This week had a lot to live up to, since the last Botanical Week (back in 2016) is one of my all-time favorite episodes. I’m delighted to report that this episode rose to the challenge magnificently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The bakers who have survived to the second half of the competition head into the tent. This week, they are all wearing pastels. Many are slightly uncertain about what botanicals actually are. Matty had to Google it, and Josh describes it as “flowers, roots, or barks.” The actual working definition of botanicals as used by Paul is anything to do with spice, herbs or florals, which essentially gives us a preview of the challenges.
The signature (which Allison and Noel describe as a “bottie signature”) is spiced buns. Yum. Now, a bun challenge is no doubt going to produce a flurry of innuendo, and this challenge was no exception. I’ll put my favorites below.
“Paul’s already seen my buns” – Noel
“I hope Paul likes these nuts” – Cristy
“Just lean on these buns” – Allison, while hugging Saku
On with the recap! There are two main categories of spiced bun in the tent. We have true spiced buns, like Saku’s Swedish cinnamon and cardamom buns, Tasha’s cinnamon, nutmeg and clove buns (she’s doing a Christmas themed signature for the second week in a row), Cristy’s maple and cinnamon buns and Matty’s hot cross buns. Then we have spiced buns where a non-spice element is doing a lot of heavy lifting, like Dana’s rose, pistachio and cardamom buns, Dan’s Greek-style fig and cinnamon Chelsea buns and Josh’s lemon and blueberry buns. Paul and Prue are particularly concerned about Josh’s flavor choices, and reflect on the nature of a blueberry for a bit.
The highlight of the signature for me was the amount of lurking Prue did. Now, we’re all used to Paul lurking around the tent, but it appears he’s a bad influence on Prue, since this week she was absolutely everywhere. She wandered by Dan and Noel as Dan expressed anxiety about his bake, hovered over Dana as Dana measured out her dough and snooped around Matty’s station as he put his dough into proof. Noel takes the opportunity to do a bit, saying Prue “can appear anywhere. Occasionally when I wake up in the morning she’s there at the end of my bed.” Shush, Noel.
Shaping the buns causes a lot of anxiety, since Paul in particular has demanded “identical” buns. Now, this is ridiculous. These are home bakers, making identical buns is impossible, and a fair amount of luck is involved. But whatever. Once the buns are baked (“buns in the oven” is Noel’s choice pun) there is then a last minute dash of decorating. For the most part, the signature went off without a hitch.
During judging, Paul can’t stop complaining about inconsistent bun size. Tasha’s spiced buns receive rave reviews, and Josh also does well, having seemingly disguised the blueberry enough for Paul and Prue. Dan’s are too big and uneven, but they taste very good. Dana’s are dragged for not being consistent enough, and for the rose flavor overpowering the cardamom. Saku’s are also uneven but still pretty, and they taste good. Cristy’s buns look like they have a horrible skin condition, but they taste amazing. Matty’s are pretty but they’re too dense and bland. “You need more fruit,” Paul says. Very true, Paul. Very true.
In her advice for the technical, Prue says “be bold with the botanicals.” I want that on a t-shirt. The technical is a lemon and thyme drizzle cake. We’ve had spices, now it’s time for herbs. The main concern in the judging pavilion is whether the bakers will use enough thyme, because get this, the recipe didn’t provide any amounts.
The recipe is generally brutal. The episode zooms in on it and I take a moment to read it. “Make the cake. Bake. Make the lemon and thyme syrup. Crystalize the lemon peel and thyme. Soak the cake with syrup. Decorate with lemon glaze icing and the crystalized peel and thyme.”
There is a lot of anxiety about thyme quantities, but all the bakers achieve a cake and syrup without too much trouble. Saku continues her streak of throwing things during technical challenges, this time by throwing a lemon at Noel. He retaliates by hurling a lemon into the corner of a tent and breaks a glass by accident. Meanwhile, Matty is baffled by the egg white needed to crystalize the lemon peel and thyme. Now, the egg white is just meant to be a sticky substance for the sugar to cling to. But he doesn’t know that, and makes a whole meringue to dip the peel and thyme into. Oh, Matty.
Onto the judging. Dan, Matty and Josh don’t have enough thyme flavor. Dana’s is completely bland. Tasha has overbaked hers. Saku’s flavors are off balance, and Cristy’s is praised for being neat.
In seventh is Tasha (clumsy), sixth is Dana (irregular), fifth is Saku, fourth is Matty and third is Dan. In second is Josh (very nice) and in first is Cristy (perfect). She’s a little too thrilled, and it feels like her self-worth is entirely dependent on how well she does in the tent.
The showstopper is a beautiful and imaginative floral dessert with a significant baked element. So basically the bakers can do whatever they want as long as their showstopper has floral flavors and involves baking. It’s been another week of good challenges, which is amazing.
Dan is making a layered dessert with wildflower flavors, including meadowsweet buttercream. Prue claims she’s never heard of meadowsweet. I for one know that she’s lying. She used to be a judge on “Great British Menu,” where meadowsweet was used quite frequently. For those wondering, meadowsweet tastes a bit like vanilla.
Matty is making a dessert with the flavors of his favorite cocktail—elderflower, prosecco and blackberries. He claims it’s a “masculine drink.” Are you sure about that, Matty? Saku is making a ginger and hibiscus cheesecake, and she is topping it with epic jelly art (a jelly flower piped in a jelly dome). She’s not alone with the jelly art. Tasha is going for a hibiscus and elderflower layered dessert topped with jelly art, and Josh is making a rhubarb, raspberry and hibiscus charlotte russe topped with jelly art. Dana is being even more ambitious, making a rose dessert that she’s going to put inside a sugar work box. And Cristy is probably the most ambitious of all, as she is going for a full-on entremet with elderflower, strawberry and rhubarb.
It’s clear all the bakers are stressed making their showstoppers. Tasha exclusively signs for most of the challenge, as it seems she doesn’t have the brain space to speak in her second language. Respect. About midway through the challenge, there is a flurry of people dropping things, culminating in Dan dropping his sponge. He is forced to start again. Poor Dan.
Next there is lots of gelatin angst. If you don’t use enough gelatin, your bake won’t set, but if you use too much, it’ll be like rubber. There’s even more stress for the bakers who are making jelly art, since their set has to be absolutely perfect. The bakers all get their steps in walking back and forth from the freezer as they set their various elements.
Then disaster comes, this time for Cristy. Her white chocolate ganache doesn’t set and breaks off her entremet as she unmolds it. Cristy’s poor self-esteem issue flares up, and she has a massive breakdown as she attempts to remake the ganache. Allison steps in to take care of her, telling her to take a walk outside before continuing. This seems to do the trick, as Cristy manages to continue (sobbing all the way through, but continuing nonetheless).
But then it is time for the jelly art. The tension is so high, and somehow, Cristy’s breakdown is no longer the most dramatic thing happening in the tent. I can barely breathe as the bakers transfer their jelly art onto their desserts. And by some miracle, Cristy manages to finish and unmold an entremet that at least looks like a complete dessert.
During judging, Tasha’s showstopper is deemed “heavenly.” Saku’s showstopper is gorgeous, but alas, it is also bland. Dan has an opposite problem, and his floral flavors are too strong. Matty’s is ugly and he’s told it “isn’t a showstopper.” Josh’s jelly art receives high praise. “Very skillful injecting,” Prue says. Ahem. Josh’s flavors are also spot on, and he’s done very well. Dana’s showstopper is pretty, but it is bland and dry. She receives the dreaded “style over substance” critique. Cristy’s entremet is underset (not surprising considering everything) but her flavor is good. It’s a shame, since she was probably first in line for Star Baker going into the challenge. But you’re only as good as your last bake.
Everyone has done at least okay this week, but someone still needs Star Baker and someone needs to go home. Star Baker is Josh, who was probably the most consistent across the three challenges. He’s finally getting his flowers (see what I did there?). Going home is a toss-up between Matty and Dana, and ultimately it is Dana who gets the chop. I’m guessing this is mostly due to her low technical placement. I’ll miss her positive energy in the tent, but it was her time.
Next time: dessert week! One of my personal favorite themes. Can Matty redeem himself? Who’s dessert will be underset? And will Dan drop any more cakes? We’ll just have to wait until next week to find out.