a hazelnut mocha cake with dried and fresh raspberries. Rahul honours his late grandmother who self-imposed diet restrictions after the death of her husband. Sandwiched with raspberry jam and decorated with chocolate and sugar shards, Rahul’s coconut layer cake looks like it’s going to be impressive.

Manon’s spiced apple cake is tastefully decorated with piped roses, coloured with matcha, beetroot powder and turmeric. Jon embraces comedy kitsch with his ‘Only Fools Eat Horses’ cake – a chocolate and orange sponge that’s covered in leopard print icing and topped with a meringue pineapple. Jon samples the cake and admits it’s ‘quite claggy’.

Fondly recalling a day out with her granddad, Ruby’s ice cream-flavoured cake features chocolate, lemon and coconut with fresh raspberries. She’s using dowels to support her creation, saying ‘I don’t want any wonky cakes’.

If, for a second, you ever doubted that Kim-Joy would have ‘interesting’ friends, you only need to hear the description of her lavender and lemon cake, suitably decorated for a friend ‘whose spiritual animal is a fox’.

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As judging approaches it becomes increasing clear that vegan cakes don’t always have the integral stability of their standard counterparts. Indeed many are struggling to stand on a countertop. Rahul regrets having soaked his sponge for added moisture and Ruby stabs hers with extra dowels as she wonders ‘maybe if I have it facing this way you can’t see a wonk’. It’s too late; times up and the bakers exit the tent, only to witness Ruby’s creation slip and plunge. (I’m sure there’s no truth in the rumour that Noel, Sandi and the bakers were directed to walk past the tent at the precise moment a producer nudged the worktop.)

‘It looks like a disaster,’ exclaims Prue, though she says the lemon and coconut cake is ‘delicious’. Paul thinks Ruby’s chocolate cake would have made a more stable base but the theory hasn’t worked for Rahul, whose drizzle (along with the bitter tears of anxiety) has weakened the whole thing. Paul decides he was ‘trying too hard to get too much flavour in’.

Briony’s cake is judged to be ‘as neat as a pin’ by Prue and Paul adds it’s ‘very elegant’ and ‘a very nice cake’. Kim-Joy’s foxy decoration is ‘exquisite’ and despite being ‘a little puddingy’ Paul calls it another ‘very nice cake’. (Just to clarify that sentence – it’s Kim-Joy’s cake that was ‘a little puddingy’, not Paul.)

Prue says that Manon’s cake looks ‘absolutely beautiful’ and Paul adds ‘when you get it right, you really get it right’. And then the judges taste the cake. Prue decides it’s ‘really heavy and gluey’ and Paul sums up with ‘looks great, tastes awful’.

Paul observes Jon’s creation and says ‘it looks a bit sad’. True to its Del Boy Trotter roots, Jon responds ‘it’s knocked off’. Prue echoes Jon’s original assessment by saying ‘it’s a bit claggy’ though Paul admits ‘I enjoy that flavour’.

And so it’s Noel’s job to announce that Kim-Joy has achieved Star Baker again and Sandi struggles to say that it’s Jon who must leave.

Now, I hear you asking, ‘Howard, has anyone been made Star Baker after placing last in a Technical challenge before?’ Honestly, you must think I’m a mine of information… and the answer is yes – Ryan in series three and, technically speaking, Frances in the series four final. You’re welcome.

And if you’re also wondering if anyone has ever returned to the tent after being eliminated, the answer is yes again. Never forget the Christmas specials. Jon, I have three words for you mate – ‘Hawaiian Santa shirt’.

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