I love Dessert Week on The Great British Baking Show because it implies that all the other weeks are not dessert weeks, meaning that under the jurisdiction of Her Majesty the Queen, cake qualifies as dinner. God save that slappy bird! It’s also the semifinal, and we get a big surprise for this very special episode: the return of the best co-host this show has ever had, Mr. Spoon. The reasons behind Mel, Sue, and Sandi’s exits have been well publicized, but Mr. Spoon has only made sporadic appearances with no real explanation as to why he hasn’t been made a permanent cast member on this sh—
Oh. I see.
Get ready to have your world rocked: Cheesecakes are not actually cakes, but rather giant baked custards. Why this dessert can’t just be honest about things I don’t know, but if this is the sort of life cheesecake needs to lead to be happy, then I lend my full support. A cake, by definition, is made from dough or batter; baked custards are made from some sort of dairy—like milk, cream, or, in this case, cheese—that is whipped with eggs, which give the custard structure once baked. Eggs cook extremely quickly, so to prevent the custard from turning into a big-ass clump of scrambled eggs, it needs to be baked in a hot water bath (or bain marie) for the sake of insulation; that way it’s impossible for the sides of the pan to get any hotter than the boiling point of water. When you’re making a cheesecake, you want to pull it out of the oven before it looks set, because once it’s baked, it is by no means done. Oh no! The name cheesecake gives you a false sense of security, making you think you can just slap that thing on the counter and call it a day. No, the baking is merely part one of the three-phase cooking process! Egg proteins always need to be so dramatic about everything.
Phase Two: The temperature of the cheesecake needs to be brought down slowly so the shock of colder air doesn’t cause the egg proteins to clench up tighter than Paul Hollywood’s taught denim-wrapped buttocks, which would make the cheesecake crack something awful. Of course, four of semi-finalists know this, because this is the Great British Baking Show, not the Adequate British Baking Show, and they let their mini-cheesecakes cool down for a while in an open oven, without yanking them out of the water bath too soon. The fifth baker is badminton-mad Peter, who slyly tried to suck up to Paul by exploiting the man’s love for key lime pie. I don’t like suck-ups and neither does God, so Peter’s cheesecakes collapse under the weight of gravity and hubris.
Phase Three: Refrigerate the cheesecakes for a few hours so that the still (still!) wibbly-wobbly egg proteins can finally set. Start to finish, making a full-sized cheesecake should take at least six hours. For this signature-round cheesecake challenge the bakers are given two and a half hours, signaling that after seven weeks of lighter-than-usual levels of GBBS tomfuckery, we’re back to our regularly scheduled sadistic-levels of GBBS tomfuckery. While Laura, Marc, Dave, and Hermine’s cheesecakes were not perfect, they were far from the failures that the competition set them up for, so Paul and Prue can suck it.
This week’s challenge is set by Prue, who decides the best way to test the amateur bakers’ technical skills is by handing them a 300-year-old recipe they’ve never heard of with virtually no instructions. Now, no one enjoys a historical recipe quite as much as I do, but I can’t say that I’ve seen Sussex Pond Pudding come up too often in all my years of research. I looked for recipes in some of my favorite 18th-century British cookbooks to no avail, leading me to believe that even for a so-old-no-one-has-ever-heard-of-it recipe (classic Prue!) this was an especially deep cut. And yet, part of me felt that I’d perhaps heard of it before? It’s not often you find a dessert that’s filled with a whole lemon, so I decided that instead of spending my weekend cleaning the kitchen, I’d spend it sitting on the couch watching The Office while also thinking really, really, really hard about where I’d heard the name. (This was a highly responsible decision made for the sake of quality journalism, and I stand by it.) Midway through my 68th viewing of “Scott’s Tots” it finally hit me where I’ve seen Sussex pond puddings before!
FROM MARY FUCKING BERRY. The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass, season two, episode four, available on Netflix. Prue could have chosen lamprey pies or Shrewsbury cakes or cocks-comb pasties, but noooooooooo, she couldn’t do that, could she? She needed to make Sussex pond pudding allllll about her damn self, and I will not sit idly by and tolerate this attempt at Mary Berry erasure. FOR SHAME, PRUE LEITH. FOR. SHAME.
Btw, everyone’s puddings sucked.
Who are the people casually making these things at home on the weekends? Who the hell owns a set of syringes solely for injecting jelly into other, larger jellies? Do they sell kits at Tesco? It is an asinine expectation that any amateur baker knows how to do this at all, much less be proficient enough to do it in “showstopper fashion” on the telly. I could be making fun of Peter’s radioactive Rorschach snow globe right now, but I’m not. Why? Because I’m proud of everyone for trying new things—even Laura, who is progressing to next week’s quarterfinal by virtue of not being the absolute worst on any given week. She hasn’t given us a brilliant “TA-DA!” moment yet, and though her koi pond jelly cake is certainly nice enough, it pales in comparison this:
Hermine is one eye roll away from becoming my favorite contestant in the whole damn history of this show, and if she doesn’t win I’ll set myself on fire. (Or something to that effect.) She’s star baker for the second week in a row, and the star baker of all our hearts. Sadly, we must say goodbye to Marc, who can take solace in the fact that he outlasted both Mak and Mark, and shall thus be crowned as the King of the Marcs.