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“The Great British Bake Off”series 13 episode 4: Corny, spicy and a little bit dicey

First and foremost, I must regretfully inform all of you that Noel was not wearing a sweater this week. Instead, he was wearing an oversized psychedelic zebra shirt in the colors of the bisexual flag. Not Noel’s worst look, but not on the level of his sweaters from previous weeks. Now, onto the episode itself. It’s Mexican Week, a theme that will no doubt strike terror into the hearts of all those who were watching back in 2020.

International weeks have been gaining steady traction in Bake Off for the past decade or so, beginning with the relatively tame French Week before branching off to such exotic locales as Germany and Denmark. The most notorious international week is no doubt 2020’s Japanese Week, an episode that managed to offend both the Japanese and the Chinese, was cringy at best and flat out racist at worst. Watching the preview for this episode, I was worried Mexican Week would suffer a similar fate.

Miraculously, the challenges all achieved the bare minimum of “being Mexican,” although whether the judges and hosts can pronounce them is another matter. The signature is pan dulce (literally “sweet bread”) which is arguably more of a category than an actual bake. It does make me hate last week’s episode even more, as this challenge is more bread-y than anything Bread Week produced. We even get immortal footage of Paul Hollywood prodding at bread dough! The most popular pan dulce is the concha, a sweet bread with a craquelin topping. Syabira appears to be on a corn kick this episode, and the first example of this are her corn-shaped, corn flavored conchas. Paul is grumpy about the denseness of the dough, but Prue seems won over by the sweetcorn flavor. Rebs keeps it simple with lemon and vanilla conchas, but the craquelin topping is too thick. James also suffers from the curse of too-thick craquelin, and the filling in Dawn’s conchas explode. Carol’s pan de anis dulces are deemed “not really Chelsea bun shaped” from Paul, as he seemingly forgot that they are not Chelsea buns. Still, the flavor is good. Is this the beginning of the redemption of Carol? Maxy triumphs with her flavors, and Kevin’s rum-soaked borrachitos (literally: “little drunkards”) go down a treat.

The technical challenge is… tacos. Of course it is. Never mind that there is so much more to Mexican baking than tacos, but this is hardly a baking challenge. It’s a cooking challenge with a tortilla on the side. The bakers are told to “make the refried beans,” a cryptic instruction that would be utterly justifiable IF IT WAS A BAKING SKILL. Multiple bakers appear baffled by the beans, and I don’t blame them. Several also tremble at the prospect of cooking steak. The highlight of the whole challenge may be Carol referring to guacamole (yet another non-baking task the bakers must complete) as “glocky-molo”

The technical judging goes about as well as you might hope, with the judges quickly evaluating the tortillas and then going on about the (non-baked) fillings, the seasoning and other things that the bakers did not apply to the show to do. Last place is Carol again (too thick and small), ending her chance at redemption this week. Ninth is Rebs (overseasoned and overfilled) and eighth is James (too small). At the top, we have Sandro in third, Syabira in second and first is Maxy. Essentially, the people you would expect to do well are doing well, and the people who keep struggling are still struggling.

The showstopper is a tres leches, one of the most iconic Mexican bakes. It’s a cake drenched in milk and syrup, meaning that the words “wet” and “soaked” crop up constantly throughout the challenge (though Noel and Matt don’t make as much of this as I thought they might). Because of the soaking (sorry), tres leches are fragile and prone to collapse, making stacking them a precarious situation. 

Syabira’s corn enthusiasm returns with a sweetcorn tres leches. Multiple bakers are attempting coffee, chilli and chocolate, the best of which is Dawn’s which almost earns her a handshake. Rebs, who wanted to make this week her redemption week, produces a borderline inedible cake due to the quantities of chilli and tequila. James joins her in the danger zone as he makes what appears to be every possible type of cake and fails to decorate it well. Abdul goes for a Day of the Dead theme, much to Noel’s enthusiasm. Janusz’s perfectly decorated tropical fruit tres leches is exactly what we would expect from him. Sandro’s tres leches is decorated with a mustache that looks eerily like the one on the Einstein’s logo. And Maxy’s cake, despite the judges’ worries that it will be too rich, goes down a treat.

In the judges’ pavilion, we are reminded that two bakers could be going home this week. In my opinion, only Rebs has performed poorly enough to get the chop, but apparently production disagrees, and James also leaves the tent. Poor James. In any other week, he would have probably been safe, but his showstopper did look appalling. Maxy, on the back of an excellent showstopper and first in the technical, wins Star Baker. So far, Star Baker has gone Janusz-Maxy-Janusz-Maxy. Can another baker (I’m looking at you, Syabira, and you, Sandro) break through? Or will it be Janusz and Maxy domination all the way to the final?

Next week, it’s dessert week! One of my personal favorite weeks, featuring one of my personal favorite challenges (mousse cake). Will Carol finally manage to redeem herself? Will someone break the Janusz/Maxy streak? And will Syabira manage to make even more corn-flavored delicacies? Join me next week to find out.

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