Over a certain kitchen in a certain tent in a certain field, the sun has risen on Tart Week. Sue Perkins is at an uncharacteristic loss for puns. “It’s a shame you can’t get any double entendres out of this week,” she deadpans.
The signature bake: a tarte Tatin. (Say that cinq times fast.) A classic tarte Tatin consists of caramelized apples baked under a crisp pastry lid, inverted for serving, but bakers are welcome to customize their creations in whatever sweet or savory fashion they choose.
Most bakers are saving time by making a rough puff — combining butter chunks (Butter Chunks would make an extremely good pet name for a significant other, if you’re in the market) with flour — but James makes a proper puff pastry, adding his butter in one big slab. “To be quite honest, I have no idea what rough puff pastry is or how to make it,” he says. Okay, Mr. Jenna Maroney Complaining About How Hard It Is to Watch American Idol When You Have Perfect Pitch. He adds dried lavender to the caramel for his apple tart.
Danny routinely makes her chosen savory pear and Roquefort tarte Tatin for lunch, which lends her — by Bake Off standards — an extreme degree of confidence. “It’s edible,” she says. “I know it’s edible!” Cathryn’s tarte Tatin will feature both her own five-spice blend and a pound of fresh plums and cherries, which she attacks energetically with a pitter tool that I can best describe as a reverse Bedazzler. “Would it mean more if we actually gave you a crown?” Sue asks reigning Star Baker John as he works on his apple and vanilla tarte Tatin with walnut praline. He answers, correctly, that yes, it would. Manisha goes through not one, not two, but eight failed pots of crystallized sugar before successfully making the caramel for her (ultimately underbaked, unfortunately) cinnamon, apple, and pear tarte Tatin.
I had feared James’s dried-lavender tart would taste like potpourri, but the judges are on board. Sarah-Jane’s simple but perfectly executed caramelized banana tarte Tatin (I want to make the sound of the knife cutting through its lovely, flaky crust my ringtone), an heirloom recipe, is also a favorite. The copious liquid from her fruit has left Cathryn with — the most fearsome phrase in the Bake Off lexicon — a very soggy bottom, but her bake is nevertheless “scrummy.”
Victoria, who low-key looks like Meryl Streep under deep cover researching an Oscar-bait role as a Somerset charity CEO slash keen amateur baker, opts for a very unusual-sounding fig, walnut, and pink peppercorn tarte Tatin. Unfortunately, it is also unusual-tasting, and looks not unlike a mushroom pizza. “That doesn’t really work for me,” Mary says, and my heart sinks out of my chest and straight down through my soggy bottom on Victoria’s behalf.
For the technical, bakers must re-create Mary’s recipe for a treacle tart with an interlaced lattice of crust on top. The filling of heated golden syrup, lemon, and stale bread crumbs requires bakers to work fast before the mixture solidifies — and to get the lattice just right before the warmth emanating from the sugary tar pit beneath it softens it to the point of intractable mush.
James has drawn out a lattice schematic with a ruler, having calculated that each of the strips should be exactly four centimeters apart. Sarah-Jane, meanwhile, is playing 3-D chess, twisting her own dough pieces into some kind of exciting spiral sweet fusilli. Stuart, a baker after my own heart, realizes for a second time in the course of three episodes that he left out a vital ingredient. In week one, it was tomato jam for his upside-down cake, and now it’s 150 grams of golden syrup. “This just looks like the cat’s been sick on,” laments John of his own tart in progress.
James and Danny take first and second, respectively; Manisha’s “rubbery” filling puts her in last place.
The showstopper challenge calls for a large, ornate “designer” fruit tart. As far as pop-culture mantras go, Brendan’s “I will today design a tart that will look stunning” is my new “I will sell this house today.” Victoria hopes her tropical fruit tart will avenge an unsatisfactory signature bake, continuing her personal peppercorn theme with a black pepper crust.
The crunch layer secret weapon inside Stuart’s raspberry triple chocolate layered tart features macadamia pralines, a brown sugar crumble, and even fortune cookies. The Cookie United Nations has another delegate in James, who’s whipping up a casual batch of macarons (what, like it’s hard?) to decorate his rose, lychee, and raspberry fruit tart and also, presumably, to serve as a handy midbake snack.
Come judging time, Victoria’s tart looks uncannily like it’s been drizzled with mayo. The taste is overpowered by lime; the bottom has been soaked to the point of disintegration. Cathryn’s raspberry, pistachio and lemon tart — the only rectangular bake in the bunch — is hailed by Paul as “very Parisian.” Manisha’s decadent rum and tropical fruit tart, which conceals a surprise layer of coconut sponge, wins praise for originality.
The judges’ coo over James’s elegant and creative cookie-adorned submission, but in terms of appearance, Brandon’s blackberry, nectarine, and dragon fruit tart is my personal favorite. Paul calls it, I think admiringly, a “platter of fruit.” I see it more as a lush kaleidoscope, dotted with dragon fruit pearls and delicately fanned nectarine slices. By the sound of it, I don’t think I’d kick his rosemary-scented mascarpone out of bed, either.
James, our boy king, is anointed Star Baker. “Well, I’m going home. I think that’s very clear,” Victoria says, pleasantly. I’m sorry to say she is not wrong. We’ll miss you, Victoria! (And if you are, in fact, incognito Meryl, please remember to thank us in your Oscar acceptance speech.)