'The Great British Baking Show' Season 4 Episode 4: Batter Week

Benjamina's Troipcal Churros Show Stopper (Photo: Courtesy of Monika Frise)                             

Nine determined bakers remained as we entered week four of this most British of baking competitions. In this round our group faced a first in The Great British Baking Show history – a series of batter-related challenges! Not to be confused with one who plays cricket, this episode was a case of mind over batter and more Sue and Mel puns than you could shake a bat at.

But first, a quick look back at last week’s results. Tom plaited, proved and boldly flavored his loaves to earn the Star Baker title. His Norse-inspired serpent and hammer show stopper impressed the judges by demonstrating creativity and solid bread making proficiency. On the other hand, Michael’s best efforts weren’t good enough and he was kindly but firmly banished from the tent. His tradiitionally flavored Cypriot show stopper lacked polish and flavor and his chocolate bread and attempt at dampfnudel were nothing to write home about either.

As always, the slate was wiped clean and the battle of the batter began with a Yorkshire puddings signature challenge. The bakers were required to make two dozen identical well-risen puddings of any flavor brimming with a savory filling of their choice.

In the technical round, Paul requested twelve delicately lacy, heart-shaped pancakes with very little in the way of recipe instructions. Only a warning from Mr. Hollywood to practice their pattern first!

Rav piping his lace pancakes in the technical round (Photo: Courtesy of Tom Graham)

Finally for the show stopper, the contestants were charged with making thirty-six identical sweet churros. They could be filled and served with dipping sauce, but they had to be brown and crispy on the outside with a soft fluffy interior.

Highlights: In the signature challenge, it was all about uniformity, texture and the rise of the puddings. Despite Val’s concern that she’d not be allowed back in Yorkshire, her beef chili-filled creations were deemed proper puddings and her filling had a kick. Rav’s Thai tofu panang churros were well-filled with a good texture. Even Paul, who doesn’t like tofu, said he’d have another. Andrew decided to take Yorkshire on holiday with his tapas puddings filled with spiced chicken in a tomato saffron sauce and the judges went along for the ride finding little fault with the puddings or flavors. Finally, Paul and Mary approved of Selasi’s Sunday roast accompaniment of pork tenderloin filling with an apple sauce and pork crackling garnish. The bake was beautifully light and fluffy and the filling tasted amazing.

It was Benjamina who came in first in the technical, winning Paul and Mary over with her highly elaborate lacy pancakes. Close behind was Candice whose pancakes were equally moist, delicate and evenly colored. Benjamina’s were just a bit more fancy.

The show stopper this week asked the bakers to turn a street food into something magnificent, but few bakers were up the assigned task. Jane was tickled by the judges’ enthusiastic reaction to her pistachio and white chocolate filled churros. Paul particularly praised her churro flavors and the accompanying boozy chocolate sauce.

However, it was Benjamina, who in Mary Berry’s words, “cracked it” with her coconut flavored tropical show stopper with passion fruit and mango sauce. Besides beautiful flavor, her churros showed definition, had a pleasant color and were the right thickness. This show stopper result added to her first place ranking in the technical and an above average review of her dainty red onion chutney, brie and bacon Yorkshire puddings served as evidence that this South London teaching assistant conquered the batter and thus was declared Star Baker by Mel.

Missteps: The trick of the perfect Yorkshire pudding is in the rise and for a number of bakers, that was their downfall. Candice’s Yorkshire Wellingtons were too thin and flat. In addition, Mary thought the beef needed more seasoning. Kate’s Christmas dinner compromise had the lovely flavor combination of turkey, stuffing and cranberry, but her pudds were small, irregular and lacked enough rise. Tom, last week’s Star Baker, tried a vegetarian fusion pudding filled with cauliflower and potato curry, but it was the chickpea flour he used that turned his puddings into dry, solid biscuits.

The technical proved too challenging for Rav. He came in last with bone dry pancakes that burned due to their high sugar content. Selasi’s efforts were deemed clumsy – the pancakes seemed to have an alien face in the center – and none of them had a consistant color.

As I mentioned earlier, there were a few bright spots in the show stopper this week, but some of the contestants struggled mightily in the churro challenge. Paul questioned if Tom’s fennel snake in the grass churros weren’t actually savory; and in any event they were overdone and a bit tough. Andrew’s window box flowers were clever with good definition but the churros were overcooked and impregnated with fat. Rav’s three dip matcha pistachio churros were strangely shaped, a bit fatty and tasted more savory than sweet. By freezing and not thawing his shaped dough, Selasi burned the outside of his lemon and anise flavored churros while leaving the centers raw.

But it was Kate’s hot cross bunny churros that were her undoing. They too were permeated with fat and the judges weren’t charmed by their sad rabbit faces. Paired with her mediocre showing in the technical round and her poorly executed puddings, it was Girl Scout mum /nurse Kate who was sent home. Paul said she wasn’t the weakest baker in the overall competition, but that weekend she was. Kate was very gracious in defeat saying she wasn’t going to cry because now she gets to watch and see who finishes this journey. Aww!

Another week of the Great British Baking Show has come to a close. As I await the next set of cunning challenges from Mr. Hollywood and Mrs. Berry, these are the sort of things I think about: Wasn't that pancake technical round questionable as a baking challenge? Do you think Sue and Mel improvise those puns? Why does Candice wear heels in the baking tent? Are you as charmed with Andrew’s Northern Irish accent as I am and do you think he resembles Eddie Redmayne in any way?  Don’t judge, it’s just the way my mind works. Please feel free to add your observations about GBBS below.