The Great British Baking Show
We are now eight weeks into Great British Baking Show season ten and I feel a bit … empty? Looking at the current slate of bakers left standing, I’m not feeling particularly connected to any of them, though Henry truly has his moments. It’s not the challenges, which have been pretty decent all season long. Prue and Paul are delivering the same gut-wrenching critiques as always. But none of the bakers, except Steph, have distinguished themselves as clear winners. Perhaps this is the cost of watching GBBS week to week for the first time ever. During a binge, themes start to emerge. Week-to-week, not so much.
Anyway, this week’s theme is pastry, which if you know anything about pastry means that this is a particularly brutal set of challenges. Going into it Steph and Rosie both mention not really liking pastry, which doesn’t seem possible. Surely they mean they don’t like making it and not that they don’t like it, because who doesn’t love a croissant or a danish or a tart or a quiche?! That would be madness. But to not like making pastry? Totally understandable. Why? Well, the act of filling it with literally anything can lead to disaster. And, oh, does it lead to disaster this week, though not in the way you’d expect.
For the Signature challenge, Paul and Prue ask the bakers to make a tarte tatin, which involves a pastry base, a filling, and a caramelized top. That’s the order it’s made in, but it’s presented in the opposite direction. So, there will be flipping! To add another wrinkle to the challenge, the bakers must make something savory, not a standard tarte tatin with apples or pears. They also have the option of create a rough puff or full puff pastry.
Because they’re not idiots and it’s dangerously hot in the tent, everyone opts for rough puff, even the tent’s overachievers like David, Steph, and Rosie. Three of the bakers decide that their bakes need goat cheese: Alice will mix goat cheese with granny smith apples and place them under a lattice of leeks; Rosie will present a shallot, aubergine (eggplant), and goat cheese tarte tatin with red pepper and black garlic; and Steph opts for the absolute simplest choice: caramelized onion and goat cheese tarte tatin, the “Free Bird” of flavor combinations.
David wants everyone to know that he exclusively shops at the farmer’s market and decides to bake a tarte tatin with purple and orange heritage carrots, shallots, walnuts handpicked by a Bulgarian grandma, carrot-top pesto, and whipped Bulgarian sheep cheese. And since a sheep is essentially a very fluffy goat, we’re gonna add his bake to the goat cheese column as well.
Only Henry dares to forego goat cheese, instead going with a crab, tomato, and new potato tarte tatin with a fresh crab salad on top. Paul and Prue do the posh British version of jumping up and down and say they’re very excited to see how Henry’s bake turns out.
The bakers get to work and everyone manages to make a good rough puff pastry even as the tent begins to heat up. In between breaks in front of a fan she seems to have brought from her house, Alice gets to work weaving her leeks together. Rosie begins cooking her filling and realizes she’s added too much butter. She thinks about starting all over, but decides, instead, that paper toweling the extra butter like it’s a greasy slice of pizza will suffice.
The bakers pop their tartes into the oven and then the waiting — and the sweating — begins. Whether this sweating is psychological or ecological is unclear, but David does a convincing cosplay of a Bulgarian grandmother with a wet tea towel. Meanwhile, Alice realizes that her tarte really isn’t baking the way it should, so she takes it out of the oven and pours off the extra liquid. Henry hopes that by putting crisp potatoes on top of his tarte he can prevent the same thing from happening.
The bakers begin flipping out all of their tartes and there are no major disasters! Yay! But you kind of find yourself wishing for a major disaster. After all, this season has really lacked Ian-throwing-his-bake-in-the-bin levels of horribleness. Having successfully turned out their tartes and, in Henry’s case, added an entire crab salad on top, the bakers present their creations.
Paul and Prue start with Henry, last week’s Star Baker: Paul says there should be more caramelization on top, but they’re both blown away by this original take on a tarte tatin. Both the flavors and coloring are spot on. Henry beams in his pink tie and floral button-down. Next, over to David. Paul says his tarte looks nice, but it’s a shame about the burning. David corrects him: It’s not burned. Those are purple carrots, which are apparently news to 53-year-old Paul Hollywood. Even so, the judges manage to find fault with the bake: It’s overly dry and they don’t think they should have to use David’s fancy pesto and sheep’s cheese sauces to make it undry. That would be too much work. David begins to wonder if he’s too sophisticated for this show.
Paul and Prue make their way to Alice and are immediately taken with her lattice top, but again, it could have used more caramelization. They like the flavors, especially the interplay of the honey and thyme, but there’s too much liquid for their liking. Her pouring off method didn’t save the day, but Alice is just relieved that the feedback wasn’t all negative. At Steph’s bench, the judges tell her that they find the goat cheese dollops on top a bit off-putting, saying the goat cheese, which Paul doesn’t like anyway, should be inside the tarte. Still, Steph’s pastry is nice and thin, has a great balsamic vinegar caramelization, and it tastes wonderful. Played well, “Free Bird” is nice to listen to, I guess.
Finally, it’s over to Rosie, who just barely beat out Michael the week before. The judges note that her tarte looks a bit charred and since there are no heritage carrots here, it is, indeed, charred. It also turns out that paper towels aren’t the best way to eliminate butter, and Rosie’s pastry is wet as a result. She gets the challenge’s only “soggy bottom” criticism. Ouch. All in all, Henry and Steph receive the only completely good feedback of the morning.
Next, it’s onto the Technical and this week, Paul has set the challenge. He wants the bakers to make a Moroccan pie with warqa pastry. Alice suspects, correctly, that it must be similar to phyllo dough. Henry says he’ll get naked if anyone’s actually heard of this. The ever-sophisticated David says, yes, he actually knows what this is. He saw it on a travel show once. Henry spares us the pain of seeing what lies beneath his button-ups. (I imagine it’s very, very white.)
The bakers get to work making their warqa, which involves spreading batter over a flat griddle and creating 12 thin sheets of dough. Everyone is having varying success with it except for Steph, and after weeks of looking like she’s going to cry, she finally does. “My biggest fear is not being able to present something,” she says. Noel, who always manages to talk to the bakers at exactly the wrong moment, finally gets his timing right and goes over to comfort Steph, telling her she’ll figure it out. It works and Steph manages to get her Moroccan pie, filled with chicken and each bakers’ own combination of the same spices, into the oven. In the final minute, each baker must slide their pie out of the springform tin and onto a surface. The filling in Rosie and Henry’s immediately bursts forth, but it’s too late to do anything about that!
Paul and Prue reemerge and aren’t immediately put off, a good sign. They start with Rosie’s pie. Though it looks a mess what with the bursting and all that, the pastry is nice and it’s perfectly spiced. Steph is up next and the consensus is that while her filling is great, the pastry is both tough and undercooked. How that is possible is beyond me. Henry, another victim of pie collapse, has managed to make good pastry, but his flavoring doesn’t evoke the memories of Marrakech Prue is looking for. Looking over Alice’s bake, they’re impressed with how neat it is, considering her recent branding as a messy baker, but it’s over-spiced and heavy on the garlic. Finally, it’s over to David’s pie, which has not only held together in perfect pie form, but it’s got great coloring and tastes good.
Could this be the week David breaks free of this No. 2 “slump”? Yes! This is that week!! David claims first place, but doesn’t seem all that thrilled with having finally won first place. He comes out ahead of Rosie, Alice, Steph, and Henry — in that order.
Finally, it’s onto the Showstopper and the challenge is… vertical pies? The judges ask the bakers to make at least three pies, savory or sweet, and arrange them in such a way that they’re stacked on top of one another in a cohesive design. Prue says it’s totally possible to just place some pies on top of one another. Cool, no harm, no foul!
Alice goes for sweet flavors, her forte, and makes treehouse-themed pies with apples and blackberries plus toasted pecans. David, meanwhile, rips a page out of Henry’s book and decides to make a seafood pie inspired by the former whaling port where he grew up. There will be crab, salmon, root vegetables, and no tops. Paul is aghast at the very idea of seeing the inside of a pie without first butchering it with an overly large knife.
Rosie goes in the fantasy direction and plans to make a Rapunzel tower with a dragon at the base. It will also feature the burned outline of a knight, which I’m pretty sure is straight from Shrek. Did I mention that the dragon is pink? The Shrek pie, a Dreamworks production, will be filled with curried vegetables, hot water crust, and the dragon is filled with camembert. Rosie won’t be using any dowels or supportive structures and she doesn’t know why.
Steph also joins the curry train, a much better version of the gravy train, and says she’ll be making a carousel-themed pie with chickpeas and potatoes. This is an ode to her curry-obsessed childhood, apparently. Finally, Henry says he’ll be making a chandelier pie with four (!) different pies. Two will be sweet — spiced chocolate and pecans — and two will be savory — chicken, ham, and chorizo. Paul is doubtful about how these two flavors will play with one another and the very act of typing those pie descriptions just gave me gout.
The bakers begin assembling their pies and I wish I could say they achieved bread lion levels of greatness, but it’s mostly just stacking and adding on. Steph puts little horses and squares on the outside of her carousel. Alice adds a swing to hers. And Rosie, who’s made the most elaborate pie by far, wraps her dragon around the tower and then begins to freak out because the lack of dowels has caught up with her. What veterinarians don’t know about physics, amirite? Meanwhile, David releases his pie and it is, once again, stunningly neat, featuring delicate waves of crust and little fish with scales!
Time runs out and the judges (and producers) ask Rosie to bring up her pie first in hopes of it collapsing. It does not and Prue and Paul don’t look disappointed at all! Prue loves the “imaginative and funny” design, but that’s about as good as it gets for Rosie. Her pastry’s too thick, her curry filling is dry and gritty even if it tastes good, and the cheese-filled dragon is also dry, the first time in history that cheese has failed someone.
Alice is up next and the judges are enamored with her little treehouse, and especially the trunk. But she, too, has managed to make pastry that’s too thick with a filling that’s too dry and not sweet enough. Over at David’s bench, he’s immediately dinged by Paul for his outlandishly modern uncovered pies as well as having pastry that’s incredibly pale. He also misses on his flavors (too salty) and guess what? His filling is dry!
Steph is up next and the first criticism the judges dole out is that her decorative squares look clumsy. Okay. But the rest of the curry-filled pie? Wonderful. Great flavor, perfectly browned and thin pastry, and it’s not dry! Steph smiles, having fully recovered from her Technical Challenge failure. Finally, it’s over to Henry and his chandelier pie. Prue says the design is lazy. All he did was stack the pies, which was not at all against the rules, but doesn’t mean he should have done it! Duh! It all goes downhill from there: Paul doesn’t like the dry leaves on his pie, the pastry on the meat pies is way too thick (and raw in parts) as is the pastry on the sweet pies, and the sweet pies aren’t sweet enough. Paul says he can’t taste the chocolate, which seems literally impossible. And guess what? The filling is dry. The dryest of them all!
Now before we get into who got Star Baker and who got kicked off, let’s discuss why four of the five bakers’ pies were dry inside. Could it be that everyone is sooooo scared of having a soggy bottom that they overcompensated and avoided liquids at all costs? There comes a point when fear no longer motivates but impedes, and that’s what seems to have happened here. The combination of having to stack these pies while also making sure they weren’t soggy is why so many came out dry. That’s on the judges, y’all.
Paul and Prue get to deliberating and say it’s Rosie, Henry, and David who are on the chopping block. Henry did incredibly well in the Signature, came last in the Technical, and then got the reaming of his life over his pies. David was first in the Technical, but his Signature and Showstopper proved too modern and avant garde for the judges it seems. And Rosie came in second in the Technical but didn’t do terribly well in the Signature or the Showstopper, though she managed to pull off the filling in the final challenge. Just not as well as Steph did.
As the only person who received positive feedback in the first and third challenges, Steph is named Star Baker for the fourth time this season. But with the competition so, so poor this week it barely feels like a win. And Henry, last week’s Star Baker and the closest I had to a favorite in the tent, is kicked off.
Henry did poorly, sure, but he also seemed to be the only person who could truly pose a threat to Steph’s dominance. After all, he ended her three-week streak and received a Hollywood Handshake in last week’s Signature just like she did. With his departure, there’s Alice, whose performance is lopsided and uneven at best; David, whose bakes seem to consistently go over the judges’ heads; and Rosie, who despite her best efforts has spent nearly every single week near the bottom of the pack even after winning last week’s Technical.
All we can do is hope that two of these bakers actually try to compete with Steph in next week’s semifinal and the series finale. Otherwise, her winning the competition seems like a foregone conclusion — and where’s the fun in that?