This week’s Great British Baking Show is one big chocolatey challenge for all involved

GBBO contestants seated in a row
Look at all these happy campers!
Screenshot: Netflix

Week four of The Great British Baking Show is always pretty lousy, because the first three episodes of the season are the sort of non-stop action thrill ride that jacks our serotonin levels up to 11, and there’s just no way the human body can sustain something like that. Cake, Biscuit, and Bread Week are essentially televised MDMA, and episodes four through six are supposed to be a little bit more relaxed as the middle-of-the-pack bakers (like Laura) go home before shit gets real again. I was already emotionally exhausted before the opening credits, and the amateur bakers who are torturing themselves on the telly for my personal amusement are probably pretty tired as well. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life as a professional baker, and seriously, you couldn’t pay me to be on this show. Episode four would see me napping on the counter in the fetal position at least six times.

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This year’s theme for week four is chocolate, which was a great choice for a softball week, since these people are baking in a vinyl tent set directly under the blazing sun in the middle of July, and that tent is full of ovens, spotlights, and Paul Hollywood’s smokin’ hot pectoral muscles.


Signature Bake: Brownies

Anyone who loves brownies should have known this challenge was going to be a disaster the moment the words came out of Matt Lucas’ mouth. How you enjoy brownies is a personal choice, and whether you’re a fudgy person or prefer the softer, springy type, any brownies are better than no brownies at all. Paul and Prue are fudgy folks, and total fucking snobs about it. Linda’s highly original “Treats of Christmas Past” brownies, topped with roasted nuts and tiny bits of Turkish delight, both looked and (apparently) tasted gorgeous, but lost points for cakey-ness. I don’t care if they said they were looking for a fudgy brownie—all brownies need to be respected! Except for the ones that most of the other bakers made, because holy shit were these terrible.

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The second reason that this challenge was bound to suck was because while texture may be negotiable, the need for brownies to taste primarily like chocolate is not. It’s fine to gussy them up a little bit, but if you go too far with the sprinkles and glazes and doo-dads, eventually what you’ve got stops being a brownie and starts being “a little much.” They become too sweet to enjoy, too heavy to lift, too cumbersome to eat. Brownies are best when they’re simple, and Paul and Prue know that. They also know that since this is The Great British Baking Show, all the bakers are going to “take risks” and fail miserably. And they do! The most enthusiasm they can muster for anyone is a bit above “meh,” and you can see in their eyes how much they love taking these exhausted bakers down a peg after three weeks of confidence-building. This entire round is like hearing your parents say, “I’m not angry at you... I’m disappointed in you.”


Technical bake: Chocolate babka

I make a mean babka, and when I first taught myself to make them many years ago, it took quite a number of tries before I ended up with something that looked borderline presentable. None of these bakers have ever made a babka before, nor do they seem to even know what it is, and the instructions they’re given are essentially “Make dough; make into babka; piss off.” After following the assembly instructions, Sura finds out she has spare babka parts lying around and decides to throw them out, because that is always the smartest thing to do when you find yourself with extra parts during a technical. I do that with furniture from IKEA all the time and it’s never led to anything so tragic that it couldn’t be fixed with superglue and gauze.

Linda’s babka comes out damn near perfectly and takes the top spot. Sura doesn’t end up in the bottom spot because somehow Lottie manages to do something even more stupid.

Babka technical challenge
This didn’t need to happen.
Screenshot: Netflix
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When her babka is too big for the pan, instead of reshaping it or tucking the ends underneath, she decides to lay her babka down like a chocolate-swirled baby Jesus in a 425-degree manger. I love both these women so much and 100% understand the kind of day they are having. There comes a point in the show where you can see the contestants wondering whether or not they actually want to win this thing, or if they’d rather go back home, sleep for a few weeks, and get famous anyway. I get it, ladies. I get it.


Showstopper bake: White Chocolate Celebration Cake

I’m guessing you’ve already watched this episode, so I don’t need to describe which cakes got made; instead, I can go straight to quibbling about the results.

First, let me address Sura’s disastrous cake. Yes, it was a bad recipe, poorly baked, and freakishly textured, but I disagree with Paul’s assertion that it was “inedible.” It may not have been “cake,” but whatever it is probably still tasted good. I’m fine with her going home, not only because she was a damn mess this week, but because she’s a hospital pharmacist, and this is really not the best time for her to be on a reality competition show. I would like Paul to apologize, though, because I feel that talking about failed cake in that way discourages people from enjoying the things they bake at home if they’re anything less than perfect. This is also not the best time to be adding brownie- and cake-related stress to the public’s life, Paul Hollywood.

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Now, let’s all agree that Linda not getting Star Baker this week is a goddamn travesty. Despite the fact the Prue and Paul were bitches about her brownies being “too cakey,” those brownies looked great. Her babka was spot-freaking-on, which is a spectacular feat. Her cake’s piping was a bit of a mess on account of the tent being 4,000 degrees, but Prue said the flavor was lovely, and the theme of her “celebration” cake was her deceased disabled daughter. And yet, Paul and Prue didn’t even consider her for the top spot! It came down to 20-year-old Peter, who’s already been Star Baker once, and our winner, Mark with a K, who should have been disqualified during the Signature Bake for doing this:

Mark holding his whisk upright to resemble Trump's hair
And this REALLY didn’t need to happen.
Screenshot: Netflix
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Some things, like this show, are supposed to be sacred. Mark not only ruined Chocolate Week, but he may have also ruined meringue for everyone forever and ever. I don’t care if he’s a great baker with a killer smile who’s devoted his life to helping people in need—he’s now this season’s villain. Way to go, Mark. Hope you’re happy.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

cloggiegirl01
CloggieGirl

Ugh. It seems like the brownies challenge was basically setting them up for failure. Since you’re starting with something solidly brown, there’s not really a way to make it pretty without plopping something on top. What could they have possibly put on top that isn’t sweet and wouldn’t get them dinged for being “too simple”?

Neither Prue nor Paul know from Jewish baking, clearly. The disdain with which she said “New York while praising Paul’s brick-like “babka” was so unnecessary. But, perhaps as a Brexit cheerleader, she just hates anything not English. In a book, Paul called the Jewish bread “chollah” and said it was served specially at Passover (the only time it is absolutely not served). Additionally, he claimed in a previous challenge that braid bread was uncommon and “dying out”. Millions of Jewish bakers have something to say about that.

In general, the tone of the show has become a lot less pleasant and even a bit mean. Noel and Matt mostly seem to do their own bits without much interaction with the contestants. Prue seems to have little to add except if she does or does not like something and she struggles with being kind about the latter. No pointers on how to improve technical issues, just personal like/dislike. There are plenty of “mean judge” shows out there, GBBO had become a sensation because it was kind and fun. It no longer seems to be either.