In today’s recap: It's Victorian Week, everybody! I am super stoked about this one, because I’m a vintage cookbook collector, and old-timey esoteric recipes are my jam.
The Victorian era was the halcyon days of the meat pie, which appeared on the most elite tables with regularity: High-walled crusts stuffed with pricey game meats, elaborately decorated with lattices and scrollwork and other embellishments that can be made with hot water pastry (read: baked library paste). They were taken seriously, and for good reason: If you were blowing a month’s salary on pigeon meat just to show your neighbors that you were on the fast track to fiefdom, you best not fuck it up.
Our youngest competitor, 19-year-old Flora, brings all the drama this round. Right out of the gate she’s telling us about how good she is at cooking pheasant. Did you know that she won a pheasant cooking competition at her high school, which is how she got the name “Bird Girl”? Can you believe there are 15-year-old girls entering competitive pheasant roasting competitions in the U.K. as we speak?
Being the expert she is, she tells us that it’s important to pack it tightly, since meat pies tend to shrink quite a bit and you don’t want that. Then she immediately starts freaking out that hers won’t bake in time because she put so much meat in it. But that’s not the drama you should really be concerned about. This is:
Ian is comfortable cooking with game because, and man this is such a slam dunk for me I can’t even believe it, HE EATS ROADKILL.
He unabashedly tells us about how he began collecting dead animals from the side of the road shortly after moving to his 400-person village, and now he has a “passion for animals that have been bumped on the road.” And he’s baking his roadkill pie in a bird-shaped metal mold that he crafted himself. Can someone over in Cambridgeshire go take a look in this guy’s shed? Just to, you know, make sure everything is on the up and up.
Though there’s no winner declared in the first round, we can all agree that the master of meat pies is everyone’s favorite contestant, Tamal. He bucks British tradition and gets sexy with some Moorish flavors in a star- and rose-decorated pastry: a little ras el hanout, and some almonds and apricots. We’re all on the same page that we sort of want to be his girlfriend, right?
I’ll be honest, I was expecting something more interesting from Mary Berry’s arsenal of obscurity this week. The hardest part of this challenge is the fact they are given three hours to complete the cake when, in the world outside of the tent, it takes at least four. I take that back—the hardest part of this challenge is making a fruitcake that’s supposed to look like center court at Wimbledon, and pretending you’re remotely excited about any part of it. This might be the most depressing cake I have ever seen, and I once went to a party where someone made the Sandra Lee Kwanzaa cake.
The fruitcake is supposed to be topped with a layer of homemade marzipan, then a layer of homemade sugar paste dyed to resemble grass. It seems to be going well for everyone except Mat, who has made a neon green monstrosity that is a dead ringer for Nickelodeon Gak. Everyone dyes their decorative icing the pale shades of pink and yellow that Mary has instructed, but Mat ends up piping icing florets that look like they belong on the housecoat of a colorblind drag queen. His finished cake is described by Paul Hollywood as “a tennis court from Hades,” which is a pretty accurate description. Nadiya wins.
Mel opens the round with a hearty “Good morning bakers, or as they would say in Victorian times, ‘Watch your cock, have a banana!’”
I encourage all of you to start working this into daily conversation until it becomes a thing. It could be the secret phrase we Food52ers use to identify each other on the streets! A secret password for underground pastry speakeasies!
Charlotte russes are unbelievably delicious, and long overdue for a comeback. Line a springform pan with ladyfingers, fill with layers of jelly and bavarian cream, and garnish. Seems simple. OR IS IT???
One of the tenants of Victorian cuisine is “make everything look as fancypants as possible so your neighbors will know you’re better than them.” Contestant Paul is turning fruit into swans like he’s working garde mange on “The Love Boat.” Tamal makes bright violet macarons; Flora is whipping out the gold leaf. Nadyia tells the judges that she will be decorating her mango raspberry charlotte with nothing but a few dollops of Italian meringue, and Mary Berry stares her down. Nadiya stutters, as she feels those laser beams of judgement bore deep into the core of her being. But she stands firm! She’s growing the confidence she needs to win this this thing, sticks to her guns, and makes a charlotte that’s simple but delicious.
Mat, who was last week’s star baker, has his third straight flop of the day. He decides to be as simple as possible with his strawberry charlotte, rationalizing, “If you keep it simple, [there is] less to go wrong.” He gets his flavors spot on, and Mary raves about them. Sadly, his sides break as he transfers it from the pan to the plate, so his aesthetics aren’t up to snuff. This would have been fine in earlier rounds, but now that we’re down to the final six, someone has to go home. His bad day means that it is his last in the tent.
Our star baker today: TAMAL! About freaking time! He knocked it out of the park today with his cardamom rosewater orange blossom bavarian, layered with two jellies: raspberry ginger and blackberry apple. If you’re thinking “That’s too many flavors!” that’s because it is!
Still: I’m happy for him. The bakers are happy for him. Mel and Sue and the judges are happy for him! Everyone loves Tamal! And in the event there was one steely heart out there immune to his charms, he says the first thing he wants to do is ring his parents to tell them of his accomplishments, and they let him do it on the show. He beams while telling his mom, who squeals with delight.
Seriously: At this point, if Tamal isn’t your favorite contestant, you’re a horrible person.
Next up: the quarterfinal. Mel intones that “the contestants will face their biggest demons” as they tackle French patisserie.
Did you watch? Do you also love Tamal? Let us know in the comments.