Awaiting a sticky end? Disasters strike the bakers in their caramel creationsLOVE PRODUCTIONS

Getting nuts sticky isn’t exactly my forte. Last time I attempted caramel-coated walnuts – inspired by a past Bake Off technical challenge, as it happens – the only thing that hardened was the sugar mixture, neatly lodged onto the saucepan. That re-defined the lower levels of Dante’s hell in terms of caramel for me, and looking at the bakers in Caramel Week, I think my ideology might be gaining some support. As Steven put it, “caramel does what it wants.”

“Luckily, the epic failure was somewhat set off by a victory of the same scale.”

The signature asked for 18 millionaires’ shortbreads, obviously absolutely identical. I’m ashamed to admit it, but size does matter for me, which made Steven my kind of baker: his XXL-sized layers of macadamia nut, coffee liqueur, and orange flavours are, quite literally, very much a sticky handful. Unfortunately, Paul isn’t as keen to handle Steven’s gigantic bars. Well, more for me.

But size became even more of a touchy issue for Tom. For the tent’s signature Scot, shortbread was meant to come as second nature, but that was not the way the cookie crumbled under time pressure: in the end, the supposed shortbread prodigy dished out two uncut slabs of almond biscuit with stem ginger caramel, all still neatly in their baking tins. Luckily, the epic failure was somewhat set off by a victory of the same scale: Liam’s salted peanut butter caramel earned the coveted Hollywood handshake, even if the reasoning behind the Tetris-themed presentation escaped me. That as an achievement in sugar-laden hell can only be described in Liam’s words: “Crazy, crazy.” “Sick”, I know.

While the signature fell nothing short of challenging, the burning waffle pans of the technical were an actual flaming wheel of hell. At some point in history, a Dutch baker decided to minimise food waste and maximise profit by sticking stale bakery leftovers together using caramel – et voilà, the stroopwafel was born. That’s essentially two thin, perfectly snappy yet suitably bendy waffles stuck together with perfectly smooth caramel that is also stretchy enough. A new definition of an oxymoron? Perhaps, but that was what Prue wanted.

“Sometimes the Bake Off tent plates up life’s great mysteries.”

It was not what Prue got, though: the stroopwafels must have been one of the worst technicals in Bake Off history, where every single attempt at the Dutch treat was guilty of the deadly sin of grainy caramel. I could feel Paul and Prue’s pain through the TV screen, as they made their way through shades of graininess from Julia’s absolutely gross version to Stacey’s not-as-bad-as-the-rest-but-still-substandard winning performance.

The caramel cake showstopper at least sounded more self-explanatory than the stroopwafel: I’m a linguist, but I assumed that to even non-linguists, ‘caramel cake’ as a term would suggest two things – caramel and cake. Alas, not to Tom. For whatever reason, the only caramel in his Hummingbird cake were bits of praline and a spun sugar bird’s nest (mini-sized at that). And for an equally inexplicable reason, he had practiced the banana and pineapple cake only in muffin format beforehand. My incredulity reached similar levels to Paul’s: “How did you manage, with those beautiful ingredients, to create that?” Sometimes the Bake Off tent plates up life’s great mysteries.

Yan, though, went all out in embracing both the cake and the caramel. Her ‘Animals of the Rainforest’ creation featured a tiger-striped sponge, covered with praline trees and forest floor, a sugar-spun canopy, honeycomb rocks, and yes, even a caramel waterfall. Now that for me was a positively sticky experience to even look at.

But it was understatement that tickled the judges’ fancy. Kate went for “quite a caramel-y, apple-y type of flavour.” In a caramel apple cake? No way! Yet, the ensuing Bonfire Night spectacle became the best cake Prue had ever tasted. I guess sometimes a cake can speak more than a thousand words – or at least a few more than its baker.

It may have been hell for the bakers, but I’ll absolve them of their sticky sins: getting my mouth to water at least some of the time is enough penitence for the absolute disgrace of stroopwafels. Was I inspired to try my hand at sticky nuts again, though? Nope, don’t think so

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