With The Great British Baking Show reaching the final four, it's time for one of the mainstay themes of the series, Pâtisserie. Like Cakes, Biscuits, and Bread, this theme has occurred every season the show's been on the air (and nearly always as the penultimate semi-final round) save the very first Series 1 (which Americans have never seen). It has been renamed once, Series 4 (Collection 2) called it "French Week," and swapped places to the quarterfinal once, Series 6 (Collection 3), when Chocolate was the semi-final instead.
But the point of this round is, if the season is working correctly, it is the most complex set of challenges the bakers face before the finale. (And sometimes it's more challenging than the finale.) Luckily for us, this season has produced the most robust crop of semi-finalists since the show moved from the BBC. Jürgen and Giuseppe have led the pack from the first "On your marks, get set, bake!" Crystelle has been a dark horse nearly all season, mostly unnoticed by those dazzled by Giuseppe and Jürgen. And Chigs! The man who only just started baking in 2020 during lockdown! When the show first introduced him, he seemed a mushy-middler, but the man is peaking at the right time.
And peaking at the right time is the name of the game in reality competitions. Never forget people, Adam Lambert peaked four weeks early on American Idol Season 8, and now he's doing karaoke as the lead singer of Queen instead of the male answer to Kelly Clarkson. At least he fronts the band better than Matt Lucas would in that awful outfit. (And Noel, let's not blame Bowie for last year's fly incident.)
For the Signature, the bakers are asked to make eight pâtisserie-style layered slices. Though these are words designed to scare the bakers, it's a pretty basic pâtisserie, think a napoleon, an entremet, an opera cake, or a millefeuille, all of which are which the show has done before in the semis and the finals. As always, the Signature is judged on a pass/fail metric.
- Chigs Raspberry & Chocolate Slices (Pass) They are beautiful to look at, and they must taste amazing because Paul sticks out his hand. Hollywood Handshake recipient
- Jürgen Murder at the Opera (Pass) The design is hilarious, but Paul complains there's not enough flavor. Prue says it's a pity she doesn't give out handshakes.
- Crystelle Yuzu, Coconut & Black Sesame Slices (Pass) They're striking looking but ugly. But cute ugly. Doesn't matter. Paul sticks out his hand. Hollywood Handshake recipient
- Giuseppe Tiramisu Slices (Pass) OMG, I screamed when Paul stuck out his hand a third time. Hollywood Handshake recipient
It's a first for the show, even in Series 8, where people complained Paul handed out handshakes like candy; he never gave three in a single round, and certainly not in the semi-finals. Also, that makes all three double handshake recipients this season. Paul actually apologizes to Jürgen after the segment is over for leaving him out. Prue calls the whole thing one of the best rounds in the tent she's ever experienced.
Prue sets this week's Technical. It's a sablé breton tart featuring raspberry confiture, pistachio creme mousseline, and decorated with "gilded meringue kisses and chocolate curls." Jürgen knows what one is; Chigs doesn't. It's a perfect pastry for Sue's old history segments when this was a BBC show originating in Brittany, a region known for savory and salty things. It's just a gigantic shortbread cookie with toppings. The French versions are supposed to be salty and not all that sweet.
4. Chigs: His mousseline melted, and his kisses are brown, and the whole thing's underbaked
3. Crystelle: She made sides for her base, so its too thin, making it a British tart
2. Giuseppe: He also did sides and wound up with a flan
1. Jürgen: He overbaked his base, but otherwise, this was the only correct submission
Thank heavens Jürgen came in first. It makes up for getting named skip on the Handshakefest in the first round and puts everyone back on an even playing field. But that does put all the weight this week on the final round.
The Showstopper for the semi-final is a Themed Banquet Display. The requirements are to have a dozen entremets arranged around an edible centerpiece. It is the second time the show has asked for a display showstopper for the semis; Series 9 (Collection 6) had them do "Window Displays" in much the same manner. Series 5 (Collection 1) also had an entremet showstopper in the semis. It's kind of hilarious that Chigs freaks out over being asked to do entremets, considering his Signature all but was one, but that's the thing about these French terms; they make everything sound harder than it is.
Let's see who's dripping in finesse and who makes no sense.
Jürgen "Torii Gate in the Sea" He made matcha flavored entremets, and they're green to match. Prue doesn't love the color, but Paul is just thankful the raspberry primarily masks his least-favorite flavor.
Giuseppe "Leaning Tower of Pisa" He didn't get to practice ahead, and his tower is just a little bit too leany, but it stays upright. The entremets are gorgeous inside. His flavors are a little weak, but the texture is perfect.
Chigs "The Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree" Prue doesn't love the apple colors; they're a bit purple. But the cake itself is exceptional, and Paul is blown away by it.
Crystelle "Tropical Wedding Entremets" It's a beauty. Paul calls her entremets little works of art. He takes a bite and calls them flawless. He says he's speechless, leaving Prue to do all the talking about how great they are.
Crystelle came in assuming this was her time to leave, as did Chigs, and both are stunned to realize they're not shoo-ins for elimination. And yet, Crystelle is genuinely taken aback to be handed Star Baker. But the whole tent is flabbergasted when Matt announces who is going home: Jürgen. Well, everyone but him. He says he saw it coming, and he's ok with it. His exit is genuinely touching, as he says he will be with the Top Three in the final in spirit.
And there is another historic first for the series, the Shock!Boot moment, when the frontrunner who has spent the entire season getting a winner's edit, falls early. It's not the first time the semis have taken out one of the strongest of the season, Hermine, last year, for example. We've also seen favorites utterly crash in the final before; never forget Kimberly in Series 4 having to watch Frances take the prize. But it is the show's first genuine shock elimination in 12 years on the air.
But, as I noted above, the name of the game in shows like these is peaking at the right time, and that's exactly what happened to Jürgen: he peaked far too early and couldn't keep it up. The series overlooked it last week, sending Lizzie home on schedule. But two weeks in a row was too much. However, Jürgen leaves having made a massive impression on the public. Despite whoever wins next week, should he play his cards right, I expect we'll see far more of him in the future.