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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A heat wave melts the nostalgic fun of The Great British Baking Show’s “1980’s Week”

Lottie and Laura try to cool down, The Great British Baking Show
Lottie and Laura try to cool down, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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During the first two rounds, “1980’s Week” is on track to be one of the best, most entertaining episodes of this season of The Great British Baking Show. The bakes look tasty, the challenges are fun, and there’s plenty of relatable, mostly good-natured grumbling from the bakers and hosts alike about the unfortunately timed heat wave. Things take a turn when the showstopper is revealed. They’ll be making ice cream cakes, which are expected to be precise and highly decorated, in 35-degree Celsius heat (roughly 95 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s ridiculous. Refusing to make accommodations for the weather, the producers and judges expect the bakers to push through. They could bring in a blast chiller or they could at least give them extra time, so that their ice cream has longer to set before they have to work with it in the sweltering tent. Instead, they expect the bakers whose cakes relied on more reasonable working conditions to rethink their showstoppers on the fly, and then they cajole them when they struggle. It’s mean-spirited and harsh, and absolutely avoidable.

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A big part of the charm of The Great British Baking Show is its picturesque setting and outdoor set. However, the premise of testing amateur bakers using the tools available in a standard home falls apart when the production creates unreasonable baking conditions. It’s setting the bakers up for failure. This would be bad enough in a regular season, when the bakers would have had an entire week to practice and prep their showstoppers, not to mention potential weather forecasts warning them of a hot weekend ahead. In the compressed shooting cycle for this season, there isn’t time to adapt and rethink, resulting in a showstopper round that feels punitive, spoiling what should have been a breezy and charming throwback episode.

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The episode begins entertainingly enough, with Matt and Noel channeling E.T. for their opening bit. The bakers are excited about the coming challenges. Like “Japanese Week,” having the opportunity to stretch different baking muscles for each challenge keeps the episode fresh. The bakers have different ideas of what the ’80s meant for food, with Marc nostalgic and Dave unenthusiastic, but they’re in high spirits as they head into the tent.

Noel and Matt rattle off a list of ’80s references—see the strays—then announce the signature challenge. The bakers will need to make eight individual quiches featuring short crust pastry bases and two different savory custard fillings. They’ll have two hours total, and the quiches will need to be presented out of their tins. This is yet another straightforward signature challenge and the bakers should do well. They dive in right away and the hosts and judges do too, reminiscing about the ’80s. Aside from Marc and perhaps Hermine, the bakers are too young to remember the decade and Noel and Matt enjoy testing out references on them. Marc has plenty of favorites, but Peter has never even heard of the songs Matt mentions.

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While it may not have been intentional, Peter has chosen at least one flavor profile that is fitting for the episode, Thai curry. Paul remarks that Thai food wasn’t around in the ’80s, but Prue corrects him, saying that’s precisely when it started breaking through. Peter’s Thai curry quiche will feature Bird’s eye chili and white crab meat, while his second is more subtle, with capers, smoked salmon, and asparagus. Laura similarly will be making one spicy and one more cooling quiche, using Calabrian sausage and ‘Nduja paste for her pizza quiche and fresh mint, petit pois, asparagus, and goat cheese for her pea quiche. Mark is taking a different tack, keeping to his Cornish flavors for his cod and Cornish blue cheese quiche and his smoked haddock, Davidstow cheddar, and spelt pastry quiche.

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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A traditionalist, Hermine is sticking to familiar favorites. She’s making a spinach and mushroom quiche as well as a salmon and leek quiche, with Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard. Dave is going the opposite direction, with an English Breakfast quiche, featuring scrambled egg (within the larger egg custard), hash browns, pork sausage mince, and Cumberland sausage spices for his pastry. He’s also making a sirloin, avocado, paprika, and Bird’s eye chili quiche, hoping to impress the judges with some new ideas. Last is Lottie, who is making her own English Breakfast quiche, with sausage, black pudding, and baked beans, as well as a summer salad quiche, with beetroot, walnuts, and goat cheese. She won the Battle of the Burgers in “Japanese Week.” Maybe she’ll knock out Dave in the Battle of the Full English.

The round goes more or less smoothly, but early on, the bakers start to feel the heat. By the 45 minute mark, the temperature in the tent is 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and it only rises from there. The heat is bad for pastry, so the bakers rest their dough in the freezers rather than the refrigerators. Unfortunately, Hermine is slower prepping her fillings than the others and by the time she takes her dough out from the freezer, it’s frozen and needs to warm back up before she can roll it out. Meanwhile, the heat is getting to the bakers, so they’re given wet towels to drape around their necks, to try to cool off. The last thing the production needs is someone getting heat exhaustion.

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By the end of the round, the bakers look overheated, but confident. Aside from Hermine, that is, who at Laura’s urging cranks the heat on her quiches and just barely finishes in time. Lottie is commended for her beautiful pastry, which both judges love. They happen to hate baked beans—thankfully no one asks for a bean-free quiche—but the beans are fortunately low in the flavor mix in her breakfast quiche and her veggie quiche is delicious. Dave has a harder time of it, as both of his quiches are too spicy for Paul. Prue does acknowledge that the scrambled egg hasn’t hurt the custard in his breakfast quiche as she feared, however Dave doesn’t get much praise from either judge. He’s definitely in trouble.

Both of Marc’s quiches are delicious and Paul loves his pastry, though Prue notes that his quiches are too similar, given the brief. Laura has some leakage trouble with her chorizo and Prue finds the pastry a bit tough, but both Paul and Prue like her flavors. Peter has the prettiest quiches of the group and Paul particularly likes the salmon, but Prue finds the chili overwhelms the crab in his Thai quiche. Fortunately, he’s also nailed his pastry, so he looks good so far. Last is Hermine, who seemed poised for a Paul Hollywood Handshake, had she been able to cook her pastry just a touch longer. Both Paul and Prue love her quiches, complimenting their texture, flavors, and pastry. She was worried she’d be in line to go home, so she’s relieved and proud when Paul grabs an extra quiche for later.

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The producers’ example finger doughnuts, The Great British Baking Show
The producers’ example finger doughnuts, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

The heat continues to climb as the bakers prepare for the technical, which has been set by Paul. The bakers will have two hours and 45 minutes to make six custard and jam finger doughnuts. Again, this shouldn’t be too rough of a challenge, but deep frying anything in that kind of heat is miserable. The bakers take temperature in the tent, and it’s 35.8 degrees Celsius (96.44 Fahrenheit). Just staying focused will be difficult. Paul was inspired for the challenge by his first job, frying doughnuts in his dad’s shop. As he remembers, getting the doughnuts just the right shade of golden, but not burnt, may prove tricky.

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In the tent, the temperature is already playing foul with the bakers’ dough, so they are quick to get it proving, handling the dough as little as possible. Most decide to prove their dough in the open, taking advantage of the temperature, but Dave opts for the proving drawer. This winds being up a mistake. While the others’ dough doubles quickly, his never rises, putting him immediately behind the rest of the bakers. While their dough rises, the bakers make their crème mousseline, a buttery twist on crème pâtissière. They’ll need to get their doughnuts made and fried, then cooled before they pipe the mousseline, or it’ll melt, so time management will be key.

With the dough (mostly) risen, the bakers set to rolling it into six appropriately sized fingers. After a quick round of snickering and size jokes, it’s time to fry, and the bakers are in revolt. As Laura says, “Do you want to stand over a deep fat fryer in 35-degree heat?” They grumble and power through, managing their fryers without too much trouble—Dave’s oil is too hot, but the others manage to avoid this pitfall—and before long, it’s time to decorate. Peter does a little snooping, as he has no reference point for what these should look like, and follows the others’ example, slicing his doughnuts on the top and piping the cream in, followed by the jam. When the bakers place their doughnuts on the table for judging, Dave’s look rough, under proved and over fried, but everyone else’s look about right.

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Lottie powers through the heat wave, The Great British Baking Show
Lottie powers through the heat wave, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Unsurprisingly, Dave is in last pace. Lottie takes fifth, her doughnuts a bit too dark and a little tough. Laura is in fourth, her doughnuts slightly over-fried and messy, though still tasty. Marc takes third, as his doughnuts re more consistent in shape. In a Bake Off miracle, Paul lets Marc off the hook for his less than ideal crème mousseline due to the conditions in the tent. Peter’s doughnuts are lovely, but a little short, putting him in second, and Hermine continues her domination of “1980’s Week” by winning the technical, her doughnuts delicious and airy.

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Heading into day two, Hermine is looking great and Dave is in trouble, with Lottie and Laura not far behind. Temperatures aren’t expected to reach quite the highs of the previous day, but considering their showstopper challenge, they won’t need to to wreak havoc. That’s right, the bakers will be reimagining ice cream cakes. They’ll have four and a half hours to put them together, with the only specification that they must include one baked element. The producers are providing ice cream makers, but otherwise, they’ll be using all the same materials they usually do.

Peter is excited for his cake, which will have brandy ice cream, Christmas Cake ice cream, marzipan, chocolate covered brandy snaps, and an Italian meringue coating. Hermine is also taking inspiration from the holidays, with her mango and coconut ice cream cake wrapped up with raspberry coulis ribbon, sitting on a shortbread base. Marc’s going more retro for his cake, trying to capture the look of an ice cream parlor with layers of blackberry mousse, honey and hazelnut ice cream, and butterscotch and pecan ice cream stacked on top of each other and wrapped with a chocolate joconde sponge.

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The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Laura’s going big with her Death by Chocolate cake. It will have salted caramel praline ice cream, brownie ice cream, a chocolate sponge, a chocolate ganache drip, meringue kisses, and hazelnuts. Dave’s tiramisu cake will be a bit more restrained in comparison, with almond liqueur-soaked sponges, a chocolate disc, and layers of coffee and almond ice cream. Controversially, he’ll be decorating with simple piped swirls of ice cream on top of his cake. Paul is convinced they won’t work in these temperatures, but Dave’s committed to trying. Last is Lottie, who is taking a risk with her ’80s mix tape cake. She’ll have chocolate ice cream, cherry jelly, and blackberry mousse, stacked on a chocolate puffed rice cake, with chocolate ice cream surrounding the sides of the cake, mimicking the look of a cassette tape. Again, Paul advises against it—there’s no way it’ll hold up at these temperatures. However, her only other option is to completely change her design, and while her cake seems doomed, it’s understandable that she doesn’t want to start from scratch on showstopper day.

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While Lottie’s likely in trouble, it’s Laura that hits the first hurdle. She gets behind when she presses the wrong button on her ice cream maker, causing it to churn but not freeze her brownie custard. She eventually realizes her mistake, but she’s lost a crucial 40 minutes of setting time. Noel comes to check on her and starts out mocking her familiar assertions that she’s likely to go home until he realizes that this time, she actually could go home. As Laura struggles to get back on track, Lottie makes a tough call and starts carving her chocolate ice cream before it’s fully set, worried she’ll run out of time if she waits. It proves to be the wrong choice, and by the time she’s putting together her cake, the chocolate ice cream is a melted mess. It’s far too soft to stay on the cake and slides right off the sides into a puddle on her platter.

Most of the bakers present cakes that suffer in tidiness and presentation due to the heat, but a few manage to pull theirs off. Marc’s cake looks very impressive, thanks to his sponge. He is dinged for his under-set honey ice cream, but the judges love the rest of his cake. Hermine’s cake looks lovely, even if it’s not quite square and smooth. Prue loves the flavors of the ice creams and Paul compliments the buttery shortbread. Then there’s Peter, whose cake looks immaculate. His textures aren’t quite right, his fruit-heavy cake too slow to thaw, making it hard to eat before the ice cream would melt, but his flavors are delicious. In the middle is Dave, whose tiramisu is messy, but still tasty, with beautiful textures.

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The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

That leaves Lottie and Laura at the bottom. Lottie’s cake is a complete miss. Prue likes her chocolate ice cream, but Paul doesn’t even like her flavors. As for Laura, her meringues are good and the ice creams are delicious, but it’s lopsided and melted. Paul also has an issue with her decision to put brownies in her ice cream, but he’s obviously wrong about that—of course you can freeze brownies, brownies work great as ice cream cake bases and there’s lots of delicious brownie ice cream out there; expand your palate, Paul—so the less said about that the better.

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After a rough end to judging, the bakers wait as the judges deliberate. Lottie and Laura are upset, embarrassed at their work and putting themselves down. Prue stuck true to the priorities of Bake Off, at least what they’re supposed to be, and provided an even critique, looking at each portion of the bake and complimenting what deserved it while acknowledging, but not hammering at, what went wrong. Paul did not, chastising Dave, Lottie, and Laura. That decision, to blame rather than console, ends the episode on an emotional, downbeat note, souring Hermine’s well-deserved Star Baker win and sending fan favorite Lottie off struggling to keep her head held high. This is the last thing viewers are tuning in to Bake Off to see, and hopefully this approach to judging won’t be repeated any time soon.

Stray observations

  • A list of this episode’s many ’80s references: E.T. (who Noel insists would definitely be on Grindr), Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Brookside, Right To Reply, Carol Vorderman, Transvision Vamp, Clare Grogan, Altered Images, shoulder pads, leg warmers, oversized sweaters, backcombing, “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, “True” by Spandau Ballet, Emu’s World, Debbie Harry, and Sting
  • Hermine is a woman after my heart, saying she misses French food, booze, cheese, and fourth, her family. You can always call your family; you can’t ship in a fresh baguette.
  • I grew up without air conditioning and most Chicagoland summers had a few days of extreme heat, so you better believe I have been where Laura is this episode, standing in front of an open freezer trying to will the temperature to go down.
  • Everyone gets punchy with the heat, and it’s actually really fun to watch on the first day. Noel and Marc’s Peter the piper jokes are just one delightful example.
  • The fact that Peter managed to decorate his ice cream cake beautifully in 95-degree Fahrenheit heat does not make this showstopper any less ridiculous. I’ll be upset about how this challenge was handled for a while, particularly the judges’ assertions that there was nothing the production could have done to help the situation.
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