In the U.K., cookies are called “biscuits”, nuts are called “nootz,” and unleavened dough is called “pastry.” Ergo, Pastry Week is not about the fancy little baked delights we in America were expecting, but rather about excessively complicated and batshit crazy pies that no sane human would ever make in any real situation. This episode could not have been more perfectly timed, as we’re just entering pie season, and we needed all needed a television show to remind us all that our best efforts are, in the grand scheme of Piedom, complete and utter garbage. Welcome to another week in the tent, everybody!
Tarte tatins are quite possibly the most nerve-wracking of all the tartes, because there’s no visual way to judge how things are going. You make a caramel (which could burn), layer in your topping (about a thousand things can go wrong there), and then cover it all with a puff pastry (a finicky bastard of a dough) to obscure everything as it bakes. You unmold it with a quick, dramatic flip, during which it can fall apart, stick to the pan, or reveal itself to be utterly grotesque. Once again, we have a Signature Bake that would have made for an exceptional Technical Challenge, but apparently it’s not obscure or ridiculous enough.
The bakers begin by making puff pastry which, to be successful, demands everything be as cold as possible: the butter, the dough, the counter, the atmosphere. This episode was filmed on an extremely hot day during a heat wave, inside of a tent positioned directly under the hot sun. I’m assuming this was filmed in July, which was the hottest month on record in the history of Britain. First climate change came for the polar bears; then it came for humanity’s Doomsday Vault; and now it’s coming for The Great British Baking Show. If this isn’t the thing that finally spurs our leaders into action, then all hope is lost.
I’m impressed that the bakers aren’t complaining more, and I’m impressed they’re dressed appropriately for television. If I was in that tent I’d be walking around hysterically crying in a loose T-shirt and no bottoms, Winnie the Pooh-style, sweating profusely. I think Alice, Steph, and Rosie should get extra points this week for having to bake while coping with underboob sweat, which has caused me to become psychologically undone many, many times.
David is coping with the heat by using a wet towel to dress like an old Bulgarian woman. Speaking of Bulgaria, he’s making his multicolored carrot tarte tatin with fancy wild walnuts that were foraged in the hills of Bulgaria by his partners’ elderly grandmother. Sadly, these walnuts are wasted on Paul, who complains that the tarte, when eaten without its accompanying sauces, is dry. Of course, if you baked a moister tarte with those sauces it would become soggy, but there’s just no pleasing a lumbering, sweaty man who’s dealing with his own swampy nootz.
Steph, predictably, knocks this challenge out of the park, as does Henry who wows Prue with his potato, tomato, and crab salad tarte. Alice and Rosie’s tartes give the judges an excuse to say “soggy bottoms,” which we all know is Mary Berry’s catchphrase and they shouldn’t be allowed to use it. Little moments like that remind me that we’re all children of divorce, and I’m still bitter about it.
We’ve established that the Technical Challenge went completely off the rails a long ways back, which makes it difficult to appropriately describe the sheer ridiculousness of this challenge: It’s a pastry no one—not even the hosts—has ever heard of. Paul has also deliberately left out the spice measurements, because why not? Let’s see what circle of hell we can descend to this week.
I usually spend this round making myself a snack or catching up on emails because, as Helena’s elimination proved, nothing about the Technical Challenge matters. Thankfully, though, I didn’t tune out this week, because I got to learn that Rosie—who weeks ago made a gigantic chicken out of cookies—has somehow never cooked chicken before. And then, this:
Know what? I’m not even commenting about this one. I’m just leaving this here and walking away, out of respect to those who use Rosie as their veterinarian. They’ve had enough to deal with over the past week.
Vertical pie is a whole bunch of pies stacked on top of each other, like a tiered cake. On The Great British Baking Show—a competition starring amateur bakers in their 20s—vertical pie is what you see above. If I made one of these things and Paul or Prue said anything the slightest bit negative about it, I’d punch them both square in the face, and they’d deserve it.
As I’ve done in previous recaps, I’d like to once again call your attention to the fact that this show is filmed on weekends—Monday through Friday, the bakers are working their day jobs. They get to design and practice both their Showstopper and Signature bake when they’re off the clock, which probably means that Rosie has spent the past eight weeks doing horse surgery on two hours of sleep a night. How she is functioning on a day where she has to make a castle tower festooned with braids and baubles and a cheese-stuffed dragon with a bra full of underboob sweat is superhuman. (But seriously, someone should check her basement for murdered horses.)
I was expecting more disaster out of this challenge, but from an aesthetic standpoint almost everybody nailed it. The one person who didn’t is Henry who, according to Prue, made a vertical pie that “looks like one pie stacked on top of another,” and I’m getting to the point where I don’t even know why I watch this bloody show anymore.
The only person who manages to get her looks and flavors spot-on is Steph, who wins Star Baker for the fourth time. This competition really is hers to lose at this point, and I predict she will lose because it does seem like the type of thing this show would do in the post-BBC era. Next week is the semifinal, and the challenge is the American definition of pastry. I am already bracing myself for the lunacy we will no doubt be party to.
Sadly we are saying goodbye to Henry, the greatest and tastiest piece of cougarbait I could have ever asked for. In his exit interview, he mentions how he shook Paul’s hand outside of the tent when he was but a wee child of 12, and cannot believe that eight years later he got to compete on the show. I get to watch the credits while wallowing in the fact that I am a billion years old, just patiently counting the days until Rosie takes me out back and shoots me.