The Great British Baking Show
Welcome to the “pâtisserie” episode, a designation I can only assume means fussy, esoteric French things. Will there be croquembouche? Will there be madeleines? One can only hope. Quarterfinals, dudes! From here on out, this is like sports but with cake flour and caster sugar.
The five remaining bakers are very, very nervous — even Ianyeth Paltrow, who finally admits that he feels fallible like the rest of us. The signature bake is the naughty-sounding cream horn, a spiral of pastry filled with cream in two different flavors. The bakers must make 12 of each in three-and-a-half hours. Easy!
This challenge is similar to the vol-au-vents situation, but those apparently were harder, if we’re to believe what each baker tells the camera. Naturally, the Male Judge thinks cream horns are difficult because he thinks everything is difficult unless he’s the one who’s doing it. Although the bakers were given the option to use any kind of pastry for the horn, the Male Judge’s ideal cream horn is made with puff pastry — all that lamination and dough and layers and mmm. It’s also crucial that the horn is “full to the bottom,” as per Mary.
So, what’s everyone making? Wouldn’t you like to know.
Tamal elects to go full puff, using just plain flour. The Male Judge’s quietly seething disapproval is electric. The filling for each? Lime mascarpone and malted-honeycomb cream, the latter of which sounds like it might taste like the inside of a Butterfingers, but gooey. Not something I’d kick out of bed.
Ianyeth won’t go quietly into that good night. He makes two flavors of rough-puff pastry — a chocolate horn with a chestnut purée and a Black Forest cake–flavored horn, which will be striped.
Other Paul whips up a coffee-and-vanilla-swirl cream horn and another with brûléed banana. “The flavors have to be perfect,” the Male Judge says. That phrase alone stops Other Paul in his tracks.
Flora fills her rough-puff horns with peach, lemon, and thyme cream, and the other set with butterscotch and smoked almond. Both sound delicious, even though they also sound like Yankee candles.
Scarred from the trauma of vol-au-vent week but determined to make something sublime, Nadiya makes rose, pistachio, and white-chocolate and mocha-hazelnut horns. This is her tent to redeem herself — I bet you $5 and a Ho-Ho that she’ll be fine.
(Sidebar: Who on earth is washing all of these dishes? Where are these dishes being washed? Is it house elves? Is it the Male Judge? Does a production assistant just throw them away and fetch replacements from some bunker deep beneath the rolling green heath? Does the tent eat them at night?)
Anyway! Pastry-making means turning the dough over and over again, but not too many times. Everyone’s a-foldin’ and a-turnin’. Shaping the horns looks fussy. Tamal had shaping issues at home. Ianyeth digs through a jar of almonds on the hunt for the perfect one because of course he is. For reasons that only she knows, Flora neglects to deal with the horn-shaping and instead makes dough for her tuiles. Flora, do me a favor: SHAPE YOUR HORNS, GIRL. Leave the tuiles be! Listen to reason, or to Sue, or to both.
With 15 minutes left, oh my God, not a single person looks ready to go. Other Paul’s crème pâtisserie filling is the consistency of loose concrete. Flora’s are slightly burnt and leaking from the bottom — not quite a soggy bottom, but somehow worse. Ianyeth dropped a horn! And just like that, it’s all over.
Nadiya’s are beautiful and uniform — very flaky and the rose works. Other Paul’s pastry is good, but of course, the Male judge finds fault. “Angry baby Paul!” Sue quips, and now I have a vision of Paul Hollywood, esteemed British chef, dressed like an adult baby. I’ll see myself out. Tamal’s got a good puff! Flora’s isn’t puffy the way it needs to be, never mind the leaky bottoms. She’s docked for spending too much time on the fancy parts and not enough on the actual challenge. Ianyeth isn’t having a good day. His chocolate puff isn’t good … and it’s also raw inside. He also went ham on the kirsch, and it’s just too much.
For the technical bake, Mary has picked mokatines: fussy, pretty little genoise sponge squares, which are filled with coffee buttercream and covered in piping and chopped nuts. Mary’s only advice is that they must be “sheer perfection.” So helpful! Nadiya has actually seen these in Mary’s recipe book, so you’d think she’s on top, but seeing as no home cook would just whip something up like this for tea, she’s probably just as screwed as the rest of them.
Tamal rightly susses out that the genoise sponge needs fluffy, fluffy eggs to not be a leaden brick. Other Paul has never made this before. Ianyeth is bad at making cake. Ianyeth admits aloud that he is bad at making cake. How, pray tell, do you ascend to the quarterfinals of the world’s best baking show without making a decent cake? All the foraged lemon verbena in the world cannot mask this sin, brother. Godspeed.
Nadiya’s confidence is inspiring and unassailable and I have no doubt that she will succeed. Everyone else, not so much. Other Paul, for example, is suffering from a crippling lack of confidence, reflected purely in how pink his face has grown. When everyone’s cakes come out of the oven, Other Paul’s fate seems clear. His cake is flat and seems to be raw … so he has to redo the whole thing?! Now my face is pink, I’m so nervous. It’s okay Other Paul! Or maybe not.
Sue tries to talk him down, but it’s no use. This could be his downfall, especially because his second cake is still flat. At least it’s cooked this time, right?
Time for judgement. The piping on Ian’s is not awesome, though the sponge is well-risen and it tastes fine. Nadiya’s look great! Other Paul’s face is too sad too look at, so I’d rather not. Tamal’s icing is less than precise. Flora piped hers incorrectly — shells instead of rosettes. It’s also a teensy bit overbaked. From worst to best, we have: Other Paul, Tamal, Flora, Ian, and Nadiya, who gets an earnest round of applause from her competitors. “What a joy,” says Mary. Indeed.
The previews for this episode promised choux pastry and I am hoping for a croquembouche, but I won’t get my hopes up. What I get is something way better: a religieuse l’ancienne! It’s a three-tiered, free-standing, buttercream-decorated eclair tower, meant to look like a nun. I am excited to watch the bakers craft what sounds like a vision from a stoner’s daydream.
Sadly, their enthusiasm doesn’t match mine. Here’s what’s on deck:
Tamal makes both passion fruit-mango and pistachio-raspberry eclairs. There’s some raspberry jelly in there, as well.
Ianyeth features passion fruit in his tower. He even gives his bake a cheeky name, “The Nun With Hidden Passions,” which sounds like porn. The aforementioned “hidden passions” are eclairs, duh, sandwiched between other eclairs, flavored with cardamom, coffee, pistachio, and vanilla.
Flora’s eclairs are lime-basil and coconut. She’s aiming for a Dalek rather than a nun, a joke that the Male Judge only pretends to understand.
Other Paul makes banana eclairs and raspberry-basil eclairs, all with a red-cherry glaze and chocolate fondant. I’m sorry, Other Paul, but the idea of banana-flavored anything even sitting next to raspberry-flavored something is foul. So, so foul.
Nadiya whips up bubblegum and peppermint cream eclairs, a concept that sounds kind of disgusting in concept but will somehow work out well. I’m sure of it.
All of the eclairs must be baked within an inch of their lives, lest they don’t stand up by themselves. Other Paul, fearful that his banana eclair won’t taste like bananas, contemplates adding banana extract. This seems like a bad idea. To be honest, most ideas from this point onward seem bad, only because so much rides on them.
Although the baking bit of this extravaganza isn’t that exciting, things get hair during construction. Other Paul’s eclairs are getting soft — not just a construction issue, but an issue, full stop. At this point, everyone’s nerves are shot. They must build their pastry nuns using little more than gumption and sugar syrup.
And now, a twist! There’s a two-hour lunch break before judging. If their nuns are still upright by the time they get back, great! If not, well …
If there’s anything worse than the final five minutes of any challenge, it’s watching the bakers toddle up to the front with their finished products. Tamal’s tower is still standing. “I hope it’s not overbaked,” Mary says, with an incredible amount of restrained disdain. You hope not to disappoint the Male Judge; you definitely don’t want to disappoint Mary. Nadiya’s tower has a little bit of a lean to it, and although the flavors aren’t up Mary’s alley, they work on a technical level.
Other Paul’s tower didn’t quite make it. Both judges look terrifically disappointed, but none as much as Other Paul, who seems like he’s on his way home, even though his banana eclair tastes like banana. Flora’s pretty little thing didn’t survive the test of time, either. Ianyeth’s stayed erect — and yes, before you ask, the judges love his food, it was fine.
While the bakers sit around some café tables in the middle of a field, Paul, Mary, and the judges have a chat in the tent. It’s between Nadiya and Tamal for Star Baker. Flora and Paul should be nervous. Ianyeth, as suspected, will slide by.
Nadiya is Star Baker! Once again, her face says it all: fear and abject horror tempered with humility. “I’m so excited I could streak down this river,” she says. Live your truth, Nadiya! Whatever’s clever.
And, as per my prediction, Other Paul departs the tent. I liked you, Other Paul. I liked that fondant lady you made a couple weeks ago and I liked your Victorian fruit carvings. I will miss your pinkish face. Flora, you’re a lucky lass.
May we all be the good bake we wish to see in the world. Next week, the semifinals!