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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jelly art helps the bakers blossom on The Great British Baking Show’s “Dessert Week”

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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The Great British Baking Show is on rocky ground after the mess that was the “1980’s Week” showstopper. Ice cream cakes in 90 degree Fahrenheit temperatures? Fortunately, the bakers manage to turn things around with “Dessert Week,” creating beautiful and delicious-sounding showstoppers that show just what this season’s cast is capable of. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride getting there, but the episode’s creative and memorable final round is just the jelly shot in the arm the season needed to wash away the bad taste left by show’s poor production choices.

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The bakers are excited heading into “Dessert Week.” It’s the quarterfinals and the reality is setting in that they’re only two eliminations from the final. But who will those two eliminations be? This is a very even cast and as the judges are fond of reminding the audience, everyone has been Star Baker. It could go pretty much any way. Before they can worry about the final, though, they’ll need to focus their latest signature challenge. The bakers will have two and a half hours to make 12 identical mini cheesecakes with a baked filling and a base made from scratch—no graham cracker crusts please, unless they’re baked day-of.

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As the bakers set to work, it becomes clear cheesecake isn’t necessarily their thing. Peter makes his most controversial statement yet, admitting an overall aversion to cheese, and Dave talks about his mixed record with cheesecakes, having made a New York-style cheesecake that wound up with a big crack across the top. Paul and Prue have high expectations. They want rich, silky fillings and plenty of texture from the base. Since the portions are small, they’re looking for lots of flavor, and Prue in particular expects beautiful presentations.

Peter gets an early confidence boost when he tells the judges he’ll be making lime and ginger cheesecakes. It’s no secret that Paul loves key lime pie and Paul says he’d have chosen a similar approach were he competing. Peter is using a toasted oat and gingernut biscuit base for his lime cheesecakes, topping them with lime curd and crystallized ginger. Marc is going more traditional, with New York-style vanilla and mascarpone cheesecakes, topped with almond praline dust, glazed apricots, and pecans.

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The rest of the bakers stumble into a Lottie-style Battle of the Passion Fruit, each choosing the similar flavors. Laura’s planning on a honey and oat biscuit base with vanilla cheesecake and a passion fruit curd, while Dave is using an orange shortbread base, lemon cheesecake, and an orange and passion fruit jelly on top, with meringue kisses for decoration. Hermine rounds out the passion fruit contingent with her cinnamon biscuit-based cheesecakes with passion fruit curd, meringue kisses, and lime zest on top. She’ll be baking and presenting hers in jam jars to set them apart, which may make the difference, if they all deliver on flavor.

While the bakers judge their timings and decide just how quickly to cool them down, Matt whisks Marc off to Broadway, improvising a new song, “It’s Overbaked!” for an upcoming Bake Off-inspired musical. Then it’s time to start worrying about presentation, and here the episode ups the tension. Laura’s cheesecakes look great, until she starts turning them out of her silicon molds. They wind up lumpy and uneven, though the texture at least looks right. Dave has an easier go of it with his square molds, although they require more handling time, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the cheesecakes are out on their boards and ready for judging.

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

Dave is up first, and his cheesecakes look great. Paul and Prue were skeptical of his gelatin, but his filling and jelly are delicious, with just the right texture. Hermine’s bakes look beautiful, cheery and cozy in their jam jars. Unfortunately, they don’t taste nearly as good as they look. The combination of the bain-marie and the glass baking vessels resulted in a soggy base and stodgy filling. She also would have benefited from a stronger punch of lime or passion fruit, though both judges compliment the look. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Laura’s passion fruit cheesecakes are messy, but they taste fantastic with terrific textures and flavors. She’s the clear frontrunner coming out of the signature. Marc is dinged for his cheesecakes’ proportions and thin flavors, and the texture and shape of Peter’s bakes are underwhelming, his admittedly flavorful filling having fallen significantly.

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Peter’s nervous after the signature round; he knows he’s in a precarious position this episode. Marc is similarly concerned, while Dave and Laura are in high spirits and ready to tackle the technical, which has been set by Prue. The bakers will need to make two Sussex pond puddings, a recipe that dates back to the 1700s. They’re made with suet pastry and filled with butter, sugar, and a whole lemon. When the judges cut into the golden pastry, a lemony pond of syrup should be released, hence the name. The bakers will also need to make a crème anglaise. Prue warns the bakers that they’ve been given exactly the ingredients they’ll need, and no spare, so they only have one shot with each portion of the bake.

As Prue tells Paul, suet pastry is tricky. It’s very pliable and the bakers will need to be sure their pastry will hold up to a solid one and a half to two hours of steaming. Prue hasn’t given the bakers any guidance about how long to steam their puddings, and with only two and a half hours total, they’ll need to get their puddings in the steamer quickly to have enough time to fully cook them. Once again, Hermine is the grumbly voice of reason in the tent, “I mean, does anybody even eat this in 2020?” Peter is familiar with suet pastry, but the rest of the bakers are a little lost. They push forward, treating it like standard pastry dough, and seem to be on track, though Laura is not thrilled about the lemon. Putting a whole lemon into her bake, even pierced, is very different from anything she’s done before.

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Dave struggles with his pudding accoutrements, the pleated parchment and foil top and string to tie it on, and winds up behind the others, putting his pudding into the steamer last. Before long, everyone has their crème anglaise made and they just need to wait. Dave gets itchy fingers and takes his bakes out of the steamer, immediately discovering his mistake as he turns out his puddings. They collapse into a puddle, a far cry from the example. Though the other bakers wait until the last minute to plate their puddings, it’s clear they didn’t push enough at the beginning of the round. Everyone loses at least one of their two puddings—they all needed longer in the steamers.

The judges’ example Sussex pond pudding, The Great British Baking Show
The judges’ example Sussex pond pudding, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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There have been a couple rough technicals this season. This challenge feels dastardly, but fair. There’s nothing in the instructions the bakers don’t understand. They aren’t tasked with lots of fiddly details and they all more or less do the right thing, they just have a range of results based on their time management and the details of their approach. Throwing an obscure technical in with this season’s pineapple upside-down cakes, macaroons, and bagels is a fun and interesting choice. The bakers may not have been particularly successful, but for a quarterfinal technical, Sussex pond puddings are a creative and appropriately difficult choice.

Unsurprisingly, given his early retrieval of his puddings, Dave ends up in last place. Next is Peter, who made his pastry well, but needed a solid further hour in the steamer. For what it’s worth, both Dave and Peter nailed their crème anglaise. Hermine’s is only okay, but her puddings are shaped correctly and that puts her in third. Marc manages one whole pudding, earning second place, and Laura takes the round thanks to her puddings’ shapes and well-made, if undercooked pastry. The judges acknowledge the technical was more or less a wash, with all of the bakers needing more steamer time, but Laura’s still happy and Hermine now joins Peter and Marc, worried about her standing going into the showstopper round.

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The next day, the judges seem tentative. Laura is technically up at the top, having made delicious, if not so beautiful cheesecakes and won the technical round. Hermine, Marc, and Dave are hovering in the middle, Dave’s excellent signature round countered by his clear last-place technical finish. That leaves Peter in trouble and the most in need of a strong showstopper to squeak through to the semifinals. For the final round, the bakers will need to make a jelly art design cake. This is a layered dessert with at least one layer of baked sponge and a visually spectacular topping or coating made of jelly. They’ll have four hours, and they’ll need all of it to make, set, and construct their layered desserts.

Paul is excited the bakers will be making jelly, as it reminds him of his childhood, but as he and Prue both warn, it can easily go wrong. Too much gelatin or agar-agar and the jelly will taste like rubber. Too little, and it won’t set. They’ll be injecting liquid jelly into already-set jelly to create designs, so they’ll need to be deliberate and certain, because there’s no way to correct or undo a mistake. Plus the bakers will also need to execute their baked and mousse layers. It’s a lot to manage. Beyoncé quotes aside, none of the bakers seem all that confident. They’ll need to put any anxieties aside and focus on their work; the judges want five great bakes, worthy of the five Star Bakers populating the quarterfinal tent.

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

Marc is once again paying tribute to his daughters with his showstopper, creating jelly art roses and jasmine flowers in the two-tier apple jelly topping for his hazelnut dacquoise and chocolate and strawberry mousse cake. Laura is molding koi for her pond-inspired bake, with a genoise sponge, white chocolate bavarois, and raspberry mousse cake underneath her agar-agar aquatic plant jelly. Dave is taking a different tack, creating a Newquay beach scene with the sun streaming over the water for his guava and apple jelly. This will be over a clotted cream mousse and chocolate fudge sponge. Hermine’s design is striking, a giant injected red poppy atop chocolate and strawberry mousses with a kirsch-soaked genoise sponge, tempered chocolate collar, and white chocolate ganache piping. Last is Peter, who’s hoping to recapture his “1980’s Week” showstopper success with another holiday-themed bake, channeling a snow globe for his jelly. Panna cotta Christmas decorations will be layered in his jelly, which will top a sandwich cake with orange and cranberry mousses, coated in coconut-dusted Italian meringue buttercream.

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There’s a lot to follow as the bakers make their way through the round, but the highlight is watching them inject their jelly bases to create jelly art. It’s a neat technique and one that requires a sure hand. Not everyone takes the same approach—Dave builds his ocean-scape by carefully layering his jelly—but each process looks interesting and seeing the bakers tackle techniques they’re unfamiliar with, seemingly successfully, is exciting. These showstoppers also allow for the always entertaining, tension-ratcheting “will it turn out?” portion of the round, as each baker crosses their fingers and hopes their jelly releases from its mold without tearing.

As the round winds down, the bakers start to assemble their showstoppers. It’s a tense environment, but everything seems to go more or less well, aside from a brief scare for Laura, who nearly loses her sponge. In the end, the layers line up, the jellies release, and everyone seems thrilled with their bakes. They survived and that is a victory all its own. Hermine is proud of her work, “I don’t care what happens, I’ve done a jelly cake,” and as Marc cheerfully offers, “The good news is, I never have to make one of those again.”

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

Laura is up first for judging. Her cake looks beautiful, though the sides are admittedly less than tidy. Both Paul and Prue are bowled over by her flavors. Paul compliments every layer, both texture and flavor, and Prue singles out the raspberry mousse as particularly good. Next is Dave, whose jelly is charming and particularly eye-catching to Prue. Both judges think it’s delicious, though they have issues with the mousse and Paul wanted more flavor in the sponge. He’s done enough to pull through to the semifinals. Peter’s jelly is the least successful of the group, his more muted color palate failing to dazzle like the others’ vibrant jellies. His cake is difficult to cut, due to its size and composition, and while they’re delicious, his mousses are only just set. Peter could be in trouble.

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That is, until the judges taste Marc’s showstopper. The two-layer jelly is striking, but the 35 leaves of gelatin Marc used were far too much, resulting in a rubbery texture. The dacquoise is also over-baked, making it difficult to cut, the mousse has split, and the chocolate is too hard. This was not Marc’s day, and given the other bakers’ triumphs, he’s almost certainly going home. Hermine is last, and her showstopper is absolutely gorgeous. Her giant red poppy is clean and memorable, reminding Paul of something he’d expect to see in a Parisian pâtisserie. Her mousses work beautifully together, Prue compliments her genoise, and the whole bake is a rousing success to the point that the judges urge her to take it away lest they keep eating it. Laura has competition for Star Baker.

After some deliberation, the judges settle on Hermine as Star Baker, her showstopper pushing her over the top despite her weak first two rounds. Unfortunately, it is indeed Marc who is eliminated, his misfire on the showstopper enough to send him home. Marc’s goodbye is lovely, the bakers’ emotions again right at the surface. One of the real benefits to this season’s production bubble has been those bakers whose families are with them, and seeing Marc walk off into the horizon with his daughters is touching. Hermine is over the moon, thrilled for her second win and, with pâtisserie up next for the semifinal, she’s hitting her stride at the best possible moment. At last, a frontrunner has emerged.

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Stray observations

  • After this episode, the ice cream debacle stands out all the more. You’re telling me the producers couldn’t have just called an audible and swapped episodes, using the “Dessert Week” challenges for the top six and “1980’s Week” as the quarter-final? It’s not ideal, but it’s better than ice cream in a heat wave.
  • I’m not the biggest fan of Paul, but I loved him dumping the toppings out of Peter’s cheesecake. Nice try, Peter.
  • I’m glad Prue acknowledged the generational divide between her and the bakers. As she says, she’s coming from a very different place than they are, having grown up on steamed puddings.
  • Both Paul and Prue push a little hard early on that they have five great Star Bakers in the quarterfinal, given the mixed results for the signature and technical rounds. I was glad that everyone delivered at least visually for the showstopper, ultimately living up to the judges’ hype. That showstopper round truly was impressive.
  • Hermine’s description of jelly as “an Anglo-Saxon thing,” and her accompanying expression, is my favorite moment of the entire episode.
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