The Blog

Great British Bake Off 2015 - Week Six

Despite being the only person in the tent (and, probably, the country) who knows what mahlepi is, dreamboat Tamal is having a crisis of confidence, and seems to spend half the challenge looking round at everyone else to try and get a better idea of what's going on.

Pastry week begins with Mat simply stating, "I'm underprepared!", which isn't exactly an ideal start when you're down to the final seven. The first challenge of the weekend is to produce an open, shortcrust frangipane tart, and Ian has some good news. In that relatable way of his, he excitedly tells the camera, "One of my guinea fowl has started laying eggs!" Yeah, great, me too, mate.

Obviously MezBez is pretty nonplussed about this as she wanders over to his workstation to find out more about his tart, which is flavoured with pear and raspberry. She looks more intrigued by Mat's piña colada frangipane, though that might be more to do with the heroic quantities of rum he's brought with him rather than anything baking-related. Nadiya and Ian decide not to blind bake their pastry cases before filling and, as a result, endure the wrath of Paul, who's prowling the tent inspecting the final products like a gluten-fixated sergeant major. "Soggy bottom," he says to Nadiya as, around the UK, people on their sofas playing home-made GBBO-themed drinking games cheer loudly and down whatever's left in their glass.

For what seems like a simple challenge, relatively speaking, not many people come out of it too well. Alvin has a disaster and somehow manages to overbake his pastry but underbake his filling, Flora gets found out attempting to hide her mistakes behind amaretti biscuits, and the rum flavour has been lost from Mat's bake - a particular disappointment for Bez. There are some successes though. Despite the soggy bottom, Nadiya's bay leaf, rong tea and pear combination wins plaudits, and Paul's well-practised Christmas-themed tart comes out a treat. Star of the show though, is heartthrob Tamal, whose mulled wine and pear frangipane tart is deemed "perfect".

We're then treated to a short VT about Denby Dale, which is known as the pie village, where, after the repeal of the corn laws, the locals made an 8ft wide pie to celebrate and someone fell in it and nearly drowned. Amazing.

The technical challenge involves making a dozen Cypriot flaounes - you know, those cheese-filled pastries that we all eat on a regular basis. Mat approaches this task with confidence: "I've made these a few times... not really, never heard of it." As usual, there aren't many helpful instructions, and the bakers are left baffled by the presence of yeast in the pastry dough as well as the rare extra ingredients: mastic (pine-scented tree resin) and mahlepi (ground cherry pits).

Despite being the only person in the tent (and, probably, the country) who knows what mahlepi is, dreamboat Tamal is having a crisis of confidence, and seems to spend half the challenge looking round at everyone else to try and get a better idea of what's going on. He comes bottom of the pile, mainly due to putting the sesame seeds on the inside of his flaounes, rather than the outside. Just ahead of him is Alvin, who has ostensibly made mini Cypriot pizzas. Quietly going about his business, though, is Mat, who wins the challenge and earns the faintest praise possible for a winner from Paul Hollywood: "They could almost pass for flaounes." He makes a damn good flaouna, does Mat - maybe he knew what he was doing all along.

It's been a mixed first day for all the contestants except Alvin, who has performed badly in both rounds. We're only halfway through the episode, but Paul and Marry are already talking about him like he's a dead man walking. If anyone needs a good show-stopper, it's him, and he knows it; he's become withdrawn and apologetic, as if he's already resigned to his fate.

The show-stopper in question involves making two different batches of 24 vol-au-vents (which, as we all know, is French for "flight of wind"). Furthermore, the puff pastry for these wind flights must be made from scratch - no mean feat.

Many of the bakers have picked flavour combinations that are important to their heritage and childhood. Nadiya is making Bengali korma vol-au-vents based on a recipe of her mother's, and cod with clementine ones too, inspired by her grandmother's cooking. Alvin is harking back to his Filipino upbringing, with vermouth chicken for one batch, and salmon en croûte for the other. When the camera crew come over to Tamal, he's beaming from ear to ear as he tells them the thinking behind his pulled pork and fennel vol-au-vents: a really nice sandwich he had once. "It's probably in my top two sandwiches ever," he proudly states. "I still think about that sandwich quite a lot," he continues, with a wistful, faraway look in his eye. I'm jealous; I don't think I've ever had a sandwich that made me quite so emotional, and yet that still might not be the best sandwich Tamal's ever eaten. What a life you've lived, Tamal, us mere mortals can only look on in silent admiration at your experiences.

Ian's in a flap because his wife called him the night before to tell him she didn't like his scallop and squid ink vol-au-vent filling (with friends like that, eh?), and eyebrows are raised all round when Flora announces she's making chocolate puff pastry to encase her praline vol-au-vents. Elsewhere, Mat's gone for 'his and hers' vol-au-vents, which basically translates to something his wife likes (smoked trout and horseradish) and something he likes (a full English breakfast).

Mat soldiers on when his pastry starts to look a little odd (or 'cellulite-y', as Mel puts it), but Nadiya's having similar problems and starts from the very beginning again. As time progresses, that looks like a worse and worse decision, and her rushed pastry collapses and leaks butter in the oven. In the end, she decides hope is lost and that her dish will be served deconstructed, so two savoury dishes and a bunch of hollow puff pastry shells it is.

When it comes to judging, Paul and Mary side with Ian's wife on the issue of the scallop and squid ink, and Paul's garlic and chilli prawn vol-au-vents are proclaimed "anaemic". Alvin's come up with a couple of decent-tasting dishes, but his pastry is raw in the middle. It wasn't the ending he would have liked but after Nadiya's meltdown, perhaps there is hope for him after all...

Innuendo of the week: "I'm going in with my finger!" Mat gets up close and personal with his trout and horseradish vol-au-vent filling.

Star baker: After being nearer the bottom than the top throughout the weeks, Mat serenely breezed through pastry week, wins star baker, and gets a punch in the stomach from Mezza for his troubles.

Going home: Alvin's Bake Off story ends here. He performed badly in all three rounds and gets sent packing six weeks in.

Next week: The superb six take on recipes of the past, which, technically, has been the theme for every single episode. Unless I missed 'recipes of the future' week.