Here we are in the semi-final episode of The Great British Baking Show. I would say that the competition is really heating up, but it's more, like, getting gently warmed in the oven — because at the end of the day, this show feels less like a contest and more like some friends getting together to make pretty desserts. The remaining four competitors are equally split between men and women.
[Meanwhile, in America: The last two rounds would be all men, except possibly for an aggressively-edited-to-appear-no-nonsense-woman who the producers let think she can win, even though they will obviously choose a man at the end.]
For the next three challenges, the bakers must focus on chocolate. We all know the classic movie quote, "Life is like a box of chocolates, it's mostly spent alone." That's it, right? Whatever. These final four contestants are all very different, with their own weaknesses and strengths. Flora tends to go overboard with decoration while neglecting the basics. Ian has a streak of ingenuity, but sometimes takes too much risk and fails as a result. Tamal's skills aren't backed up with confidence. And finally, Nadiya has been racking up wins, but her weakness is the Technical Challenges.
The Signature Bake tasks the competitors with making a chocolate tart. The pastry can be any type, as can the filling, but they all must be chocolate. Making chocolate pastry can apparently be challenging because you're adding a dry ingredient (cocoa powder) to an already dry dough (pastry).
After running into serious time management problems last challenge, Tamal opts for an incredibly simple "chocolate New York pie." I live in New York and am not familiar with this style of tart. Honestly, "chocolate New York pie" sounds less like a dessert and more like a disaster after some idiot doesn't curb their dog. His very real pie, however, has a chocolate crust, dark chocolate filling, and a layer of raspberry coulis, topped with crushed pecans.
Flora’s chocolate tart is beautiful but, like the Rio Olympics probably, an unmitigated disaster.
Ian, the consummate risk taker, is doing a bay leaf-infused caramel in his chocolate tart. Flora is going a bit more traditional with her passionfruit and chocolate tart, topped with dark chocolate ganache. Nadiya's is the tart I'm most interested in eating. She's doing a salted caramel and peanut layer at the base under her chocolate mousse, and topping it with homemade peanut butter. It's been odd watching this show, as a few different bakers have done chocolate and peanut butter and everyone is blown away like they've never seen the combination before. Do they not have Reese's in the U.K.? Is it a Malteser-only society?
As time winds down, Tamal looks around and realizes he doesn't have nearly enough to do, as everyone else is adding more layers, more decorations, more, well, anything. Flora, on the other hand, is in the weeds trying to finish her macarons, chocolate work, and tart. Tamal seems right to be concerned, as Paul Hollywood gives him quite a judgmental look before tasting the tart. Thankfully for Tamal, he did a good job with the bake and the flavors, making up for the almost-criminal simplicity of the whole thing.
Flora's tart is beautiful but, like the Rio Olympics probably, an unmitigated disaster. The passionfruit base has split, the ganache has no shine, and the macarons are just plain not good. Ian's bay leaf infusion is a failure, too. Both Paul and Mary Berry love Nadiya's chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel creation. Duh guys, that sounds great. Nadiya says, "Paul and Mary liked it, and I got a lingering handshake. Happy days!" I've never been more jealous in my life.
Time for the Technical Challenge, and it's a doozy. Mary picked this one in particular because of its difficulty. It's also a quick challenge, so the bakers are getting staggered start times. Everyone leaves the tent except for Flora. The hosts then tell her: She has to make a chocolate soufflé.
[Meanwhile, in America: This challenge would absolutely be done with blindfolds and noise-canceling ear plugs to create the tension of everyone being around.]
So, alone in the tent, Flora starts baking. She, like all three of the other bakers, has never made a soufflé. I know very little about making them, but it sounds a lot like dating: One tiny mistake and the whole thing falls apart. Ian comes in next and starts baking, followed by Nadiya, and then finally Tamal. Everyone had the same reaction to the challenge. There was a smile and nod of acceptance of their impending doom. They all knew it was coming, and no one was prepared.
As each baker's time runs out, their soufflé is presented to Paul and Mary who whisper praises and criticisms to each other as the contestants can only look on from their stations. Nadiya, knocked off of her Technical Challenge throne, is back at the bottom and comes in fourth. Third is Ian, second is Tamal, and first is Flora. What an exciting win for Flora: Makes sense she would win this one, as she's a lot like a soufflé, light and delicate and might collapse (into tears) at any moment.
The Showstopper Challenge is to make a chocolate centerpiece. There aren't many guidelines, just that it must be three-dimensional, have a biscuit element, and somehow incorporate white chocolate. The judges are looking for creativity, chocolate work, and above all, great taste. Also, are chocolate centerpieces, like, a thing? Are they placed in the middle of a table at a dinner party or intimate wedding? If so, how do you know when to start eating it? I can't imagine ever having the confidence to be the person who decides to start eating the chocolate centerpiece.
[Meanwhile, in America: The judges and hosts would have belabored the fact that this is the LAST Showstopper Challenge before the finale so heavily and with such intensity you would have thought that the loser gets killed.]
For her creation, Flora is creating a chocolate carousel: white chocolate-covered biscuit animals placed on a chocolate cake, with a puffed rice carousel "top." She made her own cookie cutters for the carousel horses, but when she's showing the judges, Paul asks if they are dogs. I love this man. He's handsome, has a dry sense of humor and seems to share my distaste for horses? Outstanding.
The guy can’t even make a functional chocolate biscuit well! What an idiot!
Tamal slightly burned the biscuit base for the three-tier bell tower he's assembling. Tamal's design has a lot of moving parts. Well, not actual moving parts — that's more Ian's bake. He's making a fully functional well with a small cup that dips down into a cold, white chocolate. I told someone that this seems like a morbid thing to turn into a centerpiece, and then realized that I'm the only one who exclusively associates wells with children falling down them and Silence of the Lambs.
The judges are certainly impressed by the mechanics of Ian's centerpiece, except when Paul is turning the handle to bring the bucket of creamy white chocolate back up to the top — the handle breaks. The guy can't even make a functional chocolate biscuit well! What an idiot! After the judges get over their initial impression of the structure, they note there isn't much interesting chocolate work. Ian could have done more to make it attractive instead of focusing so much on the device no one asked for.
Tamal's piece wows the judges from afar, but once Paul and Mary get up close, they see that the assembly is a bit shoddy and the details on the bell tower are messy. As Cher Horowitz would say, it's a real Monet. The chocolate is nicely tempered and the bake on the shortbread is good, but overall, it's a bit of a mess.
But when Paul starts cutting into Flora's chocolate carousel, the entire structure begins to collapse like a marathon runner at the end of a race. Like Tamal's, her centerpiece is cute but a bit clumsy. The chocolate has a flat finish and doesn't have the shine of chocolate that's been well tempered. As for her cake, there is cocoa flavor, but Mary and Paul can both taste the rising agent in it, as well.
Nadiya's peacock is by far the most appealing of the four. It doesn't have a moving element like Ian's nor does it actually look like chocolate like Tamal and Flora's, but it is a beautiful piece. She dyed the white chocolate beautiful colors and coated it over a Rice Krispie treat (for us Americans) mold to shape the bird. The puffed rice has a nice crunch, the biscuit eggs are tasty, and Paul sums it up nicely saying, "It looks good and it tastes good." Nadiya is back on top.
Wow, this show is rubbing off on me — I’m trying to not offend anyone just by having a favorite in the pack.
Despite Nadiya's soufflé struggles, she is once again named Star Baker for the week, solidifying her spot in the finale and hopefully giving her the confidence boost to win the whole thing. Not that I don't like Tamal, Ian, or Flora, I just really want her to win. Wow, this show is rubbing off on me — I'm trying to not offend anyone just by having a favorite in the pack. Unfortunately, Flora struggled this week in the Signature Bake as well as the Showstopper, so it's time for her to go home.
So come back next week to talk about the season finale of The Great British Baking Show that is sure to be a battle to the death. And by that, I mean an hour of slightly competitive baking before everyone sits down for a civilized cup of tea.
[Meanwhile, in America: The intensity of the end of this episode leading into the finale would be as if all of the Jock Jams CD volumes had a baby with an announcer from a monster truck rally.]
Alison Leiby is a writer and comedian.
Editor: Erin DeJesus