Welcome to Week 4 of my Great British Baking Show recaps! A number of you have asked me why my recaps com out early in the week when, in the U.S., Netflix gives us the newest episodes on Friday. The answer: Netflix will not allow me, a silly plebeian, to screen episodes in advance, and my Fridays are already full of very important work-type things. I finally get to sit down with the week’s episode on Saturday morning, and then I need at least 24 hours to emotionally digest it before writing my recap on Sunday afternoon. It may not be the quickest recap on the internet, but I dare you to find one with more heart.
Last week was Bread Week, which must be capitalized because it is a gat-dang institution that always proves to be the most epic episode of the season. This week is “dairy week”, which gets no capitalization, because it’s a new challenge that proves to be very ho-hum. This is a good thing, because I’m still so shook from Bread Week that I needed a lighter, less emotionally fraught episode to cleanse the palate like a citrusy sorbet. It’s also convenient for me as it’s a softball of an episode, and I’m sick as shit this weekend. This entire recap is being brought to you by NyQuill: It doesn’t do all that much for my sinuses, but I might be tripping balls right now.
The opening voice-over promises that this is the episode where dairy “will be pushed to its limit”, which oversells this challenge by a lot. Even if I wasn’t on NyQuill right now I could think of a laundry list of ways I could push dairy to its limit that would never be permissible on television, even if this was The Great Brazilian Baking Show. I won’t tell you any of these things because I haven’t even been working at The Takeout for an entire month, and am trying to make it at least until November before my bosses have a crisis about my hiring. Let’s see how the Brits—the world’s wildest people—can make dairy products XXXtreme!
The bakers are told that they must make a cake—but not just any cake! No, they’ll be making a cake with cultured dairy which... okay yeah, it’s just a cake. The lactic acid found in cultured dairy products like yogurt or sour cream makes cakes impossibly moist and beyond delicious, even if you suck at baking. My favorite recipe for bundt cake is my brown sugar-sour cream batter, which I don’t think I’m legally allowed to give you because it’s in my first cookbook, and I probably need to fill out some complicated paperwork to reprint it. It would be a shame if one of you who own my book were to do something crazy like type up that recipe in the comments section, because I really love doing complicated paperwork.
Our favorite piece of cougar-bait, Henry, says he didn’t even realize that there were non-cow milks until this episode, and seems to worry that there will be a challenge involving horse milk. I have never even considered the possibility of horse milk, and am incredibly disappointed that no one is using it in their cakes. How come veterinarian Rosie, who we all know removed a worm from a horse’s eye socket just a few weeks ago, couldn’t have milked one of her patients? I think any animal owner would jump at the chance to see Paul Hollywood consume their pet’s milk. This was a wasted opportunity, and Rosie’s star has dulled just a little bit in my eyes.
Speaking of Rosie, she is making a cake with limoncello. David is also making a cake with limoncello, and if this was on American television, someone would probably be leaving the tent with a paring knife in their kidney. However, The Great British Baking Show is a socialist utopia where everyone is loving and supportive, so nobody cares about this at all.
Helena, who is dressed like a creepy doll that’s been cursed by a transient warlock, is making an almond buttercream cake that will look like a cute-yet-spooky ghost. I’ve been worried that the judges will eventually turn on Helena’s love of Halloween, wanting her to “think differently” and become boring and generic just like everyone else. My fears have been calmed a bit this week by Noel, whose dark heart is delighted by everything Helena makes and asks her to run away with him. People who are “spooky” or “edgy” or otherwise different aren’t desperately trying to fit into some outsider archetype—they’re just being who they are. Not every woman can be an Alice, and if the judges at any point try to force her to be, I will send Paul and Prue some very strongly worded tweets.
Though Helena is spooky on the outside, Noel exposes that the real heart of darkness in this tent belongs to Phil, the middle-aged truck driver who enjoys baking delicate fairy cakes for the other members of his motorcycle gang. Noel asks if he’s ever run anyone over with his truck—a perfectly valid question for a baking competition—and Phil says he’s “done a few pigeons” without blinking. I get that a 44-ton tanker can’t exactly stop on a dime to save a poor bird, but to let your soul decay to the point where it doesn’t bother you in the least? May I remind all you monsters who reside in the “rats with wings” camp that pigeons literally died for your freedom, so maybe you need to spend your day outside apologizing to some birds.
Everyone makes gorgeous cakes and does wonderfully in this challenge, with the exception of last week’s star baker, Michael. He decides to use two types of cultured dairy, making a sour cream bundt with a raspberry cheesecake swirl, which probably tasted magnificent. Sadly, the cake stuck to the pan and tore apart during unmolding. Michael’s mental state rapidly declines, and he fights back tears and verbally beats himself up. The other bakers jump in trying to help, but he’s falling apart, saying that it’s unsalvageable. Priya says it tastes good, and Michael snaps “Don’t be nice to me yet,” and says that if he was at home he’d throw the whole thing away.
I absolutely hate it when bakers do this to themselves, both in the show and in real life. Mistakes will always happen, no matter how experienced you are, and, while it’s not ideal for a cake to fall apart—especially on a televised baking competition—it should not be considered a total loss, provided it tastes good. No one should beat themselves up over cake. That’s completely goes against the spirit of what makes cake good in the first place! Never throw away a delicious cake just because it doesn’t look perfect. Cover it up with a bit of powdered sugar. Cut it up and make it a trifle. Or just have a good laugh about it all and eat it anyway. Michael tries to cheer himself up, saying “it’s just a cake” through his tears, but then says he wants to throw himself into the river. Cake should never make anyone cry, unless it’s filled with broken glass, or raisins.
This week, bakers are tasked with a centuries-old recipe from the Tudor period, which supposedly was a favorite of King Henry VIII. I’m a bit of a history geek who loves super old cookbooks, but couldn’t find anything on this before 1892’s Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery.
Beat the yolks of six eggs in a basin, mix in 10oz of powdered sugar, 1oz of bitter and 2oz of sweet almonds, blanched and pounded, the finely-grated rinds of four lemons, the strained ice of two, and two large potatoes, boiled and mashed. Put ½ gall. of milk into a basin with a piece of rennet, and let it remain until it curds; place the curds in a sieve to dry, crumble up, pass them through a sieve into a basin, and mix in 9oz of warmed butter. Work well until the mixture is quite smooth, then add the sugar preparation and 4 tablespoons of brandy. Put the mixture into tartlet-pans lined with rich puff paste, and bake in a quick oven until of a good colour; take them out, turn the cheese-cakes out of the pans, and serve either hot or cold.
People used recipes just like this in the olden times—whisking their curd with bundles of twigs, pounding their almonds with rocks, baking in an open wooden hearth—and nobody complained. Meanwhile I, a 21st century food writer, routinely get hate emails over things like “not respecting honeydew enough.” What a world.
I believe the instructions given to the contestants were even worse than the excerpt above, because everyone fails. Steph is crowned the winner of the technical challenge, with Prue saying “Not the best I’ve ever eaten, but the best of this lot.” Still a win, though.
Michael, just like everyone else, does a bad job, and starts crying more. Someone please help Michael. Again, baking should not make you feel this way.
Mishti are milk-based sweets from India, and I freaking love these things. My friend Priya (not the one on the show) wrote a pretty excellent primer you should check out if they’re unfamiliar to you, and trust me, you’ll want to get familiar with these things. I keep a secret stash of homemade barfi in my freezer—not only is it crazy delicious, but it’s also crazy easy to make, using a mixture of dry powdered and sweetened condensed milks. So, to make it complicated enough for these poor bakers, judges expect them to make their own dry-powdered and sweetened-condensed milks from scratch—a challenge that’s essentially 3 ½ hours of stirring. This is the most boring showstopper of the season so far, but after Bread Week, these poor bakers need a challenge that’s somewhat meditative. Especially Michael.
There’s not much to recap here because this challenge was so boring that I zoned out for most of it. All the bakers look unhappy, like they just want to get this over and done with, and the judges look the same. Perhaps they could all use a spa day? Maybe they can have a bit more time to frolic the manor grounds with all the cute squirrels and baby ducks that seem to be running around everywhere?
Everyone does relatively well in the showstopper, save Phil, who puts too much extract in his dessert. He’s in the bottom three, along with Priya and Michael, the two contestants of Indian heritage. This is why I’m happy that Phil was the one who went home, because I was not going anywhere near a Priya or Michael elimination on Indian sweets week. I barely made it through David’s African bread masks. Hopefully Roaring 20s Week will be a bit less precarious, and a bit more exciting. Maybe everyone will be wasted on bathtub gin! Nothing goes together quite like homemade hooch and vats of hot molten sugar.