The fourth episode of the ever-popular baking extravaganza begins with hosts Mel and Sue doing a link in the pouring rain, which certainly feels in keeping with the miserable weather the UK is currently experiencing. It's amazing how, despite GBBO being filmed months in advance, it's overcast and dreary both then and now. Amazing, right? Yep, pretty incredible...
Anyway, onto dessert week!
The opening signature challenge of a dozen crème brûlées sounds tricky enough, but Mary has decided to up the ante by deciding the sugar topping must be caramelised using the grill, because not everyone has blowtorches at home. Apparently, the irony is lost on her that all the contestants use state of the art Kitchen Aid mixers, the finest electronic gadgets money can buy and, sometimes, such as in the case of Ian, templates and moulds they've made in their own home workshop. She also seems happy for the custard fillings to be cooked in a 21st cCntury oven rather than over a campfire the bakers have made by foraging their own firewood. Spoilt and pampered, the lot of them.
A crème brûlée is a difficult thing to master because, as well as the (grilled) caramel, the custards must be cooked just right, with a small hint of a wobble. Sandy seems to be on a one-woman mission to invent new processes, as she blitzes her custards in the oven for half an hour before immediately throwing them in the freezer with little more than an insouciant shrug. Even when the filling of her Pontefract cake and lemon crème brûlées comes out like "soup", she still doesn't give a monkey's, and you're half-expecting her to walk off down the pub or light up a cigarette mid-conversation.
Having similar trouble with custard are Matt, Nadiya and Flora, all of whom end up with a runny filling. On the other side of the coin is Paul, who managed to effectively make scrambled egg. Not that MezBez is too concerned; she's having a whale of a time 'sampling' Paul's home-made almond liqueur. Our dipsomaniac judge is also a big fan of Ugne's marula fruit and coffee liqueur, which overshadows the caramel disaster that's occurring on top of her brûlées. She's done better than Alvin though, who forgot to turn the oven onto the grill setting, and consequently just has some hot sugar on the top. That only leaves Ian and Tamal, both of whom manage to get both the custard and caramel just right.
For the technical challenge, our remaining nine have to create a Spanische windtorte which is, of course, an Austrian dessert made of French and Swiss meringue. In short, it's the European Union of cakes (although, technically, Switzerland isn't in the EU, but why let something as inconsequential as factual accuracy get in the way of a joke?).
Sandy's maverick streak continues, as she decides she's going to bake her meringues while they're on the cake stand, which saves her a valuable four seconds later on. Furthermore, when the recipe calls for a meringue lid in the shape of a disc, Sandy, for no discernible reason, breaks hers in half before placing it on top, so it kind of resembles a butterfly cake.
Both Paul and Nadiya look to be having problems, as Paul's meringue is cracked and crumbling upon removal from the oven first time round, and Nadiya's final creation is, to put it kindly, an undercooked mess. It's not too much of a surprise, as both of them have been in the bottom three of every technical challenge so far. Nadiya plays to type, finishing eighth (her highest position yet!) just ahead of Alvin, who has overbaked his windtorte to such an extent it's a different colour to everyone else's. Paul, however, has somehow pulled it out of the bag and comes top of the technical challenge, ahead of Ugne and Flora in second and third respectively.
For the show-stopper, our tent-housed ninesome have four and a half hours to make a trio of baked cheesecakes, which must all be different sizes and stack one on top of the other. Well, it's a thought for an alternative to wedding cake, if nothing else.
Straight away, Nadiya looks to have had the most interesting idea. Her fizzy drink-themed cheesecakes (cream soda, ginger beer and lemonade) are to be flavoured with syrup she made at home by boiling down bottles of each of the drinks in question for 10 hours. On top of that, she plans to 'levitate' a drinks can above the cheesecake, then create Italian meringue down the side to give the illusion of a bubbly pop being poured. It's executed brilliantly and shows more imagination than 99% of anything else you ever see on Bake Off.
In contrast, Flora is the only person to make three cheesecakes of the same flavour: elderflower. Because her bake is relatively simple (though obviously still ridiculously challenging by regular-person standards), she's ahead of time and begins to panic. She fills the time by making macarons to decorate the outside but in the end, the luxury of time has been her downfall, as her base is too thick and her filling overcooked.
'Overcooked' is a word that can also be applied to Paul's berry trio of cheesecakes, though the same can't be said of Sandy. Poor Sandy, who throughout this episode is so laissez-faire yet non-traditional that you can't help but root for her. When it comes to the crunch (or not, as it turns out), her cheesecakes aren't stable enough to be stacked and, while this is the kind of thing that normally reduces a baker to tears, Sandy just laughs it off, then seems even less bothered when the judges tell her that the cheesecakes are undercooked and one of the bases is raw.
Elsewhere in the tent, there are some interesting flavour combinations going on. Tamal's three choices are mango, rosemary-flavoured honey, and hazelnut, whereas eyes are raised by all when Ian reveals he'll be making a Szechuan peppercorn cheesecake, a pecan salted caramel and rosemary cheesecake, and an apple and tarragon cheesecake. Does it work? You bet your life it does.
If Nadiya's pop explosion is catering to the inner child in all of us, Mat's creating the chocolate biscuit version, with chocolate cheesecakes flavoured with honeycomb, peanut butter and coconut. He reveals his time struggles by telling the camera, "I can't put the chocolate on until the cakes are stacked, and I can't stack the cakes until they're cold - it's a bit of a Catch 22, really", which, if nothing else, tells us that Mat doesn't have the first idea what 'Catch 22' means.
Innuendo of the week: "Right, let's get into the bottom!" Judge Paul is VERY keen to taste contestant Paul's cheesecake. I told you there was a bromance.
Star baker: Anyone else getting bored with Ian winning every week? I'm getting bored with Ian winning every week. "Humble me has done something rather amazing!", he exclaims, non-humbly.
Going home: Sandy's fairly disastrous weekend (runny crème brûlée, raw cheesecake, not knowing what a disc is) means she's sent home. "I'm going to keep baking. I might even improve!" she tells us.
Next week: The excitable eight must wrestle with free-from baking. It's recipes with no gluten, no sugar or no dairy. Hey, what do you mean that's not a proper theme? Wait, come back!