The Great British Baking Show
In case you missed it, the Brexit situation in the U.K. has become pretty dire. Literally, every aspect of British life has been affected by this turmoil — except the 12 people currently baking their asses off on an English estate hoping to survive the Biscuit Week gauntlet. Last week, Dan With the Chest Tattoo left after failing to impress during Cake Week. Even so, the mood in the tent is buoyant as the 12 remaining bakers face down this week’s challenges, which kick off with Paul and Prue asking the contestants to make a chocolate-covered biscuit. Now, chocolate work has a very tenuous history in the tent. If it’s too hot outside, it sends the whole competition into chaos as bakers fly from their counters to the freezer like so many headless chickens. But unfortunately, the weather cooperated this time, and so the bakers have only themselves to blame for any horrible chocolate work.
Coming into this week, a few bakers are looking to either distinguish themselves after sitting right in the middle, or to prove that they deserve to be here after a disastrous week one. In the former group, there’s veterinarian Rosie, who hopes to impress Paul and Prue with her Virgin Mojito Biscuit Bars. Helena, who survived last week on the strength of her coconut grass–covered fairy cake thinks her sickly green Wicked Witch Fingers with matcha shortbread will surely catapult her to the top. There’s also Jamie the Lad, whose dog cake saved him the week before, and wants to impress the judges with a cherry and caramel millionaire’s shortbread. And Alice, an actual Disney princess come to life, is making honeycomb and peanut bars with marshmallow. In the process, we learn that honeycombs are called “hokey pokey” in New Zealand, thus cementing the country’s legacy as our most adorable nation.
Welsh national Michelle, last week’s Star Baker, is eager to do her own spin on almondy Bakewell tarts, with almond marshmallow, raspberry jam, and a white-chocolate shell. Sounds easy enough, but then Michelle says, offhandedly, that she “just likes things to look quite pretty.” The result is a set of perfectly identical biscuits splattered with multiple food colorings and topped with tiny flowers. They are, in a word, breathtaking.
Somehow, Michelle finishes all that on time, and then her motherly instinct kicks into gear when she realizes that Jamie’s shortbread bars are falling apart. Like a drill sergeant, Michelle starts instructing Jamie to get his biscuits out of their mold so she can finish decorating them — not as well as her own, but probably much better than the consistently sloppy Jamie could. Priya, who’s spent her time introducing the world to tangy ruby chocolate, asks for help and no fewer than four other bakers descend on her station to help her out. It’s a reminder of exactly why GBBS is one of the best reality-show competitions out there: Most contestants understand that no matter how intense the competition gets, it’s better to help a fellow baker in those last few minutes than to let them suffer in hopes that it will make their own bakes look better. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe the British Parliament needs to screen this specific episode in the House of Lords. Who’s to say?!
Anyway, judging begins and Paul and Prue finally begin issuing the devastating critiques that make this show so eminently watchable. Despite Priya’s attempts to advance the ruby-chocolate cause, the pair are unimpressed with her thick Barfi bars with passionfruit, coconut, and cardamom. Phil, this season’s Wife Guy, lets down the judges and his “biscuit freak” of a wife with fudge bars that are messy and overbaked. Similar critiques are given to fashion designer Amelia, Jamie, Michael, and Henry, whom Noel calls a “sophisticated toddler,” as will we until he is booted from the show.
At the very top are Michelle and her stunningly beautiful Bakewell biscuits, which Paul calls “exceptional,” a compliment on par with last week’s “faultless” bake. Then out of the woodwork comes Alice and her peanut-honeycomb biscuits, and Rosie, whose mojito biscuits “look absolutely magnificent,” according to Prue. In both cases, it looks like Paul might give them that famous Hollywood handshake, but he resists the temptation. Good: After last season, the handshake was starting to become meaningless.
Don’t worry, though: Paul gets his rocks off setting the Technical Challenge, which involves rolling a fig jam that doesn’t look like poop at all into 12 identical, cakelike biscuits. Paul admits that some viewers might think a fig roll is a cake, not a cookie — many, many of them do say just that — but that doesn’t stop Paul or the improbable existence of the black-and-white “cookie.”
In typical Paul fashion, he provides very little in the way of instructions for the bakers. Helena doesn’t know if the muscovado sugar goes into the figs or the cookies (the answer is both). Jamie somehow misses the actual instructions as well and right before he pops his fig rolls into the oven, Rosie tells him the challenge calls for 12 rolls, not the six giant ones currently on his tray. But Rosie can’t save Jamie from putting egg wash on his fig rolls even though the recipe does not call for that. Rosie also can’t save Helena, who realizes in the last few minutes that she only baked 11 biscuits. In true creepy Helena fashion, she draws a corpse outline of the missing 12th biscuit.
The first thing Paul and Prue notice after the 90-minute challenge is up is that David — who loves to get a treat after a workout! — has created the most identical fig rolls, even if he forgot to squish them a little bit. Henry, Priya, Michelle, and Steph all manage to over-season their fig fillings while Rosie’s somehow lack flavor. Michael is one of the few to nail the flavor. In the end, Helena, Jamie, and Steph take 12th, 11th, and 10th places while Alice, David, and Phil claim first, second, and third places. In this moment, Phil’s wife decides she won’t go through with divorcing him after all.
It’s here that we must address the elephant in the room: Are the challenges being filmed all in one day? Typically, the competition is divided into two days, with Signature and Technical Challenges on day one and the hours-long Showstopper Challenge on day two. But for the second episode in a row, the bakers are wearing the same exact outfits, suggesting they haven’t had a chance to sleep in what I always figured were tents on the estate grounds. Great British Baking Show execs, please address this at your earliest convenience.
Anyway, for the Showstopper Challenge, Paul and Prue ask the bakers to create sculptures out of biscuits. Most of the bakers opt for animal sculptures, including a turtle (Phil), a cat (Steph), a Highland cow (Michael), a fox attack–surviving chicken (Rosie), a dragon (Priya and Michelle), a spider (take a wild guess), and a lamb (Alice). Alice casually shares that not only do birds alight on her finger when she sings, but when she was living in New Zealand she was at art school. Studying sculpture. She hopes it helps her out in this challenge!
Amelia, possibly a genius, reveals that she’s stamping all her biscuits with letters and numbers so she knows exactly how to organize them in her Swimming With Dolphins sculpture. Not to be outdone, Michelle decides to include four different types of biscuits in her bake, while David plans on creating biscuits in three distinct flavors: fennel and lime, grapefruit and caraway, and cardamom and lemon. Michael, too, is going to use spices. Or just one spice: chili powder, and five teaspoons of it.
Jamie and Helena, who’ve both been having a terrible one whole day of baking (ridiculous), are desperate to prove themselves. Jamie is creating a replica of the guitar he uses to play “Wonderwall” with chocolate gingerbread, royal icing, and lemon shortbread, while Helena’s Caught in a Spider’s Web sculpture will feature Earl Grey tea shortbread biscuits with lemon zest, spiced macadamia nuts, and wisps of spun sugar.
When the four-hour challenge comes to an end, Paul and Prue dig deep for ego-busting critiques. They’re highly disappointed with Amelia’s sculpture of her riding a gray dolphin lump, and for stacking her biscuits instead of actually building with them, and Prue says she expected more out of Henry’s Chapel Organ with brandy snap pipes. Paul gives Priya and her dragon a stinging “style over substance” critique for her tough langue du chats, and while he likes the chili in Michael’s Highland Cow, it’s too much for Prue and pretty one-note in terms of flavor.
Rosie lugs her chicken-size chicken sculpture to the front table and Paul and Prue are blown away by the detail and her use of 212 perfectly baked tuile biscuits, even though her gingerbread is underbaked. Week-one Star Baker Michelle makes a rare misstep after the Signature Challenge and delivers a “clumsy” Welsh dragon. Still, the judges are impressed with her pistachio and cardamom biscuits and the mixture of textures. Finally, Alice brings up her exceedingly cute sheep in a tiny, coconut-lime shortbread enclosure. Prue is obsessed with the “funny” sculpture and loves every part of it from the coconut macaroon fleece to the chocolate biscuits. Alice and her wide blue eyes clinch the Star Baker title.
Which means it’s down to Helena and Jamie. Jamie’s up first and though his sculpture is “clumsy” and has too much royal icing on it, he’s managed to bake a beautiful biscuit that’s “delicate and light.” But, unfortunately, it’s not enough to beat Helena’s witchcraft and immense creativity. Paul and Prue love her “artistically superb” spider and its tea-flavored and chocolate biscuits. In deliberation, the judges decide that Jamie, Amelia, Michael, and Phil (who underbaked his florentines) are at the bottom. Could this be the week they send two bakers home? Sandy wonders.
Nah, gotta save that for when viewers are properly invested in the inner lives of these contestants. So, they send the well-meaning but ultimately inept Jamie packing so he can get back to work on his Arctic Monkeys cover band. As for the state of the competition: Alice and Rosie have proven that they’re in this to win this, both giving Michelle a real run for her money, and leaving Amelia, Henry, Priya, and Steph with a chip on their shoulders. Or do they call it a “crisp?”