Great British Bake Off 2013, Week 4 - The Life of Pies and Tarts

Great British Bake Off 2013, Week 4 - The Life of Pies and Tarts

by Urvashi Roe 11 September 2013

What a perfect week of scheduling for Great British Bake Off. Just as the weather is getting colder, we have a tonne of on-screen inspiration for the ultimate comfort food – pies and tarts. Urvashi Roe, food writer and contestant from 2011, gives us the lowdown on this week’s show.

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Urvashi finds food, baking, cooking and eating a therapeutic relief from every day work and family life.

Urvashi finds food, baking, cooking and eating a therapeutic relief from every day work and family life.

I didn’t get through to pie week in series two but I loved pastry week. I’d say hearing Mary Berry say my pastry was lovely and short was a personal highlight that year. Getting a short pastry is of course only a third of the battle – the filling also needs to be right and tasty and the bottom needs to be lovely and brown so moisture was the enemy this week as the nation played Soggy Bottom Bingo. How many times did you hear it?

The Signature Bake – A Double Crusted Fruit Pie

I feel the contestants this year have taken a step towards Masterchef this year as there were some fantastic flavour combos. Rosemary, Apple and Pecan from Kimberley, Apple, Plum and Cinnamon from Christine, Apple and Sage from Howard, Cherry Apple from Beca (only is had no cherries or apples – only rhubarb!) but my tummy was rumbling for Frances and her Peach Pie In The Sky.

Paul wanted a ‘pie that’s perfect’ – well of course. That’s why they are all on the show. Perfection and precision is key to baking. Mary cautioned that the fruit should not be overcooked as this would release excess moisture and lead to the bottoms of sogginess.

So there were lots of tips on how we all avoid these. Rob opts to remove the base of the baking tin and place the pastry directly onto the baking sheet over a layer of greaseproof paper. Clever idea I thought as you can see how brown the bottom of the base is. Frances uses frangipane at the base to mop up any additional juices.

Kimberly and Beca added a layer of semolina at the bottom for the same reason. Personally I would have par baked the base slightly before filling and then glazed quickly in egg white to seal.

We also saw the invention of a new word this week from Howard - ‘Crackage’. This means slight cracks appearing in the pastry. Sadly for Howard, there was major crackage as he underworked his pastry and it crumbled apart when the judges came to taste test. Kimberley, Ruby and Rob were commended with comments through copious munching. Always a good sign. Glenn’s pie was a disaster in texture and taste receiving a ‘not quite right’ from Paul which I think is the worst comment ever. (‘What’s not quite right?? Be more specific!’ I shouted at the screen).

Frances achieved a fantastic presentation again – she always looks so cool and calm doesn’t she. Poor comments from the judges though on taste with Paul even going as far as saying it was ‘bland’. Ouch! I felt for Frances as I once got that comment too. Another new phrase invented with Christine and her Soggy Top. But it was Ali who was in the doghouse this week with a pie that was “underdone and tasteless” – a shame as Apple and Ginger should have been a winning combo.

Raspberry filo pie
Ruby’s Rose, Almond and Raspberry Filo Pie
Peach pie
Frances and her Peach Pie In The Sky

Technical Challenges with Twelve Custard Pies

But onwards into the second challenge – albeit with Glenn, Christine and Ali feeling completely disheartened. Paul and Mary were looking for twelve custard tarts with a golden pastry, an even smooth custard and the teensiest of wobbles.

To do this, the bakers would need to overwork the pastry dough more than a regular sweetcrust to get the crisp crust – words from the master baker so take note! This didn’t seem to be the challenge for the bakers. Most were unsure about the custard. Frances summed up the atmosphere in the tent precisely when she said ‘you start doubting yourself and your own ability so you start looking round at everyone to see what they are doing’. This is true. Even if you have made the recipe several times like Christine had, you still think someone could be doing it better.

The bakers also had challenges rolling out the dough so that it was thin enough but also large enough for 12 circles. Here’s a tip from me – cut the dough into 12 equal pieces before you start rolling and then roll each one out individually. Then you always have enough and never need to re-roll scraps. Simples!

I would also recommend Ruby’s idea of placing little greaseproof paper pieces under the pastry so they are easy to lift out – something we saw ALL the other bakers grapple with.

Overall the bakers didn’t do very well. Aside from Frances who came top in this challenge, most had negative comments from the judges. Not enough custard, custard oozing out, raw pastry etc. etc. etc. etc . Oh dear. I think this was probably one of the worst technical challenge results there has ever been.

A Big Impressive Filo Showstopper

So this was a chance for redemption. Certainly for Ali, Howard, Glenn and Christine who were all in the firing line.

Mel or Sue commented at the beginning of this episode that pie boundaries needed to be broken. Well I’d say they all did a bloody good job of doing that by making the filo in the first place. Who does this? Surely everyone has a wonderful Greek supermarket like I do??!!

Anyway, if you do decide to make this, take a tip from Howard and use high gluten OO grade flour for the stretchiness and some acidity like vinegar to tenderise the gluten for even more stretchiness. I would have liked to have seen more detail around how to make a good filo. It must be a faff to make but I imagine it’s quite satisfying if you get it right. Anyway, on Paul’s advice, the contestants worked it, worked it, worked it! There didn’t seem to be any mishaps.

Kneading seemed to take ages for them all. Why didn’t they use a mixer like Glenn? I thought all the flavour combos were interesting but if I had been in the tent, I would have made a bee line for Glenn’s traditional Feta and Spinach Spannakopita with the Walnut twist and Ruby’s Rose, Almond and Raspberry.

But then again I also liked Howard’s Fig and Feta and Ali’s Orange, Date and Cardamom. Yum Yum Yum!

Design wise I would also have given top marks to Frances. She turned out a stunning tree with branches and (non edible) flower blooms. Also to Rob for his Pythagoras Pie – genius criss cross idea which I rather liked even though the judges thought it was a mess. And finally to Christine. Her bake reminded me a lot of Joanne Wheatley’s (winner of series two) baking. It looked inviting and comforting.

My fingers were crossed were Glenn, Howard and Ali in anticipation as the judging began. Howard scored well on flavour and look. Hurrah! Glenn’s was simple with no faffing and this paid off with a winning look from Paul. Ali did well too on flavours and a crisp pastry as did Christine. Kimberly won Paul’s vote with a ‘that’s the best thing I’ve tasted for ages’ which made her beeeeeam and nail the Star Baker award this week.

A sad and tearful goodbye to Ali

Unfortunately there is always someone who has to go each week and Ali just had not done enough to stay this week. Two poor bakes and one stunner just wasn’t enough. But it was Howard who was tearful. I think it was sheer relief but I am happy to see him through to next week.

I caught up with Ali after the episode and he was of course gutted to go and had thought his M’hencha would have saved him. He’s moving forwards though with lots of food festivals lined up and planning a book on ethnic bakes. Great stuff. Good luck Ali!