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‘The Great British Bake Off’ series 13 episode 6: Spooky(ish) season

We are now officially past the halfway point of the series, and the tent is giving us a first: Halloween Week—without 2019 contestant Helena, self-styled “kitchen witch.” JUSTICE FOR HELENA. Ahem. Anyway. On to the episode.

Matt and Noel’s opening sketch gets a weak chuckle out of me—is it possible that they’re improving? The bakers are decked out in their Halloween best: Syabira is a pirate, Sandro is a dark angel, Maxy is a ghost, Abdul is in a full orange NASA spacesuit and Jannusz is dressed as Noel (AKA “Not Fielding”), complete with heels and eyeliner (courtesy of Syabira). Kevin is decked out in a jack-o’-lantern shirt. “If I have to do my leaving speech in this shirt, I’ll be well annoyed,” he deadpans to the camera.

The tent is full of skeletons and balloons and Matt and Noel are leaning heavily into the Halloween spirit of things (complete with zombies, a skeleton onesie and a ghost gerbil), so the challenges will be equally Halloween-y to match, right? Ha! Not with this year’s challenge setters. The signature is apple cake. Apparently, apples have been associated with Halloween for centuries. Have they? Have they really? It seems like this week is more of a generic “Autumn Week” rather than properly Halloween-y.

Alas, as always, the producers ignore my gripes and go on with the challenge anyway. Paul and Prue find approximately 15 ways to say that they want an apple cake that “tastes of apples.” It shouldn’t be too difficult, but both Sandro and Jannusz manage to overwhelm the apple flavor with spices. Syabira, as always, is more adventurous, with chili plum cream cheese ice cream. It shouldn’t work, but it goes down a treat, and Syabira gets her first handshake. Maxy, who baked a more classic apple and walnut cake, gets her second handshake. Matt is put off by the walnuts, claiming they look like monkey brains. I hate to say it, but I think Matt might be right. Walnuts do look like brains, and now I can’t unsee it. Disaster comes for Dawn and Kevin—Kevin’s streusel cake doesn’t have enough cooling time and the cream cheese frosting (which melts if you so much as look at it funny) slides right off. Dawn’s Ukrainian Sharlotka cake is dull, bland and collapses in the middle.

The technical challenge is also disappointingly non-Halloween: s’mores. A more accurate label may be “edible s’more-like substance,” because whatever these things are, they are not s’mores. They are cylindrical monstrosities featuring ganache, digestive biscuits and homemade (unroasted) marshmallows. Abdul’s marshmallow is underset and over-blowtorched, and he produces the only bake that looks remotely like a s’more. Unfortunately, the judges were not looking for s’mores, they were looking for these imposters, and he came last. Maxy also has a wobble, nearly forgetting to add gelatin to her marshmallow, messing up the textures, coming in sixth. Dawn is fifth, Sandro is fourth, Kevin is third, Jannusz is second and Syabira comes in first! I’m willing to forgive this dreadful challenge for the sake of Syabira, who is absolutely redeeming herself after an uncharacteristically shaky showing last week.

The showstopper is, mercifully, Halloween-themed. It’s a spooky edible hanging lantern that contains an array of sweet treats. Yes, you read that correctly. Anything that has to hang (like the accursed biscuit chandeliers of 2018) is a dreadful challenge by default, but apart from that defect, it’s a fun showstopper to watch. It blends the drama of biscuit construction for the lantern with the intricacies of patisserie for the sweet treats. Paul says he’s expecting “eyeballs, fingernails, witch’s hats, noses…” Noses? Paul really said “you can have a sprinkling of accidental antisemitism. As a treat.”

Never one to shy away from unusual flavors, Syabira is making orange, white truffle and maple syrup biscuits. It would seem very avant-garde, except Jannusz is making cricket truffles. Yes, actual crickets. “Insects are the future,” Prue says to a disgusted Matt. “They taste like bacon!” Jannusz protests. Abdul has also taken a risk with his flavors, coating brandy snaps in matcha (a flavor that Paul notoriously hates). 

The challenge is massively difficult, and multiple bakers show signs of stress. Maxy is close to tears, and the top of her lantern collapses. This week is the first time Maxy has shown any signs of weakness. Dawn’s lantern isn’t neat enough, and she barely assembles it while abandoning hanging it all together. Kevin’s spider lantern is so hideous that even Sandro can’t find anything nice to say about it. Only Syabira and Janusz seem unshakeable, and they both produce legitimate works of art, with a light-up spider and horror-themed popcorn bucket respectively. Sandro is also quite cheery throughout the challenge (clearly thrilled with his “skull disco ball” idea) but he struggles with his sweet treats.

During judging, Paul and Prue gleefully smash the bakers’ hard work with orange rolling pins. Most bakers receive a mixed bag of feedback, and by the end of the judging, it’s clear that Syabira has run away with Star Baker, while Kevin and Dawn are in a bit of trouble. Ultimately, it is Dawn’s “basic” lantern and sweet treats that send her home, and Kevin is allowed to fight another week. Syabira is thrilled with Star Baker, and she has managed to achieve the “Bake Off” trifecta—a handshake, first in technical and Star Baker, all in one episode. Watch out, everyone.

Next time, it’s another “Bake Off” first: Custard Week, featuring this series’ obligatory ice cream challenge. Can Kevin scrape through another week? Will the challenges finally be half-decent? And whose custard will be scrambled eggs? Join me next week to find out.

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