“Man, I hope it’s Patisserie Week.”
—Me, for the last several days leading up to the writing of this recap.
I know, I know, I could look ahead and see what themes are coming, but why spoil the fun of the reveal? There are only two episodes left in this season of The Great British Baking Show, and if you guys are anything like me, you’re desperately trying to squeeze every last bit of sweet, sweet icing out of the piping bag that is season 10. At this point, we can consider the pastry case properly trimmed because the four remaining bakers — Steph, Alice, Rosie, and David — are all so very talented and creative that Paul and Prue have had to find some very specific criticisms to counter the endless torrent of glowing reviews. David can get a little too creative with his flavors. Rosie and Alice sometimes struggle to reach ultimate perfection in the technical rounds. And Steph… well, Steph is an untouchable angel we do not deserve.
Speaking of angels… Hark! What good news do they bring? Why, it is in fact the week I’ve been dreaming of: mon préféré, patisserie! If you’re not like me and you haven’t been waiting for this moment all season, allow me to shine some light on why Patisserie Week is the best theme this show has to offer.
Perfection in patisserie requires a variety of highly technical skills, like sugarwork, chocolate, pastry, sponge, jellies, and all types of icings, and at the end of the day each display of grandeur must taste just as beautiful as it looks. Each of these individual skills is difficult to master on is own, and even more difficult to execute in symphony with the others. In this episode, the bakers will be asked to produce works of art that could appear in the window of a very fancy sweet shop, achieving the kind of undeniable perfection that would make you stop in your tracks and say out loud to no one in particular, “F— it, I’m breaking keto.” So will this semifinal inspire us to sing a heavenly chorus, or will the pressure of feel more like the third circle of hell? For both our bakers and we loyal viewers, the only way out is through…
Signature challenge: Domed tartlets
Eight exquisitely decorated domed tartlets with a sweet pastry case.
Aweeee, they’re wearing ties! Even Sandi! This is season 9’s Hawaiian shirt semifinal all over again. It’s cute, it’s campy, I’m fine with it. My one and only question: Could no one really be bothered to wear it properly under a collar? Henry always wore a collar. No? Okay, not a big deal, moving on…
Alice is making a mocha, hazelnut, and orange domed tart. The chocolate dome will be surrounded by an espresso buttercream and topped with a blanched hazelnut. Prue is a little bit concerned about the large size of the tartlets, but Paul loves the flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut so she just might get away with it. A slight rush at the end leaves Alice with less than enough time to properly pipe the buttercream, and Paul and Prue are quick to lament what could have been. Fortunately, they both love everything else about the tartlets. Paul even goes as far as to say that the flavors, textutres, and base are “stunning.”
Steph’s tartlets are built on a pate sable base and feature a white chocolate dome filled with raspberry jelly and lemon mousse. The dome will be decorated with a dark chocolate drizzle, raspberry, and golf leaf. During their check-in, Paul asks the obvious question: “Do you see yourself in the final?” and Steph employs what might be her most important skill, which has served her over and over again in this competition: a level head. She explains that she’s just trying to take every bake as it comes and “What will be will be.” Steph is the best. We should all be more like Steph. Unfortunately, her domes don’t set quite as solidly as she’d have liked, and the dominoes begin to fall. The end result is a slightly sloppy-looking dome, and it’s a clear disappointment to Paul. Luckily, Paul and Prue agree that the lemon-meringue-pie-esque flavors are delightful, and had the mousse set properly, they would have been a smash hit.
Rosie is also using a pate sable for her dome. Her case will be filled with a raspberry, gin, and mint creme pat, yuzu jelly, a lemon Bavarian cream dome, then topped with a lemon mirror glaze, pulled isomalt, and silver leaf. Rosie is also trying to make the most of the time she has left by having another of her classic “Rosie and Noel Talk vet stuff” conversations. We learn that Rosie has never worked on any primates, but has castrated several pigs and even a very large bull. These are not the details we come to this show for, but gosh is it lovely to peek into the lives of our bakers-turned-friends. Prue loves the design and Paul thinks the case looks good, but upon cutting into one, they discover that the creme pat is a bit runnier than they’d like. Paul says it’s “a shame” and Rosie clearly agrees.
David is switching things up with a biscuit at the bottom rather than a full pastry case with walled sides. His domes are inspired by the flavors of an Aperol spritz and feature a liqueur jelly and roasted rhubarb atop an orange biscuit, surrounded by a leche flan dome, covered in a mirror glaze and topped with chopped hazelnuts and flowers. The first words out of Prue’s mouth at the judging are “I love them,” and Paul’s only comment on the domes’ appearance is that an even finer blitz on the hazelnuts would have offered a slightly more professional look. Inside, Paul and Prue both love balance of flavors, particularly the way that the bitterness of the rhubarb cuts through the richness of the flan.
Should you make this at home?
What if, this upcoming holiday season, instead of giving your friends and family tins full of cookies, you just gave them one perfect domed tartlet?
Technical challenge: Gateau St. Honore
Rectangular gateau of two layers of puff pastry and choux buns dipped in sweet caramel and filled with a silky creme chiboust, then topped with piped chantilly cream.
Sandi kicks off the challenge by explaining that Saint Honore is the patron saint of bakers. That is a very fun fact, so here are some fun additional details about our patron: Saint Honore refers to Honoratus of Amiens, who was born into a noble family in northern France in the 1st century AD. According to legend, when the family’s nursemaid heard that Honoratus had been promoted to the elevated position of bishop, she refused to believe the news unless the bread peel she was using at the time turned into a tree. Lo and behold, when she stuck the peel into the ground, it transformed into a grand mulberry tree that bore flowers and fruit. Saint Honore is celebrated with a feast day on May 16, so this spring let’s all mark the day by baking something magical.
Back in the tent, Rosie has purchased a ticket for a first-class ride on the struggle bus. Her choux batter is too thin and doesn’t puff up in the oven, so she remakes it, only to repeat the problem. On a third attempt, the batter thickens a bit and the choux puff acceptably. Her puff pastry doesn’t prove any easier, as the dreaded butter leaks through the layers of pastry, which is generally considered certain death for a puff pastry, but due to the time constraints she must move forward.
Elsewhere, Alice’s caramel goes a bit dark, but she seems takes it in stride. David’s puff pastry isn’t quite up to his own standard, but it is too late to correct. Steph struggles a bit with how to make a pile of light brown pastry and white cream look pretty. After a bit of difficulty, when the time is up, all the bakers have a complete gateau to present, and the judges dig right in.
David’s gateau has nice choux and caramel, but the puff pastry is soggy and the chiboust filling has split. Steph’s pastry has clearly had a bit of a butter leak problem, and Paul notes that the choux are variable in color and the chiboust is a bit like scrambled eggs. Alice gets dinged for her overdone caramel but receives compliments for her “solid” puff pastry. Rosie’s troubles may have all been worth it, as she gets compliments on her flaky pastry, smooth chiboust, and even (although upside-down) choux.
Alice’s overcooked caramel comes in last place, Steph’s untidy gateau comes in third, David accepts his fate as the forever second-place technical winner, and Rosie thanks her lucky stars that all that fretting and redoing of pastry was worth it for a first-place win.
Should you make this at home?
The feast of St. Honore is May 16, people!
Showstopper challenge: Sugar glass display case
Spectacular and completely transparent sugar glass display case with an edible depiction of something precious inside.
“An artist, an architect, a baker, a candlestick maker, and all of them out to sea.” Do I have that nursery rhyme right? This challenge is exactly the type of multiskilled feat we were expecting to see today. Pouring and setting and not breaking perfectly transparent sugar glass is just the beginning of the potential trouble our bakers might run into. The judges are going to expect them to sprint to the finish in this challenge, as it’s their last chance to prove that they deserve one of three extremely coveted spots in the final next week. Inside these cases they’ll need to show off the very best of a spectrum of skills in order to impress the judges.
After a well-earned triumph in the technical challenge, Rosie’s case will contain what she considers to be most precious to her: time with her family. The orange sable Breton base will be decorated to look like a clock face and will contain miniature choux bun religieuse filled with mocha creme pat, brioche tarte tropezienne sandwiched around salted caramel creme, and a creme pat and chocolate ganache tartlet.
Family is also precious to Steph, who is honoring her grandfather Derek Percival George (a truly great name) with an opera cake of alternating layers of jaconde sponge, chocolate ganache, and orange creme au beurre. The cake will then be coated in a chocolate glaze and adorned with chocolate orange macaroons and surrounded by an almond brittle.
Alice’s case will be securing something that is precious to all of us, the fragile coral reef system that supports the health of the oceans which are so vital to this earth that we call home. You go, Alice — way to use your platform to speak out! Greta is rooting for you! Greta is rooting for all of us! To build her reef habitat, Alice is making a mirror glazed entremet cake comprised of a lemon genoise sponge, lemon and honey custard, and raspberry curd. The cake will then be decorated with isomalt corals and chocolate shells. Alice’s challenge will be getting all the layers of her cake perfectly set in time to apply her wonderful decorations.
David is similarly drawing on the natural environment for his display case, opting to create a greenhouse terrarium. Inside the case will be a towering confection of beetroot-prune and parsnip-apricot sponges layered with maple syrup cream cheese frosting and ground almonds and topped with chocolate soil and buttercream succulents.
Watching the bakers assemble their sugar glass cases has to be one of the most stressful things I’ve seen on television this year, tied for the top spot only with Kendall rapping “L to the O-G” at his dad’s birthday party on Succession. When Kendall started rapping, I immediately turned the sound all the way down so as not to absorb the secondhand embarrassment, and when the bakers started joining their sugar walls together, I closed one eye and tried (unsuccessfully) to keep my own hands from shaking. But I should have known better, because just as Kendall was somehow rewarded with a round of applause for his performance, the bakers also made it out unscathed, with truly beautiful masterpieces to show for it.
In the judging, Prue and Paul are very impressed with Steph’s seamless glass, comparing it to antique glass. Once unboxed, Paul calls the cake “very neat” and Prue calls it “very pretty.” Lacking any real criticism, Prue takes the opportunity to say, “You are a very good baker.” We can all certainly agree with that. David’s glass is also “very neat,” but the transparency is a tiny bit mottled. Prue describes his cake is “wonderfully light” and “quite spicy.” Paul asserts that if the judging was blind he would still know it was David’s work, but counters that at this point in the competition he would have liked a slightly more complex showpiece than a nicely flavored layer cake.
The sugar glass surrounding Alice’s seascape is a bit too opaque for Paul and Prue, but once the case is removed they are quite impressed with the beauty of the coral reef design. After a few quiet moments of tasting, Prue declares that the entremet has a “lovely flavor.” Prue and Paul agree that the raspberry is the best part but the mousse was a bit light on flavor.
Prue describes Rosie’s glass case as a “good concept” and compliments her sugar work for looking like “old glass.” Paul thinks the precious fillings look a little simplistic, which betrays the fact that she went through all the trouble to bake three completely separate patisserie confections. Paul considers that maybe more variation in color would have helped. Unfortunately, while the chocolate tart is delicious, the tropezienne are a bit “floury” and the religieuse are “off the mark.”
Should you make this at home?
If you’re the type of steady-handed baker who loves a challenge, go ahead and impress your friends with a glass case of precious memories.
Star Baker this week is Alice. This is Alice’s second Star Baker. Her first win came in the second week of the challenge so it’s only fitting that she should win again the second-to-last week. Alice’s domed tartlets were a triumph, and even though her gateau was a bust, her oceanic entremet was a tidal wave of success.
Going home this week, tragically, is Rosie. Rosie did an amazing job this week, pulling off one of the most amazing technical challenge twists we’ve ever seen on the show. However, a runny creme pat in the signature and a lackluster display in the showstopper means that while she still has a lot of success to be proud of, her time in the tent has run out.
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