The Great British Baking Show
Welcome to Desserts Week, and an extremely rainy and gray summer weekend in the tent! Here’s a fun game to play as you read this recap: Two words mentioned herein are revealed during the course of the episode to have exciting and unexpected British pronunciations (to my dumb, bloated American ear, at least). Can you guess what they are? Answers revealed at the bottom—no peeking!
The signature bake is a torte, a multi-layered cake filled with cream, mousse, jam, or possibly even cat food, if that’s how the Muses guide you. These goodies call for butter, sugar, and eggs like a standard sponge, but no wheat flour, not here, no thank you. Most bakers choose to work with some manner of ground nuts, but Danny opts for potato flour in her blackberry, white chocolate, lemon and elderflower torte. “It’s very starchy. I tend to avoid it like the plague,” says Paul, the tent’s resident cheerleader.
As Sarah-Jane crunches up some Amaretti biscuits for her chocolate and almond truffle torte, she declares this to be “the bravest thing” she’s ever done. “But until this, getting here on the train by myself was the bravest thing I’ve ever done,” she adds. I would love to read a children’s book about Sarah-Jane’s grand train adventure. (For these purposes, I am imagining Sarah-Jane as a talking mouse.) Ryan’s green tea opera torte, with almond and hazelnut sponge and a dark chocolate ganache, sounds delicious, though he’s borderline apologetic about the “unusual flavors.” This season of Bake Off originally aired in 2012, you see; in 2018, I am pretty sure I could buy a matcha suppository if I wanted to, but I’m not going to Google it.
The challenge asked bakers to produce a torte of at least 20 centimeters in diameter, but John’s “Torte Noir,” a black forest cake with boozy cream, is more on the scale of Godzilla, or at least Mothra. The law student, who is showing a lot of cleavage today — of which I am very supportive, to be clear — is forced to contend with too-hot cream splitting the chocolate for his ganache not once, but twice. When John finally tries to write “Noir” on his cake in frosting, it looks more like “Nair,” as in, the not famously appetizing depilatory cream.
James’ hazelnut, chocolate and passionfruit torte, with cocoa powder-duster passionfruit truffles and passionfruit-infused cream, is “quite an expensive bake.” Cathryn’s white chocolate, macadamia and coffee torte is cutely accessorized by white chocolate shards she’s decorated in a coffee bean pattern, thanks to a transfer sheet printed with cocoa butter. They both get high marks from the judges. Stuart — who made his own wedding cake, a choice that strikes me as both adorable and terrifying — has made a seven-layer black forest torte, but ended up piecing stray sponge scraps together to form the base. And, alas, his intended mirror glaze looks more like heavily oxidized forensic blood spatter.
Sue may see it as a “flourless antidepressant,” but Paul dismisses the vibrant oranges and yellows of Brendan’s clementine and chestnut torte as very ‘70s. Excuse me! I think this might be another 2012 vs. 2018 problem: I mean, have you looked at, I don’t know, clothes? I pretty much exclusively own striped T-shirts that look like what Jason’s victims would have worn at Camp Crystal Lake. (If you feel the need to point out that Friday the 13th technically came out in 1980, I will personally empty one of John’s discarded bowls of failed ganache onto your head.) It’s very much the ‘70s again, with the most important distinction being that we haven’t figured out how to get the whole impeachment thing off the ground. I like this cake!
“It’s the first intimidating cake we’ve had on,” Sue says of John’s massive Nair cake. Stuart’s exceedingly messy, gloopy cake wins points for flavor and texture, but it looks like it got rained on for about 12 hours. Danny’s perfectly frosted cake (the plump little blackberries on top are mirrored by the sweet piping along the base) somehow looks even better on the inside, each layer dripping alluringly with blackberry jam. How you like potato flour now, Paul?
The technician is a crème caramel, a.k.a flan! The only ingredients required are milk, sugar, vanilla, and eggs, but this is a deceptively tricky bake, particularly when it comes to achieving the right shade and thickness of caramel without burning it. Cathryn shatters a ramekin trying to scoot one of hers out, but she’s miles ahead of Manisha and Stuart, both of whom see their custards more or less explode when they hit the plate. Brendan’s uncannily perfect crème caramels put him in first, followed by Danny and Cathryn. Ryan, Stuart, and Manisha are on the bottom.
The showstopper du jour is a four-layer meringue dessert, filled and topped and dressed however the bakers like. Texture is key: A good crispy meringue will need to bake for at least an hour, then cool for at least another hour.
John calls his elderflower and bramble berry pavlova an “endurance bake,” darting away from the camera to get back to work. He plans on painting his meringue with white chocolate to prevent it from absorbing excess moisture from the cream. Stuart, meanwhile, clearly has absolutely zero idea of what is happening with his own “Choca Blocka Mocha” meringue, which will number “about” six layers with a texture that is a “a mix between crispy, crunchy, and chewy.” Also, he’s never finished it “properly” before. Stuart, buddy. “I think it’s going to be a huge surprise at the end, for you and for us,” Mary says, speaking truth to incompetence.
James’ fig, chestnut, cherry and chocolate meringue is laden with lots of pretty figs, but it’s awkward to slice through (post-cutting, the dessert looks like something fell on it, from a great height) and the flavors are butting heads. Paul’s review: “I don’t like it.” Mary’s review: “I don’t dislike it.” Okay! Brendan’s beeeeeeautiful pear, chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise is praised as both “lovely” and “delicate,” and may I add, same, but anyway, great work, Brendan. Cathryn’s cake, in addition to being an extremely good excuse for everyone to say “gooseberries” a bunch, is appealing, but the honey sponge inside is distractingly thick (same, also).
Stuart’s decoration-free bake inspires Mary to ask, “This is supposed to be a showstopper?” This is perhaps one of the five meanest things ever said on Bake Off, not that it is unjustified. Paul finds the bake, which has transmogrified its meringue contents into a mushy trifle, difficult to cut; his slice thumps loudly when it hits the plate.
Paul doesn’t care for the bitterness of Manisha’s tiramisu-inspired dessert — featuring Tia Maria cream, chocolate cream, and chantilly cream — but it suits Mary just fine. Nevertheless, they both compliment the piping on top. That’s achievement enough to keep Manisha in the competition for one more week. It’s Stuart who’s going home.
Our favorite Gloria Gaynor enthusiast is crowned Star Baker. Congratulations, Brendan!
(Are you ready for the answers? “Clementine” is pronounced clementeen. “Mocha” is pronounced mocka. I love this beautiful television program.)