The Great British Baking Show
The first-ever Batter Week (eggs! flour! milk!) finds Sue brandishing a cricket bat: “Your email was very unclear!” she tells Mel. The signature challenge? Two dozen identical Yorkshire puddings. Take everything you know about pudding, America, and throw it in the garbage — excuse me, in the bin. In the U.K., “pudding” is usually synonymous with “dessert,” especially something boiled or steamed. (If you ever have the opportunity to eat sticky-toffee pudding, by god, order three.) But these baked savory treats are not unlike popovers: Yorkshire puddings have an eggy, puffy, deliciously crispy pastry crust and are usually served with beef and gravy.
One of the trickiest aspects of Yorkshire pudding is finding the right ratio of egg to flour and milk to give the puddings a nice rise. Batter consistency is key as well: If it’s too thick, they won’t rise, and if it’s too thin, they won’t have any structure at all. “Once it’s in the oven, it’s in the lap of the gods,” Mary says.
Val, a Yorkshire native (no pressure! no pressure at all!), is replicating her mother’s recipe, but filling her puds with spicy chili. Andrew takes the classic dish “on holiday” with his Yorkshire tapas puddings. His secret: adding a little mustard power to turn the batter an alluring yellow. Candice makes a “deconstructed beef Wellington” with mushrooms and horseradish cream, plus grated horseradish mixed into the batter. A little rattled after last week’s poor performance, she accidentally drops a fork on the ground. “I didn’t want to use that one anyway,” she quips.
Jane’s “meat and two veg” Yorkshires are like a miniature Sunday roast dinner with all the trimmings: beef, pea puree, crispy potatoes, and horseradish cream. Rav is making characteristically adventurous Thai tofu panang Yorkshires. Paul takes exception to this choice, because (1) Rav seems to use coconut and lime in every challenge, and (2) he personally cannot stand tofu. (Paul! Tofu is good!) Tom grew up vegetarian, so his family’s version of a traditional Sunday lunch was eaten at an Indian restaurant. His West Yorkshire fusion puddings will be filled with cauliflower and potato curry and baked from a chickpea-flour-based batter. As Tom puts it, it seems like he and Rav are in the midst of a two-man “Great British Curry-Off.” For what it’s worth, I would watch the ever-loving pud out of that spinoff.
Kate’s “Christmas dinner compromise” puddings — her husband’s family always had Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Day, hers didn’t — are filled with turkey and sausage-meat stuffing, plus cranberry sauce. Based on ingredients alone, Benjamina’s red-onion chutney, brie, and bacon Yorkshire puddings sound almost unfairly delicious compared to everyone else’s. Then again, Selasi’s “perfect Sunday roast accompaniment” contains pork crackling. Hello, pork crackling.
Once their batter is ready, the bakers pour it into muffin tins filled with smoking-hot oil (which seems like a great way to permanently disfigure yourself in the name of lunch), then pop them into the oven. Selasi’s puds come out of the oven huge, puffed up like we’ve just entered the first act of a bakery-set reboot of Little Shop of Horrors. Val’s puds have gone flat because the oil wasn’t hot enough. “They’re not going to allow me into Yorkshire ever again,” she frets. She, Jane, and Tom all toss their first round of insufficiently risen puddings. Candice culls her own uneven batch: “Some of them are a little bit stupid.”
But don’t worry! Val’s Yorkshire puddings come out just fine, so she won’t have to face any pitchforks when she returns home. Andrew’s puds also garner praise. Though their flavor is nice, Kate’s puddings are teensy and unusually shaped, looking a little like the unloved cherry danish that might remain when the rest of the office pastry spread has been picked over. Paul says that Jane’s puddings, with their bright-green pea filling, taste “unbelievable,” though they’re irregular in size and a bit underbaked. Benjamina and Candice also get high marks for their puds, though they, too, have their structural imperfections. Selasi’s beautiful fluffy creations may vary in size, but they’ve all got lots of room for the pork-stravaganza contained therein.
Tom is the undisputed loser of the Curry-Off. His second batch of puddings is as flat and strange as his first, drawing unfavorable comparisons to blinis and biscuits — the chickpea flour may have done him in. Meanwhile, Rav’s puddings improbably win Paul’s love, tofu or no-fu. Tom reflects on his not-so-good puds in a talking-head interview: “I’d love to be able to say I’m going to put this one out of my mind and just get on with it, but that’d be a total lie. I’m definitely going to fixate on this for at least a few hours.” Tom, welcome to my ever-increasing stable of Bake-Off crushes.
For this week’s technical challenge, Paul asks the bakers to produce a dozen heart-shaped lace pancakes. As if that weren’t challenging enough, they’ll only be permitted to make one test pancake each. The next 12 they produce are locked in, whether they like it or not. A rich-people tradition (isn’t everything?) dating back centuries, lace pancakes appealed to Paul as a challenge because the intricate designs required — which burn faster than you might think — effectively combine a test of skill with a test of speed.
Before piping batter onto a hot pan, many bakers practice their designs on paper so it doesn’t count as their tester. But what does lace even look like, really? “I haven’t even got any lace pants,” Candice laments. (I love you, Candice.) Some interpret “lace” more liberally than others — Kate’s holey pancakes seem like a trigger for trypophobia. (Think carefully about whether you really want to Google that.) Paul notes that Selasi’s design “looks like an alien’s face in the middle.” Val describes her pancakes as “very Jackson Pollock.” Many pancakes burn. Others are wildly irregular, in color, shape, and/or size.
Though Benjamina seemed way behind, having finished only five pancakes with 13 minutes left to go, she pulls off the next seven beautifully and claims top honors in the technical challenge, followed by Candice and Jane. Rav comes in last, followed by Selasi and Kate.
This week’s showstopper: churros! Three dozen of them, to be exact. This delectable street food, a proud member of the fried-doughnut family, is traditionally served with a chocolate dipping sauce. They have to be sweet and they have to be identical, but beyond that, bakers are welcome to fill their churros, make accompanying sauces, build them into a perfectly crispy altar at which to worship, and so on.
Andrew’s elaborate “churros window box” will be made with a deceptively simple batter piped into a flower shape, dusted with pistachio, and served with almond liqueur ganache and a peach-and-apricot puree. Something inadvisably termed “chocolate soil” is also involved. Tom’s fennel “snake in the grass” churros will be served with spiced saffron custard and dusted with rosewater sugar. Rav goes for Japanese flavors with his three-dip matcha pistachio churros. (The three dips in question are creamy pistachio, wasabi-and-white-chocolate, and mango-and-passion-fruit.) Candice’s two-way peanut-butter churros, piped into figure-eights and then dipped into peanut-butter mousse and chopped peanuts, are the stuff of my peanut-butter-fetishist dreams.
The batter must be thick enough for the churros to keep their shapes in hot oil — but no one will want anything to do with an overly greasy churro. Kate’s batter for her “hot cross bunny” churros, in the shape of rabbit’s heads, is looking thinner than she hoped. Some bakers pipe their churros right into the fryer (though it’s hard to keep them consistent that way), while others pipe them onto parchment first. Benjamina chooses a teardrop shape for her utterly delightful tropical coconut churros, served with passion-fruit-and-mango dipping sauce. Selasi’s lemon-and-anise churros are small balls, which is perhaps not the most attractive shape for a churro, or for anything that isn’t specifically a chocolate-glazed Munchkin from Dunkin’ Donuts. He freezes the balls before frying them without thawing — a big risk, since the inside might not cook properly. Jane pipes white-chocolate custard into her pistachio churros once they’re cooked, just as Val fills her chocolate-orange churros with a ganache. Poor Kate is running way behind, so Selasi ends up helping her pile her churros onto a plate.
Rav, Tom, Val, and Candice all fall on the spectrum of meh to pretty good. “The fat has impregnated it a little too much,” Mary says of Andrew’s otherwise appealing churros (same). Kate’s bunnies are more like a Rorschach inkblot that only vaguely suggests a bunny, or as she puts it, “roadkill.” They’re also so oily Paul can’t bring himself to eat them. Benjamina’s beautiful churros earn an A-plus in every regard. “Well done,” Mary tells her, “You’ve cracked it.” If Mary Berry said that to me, in any context, I would get her praise tattooed somewhere prominent on my body. Selasi’s decision to freeze his churros proves to be a big mistake: They’re seemingly burned on the outside and raw on the inside. No, thank you. And Jane, who’s never had a churro, nevertheless manages to wow the judges.
The amazing Benjamina is deservedly named Star Baker. Sweet, talented Kate is heading home. Of course, she takes it like a champ. “I don’t think I’ve completely humiliated myself,” she says with a big smile. Kate, no! Of course you haven’t! You’re great! Now I’m going to cry over a baking-based reality-television show!