It’s episode 7, and the tent is giving us another first: Custard Week. Custard is one of the most British of substances. Essentially sugary milk sweetened with egg, it’s an accompaniment to British classics like sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble.
Mercifully, there is no opening skit this week. The signature challenge is îles flottantes, or floating islands. They are a particularly vile French number: poached meringue floating in a sea of custard, topped with spun sugar. Sweet on sweet on sickly sweet. Bleh. They’ve been seen on Bake Off before, as a technical challenge for series 4’s “Dessert Week.” This episode also featured the most iconic custard-related moment in Bake Off history: Custardgate, in which Deborah used fellow contestant Howard’s custard “by error” (#neverforget).
Syabira is making “mojito islands,” complete with palm trees and minty sand. Sandro is using alcohol (again), as is Kevin, who is putting prosecco directly into his meringue. This is a terrible idea. Alcohol tends to destabilize mixtures, and meringues rely on stability. Janusz is making vanilla latte îles flottantes that look like real lattes. Abdul, who has never seen floating islands before, is going for cherry, orange, and pistachio, and Maxy’s are blueberry flavored. Just blueberry. I’m surprised Maxy hasn’t been critiqued for boring flavors yet.
On a side note, the reduced number of bakers in the tent is lovely for recapping purposes, as I can now mention what everyone is doing without going over the word count.
Onto judging. Paul and Prue are presented with the most elaborate îles flottantes they will ever see. Syabira and Janusz very nearly get a handshake, and Abdul and Maxy do fairly well, but Sandro (who has made it no secret that he’s chasing Star Baker) has overboozed his bakes (again) and Kevin’s meringue has dissolved, surprising nobody.
There’s a twist for this week’s technical: staggered start times. It’s been done before, with soufflés in series 6 and lava cakes in series 8. This year, the challenge is ice cream (more specifically, pistachio praline ice cream in a homemade cone). As Prue sagely points out, “to make good ice cream, you need to be able to make good custard.”
It’s clear from the beginning that the tent’s notoriously terrible freezers are going to be a problem. Even with Bake Off’s expensive ice cream makers, the custard mix (which is cooked on a stove) has to be cold before hitting the ice cream maker. If you chill it in the freezer, you’ll raise the freezer temperature, sabotaging yourself later. Even so, you usually want to chill ice cream for a good three hours (at the very least) before serving. Poor Syabira falls victim to the freezer demons, as her freezer is 4 degrees Celsius, and she comes last after serving the judges pistachio praline soup. Janusz’s ice cream also melts, and he comes fifth. Abdul, who burnt his cones, is 4th, Kevin is 3rd, and Maxy is 2nd. Sandro is the only one who really did well for this challenge, and he takes a well deserved first.
Coming into day two, Paul and Prue claim that everything rests on the showstopper. Paul also keeps referring to the technical challenge as “the tech,” which I despise with all my being. The showstopper challenge is a “set custard gateaux” in which a “perfectly set custard” must be the hero. Shockingly, though, all three challenges this week have been appropriately custard-themed. Have the challenge setters finally woken up?
Syabira, who seems to like theming her signatures and showstoppers (never forget the corn and the melon) is making another cocktail bake: a pina colada custard gateaux. I approve. Janusz is making Neapolitan custard gateau with a traditional Polish sponge (ft. potato starch). It’s decorated with drips for the FOURTH TIME THIS SERIES. Janusz, I love you, but you need to find some other way to decorate your bakes.
Kevin and Abdul are both taking a risk. Kevin is planning on layering cakes made entirely of set custard, which comes with a high risk of collapse. Abdul is making a giant mille feuille, using Paul’s rough puff pastry recipe in a shameless bit of brownnosing. This choice does remind me that we haven’t had pastry week yet—it usually comes somewhere between week 4 and week 6. But we clearly needed Mexican Week and Halloween Week instead.
Sandro and Maxy present the most emotional bakes of the series so far. Sandro’s three-tiered masterpiece is a tribute to his late friend, who encouraged him to apply for Bake Off in the first place, and Maxy’s is a tribute to her late father-in-law. Maxy is once again using classic flavors (in this case, a vanilla creme pat), and Prue finally seems at least a little skeptical.
Syabira, Sandro, and Abdul sail through this challenge. Poor Kevin, however, suffers disaster. His custard doesn’t quite set, and his cake begins to collapse. In a beautiful “f*** it” moment, he drafts three other bakers into helping him haphazardly pile macaroons and cream on top—as if that will help anything. His custard tastes delicious, but he’s clearly in trouble.
Janusz’s custard is “like wallpaper paste,” putting him squarely in the danger zone with Kevin. Abdul is praised for “getting the spirit of the mille feuille spot on.” Two out of Sandro’s three tiers are lovely, but the middle tier is too gloopy. Maxy is criticized for failing to appropriately celebrate custard. Syabira’s gateau is perfect in every way, and even jiggles if you shake it.
Going home this week is Kevin, who just didn’t deliver at the same level as the other bakers. Still, he’s certainly proved himself, and he’s going out on a lovely-tasting bake. Syabira’s perfect gateaux allows her to snatch Star Baker away from a disappointed Sandro.
Next time, it’s the quarterfinals, and finally Pastry Week! Can Sandro grab a second Star Baker? Can Janusz redeem himself? And will Maxy finally use interesting flavors? Join me next week to find out.