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‘Great British Baking Show’ Recap: Rolling and Crumbling Through Dessert Week

This installment of the show features a “Millennium Wheel of lard”

Benjamina showing her marjolaine to Mel and Sue.
Tom Graham/PBS

It’s Dessert Week on The Great British Baking Show! “But wait,” you’re saying, “isn’t every week dessert week on The Great British Baking Show?” Well, yes, in a sense. Every week has featured at least one bake that would be best classed as a dessert. But if you think about it, there have also been breakfast foods, and dinner foods, and hors d'oeuvres, and cinema snacks. This week, it’s all sweets all the time.

For the signature, that means a roulade, which I guess is the technical name for the “big Ho-Ho with decor” thing I have only encountered in goyishe homes around Christmas. The challenge here is to get a sponge that rolls nicely without cracking, and stuff it with just the right amount of cream, fruit, and whatever. “If you put too much filling in it, you’re not going to get it in your mouth,” warns Paul. “I might, but most people wouldn’t.” I feel Paul may be underestimating my ability to get cake in my gob.

Andrew, “a dessert man through and through,” isn’t feeling too worried about his tropical roulade, even though his attempt to put stripes on his sponge goes a little off-course. He’s “shamelessly nicked” his dad's recipe for passionfruit curd, so he’s feeling confident even though Candice also has passionfruit in her recipe — along with raspberries, cheesecake, and white chocolate. She calls it a “crowd pleaser” roulade but I’m concerned it’s more just “crowded.”

Selasi is also not worried, though that may partly be because Selasi is constitutionally incapable of being worried. He’s the only baker using butter in his sponge, but Mary think that’s a good idea and will make it a little more pliable. And Tom’s not too fussed either, at least not yet — but maybe he ought to be. “Should be interesting,” says Paul of Tom’s roulade based on “millionaire’s shortbread” (a caramel, chocolate, and shortbread bar cookie). “Do you mean that in a sort of, genuinely it’ll be interesting, or in a sort of... muahahaha?” Sue asks, just for clarity. Tom, who expressed concern about the “curse of the Star Baker,” grins but looks a little sick. Perhaps out of nervousness, he winds up deciding that his first sponge is too flat, and starting over.

Benjamina also seems pretty mellow about her piña colada-inspired roulade, though that may be because she’s put “quite a bit” of booze into her rum-soaked pineapples. Jane’s chocolate and hazelnut roulade has a little tipple in it too, and judging from Mary’s face when Benjamina says “rum,” that’s a good call on both their parts. But Jane may be heading for trouble by rolling her roulade from the wrong end. Her way gets more slices, which is great for home bakers who have to keep everyone happy — but it doesn’t make for a good spiral, which is one of the things the judges are looking out for. Jane might do well to take off her grandma hat for this challenge.

“That is a lovely, lovely, lovely sight,” sighs Mel, watching Selasi prepare his roulade. “A man... spreading cream... onto a sponge.” She dissolves in giggles, which probably don’t abate once it’s clear that Selasi has overfilled his roulade and it’s squirting cream (and strawberries) out the end. Tom’s roulade isn’t such a lovely sight; it’s kind of a squat lump covered in chocolate ganache. Everyone else’s looks good, but don’t be fooled: the judges don’t have out-and-out praise for anyone today. Tom’s is too cloying, Candice’s has a crack and looks messy, Andrew’s filling is too soft, Selasi needs more lemon curd, and Jane rolled hers the wrong way. We all know the opposite of “stressed” is “dessert,” but sometimes they’re synonyms, too.

Candice preparing her marjolaine in front of Mel
PBS/Tom Graham

Perhaps things will get better in the technical! Never mind, they probably won’t, since the challenge today is something I had to look up to even spell. It’s a marjolaine, a French confection of delicate meringue, buttercream, and ganache. Mysteriously, almost all of these come out looking pretty passable, despite the high level of difficulty involved in the decoration and the fact that many of the bakers have never seen a completed one before. “What do you think it looks like?” Sue asks Andrew. He guesses, “I’m kind of thinking like a Viennetta, but posher?” (Younger Americans may not remember the Viennetta, no longer sold in the States, but it’s a fancified ice cream cake that does look a lot like a marjolaine.) Sue shakes her head and says “it doesn’t get posher than a Viennetta, my darling.”

Making the marjolaine taste right is a tricky proposition, though; the dacquoise (meringue with nuts in it) has a tendency to get a little chewy instead of melting in the mouth. Selasi’s is the chewiest, and he winds up at the bottom, though Tom’s messy piping is also a point against him. Andrew’s has a nice crunch, sharply-defined layers, and a neat overall appearance, and he's number one. Of course, we know what Mary and Paul don’t: Andrew’s sheet of dacquoise calved like an iceberg when he tried to speed up slicing it. He fit the broken parts back together, muttering “no one will know,” and he seems to have been right. The true secret to baking success is steadfast refusal to admit mistakes. Longtime fans will remember Ruby learning this lesson in Season 2.

We’ve actually been rewatching that season in my house for fun, because there’s no such thing as too much Baking Show, and the other day my boyfriend asked me: “Why do they bake in a tent? Has it ever made a difference that they’re basically outside?” The answers are, respectively: because in the first season the show filmed in different locations all over Britain, and YES IT HAS. The most notable instance, of course, was Bingate, the biggest scandal in the show’s history, in which Iain’s baked Alaska was left out of the fridge on an unusually hot day and melted slightly. But other bakes have been affected by heat or humidity in the tent, and this signature is going to be one of them. The challenge is two flavors of mini mousse cake, and the warm weather is making them skew, slump, and slide all over the place.

Sheets of gelatin also help the mousse set, but gelatin isn’t a cure-all. Too much gelatin will make the mousse thick and rubbery; Candice has to redo one of hers because it comes out the texture of Play-Doh. And there’s the risk of forgetting to put in gelatin at all. Jane has a sneaking feeling she’s done that with one of her FIVE types of mousse, but can’t actually confirm or deny.

Tom is piping his mousse into little sandwiches for his “hipster’s picnic,” a move of which Paul and Mary disapprove. But everyone else is using molds, often made out of a rolled piece of acetate that the mousse can be poured into and then chilled. The molds help the mousse set into a clean shape — at least temporarily. Selasi takes the acetate off one of his cakes experimentally and it looks like wet plaster.

Candice is once again doing the most. “My Champagne cocktail is a prosecco and raspberry liqueur jelly, and on top of that will be my mousse which will have a lemon and lemon-thyme sponge. I’ve then got a blackberry and raspberry mousse and on top of that will be a raspberry liqueur jelly,” she explains. I thought she was describing both of her mousse cakes, but thats just one. “You’ve taken on a lot, haven’t you?” says Mary. “I always do,” Candice says, a little smugly.

Andrew working on his showstopper
PBS/Tom Graham

Tom’s got a little hand-cranked fan for cooling his sponges, but he isn’t even close to the most technologically-enhanced baker this week: Andrew has built a mini Ferris wheel for displaying his mini cakes. But no amount of jiggery-pokery is going to save them if the mousse doesn’t set. As acetates start to come off, it’s clear that the warm weather is taking its toll. Benjamina’s round cakes billow out like jellyfish, and Selasi’s mint chocolate squares are so runny that he has to use the mold like a cookie cutter to stuff them back in. Candice’s chocolate mousse is “just sliding everywhere,” and the jelly tops of Jane’s berry mousses aren’t faring quite so well. Looks like she found the missing gelatin.

Andrew’s are mostly holding together as he loads them onto what Sue calls the “Millennium Wheel of lard,” although one tumbles off (I’ve watched this at least four times in a row, and every time I gasp almost as loud as if it were a child). And Jane’s chocolate and coffee cakes look beautiful in their cunningly fleur-de-lis-printed sponge jackets. Almost everyone has at least one of their two mousses come out looking decent, even Benjamina, who receives high praise for her flavors and a lot of shade for the look. (I think her apple ones look reasonably crisp, honestly, though the cappuccino ones look like they just took off their Spanx.) Selasi’s mint chocolate mousse cakes seemed like an absolute lost cause, but they come to the table looking over-large (Sue calls them “Scooby snacks”), but not as much of a mess as I expected.

Jane’s vanilla and chocolate-coffee cakes
PBS/Monika Frise

And then there’s Tom. His cakes look all right, but they’re not really mousse cakes; there’s just not enough mousse in them. The mousse isn’t even mousse, says Paul — it’s too “stodgy.” “I think your idea is fantastic... on another challenge,” he says. Tom has always pushed the limits of the brief, and this time it looks like the brief is going to push back.

Indeed, the judges determine that Tom’s time has come, marking one of the first times the winner of Bread Week has not made it into the final. (Paul says it’s the first time, but <pushes glasses up nose> Yasmin won Bread Week in the British Series 2 and was eliminated in the quarterfinal.) Andrew is finally Star Baker, which I think is a long time coming, but I guess it took a meticulously constructed amusement park ride to get everyone else on board. What a tense week! I’m off to shove an entire roulade into my mouth.

Jess Zimmerman is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Guardian, Hazlitt, the New Republic, and others.
Editor: Greg Morabito

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