Spoilers ahead if you didn’t catch this week’s episode of Great British Bake Off – think Game of Thrones meets the Home Counties by way of the Hummingbird Bakery. And this week was a corker – broken eggs, soggy bottoms, tarts galore and Mary Berry even cracked a joke. However, two things really struck me, one concerns filo pastry and the other concerns our dearly departed Val.
Kinda half way through the programme Mel or Sue (the comedy commentators who keep the whole thing together) go off on a tangent to reveal a bit of the history of baking. This week was Baklava. Back in the 13th century Ottoman Empire the Sultan was getting a bit peckish, so his royal chefs invented filo pastry. It’s a tricky process that involves finely rolling numerous sheets of pastry, so fine that you can read a book through them (or a bottle of alcohol as contestant Jane did, ahem). The process required such skill that, back in the day, the number of sheets within the filo pastry was used as a signifier of wealth. Rich households would demand a minimum of 100 layers. Wait a second. Number of sheets in filo pastry as a sign of wealth. What the actual f*ck?! I mean, come on people, let’s get a grip. But it was then, as I watched Mel bite into a tasty morsel of pistachio filled Baklava, that I realised we’re doomed. Humans are actually doomed. We prioritise the number of layers in filo pastry over things like lessening hunger in the world, tackling climate change and redistributing wealth. And things haven’t changed that much since then except it’s less about filo pastry and more about number of yachts, houses and watches. The irony is that once a year the Sultan would host a great Baklava ceremony and the servants of his Empire would be given some of the stuff as a token of gratitude in return for their unending service. After that it was back to a life of gruelling slavery. Humans. We’re the worst.
As you can imagine I was in despair and then Val was outed from the Bake Off tent. She’d had a bad week but when the camera turned to her these were her parting words: “When you bake you always bake for a reason, you’re giving it to people, so you make it the best you can and you make it with love. And whenever I make anything I stir love into it, I knead love into it, so when I present it, it’s special. I’m not unhappy, I’ve had a great time with some great people and, phwoar, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect to ever get here, never mind be honoured.” And those words speak for themselves. What a woman and what an inspiration to us all – so positive, so grateful and just so darn nice. All the other characters (I mean contestants) spoke so highly of her positive personality and even judge Paul Hollywood had a good word for her. And what a world we might live in if we didn’t prioritise the number of layers in our filo pastry but prioritised love instead. It sounds cheesy but it tastes great.