Welcome to Festival Week, which, as expected, is just one hour of mandatory filler until Michael is eliminated. This episode falls in the uncomfortably awkward stretch of the season, where the show cuts dead weight before we get to the nonstop thrill ride that is the final. We all know Michael is going home; even he knows he’s going home. Michael has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past two weeks, because once the stress of winning is no longer an issue, you can stop having televised panic attacks and just have fun. And baking is supposed to be fun! Michael has gone from joyful hobbyist to the pits of hell and back to fun-loving baker in a matter of seven weeks, and I am beyond impressed. Of course there’s a chance he may never bake anything again, and I wouldn’t blame him. Maybe he’ll find a less stressful hobby, like fighting kangaroos or photographing Yeti.
Signature Bake: Festival Buns
The bakers are asked to make 24 identical, yeast-risen buns that are associated with some sort of joyous holiday celebration. Prue mentions that the most obvious choice is the hot cross bun, the exciting Lenten treat invented by 12th century monks, which are topped with crosses and aggressively spiced so that we may all be reminded of the spices used to embalm the battered, crucified corpse of Jesus Christ. Say what you will about us Catholics, when it’s time to party we will always party hard.
Michael has decided that he will be celebrating Jesus from the cradle to the grave by hybridizing hot cross buns with Christmasy figgy pudding, because there is no limit to how much festivity can be packed into a single piece of bread. Reigning Star Baker Steph is, too, making a hot cross bun, albeit one that doesn’t have an crazy bells and whistles: just good, clean, classic flavors done perfectly well. It’s just the kind of thing that would have made an excellent technical challenge, but we all know that part of the show has gone completely off the rails and is beyond hope.
Alice is the third contestant making hot cross buns, and poor girl looks exhausted. She’s a middle school teacher outside the confines of the tent, and has spent the previous week grading close to 400 papers, which is not festive. I tend to forget that these people are still going about living their real lives while filming this show, which makes me wonder: How many animals as Rosie killed since this show first began? And what’s been going on with the horse that had a worm in his eye socket? Has anyone checked in on him in the U.K. tabloids? Rosie, by the way, is making buns that will look like Mardi Gras peacocks. Noel very slyly tries to get her to cop to at least once peacock murder, but she says she ain’t never even seen no lousy peacocks. Likely story.
Our saucy little schoolboy Henry is making kardemummabullar, which Swedes make every October 4th to celebrate the most sacred of holidays: Cinnamon Bun Day. I thought Henry was making a cute little joke about this, but he wasn’t. And this isn’t one of those bullshit food holidays we have in America like National Gazpacho Day (December 6th)—Sweden’s Cinnamon Bun day is a completely legit holiday. They also have a religious holiday about waffles, meanwhile my Catholic ass has had to spend her whole life getting festive with death buns.
Once we’ve checked in with all the bakers, we get a nice shot of David’s buns, which you saw up above. Then we get a tight shot of his dough balls, as you see below:
Everybody’s buns were good, because these people are all good bakers and this was a softball challenge. But two buns were more than good—more than great, even. These are Official Paul Hollywood Handshake™ worthy buns! Steph gets a handshake for her utterly perfect hot cross buns, because technical skills should count for something. The second handshake goes to Henry, who is so shocked he tells Paul to shut up. Henry looks like a Golden Retriever who didn’t know who was a good boy, but then found out that he was, in fact, a good boy!
Technical Challenge: Sicilian Cassatelle
This challenge involved a deep fryer and a pasta machine, and this entire round has become a joke. I will start writing about this round again when I feel that it can be taken seriously once again. It’s not like it actually matters who wins the technical, anyway.
Showstopper Challenge: Kek Lapis Sarawak
On one hand, I appreciate The Great British Baking Show’s efforts to showcase desserts from all over the world. On the other, holy crap you could not pay me enough money to make one of these cakes. It involves making multiple colorful cake batters, pouring out thin layers, broiling to cook, then repeating until you’ve made a whole, thick, striped cake. But wait, there’s more! After you make lots of striped cakes—which need to be perfectly cooked, of course, because why wouldn’t an amateur baker in their early 20s be great at this?—you need to cut the cakes into fanciful patterns covered with jams, marizpans, blown sugar swans and other stuff you most certainly have more than enough time to whip up in four and a half hours.
Paul admits that it was highly improbable that any of the bakers knew of this cake’s existence before this week, and that kek lapis sarawak are extraordinarily difficult to make. I appreciate a good challenge, but I honestly don’t know how Paul and Prue can genuinely criticize any baker who pulls this off. I’m somewhat glad this is happening on an episode where we all know Michael is a dead man walking, because no one deserves to have their entire run on this show boil down to this one challenge. I’m impressed with the bakers for successfully making these cakes at all. In the grander scheme of things, though, there really is only one cake we need to be talking about, and that’s Alice’s:
Honest to God, Alice is right up there with Steph as the best baker on this show, and she doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for it. She made this cake despite the fact she had no time to practice this week! I don’t even understand how this is possible. Alice, Steph and David are our top three, and I’m pulling for Alice to win the whole damn thing. She deserves it after the way she’s been treated this season.
Sadly, Star Baker once again eludes Alice, because she spent too much time caring about her students this week, and not enough time focusing on festive buns. Henry wins the title, which I’m pretty sure means he’s going home next week. This week, though, it’s Michael’s turn to leave the tent, and he leaves with his head held high and laughing the whole way out. Good on him for getting his sunshine back, and good on him for getting the hell out of Dodge before the vaguely named “Pastry Week,” which honestly, at this point, could be anything. Words on this show have become absolutely meaningless.