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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It’s back to basics for The Great British Baking Show’s tantalizing “Pastry Week”

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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In some episodes of The Great British Baking Show, the producers push the bakers, presenting complicated and obscure challenge briefs. Some episodes, they play it safe, teeing the contestants up for success. For season 11’s “Pastry Week” however, the producers seem less interested in the bakers’ experience and more focused on the audience’s. Between the savory signature, accessible technical, and tempting showstopper, this episode’s challenges make for the most tantalizing viewing of the season so far.

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The signature challenge is straightforward enough. The bakers must make their version of the pasty, a savory filling with a pastry shell that’s been crimped closed and baked. They’ll have two hours to make eight identical pasties, each 15 centimeters long and featuring some form of decorative finish. The pasties can be any shape and use any type of pastry. A good pasty is a beautiful thing, a convenient and filling lunch staple. They’re also a great choice for the signature round, with plenty of opportunity for personalization and creativity. The very first series featured Cornish pasties as the pastry technical and series nine, or collection six on Netflix, featured a samosa challenge. However this is such a universal bake that there’s plenty of space for another round of pasty making, particularly with a set of bakers this creative and specific with their flavors.

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The judges have surprisingly clear expectations for this round. They want crisp, buttery pastry and a delicious filling. That’s it. As long as the pasties aren’t too dry or too wet and they feature crimping, the judges will be happy. Half of the bakers—Laura, Linda, Lottie, and Peter—opt for rough puff pastry, a flaky pastry that approximates puff pastry in less time. Most of the others—Mark, Marc, and Dave—go with shortcrust pastry, which is more crumbly than rough puff. Hermine decides to make her own mix of rough puff and shortcrust, hoping for the best of both worlds for her Moroccan tagine pasties, featuring preserved lemon, raisins, chickpeas, and Moroccan spiced lamb.

Team rough puff goes more or less traditional with their flavors. Laura is making cheddar and onion pasties, with thyme, leeks, cream, and Dijon mustard. Lottie is adapting toad in the hole, a hearty English dish, with mashed potato, onion, sage and fennel gravy, and Lincolnshire sausage. Prue is worried it’ll come out stodgy, but both Paul and Noel practically salivate at her description and think it sounds delicious. Peter goes with another favorite, kedgeree. His pasties will be shaped like haddock and feature smoked haddock, kedgeree rice, petit pois, and boiled eggs. Amping up the spice even more is Linda, who takes inspiration from samosas for her pasties, with a spiced chicken thigh, coriander, and diced potato filling. She’s planning to decorate her samosa-shaped pasties with a stenciled karma symbol, using poppy seeds.

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Team shortcrust is just as focused on their flavors as the rough puffers. Mark is spicing his pastry and using an aloo gobi and paneer filling, roasted cauliflower and cheese curry. Davie is looking to Thai cuisine for his flavors, with spiced chicken breast, jasmine rice, and a sweet chili dipping sauce, which he’ll pair with chili decorations. Marc, who hails from Cornwall, is staying close to home with monkfish, asparagus, samphire, and creamy lemon sauce pasties. Pasties are the official dish of Cornwall, so he’s feeling the pressure to deliver. Marc will be using pleated crimps, but when pressed by Paul, he’s unsure just how many pleats he’ll need—Paul shares during judging that 20 or 21 is the standard—adding even more stress to the proceedings.

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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The clock ticks down as the bakers decide how much filling to use, how many crimps to deploy, and just how long each element of their bake needs to rest between steps. Before long, their two hours are up, and it’s time for judging. Paul and Prue start with Marc, ripping off the Band-Aid. His under-pleated pasties have good pastry, but could use more color and are bone dry. He needed more cream. Peter’s bake gets a similar reception. He’s praised for the look of his haddock pasties and they have a good flavor, but they’re also dry. Prue was worried that Lottie’s bakes would be stodgy, but she gets the first raves of the round, with Prue admitting she was wrong. Paul continues his multi-episode critique of Lottie’s presentation, but he acknowledges her toad in the hole pasties taste amazing. Dave has the opposite issue. His chili pasties look impressive, but they’re lacking in flavor, at least until Prue uses the dipping sauce, which she compliments. Paul seems not to try the sauce at all, which must have been a blow, as Dave had calibrated his flavors expecting them to be eaten together.

Mark gets the second rave of the signature round with his aloo gobi pasties, Prue praising his pastry as “heaven” and Paul focusing on his delicious flavors and textures. Hermine does well too, her Moroccan lamb pasties earning a “thank you very much indeed” from Paul and a “really delicious” from Prue. Had she gotten another couple of minutes in on the bake, to help with the color, she may have earned a Paul Hollywood Handshake. Linda is dinged a bit for her samosa-shaped pasties, having missed the line in the brief requiring crimps. However, Paul thinks the flavors are fantastic and loves the contrast of the samosa filling with her buttery rough puff, and Prue declares it a delicious lunch. Last is Laura, who like Hermine seems to just miss on a Paul Hollywood Handshake. Her pasties are a bit irregular in size, but Prue loves their flavor and moisture, calling them “heaven” and Paul compliments her texture, flavors, and blend of ingredients. All things considered, it’s a triumphant round for the bakers, and one that must come as a boost after last episode’s brownies.

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It’s time for the technical round. Lottie, who would like to not be on the bottom again, thank you very much, rightly worries at the range of possibilities. In past seasons, the judges have chosen everything from British classics to obscure pastries the bakers were completely unfamiliar with. This season, Prue is generous. She asks for three raspberry and three salted caramel éclairs. Not too bad, right? However, each éclair is highly decorated and the brief specifies that the judges will be looking for precision and perfect piping, and the bakers only have two hours and 15 minutes. That’s plenty of time if everything goes well. It’s not, if they run into trouble.

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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As with the signature brief, éclairs are nothing new to Bake Off. Mark, Dave, and Laura walk the audience through the steps of making a choux paste or dough and their clear instructions help the viewers immediately identify trouble on the horizon for Linda, whose dough is much too wet. Linda knows her dough isn’t right, but can’t remember quite how to fix it, or what went wrong. As she struggles, everyone moves on to their crème pâtissière, or crème pât. Here’s where the real trouble begins. While some of the bakers’ pastry creams look alright, many are grainy and Lottie’s looks like scrambled eggs. Considering the crème pât is the base for both éclair fillings, if they can’t save their cream, they’re unlikely to nail either flavor of éclair. As the bakers contend with this, the éclairs finish baking. Marc and Linda are met with thin, unrisen choux and while Marc continues on, Linda decides to start over, binning her éclairs and returning to the start of the recipe. As she dives back in, the bulk of the bakers are on to the next step, the caramel. Mark and Hermine run into trouble here, Hermine’s caramel taking forever and Mark’s appearing grainy.

The bakers contend with their caramels, gauging the color and texture, while Matt asks Linda, “Do you want me to go to the supermarket and buy some éclairs?” to which she replies, “I think you better.” That’s right, her second batch of choux is no better than her first and rather than jump back to the rest of the recipe, she falls prey to the sunk cost fallacy and starts over a third time. As the bakers assemble their éclairs, it’s clear that they, as a group, needed clearer instructions. Most of their crème pâts are too thin, and Lottie’s splits. There’s nothing to be done. There isn’t enough time to redo anything, so they set to filling their choux with the underwhelming crème and topping them with icing. Thankfully, Linda’s third set of choux works better than her first two, but with no time left, she places her unadorned choux on her tray with bowls of raspberry jam and pastry cream, a shoo-in for last place.

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When a handful of bakers struggle on a technical, or even up to half of the cast, that’s an indication of which bakers’ experience and instincts helped them succeed on a tricky bake. When the entire tent struggles and presents bakes they know are off, it’s a sign that the instructions or parameters of the challenge were flawed. As expected, Linda is last. Marc’s deflated choux put him in seventh, while Laura’s flavorful, but under-baked pastry and bad textures put her in sixth. Dave’s runny crème pât puts him in fifth, Lottie’s neat éclairs and set cream put her in fourth, and Mark’s okay caramel bump him to third, despite under-filling his choux. The stunning praise of “they look like éclairs” and “not bad” puts Hermine in second, and Peter is the only baker to really achieve the technical brief, giving him his first technical win. After the high of the signature round, the technical judging is quite a blow.

The next day, bakers head into the tent for the showstopper. The bakers will have three hours and 45 minutes to make a beautiful and delicious sweet tart—a standard pastry week challenge—and to raise the difficulty, they must also make a self-supporting, intricately latticed pastry cage to go over it. There are no other restrictions on either the tart or the cage, but they must look and taste superb. As the bakers set to work, they speak for the audience, Marc saying, “Why would you make a caged tart?” and Hermine, “It’s bonkers. [The tart] looks beautiful, you’re supposed to showcase it, not cage it.” As quickly becomes clear, the answer is because just making a tart is too easy, and Paul and Prue expect more from the bakers.

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

Lottie has perhaps the most controversial bake of the round. Rather than a traditional tart, she’s layering pastry with layers of apple puree, caramelized apple, raw apple, and boozy apple slices with toffee popcorn crème diplomat. Her cage will be made of carefully piped choux pastry, held in a pyramid by isomalt. Paul is unconvinced of whether her dessert qualifies as a tart, and Lottie’s attempt to use the root definition of “tart” does nothing to move him. The other baker using a pyramid-shaped cage is Dave, who is taking inspiration from the Louvre. He’s making a mango and lime tart with decorative mango slices, citrus tequila filling, and a cocoa and sweet pastry base for both his tart shell and pyramid. He’ll be binding his pyramid with caramel.

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Hermine also chooses an unusual cage. She’s opting for a box for her lime confit and lemon meringue tart. Her tart will have lime jelly, Italian meringue, lemon curd macarons, white sugar pearls, and fresh fruit, with an ornate heart-shaped design for her cage. Rather than a cage, Mark decides to use some wordplay for his mes-“sage” in a bottle bake. He’s using rough puff to make a pastry wine bottle, which he’s cut holes out of. He’ll place his bottle over his pear and sage tart, with a ginger sweet pastry base, ginger crème pât, pear jam, and pear and sage mousse, with crumbled shortbread biscuits for his sand.

The rest of the bakers are making domes for their cages. Laura wants to conjure the image of a garden for her key lime tart, with ginger pastry, Italian meringue, fresh fruit, edible flowers, and rose garden decorations on her puff pastry dome. Peter is going more abstract with his freeform shortcrust pastry cage, which he’ll decorate with edible flowers and place over his candied lemon, caramelized hazelnut, tart lemon filling, and blackberry curd tart. Linda’s gypsy tart will feature chocolate filigree, a coffee and brandy-soaked sponge, and the traditional sugar and evaporated milk filling over a sweet pastry base, with a vanilla and rosewater pastry dome, while Marc has chosen a sablé Breton base for his chocolate crémeux, chocolate and sesame tuile, glazed blackberry, blackberry jam, and caramelized apple tart with a puff pastry cage, decorated with shortcrust flowers and vine leaves.

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Overall, the round seems to go well for the bakers. Their tarts all sound delicious and they have clear plans for how they’re approaching their cages. The moment of tension comes when it’s time to assemble them, for the pyramid and box bakers, or unmold them, for Mark and the dome makers. Each baker holds their breath and fortunately, most manage the process smoothly. Linda and Mark aren’t so lucky. Linda’s strips of pastry cling to the bowl she baked her colorful cage on and Mark’s bottle splits in half as he attempts to remove it from his foil-covered mold. It’s quite a blow after their painstaking work, and among this group of bakers, such a significant problem with their cage immediately places them in danger of elimination.

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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Judging kicks off with Dave, who gets high marks for his striking pyramid and beautiful, bright mango tart. Marc makes up some ground after his poor technical with his lovely cage and rich chocolate crémeux, even if Paul would have liked a different shell. Hermine’s box breaks apart as Paul goes to lift it, but Prue compliments its design and both judges like the lovely flavors of her delicate tart. Laura knocks her lime tart—a favorite of both Paul and Matt—out of the park, giving plenty of zing and flavor to the tart and presenting a beautifully latticed dome.

Things take a turn with Linda, whose tart is complemented for its flavors, but which is nowhere near the other bakes in terms of presentation. Lottie’s choux pyramid is stunning, but despite her careful piping, Prue finds her dessert to look a right mess and while both judges like her flavors, Paul remains adamant that her bake isn’t really a tart. Peter’s dome is read for being a bit thick, but Paul dubs his bake a “happy tart” as the flavors hit in the back of the cheeks and prompt a smile from the eater, and both Paul and Prue compliment his bake. Last is Mark, who Paul is disappointed in, saying this showstopper is not up to Mark’s recent standard. Prue is more on board, appreciating the tart’s unusual flavor, but he could be in trouble.

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Given the poor feedback, Mark is worried, and Linda knows she’s likely going home, though she acknowledges the critiques are fair. Peter is chuffed, glad Paul appreciated his flavors, and Hermine and Laura are on cloud nine. As the hosts talk with the judges, this season’s pattern of judging returns. There’s one clear baker straggling at the back, but Paul and Prue try to pretend others are in contention to be eliminated. Mark may not have nailed his showstopper, but he was third in the technical. Marc’s technical was rough, but he pulled through on the showstopper. Linda was dead last in both. Sad as it will be to see her go, and on a week she was excited for, it’s her time. As for Star Baker, Hermine and Laura are in the running, with Dave and Peter’s middling signatures holding them back. Ultimately, the judges award Laura her first Star Baker, and as expected, they eliminate Linda. This is now two bakers in a row who have seemed confident and capable only to slip up with major mistakes and wind up eliminated. This is proving to be a surprisingly even cast. If bakers keep making big missteps, it really could be anyone’s season.

Stray observations

  • I again appreciated the episode’s delightfully dark introductory bit from Noel and Matt.
  • Noel’s, “Last time, the bakers faced chocolate week and collectively ballsed up the basics” is a chef’s kiss level bit of voice over to acknowledge the brownie discourse the producers wisely anticipated in the fandom.
  • Seriously, I wanted to eat all of these pasties. They look amazing, particularly on a rainy October morning. I would pass on the éclairs, though, and save room for those ridiculous tarts. Paul and Prue can keep the cages, just give me the good stuff.
  • Lottie’s pyramid is lovely, but it would have benefited her to add some color either to her pyramid or her tart. They’re both beautiful individually, but their similar palate keeps them from being as visually striking as they could have been.
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