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The Great British Baking Show’s guessing games continue in “Dessert Week”

Steph’s bombe dessert
Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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After the double elimination in “Roaring ’20s Week,” season 10 of The Great British Baking Show should be kicking into a new gear. Paul said in the previous episode that two bakers were lagging behind the rest of the pack, and that’s why he and Prue chose to use their double elimination that week. With the supposed dead weight sloughed off, now is when the bakers should start to shine, rising to the escalating challenges and creating some of their best bakes of the season. Unfortunately, the problems that have plagued season 10 are front and center yet again in “Dessert Week,” and the poor judging and producing for the season have managed to turn what should be a compelling and satisfying viewing experience into one that’s somehow both a complete muddle and utterly predictable.

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The episode begins with an interesting signature challenge. The bakers must make a layered meringue cake featuring at least three layers, sandwiched with filling. There are a lot of ways the bakers can go with this, but about half opt for nut-based recipes, looking for a flavor boost that doesn’t add moisture to the delicate chemistry of their meringues. The rest go with chocolate, spice, and caramel for their layers, and everyone is just as focused on their fillings and toppings as their meringues. The low-and-slow baking method required for meringues gives the contestants plenty of time to work on the rest of their components, and it’s nice to spend a bit more time on this part of the signature process. Decorations and layering tend to be featured during the showstoppers and glazed over during the signatures, but the piping and fine detail work of the bakers is a lot of fun to watch here. The bakes look good, with a few stunners and a few more questionable presentations, but when judging comes, Paul and Prue are unimpressed, to say the least.

David’s clove, cinnamon, and star anise bake looks gorgeous, but as Paul hinted earlier, he and Prue don’t like David’s spice-heavy flavor profile. Priya’s blueberry-flavored meringue is dubbed “horrible” looking by Prue and Paul, because of her light blue cream, and Prue finds the amaretto overpowering. Rosie’s lime and raspberry cake is delicious and well balanced, but not as visually appealing as the judges would like, and Paul wishes she’d skipped the chocolate. Like David, Alice is complemented on her design, her Black Forest meringue styled whimsically after a basket, but Paul and Prue find her flavors lacking. Then there’s Michael’s chocolate and orange meringue, which is complemented by Prue for its simple but effective flavors, but dinged on texture and balance by Paul. Steph gets the closest to high marks, with Paul and Prue liking her presentation and flavors, but not her heavy hand with the nuts, and Henry, like Rosie, gets critiqued for his design—really Henry, how do you not stack your layers by size?—but praised for his flavors. After Paul takes a final jab at Henry, assuming he hadn’t made his best element, the signature round is over, the bakers varying degrees of banged up after a tough round of judging.

Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show

Sometimes the bakers have an off day as a group and when that happens, Paul and Prue need to be honest with their critiques. However, after that judging cycle, it’s difficult to get any kind of read on who is off to a good start this episode and who’s in trouble. There’s no sense of which critiques are small details and which are deal-breakers. How does David’s flavors not living up to the promise of his design compare with Rosie’s delicious, but visually lacking bake? Alice’s Black Forest basket looks good, but lacks on flavor. How does that compare with Henry’s messily tiered, but tasty confection? Given how dismissive the judges have been of the technical rankings this season, these signature critiques feel intentionally vague, an opportunity to have yet another episode come down entirely to the showstopper. In a reality competition show based primarily on a sense viewers cannot experience—taste—the judging needs to be clear and well-articulated. If the audience can’t trust the judges, they can’t invest in the integrity and stakes of the competition, and viewing quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.

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It’s time for the technical, and Prue has once again set the brief. The bakers must make six identical, perfectly layered verrines, featuring a layer of mango compote covered with a creamy coconut panna cotta, then a layer of fresh raspberry jelly sprinkled with a coconut and lime streusel and fresh mango cubes, and atop the glass, a thin, decorative biscuit. This is another straightforward technical, but one that requires focus and precision. For once, the bakers seem to have enough time to complete the challenge, and while there’s some question about just how long to chill each layer, every component is well within these bakers’ abilities. It’s great to see them all get a win and turn in solid to impressive verrines, but nothing in this technical pushes them. Nothing requires particular baking instincts or knowledge, the very thing the technical is meant to highlight. This is purely a test of their finesse, which is worthwhile, but not the point of the technical round. The previous two technicals required knowledge many didn’t have and featured recipes left intentionally too vague. This one held their hands too much, down to providing a cookie cutter for their biscuits, a far cry from “Dairy Week,” when they had to design and create their own detailed stencils from scratch. Once again, the judges seem to ignore the technical rankings—this time because everyone did so well—and yet again, it all comes down to the showstoppers.

Alice’s pristine verrines
Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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For the final round, the bakers must create a celebratory bombe dessert. It must be spherical or semi-spherical with one baked element and at least two other dessert elements. Most of the bakers play it safe, focusing on light sponges and various forms of mousse and creams. A few take bigger swings, though, including David, who makes a lemon and shiso leaf sorbet, and Steph, the only baker not to line her bombe with cake, instead counting on her mousse to set properly and sustain a mirror glaze on its own. In theory, the presentation of these bakes should be paramount for the showstopper round, but as in previous episodes this season, the judging doesn’t reflect this. If Paul and Prue have shifted their interpretation of each round, or if their priorities have changed over the seasons, that’s perfectly alright. However, that should be conveyed to the viewers in a meaningful way, so the audience can play along at home.

In the end, Steph wows with her beautiful mirror glazed bake and takes home Star Baker for the third week in a row. She joins elite company in Baking Show history. Only two bakers—Richard Burr in series five and Ian Cumming in series six—have accomplished this feat, though neither ended up winning their seasons. Alice impresses with her tiramisu bombe and comes in a close second, with David in the conversation, but lagging behind the other two. The rest of the bakers are down in the bottom, Henry and Rosie joining Michael and Priya after struggling with their showstoppers. Michael’s bake gets mixed reviews at best, Henry’s cake is deemed stodgy and his bombe disappointing, and Rosie’s is dubbed clumsy, her mousse texture not ideal, and her flavors contradicting. Yet it’s Priya who’s eliminated, despite getting complemented on her sponge, mousse, and the “elegant” look of her bake.

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Before the showstopper round, the judges were clear about who was in danger, and the fact that this episode would again be determined by the final bake. But when their bottom two delivered and the field got a bit more complicated, the episode skips over what should have been good reality TV, a hearty deliberation by the judges. There’s no return to Priya’s underwhelming meringue, weighed against Henry’s disappointing bombe, or discussion of whether Rosie’s delicious signature flavors are enough to save her. Instead, the producers expect viewers to do the legwork themselves. It’s looking increasingly like this trend of under-supported and frustrating eliminations will be the norm for the rest of season 10, and this unforced error on the part of the production is incredibly disappointing. The Great British Baking Show made a name for itself by sidestepping the worst instincts of reality competition series. The production team should know better than this, and if the show keeps insisting on manufacturing drama and choosing surprise eliminations over satisfying, earned ones, it will lose part of its defining charm.

Stray observations

  • Happy birthday, Michael! I’m glad you weren’t eliminated (though the episode’s editing made it seem like you should be).
  • Priya’s elimination feels far more based on her overall season-long performance than this particular episode. Paul and Prue should be more transparent about their approach. Are they judging on an episodic basis, or competition-long one?
  • The producers are trying to build suspense by not showing much of the judges’ deliberations, but they’ve just highlighted that season 10 is basically Steph’s to lose, with David and likely Alice joining her in the finale. Rather than heighten the suspense, they’ve effectively labeled the rest of the bakers as cannon fodder. At this rate, why not just skip ahead to the finale?
  • I understand Noel’s impish impulse to pick at David and try to get him to admit that he’s frustrated being the season’s perennial second-place finisher, but doing so is as anti-Baking Show as you can get. That being said, the cold open was delightful and I really enjoyed Noel’s Cowardly Lion impression. Also delightful, Henry’s deadly serious, “Not now” when Noel started messing with him as he carried his verrines.
  • I love getting glimpses of the bakers hanging out between rounds and during deliberations. It’s a nice reminder that the fun of the weekend is not limited to the tent.
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