Happy Dessert Week! Ah, if only this week was a happy week, but we’ll get there. Dessert Week is one of my favorite themes. In British English, a dessert means a sweet dish that is not flour-based. Custards, mousses, meringues and the like. Usually, Dessert Week on “Bake Off” gives us lots of gelatin and tension.
The opening sketch this week was not funny, which should have been my first indication that something was going wrong with this episode. The bakers and presenters also continued with their coordinated outfits. This week, nearly everyone was in blue.
The signature challenge is eight crème caramels, otherwise known as flan. This challenge tests two key dessert skills, set custard and caramel, and the two-hour-and-45-minute time frame seems achievable. So far, so good.
To Paul’s horror, Dan is making crème caramels inspired by Thai green curry. Now, I think he should call these “everything but the curry” since they have every aromatic in Thai green curry that isn’t the actual curry paste. So really they are mostly lemongrass flavored. Tasha, who hates crème caramels, is going for rosemary, fig and honey, and she is also cheating by making a honey caramel. Matty is making chai flavored crème caramels. He thought he was supposed to make 12, and is now happy that he is going to have four extras. Saku, who is determined to always use Sri Lankan flavors, is using jaggery sugar to make miniature Sri Lankan wattalapan. Jaggery sugar is quick to harden, so it’s a risk, but she is determined. Cristy is going for simple orange flavors. Josh is honoring his Nan again by making cinnamon and orange crème caramels topped with chocolate butterflies. He said that his nan said “whenever you see a butterfly around, that’s me watching.” Okay, all together now: awwww.
Everyone makes their custard without incident and now it’s time for caramel. Poor Matty has an absolute nightmare. He crystallizes his first caramel, then stirs it. No Matty! If you stir a caramel it will crystallize. Then he crystallizes his second caramel. As every other baker puts their crème caramels in the oven, Matty is massively behind. Thankfully, his third caramel works and he gets his crème caramels in with just enough time.
The true drama of a crème caramel challenge is watching everyone turn their bakes out. You need to check for a perfect wobble to confirm that your custards are baked. Then hold your breath as the crème caramels are turned out. Everyone manages to get their crème caramels out of the molds, although Dan has one go splat and Cristy’s custard is full of bubbles. By some miracle, Matty managed to bake his.
During judging, Dan overcomes Paul’s doubts and receives massive praise for his flavors. Cristy’s custard is over-baked and boiled (hence the bubbles). Tasha’s custard is perfect but her honey caramel was a bad idea and her flavors lack direction. Saku’s are too sweet and too thick. Josh has great flavors but slightly over-baked his custard. And somehow, Matty managed to over-bake his custard despite being so behind.
At this point, it’s too close to call, with Cristy probably sitting just below everyone else. It is now the technical challenge, which is six individual orange and ginger treacle puddings, served with a crème anglaise. A treacle pudding is a “proper rib-sticking pudding” per Dan. It is sweet, stodgy and sticky, and one of the most British of desserts. Now, Paul tells us that you need at least 20 minutes to make the syrup and 40 minutes to steam the puddings properly. So how long do the bakers get? One and a half hours. That’s right. Do you know what that is? NOT ENOUGH TIME AT ALL. That leaves half an hour of not baking or syrup making time to make the sponge, cool the puddings, turn them out and decorate. It’s ridiculous.
The other issue with this challenge is that essentially it’s just caramel and custard again. Sure, it’s also a steamed pudding, but it just doesn’t seem to be showing enough new skills. And then, at the halfway time call (45 minutes down, 45 minutes remaining), nothing is in the oven. Oh dear. They’re all doomed.
At this point, my notes have descended into “this challenge is such bullshit” and “f*ck everything” and I think that sums up my feelings on the matter. Noel is more eloquent and says “this is a car crash.” As the bakers turn out their puddings, we see that Josh’s are raw. Cristy’s are raw. Saku’s are raw. Matty’s are raw. Dan’s are raw. Only Tasha’s look even vaguely edible and that’s because she ditched the waterbath and just baked the puddings instead of steaming them. Cristy looks utterly broken. “They can’t eat this, they’re going to get ill,” she moans. It’s not your fault, Cristy. The fault lies with the producer who set this ridiculous amount of time.
At this point I can barely care about the judging. Paul walks in, sees the raw puddings and walks out. The order is Matty in sixth, Saku fifth, Cristy fourth, Josh third and Dan second, and all receive the critique of “terrible.” Tasha is in first place because hers are edible.
The next note I have reads “this is ridiculous I want to punch something.”
Paul bemoans how the bakers have let him down. No, Paul. The bakers were let down by production. This was an impossible challenge. LEAVE THEM ALONE.
The showstopper challenge is a meringue bombe. Excellent! A good challenge! A bombe is a spherical dessert, and the bakers must construct one out of meringue (a new dessert skill!) and fill it with a dessert of their choice.
Matty’s flavors are a “fusion of an English summer and Italian summer” which translates to a pistachio, strawberry and basil layer cake. Dan is making the Earth in meringue, and is filling it with a trifle. It’s a risk, as putting moist dessert elements right against meringue risks compromising the meringue’s structural integrity. Noel asks Dan “what are you going to do with your big fingers?” but I’m still too mad from the technical to enjoy the innuendo.
Josh’s bombe is inspired by Wimbledon and he is using strawberry and cream flavors for his cheesecake. Saku’s bombe is inspired by bees, because “Bee” is her son’s nickname. Her dessert is profiteroles flavored with passion fruit and Irish cream. She is not alone in her choice of dessert, as Tasha is making plum and ginger profiteroles and Cristy is making a summer berry croquembouche.
Paul keeps trying to torment the bakers about their failure in the technical and I resist the urge to punch him through the screen. He also claims he’s lost all faith in the bakers. He’s the worst. The bakers are far more focused on the now, and their fear that their meringue domes are going to crack. The worst comes for Tasha, and one of her domes cracks right down the middle. Luckily, she has a spare. Cristy bakes a ton of meringue kisses to cover up the cracks, which is quite smart. Saku, meanwhile, completely shatters her base and is forced to piece it back together. Somehow, she smiles her way through it.
As time is up, Tasha’s bombe risks tipping over and she props it up with a jar. That jar has the weight of the world on it, but it holds up, because come judging, Tasha’s bombe is intact. Her showstopper is deemed “a little ball of buns.” Har har. Her flavors are good, and she is safely through to next week. Josh’s showstopper looks a bit like an Easter egg and he does very well. Matty’s flavors are off balance but he made a fantastic meringue. He should also be safely through to next week. Saku has not really achieved a bombe, and instead she’s got a dome on a shattered base. It is pretty on the outside, but her choux on the inside are quite sad, and she’s definitely in trouble. Dan’s showstopper gets rave reviews, and he probably did the best job linking his dessert to his meringue exterior. Cristy failed to achieve a croquembouche and her flavors are terrible. Her bombe does look good, but she also had a bad signature so she’s in trouble.
Star Baker is between Dan and Josh, and it’s Dan who gets it. Honestly I think a case could have been made for either of them but they both did well and should both be proud of themselves for their performances this week. Going home is a toss-up between Saku and Cristy, and ultimately it is Saku who gets the chop.
Now, I think there was some editing error here. Based on the edit of the episode it feels like Cristy should have gone. However, former “Bake Off” contestants always say that it’s obvious who is going home and generally episodes are edited to make things look closer. My guess is Saku got penalized for failing to deliver a bombe, and her profiteroles were technically worse. Is my heart broken? Yes. Saku was an iconic baker and I will miss her so much. Cristy should be thanking her lucky stars that she squeaked by to fight another week.
Next time, it’s the quarterfinals and Party Week, a brand new theme! Can Josh get Star Baker this time? Can Cristy redeem herself? And will production screw the bakers over again? Keep reading to find out.