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‘Great British Baking Show’ Recap: Tennis Cake, Anyone?

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Comedian Alison Leiby recaps episodes seven and eight of the oddly relaxing reality TV bake-off

Photos Courtesy of Love Productions

Here we are, halfway through this season of the Great British Baking Show. It barely feels any different than the first episode, though. Yes, this is a competition, but who would know from watching it? I get to the end of each hour and the hosts say who is eliminated and I have to be like, "Oh, right, that happens on this show."

[Meanwhile, in America: Every four seconds one of the contestants says, "I am NOT going home this week over a stupid team challenge," or "I hope Janet gets eliminated so she's out of my way," or what I believe is the new slogan for America, "I didn't come here to make friends, I came to win."]

Yes, ‘Great British Baking Show’ is a competition, but who would know from watching it?

The seventh episode of the season is a time-traveling one, and the bakers are tasked with making authentic Victorian dishes using 19th-century skills, antiquated utensils, and age-old recipes. Nadiya notes that most of these recipes involve gelatin, which makes me think of horses, and now I'm upset. Nothing worse than a horse. Also, that sentence should rhyme but it doesn't. Anyway, back to the challenge!

For the Signature Bake, the contestants must make a raised game pie. Like many of the challenges on this show, I had to look up what that was even after watching a few minutes of preparation. Apparently, it's a savory meat pie made popular by the upwardly mobile class to emulate the rich. They're filled with game meat and heavily decorated on top. This is the first time we've seen large hunks of meat on this show. I mean, finally.

Paul Hollywood notes that for the hot water crust, the thinner, the better. Sounds like being a woman! Both Nadiya and Tamal are going spicier for their versions, her with Chinese five spice, him with Middle Eastern flavors. The traditional versions wouldn't feature these, but it sounds like they will work.

Now, we need to talk about Ian. He's continuing his overachiever status and making a jelly to go with this pie, even though it's an optional element. That's not what's important, though. He's using hare in his game pie. That's also not what's important. What's important is that Ian's using hare because he once FOUND ONE ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND COOKED IT. Yeah, just a dead rabbit he found and decided to eat. He does it OFTEN. And because of this passion for seeing rogue dead animals and taking them home, he's making what he calls "Roadkill Pie."

[Meanwhile, in America: I am in America watching this and trying not to pass out on my way to get vaccinations just from seeing that detail unfold.]

Okay, I've recovered and we're back to normal pies. Nadiya's is beautiful but unfortunately the spices overwhelmed the gamey flavor of the meat. Flora's is overbaked to the point of being burned. The judges absolutely love Tamal's, and his confidence returns after his delicious and beautifully decorated Middle Eastern pie earns him a handshake from Paul. He's riding the high, but cautiously notes to the camera afterwards, "We know where that's going, don't we?" I love how everyone on this show is loosely self-deprecating about their skills.

[Meanwhile, in America: After someone finally snags a win, every other contestant spends their confessional time talking shit about how undeserved the victory was.]

The Technical Challenge is from one of Mary Berry's antique cookbooks. Her only advice? "Timing is really important." Yeah, it always is. There's never been a cooking challenge where time wasn't the most important factor. The Victorian dessert the bakers are charged to make is a tennis cake. Per usual, no one has heard of it (myself included, duh). It's a rich fruit cake decorated with what later became "royal icing," and it looks like a pastel tennis court on top. It's weird that this cake was made once, let alone is an apparently well-known dessert.

Mat's first round of sugar paste is sticky and neon green, unlike everyone else's smooth, muted ones. He has to redo it and gets it right, but there are still traces of the Slimer-like frosting on his finished product, leaving him at the bottom of the pack. Everyone struggles to get their lattice icing nets to stay up, and Nadiya is the only one who truly does. She comes in first place for the second Technical Challenge in a row. I'm rooting for her to win the whole thing. She's been an underdog who is now finding her footing, and I hope it keeps going. Also, she rolls her eyes whenever someone compliments her, which is very endearing.

The Showstopper Challenge in this episode is to make a charlotte russe. Now, I grew up in the suburbs, so the only definition I know for "charlotte russe" is a trashy step-sister to Forever 21 that sold a lot of boho-inspired mini-dresses that looked extremely flammable. In England, I guess, it's a big cream and jelly mess surrounded by ladyfingers. Who knew?

Ian, once again going above and beyond, is literally going above and making a three-dimensional crown to go on top of his dessert. He's been slipping in the last few challenges (also, don't forget, he freely admitted to regularly eating roadkill), so he needs to step it up and impress the judges. Paul, the resident food artist of the group, is carving apples into swans for decoration. While doing this, he sees Mat struggling with his outer ladyfingers-and-sponge bottom falling apart as he puts the bavarois filling inside. He rushes over to help Mat transfer the dessert to a new tray, and Nadiya offers a hand, too, when she sees what's happening.

[Meanwhile, in America: Screw you and screw your cake.]

Sadly, with his rough time with the Technical Challenge, as well as his falling-apart charlotte russe in the Showstopper, Mat's going home this episode. On the brighter side, the judges absolutely loved Tamal's spiced blackberry, raspberry, and cardamom version and were even more impressed with his jelly base, so he is this week's Star Baker. That handshake from Paul really sealed the episode for him.

Moving right along into episode eight...

The five remaining bakers must make a variety of dishes inspired by patisseries. So, no more giant hunks of meat! On to pretty cakes and pastries. For their Signature Bake, everyone must make 24 cream horns, 12 each of two different flavors. Cream horns look like ice cream cones that you don't have to worry about melting onto your hand. Though, if I'm being honest, I've never remotely worried about that because I finish ice cream cones in roughly 30 seconds.

Flora and Tamal opt for full puff pastry for their cones while everyone else chooses rough puff. When Tamal tells judge Paul his plan, the latter stares directly into his soul so as to ask, "Are you sure about that and also every other choice you've made in your life?"

Non-judge Paul, who I think of as "beta Paul" (nothing against the baker, but like, in what world could anyone live up to the excellence that is Paul Hollywood with his dry wit and piercing blue eyes?), is doing a coffee flavor and then another that's brûléed banana. Unfortunately, when the judges taste it, they can barely taste the banana, a flavor that should really hit you in a cream like this.

I really do not understand Europe and its bonkers dessert history.

Flora focused too much on the tuiles and decorations for the top of her pastries, and her cream ended up dripping out of the bottom of her cones. Ian struggled with his chocolate pastry, and served a far-too-strong cherry liqueur flavor.

The Technical Challenge once again had me running to Google, this time to figure out what a mokatine is. Spellings I tried before finding the right one: "mochatin," "mocatine," "mukatin." Google kept asking, "Did you mean moccasin?" And part of me was like, maybe? Anyway, mokatines! They are sponge squares with buttercream, coffee icing, and almonds. The most difficult part of making them is that they have no chemical raising agent, so the lift in the sponge comes from whisking the eggs just right.

Paul's sponge is far too flat, barely a few centimeters in height. Oh my god, what is happening to me? I'm speaking in the metric system. I think this show is really taking a toll on my brain. He comes in at the bottom of this challenge, though Flora thinks this was her worst day of baking ever on the show. Nadiya's mokatines are nearly perfect, and she wins her third consecutive Technical Challenge.

[Meanwhile, in America: This would be the challenge that takes Nadiya from modest winner to out-of-control narcissistic nightmare.]

The Showstopper Challenge is another weird one, and the five remaining bakers must make la religieuse, which is apparently a tower of eclairs that somehow resemble a nun. I really do not understand Europe and its bonkers dessert history. Ian is doing a "nun with hidden passions" and making cardamom and coffee eclairs, some with passionfruit filling. The man loves a pun.

Nadiya's flavors are inspired by her love of candy, and she's making bubblegum-flavored eclairs as well as peppermint ones. They aren't exactly the kinds of tastes you associate with pastry and cream, but who knows. Paul wants to redeem himself after the cream horn challenge and is doing banana again, this time desperate to get the flavors across.

The bakers assemble their tower of eclairs, and then have to leave them for a two-hour lunch break, tiptoeing out of the room and hoping they don't collapse from a slight breeze.

[Meanwhile, in America: No show would ever acknowledge the reality that this is a full day of shooting and there are lunch breaks and stretches of time we don't see.]

Most of the eclair nuns hold up, though Nadiya's candy confections almost collapse. Her pastries are perfect, but the judges don't love the strong flavors. Paul, in an effort to make his banana flavor come through, uses some banana extract, which tastes a little artificial. It's a rough episode for bananas and for Paul, as he is eliminated. It's not a rough week for Nadiya, though, who wins Star Baker again. Hopefully she continues this success and wins the whole thing. I'm already imagining what the finale of this show is like: The hosts name a winner and then everyone politely nods and goes home. Can't wait for the almost excitement!

Alison Leiby is a writer and comedian.
Editor: Hillary Dixler

· All Great British Baking Show Coverage [E]

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