Yes, parties are fun, but does party food really qualify as a category all in itself? Apparently so in the world of Bake-Off, because the rather limp theme of this week's episode is all about tiny pastries, tear-and-shares and (presumably) the perfect ratio of cheese and pineapple to put on sticks.
This week, the bakers have been charged with catering for the party of their dreams. They'll be making 12 sausage rolls, a chocolate caterpillar cake (albeit one that's carefully not named) and a huge display of party bakes for the discerning palates of Paul and Prue.
To make things even more stressful, it’s the quarter finals. “There’s just no hiding place is there,” Dan says. “You make an error, they’re going to pounce on it, laser focus.”
And indeed they do, because there are plenty of errors. Read on for the highlights.
Generous with the sausage
How could there not be innuendoes galore with as phallic a Signature dish as sausage rolls?
“Sausage roll,” Noel says, kicking things off. “An absolute staple for any party. An essential like pass the parcel, musical chairs, or putting your keys into a bowl at the start of the evening.” A nice little swingers joke there – and Tasha makes a bit more explicit when adding her filling.
“I’m being generous with the sausage,” she explains. “No-one wants a small sausage.” If you say so.
Most stressful moment
It’s always the Technical, isn’t it? This week’s challenge sees Paul complicate things unnecessarily by asking the bakers to add a fiddly little ridge on top of their caterpillar cake Swiss rolls (Colin would never). “I’ve eaten them,” Dan explains. “But then I’ve eaten loads of stuff and I couldn’t tell you how to make most of it.”
It’s made by cutting the sponge into strips, but Dan badly misjudges his and his caterpillar ends up looking like it’s had a bad run-in with a lawnmower. “This one’s a bit skinny,” Prue says.
And to make things worse, Cristy also completely botches her sponge, but decides to make a fresh one, meaning her cake is covered in melted ganache and filling. She still nabs second place though – perhaps that’s a reflection on how bad everybody else’s cakes are.
Perhaps keen to make amends for their poor showings last week, the bakers seem extremely keen to let Paul know how much they admire him. Cristy tells Paul that her sausage rolls are “a combination of Paul’s tutorials that I’ve watched” – sadly, her festive rolls end up being underdone, so it’s a bit of a backhanded compliment.
“I’ve followed Paul for a long time,” Josh tells Noel and Alison – by watching Bake Off, reading his books… and “tailgating his car,” he jokes (or does he?).
Thief of the week
Dan, who can’t remember how to make a Swiss meringue by himself, comes up with an inspired solution: “look over my shoulder and copy what someone else is doing.” Which he then proceeds to do, as Matty loudly explains just how it works. Cue many suspicious glances from Matty, and some giddy giggles from Dan… though given his position at the front of the tent, he gets less snooping done than he’d like and his cake is a mess.
Something is in the water in the Bake-Off tent this week: Noel, Alison and Josh have all rocked up wearing some truly questionable garms. Though Alison almost steals the show with her star-themed dress, Josh takes the crown for his frankly baffling Hawaiian Christmas shirt, which is adorned with tinsel, baubles, and robins. Truly, why?
Most out-there flavour combo
Not content with blowing the judges’ minds last week with his Thai curry-flavoured panna cottas, this week Dan makes sausage rolls inspired by “my love of dim sum.” That means a water chestnut, ginger, garlic and five-spice flavour combo, plus (to Paul’s horror) a soy sauce dip. “This better be good, Dan,” he warns. They’re not.
The handshake drought is over! Matty’s classic sausage rolls (unadorned filling, sage leaves on top) get top marks for their lamination, crispness and deliciousness. Does it help that it sticks as closely to Paul’s idea of a traditional roll as possible? Probably.
“I never thought of getting a handshake,” Matty says later. “It kind of took me by surprise.” Sweet summer baker.
Best looking bake
Tasha’s caterpillar cake is a thing of beauty: not only is it a caterpillar cake, but Tasha decides to decorate hers with Noel’s face and ends up with some kind of Mighty Boosh monstrosity. “I’ve done you dirty, Noel,” she says as time runs out – but her cake is a triumph.
A bit later on, the Showstopper is a mixed bag. Most of the bakers get lukewarm praise from the judges (all of them have at done least one thing wrong), but Josh pulls it out the bag with his festive-themed Showstopper, never mind the fact that they were filming the episode in summer. His snowman macaroons, bread couronnes and Christmas pudding pastries are described by Paul as “something I would go back for”. The highest praise.
It is Matty that eventually nabs Star Baker for the first time this series – both for his outstanding (handshake worthy) sausage rolls, and then for his middling Showstopper.
But watch out Matt: as Prue explains, the curse of too much expectation can be a bad thing. “Darling, it’s the curse of Star Baker,” she tells Alison: everybody who gets it struggles the following episode. Will Matt crumble next week like so much undercooked shortbread?
It's an emotional farewell for Cristy, whose unexciting Showstopper finally proves the tipping point. Alison cries a lot, everybody else cries; it's a sad state of affairs. But on the plus side, it's the semi-finals next week, and Tasha, Josh, Matty and Dan are now all in with a shot of winning. Tune in next week to find out who makes it to the big showdown...