Before this recap begins in earnest, let's give a brief shout-out to Mel and Sue's cold open. Keep up the sexual innuendo, ladies! That's just how I like it.
At long last, The Great British Baking Show has reached the semifinals. Four bakers remain and I'd say that the competition is heating up, but it feels pretty obvious to me who's headed home. Let's see if I'm right.
The theme of the week is chocolate! Everyone loves chocolate unless they really, really don't, so for their sake, I'm hoping that Tamal, Nadiya, Ianyeth Paltrow, and Flora like it at least a little bit. With only four bakers left and an entire hour to fill, the announcers burn some time by parsing through each contestant's flaws, just like your mom does when you go home for Thanksgiving.
Tamal's bad at time management, which seems worrisome since he's a freaking anesthesiologist when he's not in the tent. Flora's bakes look great, but stray from the brief. Never stray from the brief, people. Nadiya's only flaws are her lack of confidence and her nerves. And Ianyeth Paltrow … doesn't get any criticism? He's won star baker three times and everyone loves him and his unusual flavors and his quail eggs, I guess. Ugh.
Anyway, our second-to-last signature bake is a chocolate tart with a chocolate crust and a chocolate filling, decorated with chocolate, covered in chocolate, floating in chocolate.
Silence fills the tent, punctuated by what I can only assume is nervous breathing, along with quiet tutting noises at the thought of adding cocoa powder to crust. Apparently, cocoa dries out a bake, so you need more liquid to work against that. Who knew? Let's find out what everyone's making.
Tamal has a "New York"–themed pie with a cocoa crust, raspberry coulis, a chocolate filling — "Just the one!" says the voice-over, with a hint of arch — and some pecan praline on top for fun. I wracked my brain to figure out what is "New York" about this tart and came up empty, so I welcome your thoughts and feelings in the comments.
Flora's tart sounds delicious: a cocoa crust with a passion-fruit custard, a milk-chocolate mousse and a chocolate ganache, covered in macarons and God knows what else. This proves my pet theory that Flora has never heard of my father's favorite saying — keep it simple, stupid.
Ah, Ianyeth Paltrow, back at it again with the fancy stuff that sounds like a Bath & Body Works perfume circa 1997. He's doing a bay-leaf infused, salted-caramel sauce (what) with a dark-chocolate filling and a chocolate-mirror glaze.
Nadiya, feeling newly confident, makes a chocolate crust with a layer of salted caramel and peanut, and a layer of chocolate mousse. She's even making her own peanut butter! Then she'll throw some peanut-powder-coated truffles on top of that. Fun!
Flora is worried about her custard, which will show her mistakes if it's not done right. Everyone else also has caramel issues, but Nadiya uses rock salt in hers to give bursts of saltiness within the sweet. Ianyeth prefers the finer things in life, as we well know, so he's probably using some sort of bougie artisanal salt instead of, I don't know, Morton's?
A note: Everyone blind bakes their tart, but you can't really tell if your tart shell is done when there's cocoa in it! Playing with fire, guys. Playing with fire.
So much whisking and staring and frantic piping of chocolate. Flora's basically running a one-woman candy shop at her station, while Tamal's simple tart is pretty much finished. Hmm, Tamal. Will this be your downfall? Will you explain to us what a "New York" tart is, or will you leave us hanging? A nation waits with bated breath.
Judgey-wudgey time.The Male Judge doesn't look impressed by the look of Tamal's simple tart, but upon first bite, Mary loves it. The Male Judge begrudgingly admits that he does as well. Ianyeth's tart looks good, cuts well, and tastes great … because you can't taste the bay leaf! The caramel he put on the bottom is a miss, too. Nadiya's tart has an "attractive appearance," despite the thickness of the pastry, and it tastes lovely. The Male Judge even shakes her hand! Flora's tart looks over-decorated to me, but I'm not the judge, just someone who forgot to eat before writing this recap and is now very hangry. Her custard doesn't work out as well as she'd hoped and her macarons on top are just plain bad. Woof.
Ooh! The technical challenge is a weird twist on Mary Berry's chocolate soufflé. This challenge is quick to execute, so the start times for each bake will be staggered. That means three bakers leave the tent, one baker starts, and the rest of them trickle in when instructed. It's like a relay race but with more anxiety. Flora, in a blind panic, starts things off.
Okay, it's soufflé time! Flora looks like she's two minutes away from a nervous breakdown, just baking alone with a three-step recipe that seems like hell, especially for someone who has never made a soufflé before. Tricky Mary picked soufflé because everything about it sets you up for failure. Nice.
Here comes Ianyeth, confidence clearly shaken because he's never made a soufflé either. Once again: I would think that if you're going to be on this show, you'd do everything your power to learn as much as you could about baking and try stuff at home that might be on the test. To her credit, Nadiya seems to handle this a little better — even though she's never made one. Tamal, the last person in the tent, has also never made a soufflé. Four bakers, four soufflé rookies. I implore all future contestants of this great program to retreat to their kitchens, crack open whatever dusty old cookbook is lying around, and make something scary and French and complicated just so you'll be ready when your time comes.
Flora's done first, since she began this mayhem. While the rest of the contestants keep at it, her soufflé are brought over to the Male Judge and Mary, who are sitting at a café table in the front of the tent with their backs turned to the rest of the bakers, whispering their judgments instead of shouting it like they normally do.
Flora's soufflé turns out pretty okay! Ianyeth's doesn't look quite right and isn't as high as it should be, but it tastes good. Nadiya's looks like what I thought a soufflé should, but with teensy bits of meringue in it. Tamal's jiggles pleasantly despite the meringue flecks and it is pronounced a "good flavor" by Mary. At the end of the technical, Flora comes in first, followed by Tamal, Ian, and Nadiya. Good work, Flora!
Oh God, Nadiya's crying because she came in last. She's positive that today is her last day, and ugh, Nadiya, please don't cry, I don't like it when you cry.
After that soufflé madness, what might they throw at our bakers for the showstopper? Oh geez: It's a three-dimensional chocolate centerpiece, with a biscuit element, and it must feature white chocolate. The bakers only have four hours to make what would take an average person at least a week. Let's see what everyone does, shall we?
Tamal goes for a three-tiered bell tower, with a vanilla shortbread encased in chocolate and tempered-chocolate panels. It's all put on a star-anise biscuit, with walls decorated by white chocolate.
Flora makes a hexagonal chocolate-pecan shortbread carousel on a chocolate cake, with white-chocolate ganache horses shaped by a handmade chocolate cookie cutter. She made a cookie cutter! How!? Taking lessons from Ianyeth, I see.
Nadiya's interpretation is sculptural: a chocolate peacock made out of Rice Krispie treats, sitting on a log, with individual tail feathers. There's even cinder biscuit and white-chocolate eggs in a tempered-chocolate nest. Oh, and the chocolate peacock is blue.
Ianyeth dreams up a complex chocolate well, which includes a bucket that will somehow go into the liquid inside the well. (Yes, the well appears to be full of liquid. Too much, Ianyeth!) The walls are white chocolate, and cute shortbread biscuits also figure somewhere in there. The sketch looks like you'd need an advanced degree in engineering to actually execute it, so I wish him the best.
This challenge seems especially difficult because time management is the key to success. Each baker has to temper their chocolate — a fussy process that makes chocolate smooth and shiny, rather than grainy in texture. If their timing is off, it'll be disastrous.
Judgey-wudgey time, part two! Tamal's clock tower wobbles to the front of the room. Like a Monet, it's fabulous from afar, but kind of a hot mess up close, with overdone biscuits and wobbly piping. He tempered the chocolate well and it all tastes pretty okay, so at least there's that. Ianyeth's well is really, really impressive. "Full marks for originality," Mary says, and I have to agree. The well and its mechanics actually work! Nevertheless, timing was an issue and he slacked a bit on the handiwork, so minus ten points for you, Ianyeth. Flora's carousel is cute but a teensy bit messy and I think she knows it. The chocolate isn't as glossy as the judges would like — and, oh God, the whole thing just collapses when they cut into the top of the carousel. Not enough structure on this one, Flora.
You guys. Nadiya's peacock looks so, so good. It's the best thing I've seen this season and that includes Other Paul's bread lion. Does it taste as good as it looks? Yes and yes, from both judges.
As Mary and the Male Judge debate, it's clear that the decision comes down to Ianyeth and Flora. Only one of them will make it to the finals. There's much debate about whether or not Ianyeth did enough work to warrant a place in the finals, and I will be the first to tell you that he probably did not.
Nadiya is the semifinal star baker! It is a well-deserved victory. As for the person going home, my hunch was right. Good-bye Flora, my wee Scottish lass. You did good, kid. You made it this far! We'll see you next week for the season finale of this remarkable television program.