Our pro commentator for the week is Jemil Gadea, pastry chef at Masseria in Northeast Washington. He had lots to say and couldn’t have been nicer while he said it. Now seems the right moment to thank our previous pros, some of whom pulled double duty: Caitlin Dysart, Tiffany MacIsaac, Alex Levin, Padua Player, Brian Noyes and Naomi Gallego. Top of the Pops, all.
STILL IN: Tamal, Ian, Nadiya
JUST OUT: Flora
Demographically, the bakers heading to the tent for their last set of challenges remind us of what we like best about your average American spelling bee finalists: Benetton-colored. Second-gen immigrant excellence. Almost 15 million viewers tuned in for the episode as it aired on the BBC in 2015, and, judging from the tumult of live-tweeting at the time, the lives of the contestants matter far more than the choice of bakes.
Nobody’s a shoe-in, but Nadiya has come on strong of late. The judges respond well to her flavors and innovative spirit. If Tamal gets his projects done on time, he would fill the dark horse (bien cuit?) role, and Ian could return to midseason, Star Baker form. Judges Paul and Mary dote on some contestants’ “growth,” feeling partly responsible, perhaps, for guiding the lot to higher baking ground.
“Back to basics” yeast buns for the signature challenge, it is. Sixteen of them must be done in three hours, iced and filled two ways. A batch bake, we learn, means the buns will rise and join sides in the oven; where they pull apart is a sign of being “ripped” — and we look around for bodybuilder/ex-Season 3 baker Ugne. Ian flavors one dough with elderflower and another with spice. Chef Jemil sees that as risky but is of the school that if you can add flavor to each component of a creation, just do it.
Holy herb grower! Ian is just distracted enough to leave out the sugar. Judge Paul hisses that a sample bun tastes “like a crispy bap with icing on it.” We’re rooting for this baker to ask this disser to step outside, but Ian looks full-on conflict-resolution to us. “Sixty grams of sugar in a dough is missing? You should be able to tell,” says Chef Jemil, in language we can understand.
Nadiya uses a single kind of dough but shapes one set of eight buns into rounds instead of the snub-nose sub roll. Judge Paul treats this move as if she had just invented the chocolate bar (J.S. Fry & Sons of Bristol, 1847). The sour-cherry racing stripes on the other eight buns convince the judges that Nadiya’s star is rising. None of her 16 are ripped, though. NBD.
However, we would want to take our elevenses with Tamal and his buns, because half of them are marmalade-filled — like the ones fancied by Paddington Bear and his pal Mr. Gruber. Yet we cannot endorse Tamal’s choice of icing, which is royal and dries to a laminate finish. Soft buns deserve soft icing, says Chef Jemil. Too bad that crème pâtissière didn’t set, either.
None of the bakers seem thrown by the technical challenge, which constitutes six raspberry mille-feuille with Chantilly cream in two hours. Techniques to take away include baking the pastry between two baking sheets; Chef Jemil says this helps maintain an even thickness. And an example of what not to do: Cut the baked pastry with a straight-edge knife. “Serrated’s the only way to go, if you want clean cuts that preserve the flaky layers,” he says. Tamal places third, then Ian. There’s no doubt who’s going to take this round, Chef says. Nadiya is beaming.
Tiers, for fears — that’s what the four-hour showstopper challenge has to offer. And a steady rain, because sugar work is planned. The bakers complicate classic British cakes by having to bake multiples in varying sizes that have a consistent crumb and a unifying theme. Tamal’s sticky toffee cakes are connected and festooned with caramel cobwebs and floss and real violets. It’s kind of a glorious train wreck. The Love Productions backgrounder that celebrates Tamal’s performance features a proud older sister who says her sibling’s got it all — no matter who gets handed the etched glass plate.
Ian has built a graduated, multilevel platform for his five carrot cakes. This time, he remembers the sugar. The batter contains chunks of oranges, too, and Judge Paul says it’s the best carrot cake he’s ever tasted. The whole shebang is upstaged by footage of Ian’s happy home life, narrated by his wife. They live in a timbered English Tudor, and the shot of their kitchen after one of his practice sessions shows every pot and utensil upended and in need of washing up.
Back in the tent, somebody is cooling their cake layers on racks on the floor, and Chef Jemil says the sight makes his skin crawl. He doesn’t want to eat any food that spends time down there. Nadiya is melting giant marshmallows in the microwave for her fondant. (Judge Mary says she’s never seen them used that way, but we’re not so sure about that.) The baker will use her shortcut fondant to give her trio of lemon drizzle cakes a flawless finish. She seats them each atop a stand draped with sari material in Union Jack colors.
Nadiya’s showstopper story seals the deal. It’s the wedding cake she and her husband, Abdal, never had for their arranged Islamic marriage when she was 19. Back in Bangladesh, fish is more appropriate for such a celebration than a fancy dessert. Turns out, he’s the reason she became a contestant, pushing Nadiya for two years before she finally applied.
Family members and the previously eliminated bakers are frolicking in the glen, the bouquets are at the ready, and the Nadiyators rejoice. The Season 3 winner delivers a political-convention-worthy sound bite about believing in herself, and it’s hard to miss the catch in Judge Mary’s voice as she recalls Nadiya’s journey.
The British viewing public agrees: Eighty-seven percent of the more than 20,000 respondents in an online Telegraph poll say Nadiya deserved to win. And then there’s this posted message, providing yet another reason why we can’t have nice things like “The Great British Baking Show”:
fatcatbureaucrat, somewhere near you, United States, 10 months ago:
this show is as dreary and dull as your weather. it’s an entire show about baking a cake for goodness sake.
Meanwhile, Nadiya hides that etched trophy plate under her bed from June till October when the finale airs on the BBC. Her family can barely keep the secret.
Fast-forward a year or so: Nadiya has completed two cookbooks and filmed a cookery program called “The Chronicles of Nadiya.” Oh, and she has baked an orange drizzle sponge filled with vanilla buttercream for Buck House’s 90th birthday celebration for the Queen. The QUEEN! It has three tall, fondant-covered tiers in gold and lavender, and the baker reports Her Majesty took the top tier home.
During an appearance on “Loose Women,” a live “View” type panel show, Nadiya reveals she and Abdal plan to renew their marriage vows. He calls in and proposes on the air; she’s touched and says she’ll think about it. Nadiya, you charmer! As Padua Player re: Ep. 8 said, TV loves housewives.
Chef Jemil’s lessons for home bakers:
* Don’t rush it when you’re making mille-feuille. The dough needs proper rest between turns; he likes to chill it in the refrigerator, not the freezer.
* When you’re cutting the baked mille-feuille pastry, always use a serrated knife.
* A soft bun calls for a non-rigid icing.
* If you’re moved to create your own showstopper at home, try to be as precise as possible with all the detail work. It will add up to something impressive.
CARAMEL STICKY TOFFEE CAKE
16 servings; makes one 8-inch layer cake
In this impressive-looking dessert, the rich and indulgent classic British sticky toffee pudding is transformed into a fruitcake. It’s the brainchild of Tamal Ray, who made it for his showstopper challenge in the Season 3 finale of “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS.
Ray’s creation involved three cake tiers and elaborate sugar work to resemble cobwebs strung between them all. Here, we’re making just one cake, and the modified decoration is optional — though it’s a nice touch and not that hard to master.
You’ll need an 8-inch springform pan and an instant-read thermometer. We tested this with all-purpose flour and more baking powder, rather than the self-rising flour called for in the original recipe.
MAKE AHEAD: The unfrosted cake can be baked and tightly wrapped in plastic 1 day in advance.
WHERE TO BUY: Date syrup, also known as date molasses, is not as sweet or tart as pomegranate molasses. It is available at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets, including Yekta in Rockville and Aphrodite Greek Imports in Falls Church.
For the cake
About 2 cups (9 ounces) Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
Generous ½ cup (4 ounces) dried figs, chopped
Scant 1 cup (3 ½ ounces) prunes, chopped
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons, plus the juice of 1 ½ lemons (1 tablespoon zest and 2 tablespoons juice)
Scant 1/4 cup (1 ounce) flour for coating the fruit, plus 1 ¾ cups (9 ounces) for the batter
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1 ½ cups (7 ounces) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
For the toffee sauce frosting
3/4 cup (9 ½ ounces) date syrup/molasses (see headnote)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) plus scant 1 tablespoon 4 ½ ounces total) unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups heavy cream
For decoration (optional)
Scant ¾ cup (5 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
For the cake: Combine the chopped dates, figs and prunes with the lemon juice in a bowl. Stir in the ¼ cup of flour, then the lemon and orange zests.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease the inside of the springform pan with butter, then line the base with parchment paper. Place a small plate in the freezer.
Combine the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time on medium speed, beating well between each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the remaining 1 ¾ cups of flour, the baking powder and the dried-fruit mixture; beat on low speed just until incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Bake (middle rack) for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until nicely browned and fragrant. A tester inserted into the center should come out clean. (If the top of the cake begins to brown too quickly, loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil.) Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan. Discard the parchment paper on the base of the cake; transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the toffee sauce frosting: Combine the date syrup, butter and heavy cream in a large saucepan over low heat. Cook for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring often, until smooth and bubbling (the temperature of the mixture will register about 240 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). To test whether it is ready, remove the plate from the freezer and put a teaspoonful of the hot sauce in the middle. Leave it for a minute, then test the consistency: It should be spreadable and not runny. Transfer to a bowl; let it cool and thicken to a spreadable consistency, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissipate the heat and keep it smooth and glossy.
Once the cake is cool, cut it in half horizontally. Place the bottom half on a serving plate and spread some of the toffee sauce on top. Sandwich with the top half and spread more toffee sauce neatly all over the sides and top of the cake.
For the optional sugar decoration: Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat; once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and cook without stirring to form a rich, amber-colored, translucent caramel that registers 350 to 360 degrees on the thermometer.
Remove from the heat; let it cool just enough so the liquid sugar begins to thicken a little bit; this will ensure that it holds its shape. Here’s where you can have some fun. Experiment with the mixture in different shapes — drizzle it over a rolling pin covered in parchment paper, stretch it into thin threads to form a “nest” or drop small bits onto parchment or a silicone mat to form beads.
Once the sugar decorations are cool (the sauce should be set well on the cake, too), arrange them on the cake however you like.
The cake can be served right away. To make clean cuts, you may want to use a serrated knife, dipping it in a glass of hot water and wiping it off between cuts.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS: Per serving | 500 calories, 5 g protein, 59 g carbohydrates, 28 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 41 g sugar
Recipe tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to email@example.com.