Before we get into Desserts Week heading into next week's Quarter Finals, we need to stop and discuss the state of The Great British Baking Show. The series is now on Season 14, and it is as popular as ever, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. The series is regularly in the Top Ten shows on Netflix's little Most Popular TV Series row all weekend after each new episode arrives, and Channel 4 is still renewing the show in batches and casting Season 15 as the current one wraps up airing. Moreover, the issues that rose to the top in Season 13 have been hastily skimmed off like bad pudding skin. The production finally faced that the chemistry with Matt Lucas wasn't working as host and let him go; I think it is universally agreed that Alison Hammond is a massive upgrade. The series also dropped the National Theme weeks after it finally blew up in the show's face, recognizing it simply didn't work for them.
However, one person notably continued to argue that Mexican Week went just fine last year, and he didn't understand what the fuss was about in the puff piece where all this was revealed, and he's the one part of the problem the series has yet to resolve: Paul Hollywood. He's the 100lb gorilla hanging around the show's neck, sitting wherever he wants in the tent, and whose decisions about who stays and who goes completely independent of how the contestants actually do week to week have become obvious to the point that no amount of editing can make the audience buy them. Over at Decider, Meghan O'Keefe called out Prue and Paul after Episode 6 for playing favorites with Tasha and Dan. (Never forget Dan served raw dough on Bread Week and is still here.)
But those aren't the only two. Paul's been pushing Matty and Cristy hard to stay, even though neither deserves it, and Prue knows it, and he's shocked! shocked! Jason is doing so well, even though he should have been Star Baker twice over.
And that brings us to this week.
This week's Signature Challenge is eight crème caramels, which is literally one of my favorite French desserts derived from an English pudding. Invented in the 1920s, the French insist they came up with it, because it is a flipped over crème brulèe. But it's really a fancy flan, and the real challenge here, other than the wobbly stand-alone custard, is the caramel. Caramel is great stuff and a total misery to make. It's about boiling sugar to exactly the right consistency and no further, and is deeply dependent on the weather outside, the temperature in the room around you, including the humidity inside and outside the tent. And that's before you start adding spices and flavors and dairy and whatever else. As always, the Signature is judged on a pass/fail metric.
- Dan Thai Green Curry Crème Caramels (Should Have Failed) They're underbaked and collapsed, but Paul picks one that mostly holds together and declares it a triumph
- Cristy Orange Crème Caramels (Failed) They look bad, they're overcooked, and Prue isn't even going to pretend there's caramel.
- Tasha Fig, Honey & Rosemary Crème Caramels (Pass) Her cremes are perfect; her honey-based caramel is too sweet and heavy
- Saku Mini Watalappan Crème Caramels (Failed) They look perfect, but that's because she used way too much eggwhite, and they're almost inedible
- Josh Nan's Favourite Crème Caramels (Pass) They're perfect from the top but bubbled on the side, but the flavor is lovely
- Matty Chai Créme Caramels (Pass) They're an ugly color (Paul says they look like sausage), but they're delicious nonetheless
This is one of those moments where I feel bad for a contestant because it's clear Dan has no idea the show edited the segment to make it obvious to the audience at home that he should have failed or that Paul was basically covering for him, insisting he drop the "curry" from his descriptor, or hand picking the only one that held together of the eight to judge. Instead, he's there telling us he's relieved, "At least Paul liked it." Poor dude.
This week's Technical Challenge, set by Paul, is to make a half dozen orange and ginger treacle puddings. That's steamed sponge cakes served with smooth custard and ginger and orange syrup, each of which you pour over the cake. As Paul said before he left, three distinct textures. They've got 90 minutes. Most of the tent has never made a steamed sponge or a treacle syrup. As Noel notes, this is not exactly a modern dessert, the kind of thing that went out in the 1970s, and most of these guys have probably eaten one but never made or served it. It shows, too, as each of the bakers begins to meltdown, especially Matty.
But the real horror is when the one-minute mark is called, and they pull their bakes and, one by one, turn out raw puddings.
All of them.
I'm not kidding.
Alison and Noel are staring; Noel looks angry on the baker's behalf, while Alison's face reads, "What Is HAPPENING." When the call to the altar is announced, there is genuine gasping hysteria from the bakers, literally clinging to each other, panting, sobbing, cackling delirious insanity. THEY. ALL. FAILED.
6. Matty: Liquid.
5. Saku: Inedible.
4. Cristy: Inedible
3. Josh: Inedible.
2. Dan: There's one half an edible one.
1. Tasha: There are four edible ones.
Paul is angry, but I'm not here for it. He set this Technical. He chose this. He gave this to a group of bakers, only one of which was even close to being capable of executing it. This is on him.
I mean, how do you come back from that? Noel and Alison certainly do their best, congratulating the tent on having no "deserters" after yesterday's disaster, with the implication that no one would blame them for running for the hills after that. As for today's Showstopper Challenge, it is the (perhaps unfortunately named) Meringue Bombe dessert. Noel begs them not to have any explosions, which, again, after yesterday, would anyone blame them? A Meringue Bombe, for the record, is a regular dessert of their choosing, which is then encased inside a large, highly decorated meringue shell. The dessert can be anything; some are baking an item to hide under a matching shell, some are using the meringue as a bowl to fill with a wet pudding, and some are baking a cake inside the shell.
Let's see who makes the bomb dessert and whose dessert bombs.
Josh's Game, Set & Match Meringue Bombe His outer shell is well decorated and holds together nicely; his cheesecake inside is impressive. He's fulfilled the brief exactly as ordered, which Prue called a small triumph. She also says if Wimbledon did these flavors, it would be fantastic. Paul seems shocked he made something so nice. Game set match.
Tasha's Plum & Ginger Meringue Bombe Someone helped Tasha right her ball, which fell over just as time was called. The judges fall over each other to overpraise her chipped ball and the buns inside, which are not very impressive looking since they kinda took a ride when her ball rolled. Paul has to admit the flavors aren't perfect.
Matty's English Italian Summer Meringue Bombe I was about to say that Matty's ball was prettier than most until they showed it from the side and all the giant holes where the sides don't meet. Juxtaposed against Prue and Paul praising how great the outside looks is quite a choice, editors. The cake inside fell over. and basically requires a spoon. Prue says it's too rich-tasting.
Saku's Flowers for my Bee Meringue Bombe This one makes me sad, and it makes her sad too. Half her ball broke, and therefore this doesn't meet the brief. We all knew coming in that Paul was looking for a reason to keep Matty and Cristy over her, and she just gave it to him. It's clear from her face she knows it too.
Dan's Pale Blue Dot Meringue Bombe It's not impressive from the outside, but as you remove each layer, it gets more and more impressive. And, of course, it's super tasty. I'm not sure I would call it the most ambitious dessert of them all, but it's definitely the best of the lot. That being said, the beaten-down nature of the tent at the end of the challenge suggests that's grading on a curve, too.
Cristy's Croquembouche Meringue Bombe Cristy didn't get all her Croquembouche bits on and piled them around the bottom, a move Prue scolds her for, and inside the ball is a complete mess, which Paul scolds her for. But her overall product is rainbow and pretty, and Paul has someone to send how who isn't her, so he's letting everything slide.
Now, listen here. I want to be clear about how this week went. Dan should have failed the Signature. Dan barely passed the Technical. The only people who should have been in line for Star Baker today were Tasha for passing the Signature and Technical and Josh for his Bombe. But somehow, Paul just goes ahead and gives Dan Star Baker anyway because to hell with it, he's the 100 lb gorilla in the Tent, and he does what he wants. Also, he's sending home Saku for the same reason. Until Love Productions does the correct thing and removes Paul Hollywood from the tent, The Great British Baking Show will never solve its real problem.