I’ll be honest - when Radlett’s finest, Stacey Hart, turned up on our screens with her (fairly average) handbag cake, I thought she was lucky to hang on to her apron.
She has, however, improved. Her biscuits in week two were noticeably better, and last week's caramel-themed challenges saw her finish as a contender for star baker.
Episode five of this year’s GBBO continued the upwards trajectory. The girl is doing good.
This was pudding week, oozing with a selection of terribly English confections, kicking off with that school favourite — for anyone older than Liam’s tender 19 years — the steamed pudding.
Stacey was quoted at the outset saying “If I can get to week seven I’ll be chuffed” and almost immediately revising that to “week eight — I’ll be chuffed if I can get to week eight.”
She has the dedication to do better than that as she confessed to having practised her steamed sponge no less than 17 times.
“Let’s see if number 18 works” remarked Paul Hollywood dryly.
The simple-sounding, stove top-baked desserts look simple to prepare, but as co-judge Prue Leith warned “It’s extremely difficult to tell if it’s cooked” and Hollywood shared that they are “one of my favourite things ever.” No pressure then.
Steamed puddings are cooked in well-sealed bowls in pans of water. Get the seal wrong and your pudding will be waterlogged. You have no idea how it is getting on in there, because if you open the lid you lose all that precious steam.
The bakers also needed to provide accompaniments, like custard — another delicate and difficult-to-prepare sauce.
With a range of fruity variations, including Yan’s mango fruit hat and no less than two versions of a Bakewell tart — from Liam and Stacey — the bakers did Hollywood proud. The silver fox doled out no fewer than three handshakes: to Steven for his lemon and blackcurrant, injected pud; for Yan’s double mango delight and to Stacey for her Bakewell. “You have the texture of a Bakewell tart in there, which is very clever… overall it’s absolutely delicious.”
Stacey was delighted. “He really did not want to give me one as he’d given two already, so I’m well chuffed,” she said.
The technical round was even more vicious than usual, staggering the starts for the contestants, who each had to make six mini, molten chocolate puds.
Hollywood had warned it was all about timing, and it was. Undercook and you get raw batter. Overcook and the pudding sets too firm.
True to Leith’s prediction, few of them pulled it off perfectly. Cleverly, the producers let us in on the optimum time for a perfect pud — 10 minutes — so we viewers could hold our heads in our hands as the bakers deliberated; mooting times from James’s too-short eight minutes — leaving him with a liquidy, uncooked pud — to the rock hard 35 minutes proposed by Kate, whose week was going from bad to worse, after her custard had been shot down in flames by both judges.
Sophie’s plentiful peanut butter filling won her the round, with Liam’s efforts taking second place. “That was sick”, he smiled. Stacey managed a respectable fourth.
By the showstopper, Stacey, Steven and Yan were looking in good form. Kate wasn’t.
The challenge — an ornamental trifle terrine - was exactly that - a challenge. It needed a baked element, a set custard or mousse and a jelly. It needed to look as good sliced as it did whole. A lot to achieve in four and a half hours.
Poor Liam’s chai latte jelly (which sounded delicious) failed to set, melting faster than a snowman on Bondi beach, and leaving him tearful. Kate had to get Great Nan’s raspberry trifle terrine nailed if she was to stay.
There were plenty of clever designs. Steven’s star spangled dessert looked ambitious, as did Yan’s "heart of a hero". Stacey was going girlie: “I’m not mucking about with the pink today, I’m going for it. I just love this colour” she enthused.
It was very pink. Fuschia meringues studded the outside of her circular pud. In Stacey style, her pineapple, rum, mint and lime creation, was blingy and OTT. Hollywood loved it, judging it to be “spot on” and loving the chilli kick — “who would have a chilli in a trifle, but it works. That little biting heat at the end is fascinating”, he enthused. A beaming Stacey could be proud.
Steven’s US flag-influenced pud won applause for the stars that studded each slice, but fell down on texture. Julia’s jelly also let her down. Kate pulled it back with hers, but James’s too firm trifle let him down and left him in the drop zone with Julia and Liam.
Sophie pulled off what Hollywood decreed a dessert that he would expect to find in a Michelin-starred restaurant, leaving her and Stacey up there in the running for star baker.
But it was Sophie who was named as star baker, with Stacey narrowly missing out.
Poor James left the tent. "My time has come," he said with a wry smile.