In this age of political correctness and wokeness, it’s difficult to look on the past without an intensely critical eye. The 1960s were about free love and great music, but they were also about the systematic abuse of minorities. The 1920s, meanwhile, marked the beginning of the Jazz Age and true independence for women, but that sloped downward into the Great Depression and World War II. And people were even more blatantly racist.
So, how to celebrate the past in a way that’s untainted by human error? Obviously, through the wholesome lens of a baking competition, which exists outside any realms influenced by time, space, or racism. Welcome … to The Great British Baking Show!
Last week, the producers decided to introduce the show’s first-ever Dairy Week and everyone’s favorite lorry-driving daddy, Phil, was eliminated. Riding off that chaotic high, the showrunners decided this week would feature another brand new theme: the Roaring Twenties. What could that possibly mean? Bakes from that era?! Yes. But also, aesthetic decorations from that era, which makes this week one of the most artistically demanding thus far.
To start, Paul and Prue ask the bakers to make four custard pies with ’20s-themed decorations, and because they heard the word “custard,” half of the bakers go for something citrusy. Helena — or as she’s known now known in the GBBS community, Grim-Joy — fashions lemon and lavender pies held together by the tentacles of a chocolate kraken. Prue can’t get enough of her. Sophisticated Toddler Henry, meanwhile, decides to make a lemon and lime custard with raspberry curd that is inspired by arguably the greatest invention of the 1920s: Kool-Aid. Sorry, penicillin!
Steph, last week’s Star Baker, decides to fill her shortcrust pastry with a lemon, lime, and orange custard. “Shortcrust pastry is my nemesis,” she says as she makes perfect shortcrust pastry. She’s joined by Alice and her chocolate-orange entry; lemon and raspberry ripple custards from Priya; and Michael’s mango-lime ginger custard.
Only a few brave souls dare to ignore citrus completely. For the umpteenth time, Michelle brings up her lovely Welsh garden, which has inspired her blueberry and white chocolate creme custard with edible flowers. Veterinarian Rosie, who we learn hates treating rabbits because “they just want to die,” opts for a blackberry custard in a matcha tea shortcrust. On top, little elderflower jellies injected with flower designs. But the bravest among them is David, who says that instead of trying to be creative with his flavors, he’s just going to make a simple vanilla custard with some glazed fruit. The simplicity will allow him to add hand-designed flapper-girl biscuits. Surprisingly, this is the only time flappers are mentioned in the episode.
Now that we’re halfway through the season, much less time is being spent on describing all the bakers’ dishes, which means more time for watching how all the bakes come together. David creates his flapper girl biscuits with stunning precision and royal icing, and watching Rosie inject her jellies with flowers is nothing short of mesmerizing. Michael, usually one of the more talkative bakers, goes dead silent as he’s got a lot on his plate: mango gelée, meringue kisses, white-chocolate soil, piped ganache, candied lime peel, ginger honeycomb. He’s got to live up to that Hollywood Handshake!
In the midst of all this, Rosie drops one of her tarts and it splatters in epic fashion. But Rosie is no Michael, who claims he’s trying to get #mantears trending. She sniffs, says “oh,” and carries on. This is a woman who witnesses the deaths of beloved pets on a fairly regular basis. You think she’s gonna cry over spilled tart? Hell no. We love you, Rosie, our stoic kween!
After two and a half hours, the judges make their way around to each counter to check out the 36 — well, 35 — custards on display. David is up first and his easy custard approach proves to have been the right bet because his bakes look like they’re professionally made. Prue says, “That’s a custard pie,” and Paul does that thing where he’s dead silent — and then hands out the season’s second Hollywood Handshake. Michael and Henry pump their fists in celebration.
Michael is handed similarly glowing feedback for his mango-lime situation, although Paul says he under-filled his tarts. Priya is dinged for her bad decoration and for boiling her lemon-raspberry custard, but it at least tastes good. Alice loses points for using orange extract in her bake, as if she didn’t just watch Phil receive the same criticism the week before. Come on! Steph does what David does, but in the opposite way, going for intense flavor over intense decoration. Paul and Prue enthusiastically approve. As for Michelle, her tarts look neat, but lack blueberry flavor because as Prue points out, “blueberries don’t have much flavor.” She’s not wrong. Henry makes a passable custard, but there’s not much of it to eat because his pastry is too thick; and Helena overdoes it with the lavender, resulting in a bake that tastes “soapy.”
Unsurprisingly, the producers save Rosie’s judgement for last. After all, they’ve been promoting her tart drop on national television for an entire week. The criticism is pretty harsh — Paul and Prue say her custard looks “sad” and her shortcrust is “damp” — but they admit that it tastes good. Our stoic kween responds, “Fair enough.”
Next we’re onto the Technical and after last week’s disastrous Maids of Honor challenge, the bakers are understandably on edge. Prue does absolutely nothing to set them at ease because this week she wants the bakers to make beignet soufflés, essentially deep-fried choux pastry, filled with jam, and served with sabayon, a wine-infused custard. I’m gonna cut to the chase and let you know that a lot of the bakers royally fuck this one up, but it’s not Prue’s fault. Because how can you expect to win the Great British Baking Show without knowing how to make a choux pastry off the top of your head? It’s a foundational recipe, people! Michael, who comes in 8th just behind David and his raw choux, has a meltdown over not knowing how to make one at all. But I’m short on sympathy for him because Henry, Priya, and Helena — who claims first place in a Technical for the first time after consistently missing the mark— all figure it out. Here’s hoping that after this week, every single baker went home and read the tartine book cover to cover.
Anyway! Onto the Showstopper, which is centered on cocktail-themed cakes because Prohibition. And since every decent baker should know how to make a decent cake, if not a choux pastry, this challenge is more about great decor and flavor combinations than technical prowess. Plus, who doesn’t like to watch people make cakes?!
There is one drawback to this themed-cocktail challenge, however: No fewer than four of the bakers decide to make cakes based on the piña colada, a cocktail that was not invented in the 1920s. There are no French 75s, or Sidecars, or Gin Fizzes, or Bee’s Knees, or Corpse Revivers, or any other cocktails that come up when you Google “1920s cocktails.” So, Alice, Michelle, Priya, and Steph are fighting to see which of them can be the most original unoriginal baker.
David, who looks like he’s never failed to live up to a theme, decides he’ll make an amaretto sour cake with lemon sponge and aromatic bitters buttercream frosting. Helena is riding high after coming first in the Technical and gleefully describes her Vampire’s Kiss red velvet cake with vodka and cream cheese frosting. Prue swats a fly away from her face and Helena says it landed on her because she’s dead and I’ve never loved a reality TV contestant more.
Henry and Rosie both make White Russian cakes with the former going hard on the coffee (coffee sponge, coffee liqueur, coffee buttercream) and the latter deciding that what the judges really want right now is a mirror glaze with vodka meringue on top and gold royal icing. Yeah, sure. Rounding out the “Not Pina Colada” cakes is Michael, whose Bramble cake with blackberry liqueur will hopefully make up for his tragic showing in the Technical.
Now, this being a cake challenge, it was always unlikely that there would be any major mishaps. It’s just cake! And yet. David’s layers of beautifully decorated cake sink into one another, but he gets away with it because like I said, it’s beautiful and it tastes good even if the buttercream is “grainy” in Paul’s opinion. Michael’s Bramble Cake also comes across well and Rosie and Henry both manage to make very good White Russian cakes because coffee. The judges barely comment on how messy Rosie’s cake looks. And why should they? Getting a reaction out of her is like squeezing blood from a stone. Helena, the last maker of a non-Piña cake, is immediately dinged for her sloppy icing decoration, which looked fine to me, but oh well. And for whatever reason, Paul finds the red velvet cake underneath “bland,” as if he’s never tasted red before.
Over in Piña Colada Land, the cakes are a mixed bag, which makes a lot of sense statistically. At the bottom is Michelle’s Dancing Queen cake that she originally baked for her sister’s bachelorette party. Apparently her sister didn’t have the heart to tell her that the cake was lacking in flavor and, in this case, over-decorated. Priya and Alice land in the middle with cakes that taste good even if they look sloppy. Priya’s relieved, having made up for a poor performance in the Signature Challenge. Alice looks on wistfully, wishing desperately to return to Biscuit Week, when she was named Star Baker. But as long as Steph keeps making stellar bakes, like this week’s Sour Lime Piña Colada Cake with Swiss meringue buttercream, that dream becomes more distant. For the second week in a row, Steph wins Star Baker.
In the judging room, Paul and Prue hint that the producers have decided that it’s finally time for them to decide to send two bakers home. But which two? Helena had a bad week, but came first in the Technical. Rosie did badly in the Signature and got 5th in the Technical, but perhaps she made up for it in the Showstopper. Priya has been solidly middle-of-the-pack for five weeks, but she got 2nd in the Technical. Michelle and Alice have both been Star Bakers even if they haven’t done terribly well since.
Well, as it turns out, being Star Baker and/or winning the Technical offers absolutely no protection. Because it’s Helena and Michelle who get sent home. Michelle, I get. It’s been downhill for her since week one. But Helena! The Queen of Night?! Who came first in the Technical THIS WEEK? It’s a decision, I, for one, will never understand. But at the very least, the threat — and false drama — of two people going home at any time is gone now. They’ve played that card and it’s the kind of manufactured chaos GBBS doesn’t need. That’s what Desserts Week in a hot tent is for, amirite?