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“The Great British Bake Off” season 14 episode 4 recap: keep your temper

It’s week four, and Chocolate Week! After a couple sporadic appearances over the years, it feels as though chocolate has officially been added to the week four theme rotation. It’s a good theme, leaving the door open to lots of different bakes while still being technically demanding.

The episode opens with yet another adorable and hilarious opening sketch. So far the highlight of this season has been Allison as a host, and this week is no exception. The bakers troop into the tent with some trepidation. All express their love of chocolate and their fear of working with it. “The things you love the most hurt you the most,” says Tasha grimly.

The signature challenge this week is a chocolate torte. A torte is an extra rich and dense chocolate cake. As an added challenge, the bakers can’t use wheat flour, but since tortes are meant to be dense, using a nut flour or no flour shouldn’t be too big of an issue. Key word here is “shouldn’t,” but we’ll get there.

Now, this challenge featured some of Bake Off’’s most classic techniques. Folding! Tempering! Mirror glaze! It was very fun. But instead of mentioning any of these techniques, Paul decides to explain that to cut the richness of a torte, you need something sharp. “Raspberries … strawberries … fruits … ” he rambles at the camera.

We then learn what the bakers are making. Saku is making a “sakutorte” (a pun on sachertorte) flavored with chocolate and raspberry. She also reveals that she practices at one in the morning. Yikes. Dan is making a Mexican-themed chili and guanabana liquor chocolate torte. Has he learned nothing from last year’s unfortunate Mexican week? Two-time star-baker Tasha is making a ginger torte with a lot of booze. There are also two cherry and chocolate tortes in the tent, one from Dana and one from Cristy. Dana informs Allison that while she has practiced, she hasn’t actually tasted her torte because she hates tortes. In my opinion, this is stupid, but what do I know?

There is a great discussion of the different flour substitutes that could be used. Most are going with almond, but Josh, who needs to be a bit extra, is using pecans in his raspberry and chocolate torte. He’s grinding pecans for the best flavor. “If you’re grinding your own nuts it’s always difficult,” Prue points out. “And painful,” Paul quips. “Grind ‘em up quick, less pain that way,” adds Noel. Prue shepherds them away, saying “you boys are just disgusting.” You tell them, Prue. 

Meanwhile, Rowan is going completely flourless with his chocolate/coffee torte. Prue approves of this, saying that if he pulls it off it’ll be perfect. This isn’t even the biggest risk in the tent, because Nicky is making a mousse topped with a torte. In two and a half hours! I think this is a terrible idea, but apparently the cake managed to set in practice. Nicky is incredibly cheery, her attitude matching her bright orange blouse.

On a side note, a lot of people were wearing orange this week. Nicky, Rowan, Cristy and Prue. Prue’s outfit looked like very glam pajamas, to be honest.

Dan, who’s seeking redemption after a horrible previous week, decides to start over because his torte baked slanted. “You could ski down it,” he says. In my opinion, this isn’t a big enough problem to warrant rebaking, but I do know the tent can do strange things to your common sense.

There is a flurry of tempering as bakers make their chocolate decorations. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to make it crispy and shiny. It’s finicky at the best of times, and particularly difficult in a tent with no temperature control. Most bakers do okay with tempering in the signature, except for Cristy, who fails to make her chocolate leaves. While checking in on Josh, Noel manages to hurl his bowl of chocolate in the air. Luckily, nothing spills or breaks.

By some miracle, Dan manages to finish, Nicky’s mousse sets and Rowan’s torte looks pretty. The baking gods were truly smiling upon the tent this week. Well, not on Cristy, whose cake is derided as dry and bland. On the positive side, Nicky’s torte is deemed “elegant, classy and cool.” Dana’s cherry flavor is beautiful. Rowan’s espresso filling is “like silk” and receives rave reviews. The only recurring issue is sloppy or underbaked tortes from Josh, Dan and Saku. Now, that comes from not getting your nut flour/liquid ratios right. I guess the no wheat flour requirement did come back to bite some bakers after all.

The technical challenge is a baked white chocolate cheesecake in two hours. At first, I think this is ridiculous, but then I find out that these are mini-cheesecakes, which bake much faster. Perhaps the challenge setters are being more reasonable this year? I do think the idea of a caramalized white chocolate cheesecake with blackcurrant jelly sounds disgusting, but hey, that’s just me.

Despite the limited instructions, all the bakers manage to make a decent jelly. It also gives us the first excellent Rowan quote of the week: “it’s more civilized, isn’t it, to sieve your jelly.” The challenge only becomes complex when it is time to caramelize the white chocolate. Now, you might think this is a complex, technique-heavy process. You would be incorrect. To caramelize white chocolate, you just microwave it in short bursts and then stir it. You do this over and over until it turns golden. This isn’t to say it isn’t difficult thoughif you get your timing wrong the chocolate will seize and/or burn. This fate befalls Rowan, Dana and Tasha, and they are pretty far behind midway through the challenge. We then get our second Rowan quote of the week: “I feel like I’m going to set up a charity for everyone who’s had to work with caramelized white chocolate.”

The next problem with the technical is the broiling temperature in the tent. Every season, there’s one episode where it’s just really hot, and it’s always when bakers have to deal with chocolate or ice cream. Tasha sticks her face in the freezer, and Allison enthusiastically wafts Matty with a baking tray before accidentally tossing it over her shoulder. Allison and Noel are just throwing appliances left and right. Dana bemoans the fact that she chose to wear a sweater.

And then there is a disaster. Tasha starts feeling dizzy and almost collapses. “Bake Off”’s medical team (yes, they have one) tell her to leave the tent and get some air. It turns out Tasha got a migraine the night before and can’t hold up in the heat. Allison comforts her. “Go home, sweetheart. I’ll walk you back.” I LOVE ALLISON. Because of the heat, Tasha can’t bake for the rest of the episode. At this point, I predict that no one will go home (whenever someone is sick, nobody goes home. It’s one of the great laws of ‘Bake Off.’).

Still, the challenge must continue. In judging, the two main problems are all the toppings melting off (because of the heat) and overbaking (because the cheesecakes are quite small). Saku, who suffered both of these problems, comes in last. Seventh is Cristy, who’s just having a nightmare of a week. Josh is sixth due to overbaking. At the top we have Matty in second, and Dan, who produced the only “perfect” cheesecakes, in first. Dan has officially redeemed himself from last week, good for him.

In the judging pavilion, Paul tries to convince Allison (and us) that despite Tasha being ill, someone could still go home this week. Saku and Cristy are at the bottom of the pack, and everyone else is okay for now. The showstopper is an edible chocolate box filled with molded chocolates and a chocolate cake. Chocolate on chocolate in chocolate. I’m here for it. The bakers get four hours, which feels like just barely enough time.

Josh is making a chemistry themed box, because he likes chemistry. Noel says that Josh is hoping his decorations will “spark a positive reaction.” Ba-dum-tss. Cristy is making a heart shaped box in honor of her husband. It’s week four and I’m still waiting for Cristy to develop an interesting personality. Rowan is making a paint box for his grandad, who is an artist. Dan is making a treasure chest filled with “the flavors of the Carribean.” Dana wants to honor her inner child by making a princess carriage. Saku is going for a cricket (the game, not the insect) theme because her daughter loves cricket. Matty is keeping it simple with his box but his chocolate, raspberry, pistachio and espresso flavor combination sounds great. Meanwhile Nicky is trying to break the stereotypes of the grandma bakers only making Anglo flavors by going for lemongrass and coconut truffles and a chai chocolate cake. Yay, Nicky! Unfortunately she suffers disaster with her caramel. Then the camera cuts to her stirring her caramel. Don’t stir your caramel, Nicky! That’s how they crystalize! Alas, she cannot hear me through the screen, but she does somehow scrape a decent caramel out on her third try.

Disaster also comes for Saku and Matty, who have to make their cakes a second time. The bakers all discover how messy it is to work with chocolate, and every station looks like a chocolate grenade went off. Then it is unmolding and construction time. Cristy cuts open her silicone mold and a part of me dies inside. The wastage is awful. Everyone’s box is going swimmingly except for Josh’s, whose chocolate isn’t tempered properly. Rowan’s chocolate is too soft, but he makes it work.

Miraculously, everyone manages to achieve a box, a cake and at least three truffles, but there’s definitely a lot of panic in the last few minutes. In fairness, most of the panic comes from Saku. Matty’s box is dull but his cake and truffles are superb. Dan’s box is a triumph but there isn’t enough cake. Dana’s horses have no legs. “They’ve had a long day,” she says. Her cake is delicious, but Prue is not a fan of the popping candy in her truffles.

Then it’s Rowan’s turn. “It’s not the neatest work you’ve ever done,” Paul says, in an attempt to be diplomatic. “I’ve had a ‘mare,” says Rowan bluntly. His showstopper is delicious though, so there is that. Josh’s box isn’t tempering and his piping isn’t precise enough for Paul (although Allison is a fan). Nicky’s looks gorgeously shiny, but she only managed to make three truffles. Luckily, they taste good, as does the rest of the showstopper. 

Cristy and Saku are the two bakers in danger, and they both produce showstoppers that look beautiful. Unfortunately, both their cakes are too dry and too dense. Based on the edit, I am even more sure that nobody is going home.

In the judge’s pavilion, Matty and Nicky are up for Star Baker. Dan has redeemed himself, and Rowan has slipped out of Star Baker contention. In danger is nobody, but for suspense, it’s still Cristy and Saku at the bottom.

Star baker is … Matty! In my opinion, it should have been Nicky based on the quality of tempering for the chocolate box. But Matty still did well, and he’s been hovering in the middle of the pack for a while, so it’s nice for him to finally have his moment in the sun. And going home is … nobody! What a shocker. It does mean that two bakers will be going home next week, which is just added drama.

Next time: pastry! One of ‘Bake Off’’s most difficult weeks, and this year’s pastry week appears to feature a pithivier and “pie art.” Can Cristy and Saku redeem themselves? Will Rowan bless us with more fantastic quotes? And what on Earth is “pie art?” We’ll just have to wait until next week to find out.

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