Is the "Victorian" episode proof that The Great British Baking Show has stretched beyond the limits of what a baking show should be? Maybe, but it's still great. Let's jump right into things!
I've gotta give it up for Mel and Sue's cold open, which deserves special mention for the cheery little tune they sing while peeking through the foliage. They also mention fairy cakes! If this challenge means I'll finally understand (1) what a fairy cake is and (2) why the British seem to be obsessed with fairies, then I'll be feeling pretty good.
Here's the deal with Victorian week: All of the recipes, techniques, and equipment date back to the Victorian era, making the episode a tidy combination of Cutthroat Kitchen and LARPing. (For the record, I would watch that show, no questions asked.) Challenges in Victorian week are infinitely more entertaining, if only because they test the bakers' ability to not have a meltdown on camera.
"I know very few things about the Victorians, apart from they had really good frogs," Flora says. Same, girl. Same!
This week's signature challenge is a raised game pie, made with a hot-water crust and optional "jelly" that I am hoping is aspic — savory meat Jell-O, basically — and not a bitter marmalade. As per the voice over, game pie was a staple of middle-class Victorian families, a way of keeping up with the Joneses. Basically, it was a pie crust stuffed with the entire woodland creature population of your modest estate.
Speaking of horrifying fillings for pies, let's find out what each and every one of the contestants is making!
Other Paul whips up a filling made of venison, pheasant, pigeon, and wild boar that's flavored with cayenne, juniper berry. and shallots. That's a lot of look, Other Paul!
Mat scares up a vintage decorative pie tin, which pleases Mary. He's got a venison-and-pigeon pie with pork belly and bacon. He's also making antlers as decoration.
Tamal takes a "flamboyant" approach to her a Middle Eastern–themed pie, which is flavored with ras el hanout, pigeon, rabbit, minced lamb apricots and almonds, all of which translate to an "Arabian" theme. Please note that this is the first time Mary Berry has ever heard of ras el hanout, and she is handling it as politely as she can.
Nadiya uses a Chinese five spice in her pheasant-venison-duck pie. It sounds good, but Mary takes the wind out of her sails by saying that in Victorian times, her spices wouldn't have been available. So what? Who cares?
Flora makes a pie with sage, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, shallot, pork belly, and apple chutney, decorated with a lattice top. Also: The first thing she ever cooked in a competition was a game pie, so hers will most likely be good.
Naturally, Ianyeth Paltrow uses "foraged" roadkill for his pie — not the flattened raccoons you see on the side of highways, but tiny bunnies and the like, resting as if in sleep. His pie has venison, partridge, streaky bacon, and guinea fowl. It is shaped like a bird.
So many people use pigeon for their filling! I assume this is because pigeon is the same as squab — which is something that people do eat — but they call it pigeon in the U.K. because their pigeons are cute and plump and friendly and entirely unlike their American counterparts. Right?
Flora's nervous because her pie has an awful lot of meat in it. Will it cook in time? When she takes its temperature, it's … uh, not quite there. While everyone else looks into the oven with mounting anxiety, Ianyeth calmly stirs at a pot of pig knuckle bones. Eek, everyone else's pies come out at the right temperature. Flora looks like she's near tears, but with one minute to spare, her pie's out and she's good to go.
Mat's pie looks good, tastes fine, but could've used more bacon. Ianyeth's pie isn't as decorated as they would've liked, but the jelly worked out. Nadiya's pie is a strong bake, but as I suspected, Mary and the Male Judge hate the spice. Tamal's pie looks delicious and the judges love it. Other Paul's pie seems to be just fine, if not overbaked. Even Flora somehow managed to do okay! Good. Don't cry, Flora.
Oh, Christ, this technical challenge should be fun: tennis cake, a fruit cake decorated with royal icing that looks like it hasn't been served since the Great War. This fruit cake contains about every single dried and candied fruit possible, and as per the voice-over, it needs to bake for two hours. Mary's instructions, naturally, have omitted this detail. There's also handmade marzipan, royal icing, and a lot of fussy decoration, including a sugar paste that trips everyone up. For some reason, Nadiya made a sugar paste the day before, so she knows exactly what she's doing. Mat's is Slimer-Green and not pliable. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's interpretation of a tennis court, but I'm also terribly worried for Mat, who baked his decorations. And poor Flora, too: She broke her carefully constructed tennis net.
Other Paul's cake looks good and tastes good. Nadiya's net worked out, as did her piping and cake. Mat made a tennis court from Hades, according to the Male Judge. Tamal's cake has no net! Flora's cake is a teensy bit burnt, and I am worried about Flora, for real. Ianyeth Paltrow's cake is not as good as it could be. Mat's cake comes in last … and Nadiya comes in first!
For this week's Showstopper, they're making a charlotte russe: a fluffy, floppy dessert full of Bavarian cream and lined with ladyfingers. It's something you'd find at a baby shower you don't particularly want to attend. It sounds like a mess. Ladyfingers, Bavarian cream (basically a custard but with gelatin), and jelly, all in one dessert? Pass me my smelling salts.
Here's what the kids are making:
Ianyeth can't help but show off — his russe has a removable crown. It's also got rhubarb compote, Bavarian cream, and a ginger jelly with homegrown lemon verbena. Of course the lemon verbena is from his garden. Would you expect anything less?
Other Paul goes all-in with the strawberry, rhubarb, and fruit carvings, leading me to believe that he whittles in his spare time.
Mat keeps it simple, stupid, and goes all-strawberry everything. This will certainly be his downfall.
Oh, Flora. Raspberry sponge, champagne jelly, chocolate Bavarian cream, truffles, gold leaf, and pomegranate? That's so many things and the Male Judge hates pomegranate. I'm not feeling hopeful here.
Tamal makes a russe with less cake than everyone else's. The mere description of it — raspberry and ginger jelly, blackberry and apple jelly, cardamom, and rosewater Bavarian cream — sounds a bit like a discount holiday votive from Yankee Candle, but I bet it'll turn out just fine.
Nadiya puts an Italian meringue in her Bavarian cream, which none of the other bakers even tried. She'll have mango and raspberry, topped with mango jelly, decorated simply. "Everything I've put in the dessert, I'm putting on top of the dessert," she says. The look Mary gives her in return is the closest equivalent to "Bitch, please" I've seen on this program to date. Don't mess this up, girl.
The scariest part of this challenge is removing the russe from its pan. Mat enlists the help of Other Paul and Nadiya, but his shell gives out. Ianyeth crafts an admittedly impressive cake crown that elicits genuine applause from his contestants. And now, judging time.
Flora's looks beautiful, but she looks like she's about to cry. Mary likes the Bavarian cream, but the Male Judge continues his one-man campaign against pomegranate seeds for reasons still unbeknownst to us all. Nadiya's final cake is beautiful, if a bit flat on the ladyfinger front. "It doesn't really look like a lady's finger," the Male Judge says, solidifying my theory that Paul Hollywood doesn't understand what a woman's hand looks like. Regardless, the layers look dope and the whole thing tastes like a dream. Other Paul's fruit decorations are very impressive and very Victorian, but the jelly isn't quite jiggly enough. Ianyeth's dessert looks impressive and you can tell from that little grin that he knows it. Mat's has some issues and I'm sad to say that I think he's on his way out. Tamal's is fantastic. Creamy, silky, dreamy, all that good stuff. And that's the end of that.
Star baker is Tamal! Hot Tamal(e) wins! He calls his parents on camera, his mother screams in joy, and whoops — I'm crying again. Whew! Going into the quarterfinals, we lose Mat, the tallest baker in the land. Good-bye, Mat. Next up: the intriguingly titled Patisserie episode, full of desserts that will be French, complicated, and fussy. My favorite!