We come to pudding week
Signature challenge: steamed school pudding, served with an accompaniment. What, like a string quartet? Oh, no. "A custard, or a compote," explained Noel. Bleurgh to all of this. My school puddings were awful. Maybe nuns can't cook?
"We're avoiding stodge at all costs," said Steven. Good luck with that, lad. Yan was substituting breadcrumbs for a third of her flour. Who the what now? Kate was making something to do with Mr Darcy. Wet shirt vanilla sauce? Boiled breeches? We had to wait to find out. Julia looked puzzled. "We never had steamed puddings at school," she confided woefully. Lucky you, Julia. Steven was doing something terribly clever with a syringe. "Marbling," pronounced Paul, confidently. "Well, sort of," replied Steven.
Cut to a dusty old gibber blathering on about puddings in sheeps' bladders. Ditch the history shizz, Channel 4. Nobody cares.
Back to the judging. "It's a little bit dense," said Paul to James. "Not the lightest sponge," said Prue to Sophie. Steven got a Hollywood Handshake for his lemon and blackcurrant effort. Yan got one for her mango and something or other pudding. Liam's was too stodgy, apparently. "You've over-mixed it. The gluten is too powerful." What? Liam looked gutted. Stacey's was pronounced "absolutely delicious" and she too got a handshake. Look Paul, what's the point of the handshake if you dole them out so easily?
The technical challenge: it was staggered. Each contestant was called in one by one, and told what the challenge would be. Six molten chocolate puddings filled with peanut butter. One hour, then presented to the judges immediately. Yikes, this was tricky, not to mention ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS and please can I have the recipe.
One-by-one the contestants filed into the tent. Everyone confessed they'd never made anything like this before. Sophie, who looks more and more like Pippa Middleton every week, burbled on about raising agents, Liam looked horrified, Yan was unperturbed, Julia talked to herself throughout and Kate admitted she'd never made a chocolate pudding "in my life". Stacey was my favourite: one glance at the recipe and a nonchalant "Not. A. Clue." We were told that the recipe didn't tell the bakers how long the molten puddings should be in the oven. Swines! "I've got an inkling it won't be very long," said Sophie/Pippa. "I think about 35 minutes," said Kate. "25 minutes," said Steven. "10 minutes," said Yan. HOW LONG, SOMEONE TELL US FOR CHRISSAKE.
Sophie did spectacularly well. "I saw a lot of nodding," she smirked triumphantly as she peered over towards the judges. Steven's were over-baked, Kate's were "cracked... quite solid... massively over-baked... pretty dreadful", which made her puddings sound like a poo produced, with some effort, by a person with constipation. James were "raw... bit of a failure", Stacey's had too many air pockets, which is apparently a crime in baking circles, and Liam's were "excellent". Sophie won. "I'm pleased," she announced smugly. "This has put me in a much better position," she added, in the manner of Winston Churchill circa 1943, viewing successful military manoeuvres .
The showstopper. An ornamental trifle terrine. Mousse, jelly and something else. I missed the final (sponge?) element as the cat was making pre-barfing noises. "Blarf! Hurk! Bleeargh! Blark! Blark! Blark!" and I had to find her, pick her up, run downstairs, open the front door and throw her outside in the 15 second window available before she regurgitated her Waitrose Adult Fish Pouch, the ungrateful bitch. She used to survive on crapola Go Cat until one of my sisters gave her the good stuff and now she'll eat nothing else.
Okay, back to the bakers. Classic flavours, tradition, keep it simple, oh my that looks complicated, trifles galore, and nobody adding any beef with peas.
Mango lime chilli mouse (WTF), white chocolate bavarois, chocolate skylines of London and Hong Kong, silver leaf on meringue crowns and blimey charlie, these bakers are talented. Nobody, NOBODY, is a failure. And they're all lovely. This is why Bake Off is so good. Great people, great talent, simple but brilliant formula. That's all it takes, TV people. Oooh and later we can all watch the freakin' MADNESS that is Dr Foster.
Oh no, Liam was close to tears. Sandi comforted him. This is where the harsh shite that is X Factor gets it so wrong. People are applauded for their ability to crawl over their dead relatives in order to warble "Mysterious Girl", whereas kindness will always win the day - as Strictly demonstrates week after week. Yes it's a competition, but people aren't mean to one another. You're welcome, Simon.
Back to the showstoppers. Sophie and Yan had produced marvels of baking. Stacey's was "spot on". Kate's was "very good", James' was "too firm" and "not carrying much flavour" (ouch), Julia's passion fruit jelly looked like something my cat was throwing up on the pavement, Steven's was bloody outstanding, yet Paul said there was too much gelatine. "I don't like rubber." Your sex life is your own affair, Paul.
Steven looked close to tears at this verdict. Why? It was AWESOME.
Liam's was "clumsy" and "the jelly's not set."
Star baker was Sophie, leaving the tent was James. I was right, but there was no pleasure in it. "My time has come. Gutting. To be part of this has been really humbling." Julia cried her eyes out and it was James who comforted her. This is the magic of Bake Off. Lovely programme, lovely people.
Next week, pastry.
(First published here)