We’ve arrived at the quarterfinals on The Great British Baking Show, and it’s finally that time in the season when the tent is literally heating up. In seasons past, that first hot, summery week has been Chocolate Week or Sugar Week, and the rising temps have resulted in some very melty messes and equally melted dreams. This week could prove equally disastrous, as the one thing we all know about most pastry dough is that absolutely needs to be kept properly chilled in order to achieve the perfect flaky texture that Paul and Prue will no doubt be looking for. Will our five remaining bakers manage to keep their cool, or will the combination of heat and pressure cause an explosive meltdown?

Signature challenge: Tarte tatin
A savory tart made with full or rough puff pastry.

All the bakers are immediately concerned about keeping their dough cold. If the dough gets too warm, the butter will not create the steam in the oven that’s necessary to separate the layers and puff the pastry. Armed with this knowledge and aware of the ever-present time constraints, all our bakers choose to go the rough puff route. That means rather than wrap the dough around one singular rolled-out block of butter, they’ll incorporate smeared or grated bits of butter directly into the flour. After that, the folding and turning and chilling (and folding and turning and chilling, etc.) goes along just the same.

For Rosie’s tart, she is making a shallot, aubergine (that’s eggplant for lay-folks), and goat cheese tart with red pepper and black garlic. The trouble for Rosie starts when she accidentally puts twice the necessary quantity of butter in her caramel. This excess liquid eventually makes its way into the pastry, resulting in a soggy interior. Paul notices the subsequent lack of puff in the puff pastry straight away.

The Great British Baking Show
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Henry’s tart will feature a crab salad atop a tomato and potato rough puff filling. Paul’s eyebrows go up in excitement when he hears the news, but Noel quickly changes the subject to encourage Henry to loosen his tie for comfort in the heat. Like a true English gentleman, Henry expresses that he’d rather be physically uncomfortable than not look dashing. It’s absolutely the wrong decision, but we have to respect the choice. In the judging, Paul and Prue love the flavors and creativity, and find the pastry to be just right.

Steph is opting for the classic flavor combination of caramelized onions, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar. After weeks and weeks of her amazing bakes, the judges are worried that this approach is too simplistic. In order to sell this tart as a winner, the bake will need to be absolutely flawless, but unfortunately Paul finds it a bit flat. This is Steph’s first big disappointment in a long while, and she takes it in stride.

Alice is planning a beautiful lattice pattern for the top of her leek, apple, and goat cheese tart. This flavor combination is a natural evolution of the original tarte tatin recipe, which is a sweet tart made with with apples and caramel. Alice also struggles with excess liquid and is thwarted in her attempts to drain it off. Once she turns out the tart, the leek lattice pattern is beautiful, but not quite beautiful enough to make up for the moisture it leaked into the pastry. Prue suggests a deeper caramelization would have helped both the pattern work and the soggy interior.

David’s warm hands will be putting together a caramel carrot and walnut tart with a carrot top pesto and whipped sirene cheese. David has had great success in the last few weeks with his Bulgarian-inspired baking, and I have to say it has been a joy to learn about. David explains that the walnuts he’s baking with today were handpicked by his partner’s grandmother (how precious?) in the hills of Bulgaria, and that sirene cheese is basically the Bulgarian equivalent of feta. Prue is excited by all the potential for interesting new flavors but seems a tad wary about them working together as a complete package. In the end, the flavors are fine and the pastry is satisfactory, but Paul mistakes purple carrots for burned bits and Prue finds the tart too dry.

Should you make this at home?
Yes, of course. Try the classic apple version first before going through the trouble to source your handpicked Bulgarian walnuts.

Technical challenge: Moroccan Pie
Twelve layers of warka or brick pastry wrapped around a perfectly spiced filling to make a pie.

Henry, whose confidence has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few weeks, threatens to “get naked” if any of the bakers have ever heard of warka pastry before. David actually has heard of it, having seen something about it on a travel program once, but lucky for us he does not seem at all the type to call Henry’s bluff.

Outside the tent, Paul explains to Prue that warka pastry is a thin pastry that’s similar to phyllo dough but prepared by spreading a thin layer of batter on a hot surface, almost like a crepe. Back inside the tent, the bakers are discovering that the consistency of the batter is absolutely key. Too thick and the pastry won’t spread into an even layer, too thin and the pastry will disintegrate on the surface.

For the very first time, we see Steph start to crack under the pressure. It takes her a bit of time to get a batter consistency and technique that yield workable pastry sheets, and she begins to let the panic in. Elsewhere, the bakers begin to find a batter thickness that allows them to proceed in making their 12 sheets. Rosie’s sheets look just right. Henry, relieved to still be fully clothed, finds that he needs to make some extra batter. David proceeds with his usual air of confidence, buoyed no doubt by the fact that he’s the only one who knows what this is supposed to look like in the end.

Henry’s underbaked and too-thin pastry lands him in last place. Steph manages to pull her pastry back from the brink enough for fourth place. In third place is Alice’s “not bad” but too-garlicky pie. Steph’s slightly exploded but perfectly spiced pie earns her second place. And after weeks and weeks of second-place finishes in the technical challenges, David’s perfect pie wins him the top prize. Thank goodness for that travel program, right?

Should you make this at home?
Perhaps the next time a blizzard descends upon your town and you’re locked inside for an entire day or two, you could try your hand at making warka batter (and tossing lots of it in the bin) until you’ve got the consistency just right.

Showstopper challenge: Vertical pie
Large sweet or savory pie base with decoratively shaped pastry arranged vertically, supporting at least two further pies.

This is exactly the type of over-the-top late-season challenge that I think most GBBO fans look forward to. And lucky for us, the super-high skill level among the remaining bakers promises to make this a very fun and creative challenge.

Right off the bat, Alice impresses with her plan to craft a sweet apple and blackberry treehouse pie — complete with a swing — all from shortcrust pastry. Paul is concerned that the shortcrust will need to be very thick in order to support the weight.

On the savory side, Steph has recovered from a rough technical challenge and is baking up a curried chickpea carousel in a hot-water crust. Rosie’s similarly flavored curried vegetable hot-water-crust pie will take the shape of a fairy tale tower, complete with a Camembert dragon and miniature bird’s nest pies in a tree.

Henry has opted to hit both sweet and savory notes with his chandelier-shaped pie. The savory pies will be filled with chicken, ham, and chorizo, and the sweet pies will be filled with spiced chocolate and pecan. Paul is suspicious that the flavors are not going to marry well, but Henry assures him that his mum likes it, and Prue is willing to give it a try.

David is honoring his hometown of Whitby with a salmon and root vegetable fish pie shaped with ships and whale’s tails. Paul questions David’s plan to leave the tops of his pies open, wondering if that is technically a pie at the end of the day. To which we would ask: Is a treehouse really a pie? Is a carousel or a tower or a chandelier? Is now really the right time to be looking so closely at technicalities like that?

On the judging table, Prue finds the design of Rosie’s castle “lovely,” “imaginative,” and “very funny,” but Paul finds the pastry too thick and the filling too dry. Similarly, Alice’s treehouse looks “exceptional,” but Paul claims the pastry is “tough as old boots” and the filling is dry and undersweetened. David’s salmon-flavored seascape impresses Paul to a point, but he reiterates that he would rather the vegetable filling be covered with a lattice or something similar to really sell the design. Inside the pie, both Paul and Prue find the crust a bit underbaked and the filling a bit oversalted.

The first thing Prue says about Steph’s carousel is “I love it,” and Paul calls it “neat” and “organized” and “very Steph.” The fillings are equally impressive, striking the perfect balance of structure and moisture and nailing a perfectly “lovely” curry flavor.

Henry’s sweet and savory chandelier pie gets tough remarks from the very first slice. In the savory pie, Paul points out that the crust is way too thick and Prue notes that the filling is “very dry.” In the sweet pie, Paul finds the crust a bit too thick again and the filling to be overwhelmingly chocolatey. Prue sums the entire enterprise up in one simple word: “maddening.”

Should you make this at home?
Everyone has a friend who doesn’t like birthday cake, so why not whip up an elaborate many-tiered birthday pie instead?

After a less than stellar signature and a touch-and-go technical, Steph knocks Paul and Prue’s socks right off with her absolutely magical carousel pie, reclaiming her throne as Star Baker. It’s getting very difficult to imagine a world in which Steph doesn’t take home the crystal cake plate at the end of the season. But as we know, anything can happen in the last few episodes, and this especially talented batch of bakers is right there to step up should she falter.

On a much sadder note, this week we say goodbye to Henry, his perfect reaction shots, his adorable tie collection, and his freewheeling use of “darling.” He looks sad but not very surprised, which is comforting because I am sad not but surprised. And with only two episodes left, there was no possible elimination that would not have stung at least a little.

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