The Great British Baking Show
The great frustration of reality is dealing with all the problems that could, if we had made slightly different choices, simply not exist. Just don’t scatter fake ballot boxes all over the country. If we had simply ignored the bloviating real-estate con man from New York he might have disappeared decades ago. We could all simply wear masks! So many things that are difficult and complicated don’t have obvious solutions, but instead we are all drowning in a deluge of dumb unforced errors.
All of which is to say: It’s Chocolate Week in the Great British baking tent. After the exercise in wholesome subtlety that was last week’s bread romp, this week is, as Dana Bash might put it, “a shitshow.” Brownies melt! Babkas fall! White chocolate is as horrible as everyone says! It is all very exciting — a little too exciting, if you ask me.
For this week’s Signature, everyone is supposed to make 18 brownies. This is very easy, threatens Paul Hollywood. “If you can’t produce a decent brownie, there’s going to be problems.” Everyone takes this as a challenge to invent some problems. “Oh, the stress, the stress is too much!” moans Lottie, putting her undercooked raspberry cheesecake-topped chocolate-pecan brownies in the freezer where they end up doused in “freezer juice.” Laura’s chocolate-hazelnut brownies with giant puffs of Italian meringue are also undercooked, but the twist is that they are also overpoweringly sweet. Not to be outdone, Sura drops a tin of her ruby-and-dark-chocolate swirl brownies into the oven. Peter’s fussy fig-and-pistachio upside-down brownies (with dates in them) are oppressively cinnamon-y, while Dave’s “honeycomb explosion” brownies lack all qualities of brownies. Prue gives the highest praise to Irish Mark: “It tastes like a brownie.” Then she tells him she is avoiding the marshmallow topping. Other Marc is just extremely sorry.
“We’ve all made it harder than it needed to be,” Lottie sighs. Everybody lost sight of the whole point of brownies, which is they do not have any dates in them.
It is less fun than you might think, to watch everybody fail at the same time.
Luckily, every challenge is a new day (metaphorically; literally, it’s still the same day), and so the bakers all dust themselves off and march on to the Technical, where their hopes will immediately be dashed. This is, I think, an accurate portrait of existence. Every morning, I also wake up with great hope that I will do better, and every day by noon I am on Twitter trying to figure out how to make lunch out of one rotting lemon. But this is not what I want from the Great British Bake Off. This is a show at its best when at least most people are firing on all cylinders, they are doing their best, they are at the top of their games, and they are felled not by circumstance but by their own genuine mistakes. Bumbling is not drama. Drama is watching somebody set their oven to the wrong temperature with intensity and purpose.
Anyway, we’re making chocolate babka. “I don’t know what it is, I’ve never made one,” says Linda, brightly. “I wish I knew what it looked like!” Prue has had it in New York, but nobody in the tent seems to know what is going on. Their twists do not fit in their tins. How long should a babka rise? There are no answers, and very few reasonable guesses, and one wonders if this would be more satisfying if perhaps they could have been given slightly more information? One also wonders if now might be a good time to start a U.K.-based chain bakery specializing in babka. There appears to be a market opportunity
Linda’s babka is the best babka — it is, in Prue’s estimation, “a model babka” — so she wins, followed by Laura, whose babka is less modelesque, but pretty good, for a regular babka, and Irish Mark is third. His babka was delicious but it just didn’t have the height for modeling. Lottie is last, on account of how her babka sunk, Dave is almost-last, and Sura’s leaden loaf rounds out the bottom.
“That’s two challenges pretty much failed,” says Sura, speaking for herself, and also several others. She really hopes the weather cooperates tomorrow.
The weather does not cooperate. It is hot. It is so hot. Do you know how hot it is? That’s okay, they will continuously tell you. We have arrived: babkapalooza has now turned into the show’s annual “hot episode.”
The Showstopper challenge is to make a white chocolate three-tiered “celebration cake” designed for a particular celebration. One thing you have to understand about white chocolate, Paul Hollywood says, is that it has an extra-high fat content, so it’ll throw off your texture unless you reduce the butter in your sponge. Prue agrees: “White chocolate is frankly a nightmare to work with.” Did they mention it is very hot and everything will very likely all melt?
This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. “Hot” is a problem we have solved through the wonder that is air conditioning. I understand the British feel differently about this particular technology; I do not want to be a cultural imperialist. But. This show is not rustic in any other way. They have infinite ingredients and top-of-the-line proofing drawers. You can air condition a tent, if you need to. Ask a Texan wedding planner! I might have felt differently at another time, but given the state of the world, I am out of patience: just buy an air conditioner! These are not hand-wringing obstacles!
Channel 4 and the show’s producers do not agree with me, however, so it’s going to be important that everybody uses their adorable seafoam-hued freezers wisely.
Laura is doing something with Italian meringue buttercream and black current jam for her two-year wedding anniversary, and Sura is using strawberry and lemon jams and tempered chocolate ruffles for her parents’ 36th. In celebration of her grandparents’ sapphire wedding anniversary, she’s making a very complicated white chocolate geode cake. “Don’t forget,” Prue reassures her. “You only have to be not the worst!”
Peter pairs white chocolate chunks with mango curd to toast his brother’s recent college graduation, Marc enlists raspberry Swiss meringue buttercream in honor of his daughters, and Hermine does something with Genoese sponge, entirely replacing the traditional butter with liquified white chocolate. Linda makes an emotional cake in memory of her daughter, using mascarpone and raspberry. Dave makes a “strawberry splash cake,” and Irish Mark celebrates his wife’s birthday (in absentia) with white chocolate, pistachio, lemon, and Amarula fruit liqueur, which is what elephants get drunk on.
Here is the other thing about white chocolate: it browns very fast, because of the high sugar content, suggesting it is done when it is extremely not done, which is a fact that Sura does not know.
Despite the temperature, which is the opposite of cold, it seems that things are fine. Mark’s cake Amarula-pistachio-lemon melange is “beautifully made,” even if it’s a little low on oomph. Lottie’s abstract geode extravaganza is overbaked but “very cool.” Paul thinks Dave’s cake looks burnt, but then it isn’t. Linda’s memorial cake is suitably buttery, and Marc’s cake is “very pastel.” Peter’s graduation cake is “clever,” and while Laura’s cake is too dry, Paul can tell she put a lot of thought into it. Hermine’s cake is delicious. “Deliiiiiiiicccccious” Prue raves, repeatedly.
There is just one problem, and the problem is a catastrophe, and the catastrophe is that Sura’s cake is raw. It is deeply raw. It is profoundly raw. “Mmmmmmmmmmm” observes Prue, Britishly. Paul tells her she did it wrong. Also, it is lopsided.
There is nothing to be done. “Has Sura really failed that much that she has to go?” wonders a melancholic Paul, and viewers in at least two different nations. Yes, is the answer. Lottie had a bad week, too, but — remember — you only have to be not the worst, and Sura’s cake was just so … raw. Nobody wants this to be happening. Paul says it is a classic case of having a weakness.
The only salvation, on the show and in the world, is that, next week, we all get to try again.