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The race tightens as The Great British Baking Show’s semifinalists take on patisserie

Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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It’s been a long season, and for the final four bakers, the final is achingly close. They’ve made it through cakes, cookies, bread, dairy, pastry, and more, and all that stands between them and the top three is patisserie week. While “Pastry Week” tested the bakers on more straightforward tarts and pies, the semifinal will be finicky and precise, requiring a level of finesse only briefly touched on previously in the season. There’s a reason the show saves patisserie for the semi-final (almost) every season: The judges want to ensure that whoever winds up winning can deliver not only on flavor, but on the technique and beauty these delicacies require.

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After a moment of remembrance for dearly departed Henry—the ties are a cute touch—the bakers dive in with the signature challenge. They must make eight elegant domed tartlets, which must feature sweet pastry cases and be beautifully and ornately decorated. Sandi can’t contain her excitement, in a surprisingly entertaining bit, and her over-exaggerated enthusiasm is contagious. The bakes each of the final four have planned sound absolutely delicious. Alice’s tarts are mocha-themed, with hazelnut and orange complementing her espresso buttercream, chocolate pastry, chocolate mirror glaze, and mocha mousse. David takes inspiration from an Italian liqueur, his roasted rhubarb a smart, tart contrast to his sweet lychee flan dome, aperitif jelly, and mirror glaze. Both Steph and Rosie go for raspberry and lemon, but Steph compliments these flavors with creamy white chocolate, while Rosie uses mint, yuzu, and gin to contrast her other fruity notes.

The atmosphere in the tent is charged. Each of the bakers can feel the final in their grasp, and they’re determined to put their best foot forward. Their personalities are on full display as they bake, and the editors capture this wonderfully by cutting between all four semi-finalists as they prepare their domes. David slowly and meticulously pours his custard into his molds. Steph spoons her mousse in, doing her best to be tidy, with just a few splashes around the sides. Rosie is no-nonsense, pouring hers in quickly and efficiently, and Alice slaps her mousse into the molds, starting rather neatly but quickly progressing to a much more slap-dash motion. That’s the final four to a tee, their focused energy boiling over into nerves by the end of the segment. David pops some champagne as they finish, and it’s time for the judges’ critiques. All four do pretty well. Paul and Prue differ on David’s tarts, Paul dinging him for their look, which Prue compliments. They both love the flavors though, especially the rhubarb, and considering how hit-or-miss David has been with the judges on flavor this season, that’s a big win. Rosie’s crème pât is too soft, but her jelly is perfect and Prue compliments both the color and size of her tarts. Alice gets knocked for her rushed, sloppy piping, but both Paul and Prue love her flavors and pastry. As for Steph, Paul would have liked her tarts to be a bit neater, but her flavors are there and Prue commends her domes as nearly perfect. No one hit the signature out of the park, and the competition remains neck-and-neck heading into the technical.

The judges’ example gâteaux St-Honoré
Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show

With so much at stake and the signature more or less a draw, the technical immediately feels weightier than it has much of the season. Prue has set the challenge, and it’s a doozy: The bakers must make a gâteau St-Honoré, a layered French pastry previously seen on Baking Show back during season five (series three of Bake Off), as the showstopper for that season’s semifinal. Long-term Baking Show fans will remember Sue’s struggles with the components required for a St-Honoré, in one of the show’s previously standard cutaway historical segments. It’s a complicated bake and setting it as a technical, rather than a showstopper the bakers can perfect at home, is a wonderfully dastardly move by Prue. The finalists should be familiar with each component required: puff pastry, choux buns, crème chiboust, Chantilly cream, and caramel. Whether they’ll be able to execute everything under a time crunch and with a pared down recipe is another question entirely.

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Three and a half hours isn’t long for an unpracticed gâteau St-Honoré, and almost immediately, the bakers start running into trouble. David struggles with his choux dough, though he fortunately remembers some excellent advice from Michael about what it should look like. Alice can’t remember how to do a book turn as she works with her puff pastry, and Rosie is freaking out about everything. Her choux buns don’t rise as they should and this sends her spinning. Tempted to throw out everything and restart half-way through the segment, she manages to calm her nerves and realize she doesn’t have enough time. She does remake her choux, but sticks with her initial pastry, and her instincts are rewarded when the second batch of choux puffs up properly. While there’s definitely some distance between the final bakes, each of the bakers turns out a respectable St-Honoré, a reassuring sign heading into the final. Alice’s over-done caramel puts her into last place, Steph’s irregular choux and iffy chiboust puts her into third, David’s split chiboust knocks him back to his standard second place, and after all that back and forth, Rosie takes first place. The only critique Prue can come up with is that Rosie, clearly flustered, put her choux buns on upside down. Not bad, considering where Rosie seemed headed at the start of the technical.

Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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Going into the showstopper, the rankings are surprising. Steph, the clear front-runner this season, is in trouble, along with Alice, who did well on the signature but placed last in the technical. David is sitting pretty for now, and Rosie, the dark horse going into the semifinal, is in good shape. However, as has so frequently been the case this season, everything can change with the showstopper. The bakers must make a sugar glass display case containing an edible, at least partially baked depiction of something they hold dear. The bakers’ only limitation is the size of their glass cabinet and their imaginations. Rosie has the most intriguing concept. She’ll be making different mini patisserie treats, her treasure being time with family. Alice is tackling an ambitious entremets, which will depict the ocean. David is layering delicate sponges to evoke moss and earth, making his cabinet into a greenhouse. Then there’s Steph, who is taking inspiration from her grandfather for her Opera cake. As with the signatures, the flavors sound delicious and the bakers seem confident. While Alice seems to be scrambling just a bit more than the others, all of the semifinalists came to the tent prepared this episode, finishing their bakes right on time. Everything will come down to their recipes and execution.

Steph is commended for her beautiful, all-isomalt cabinet, and while Prue finds her cake too dense, Paul likes her presentation and her macarons, the bake’s main nod to patisserie. David’s cabinet stands out, with some of his glass lightly tinted to evoke stained glass. His parsnip and beetroot cake though, while interesting and daintily stacked, is criticized for straying too far from patisserie for the challenge. Rosie, on the other hand, embraced patisserie for her showstopper, but then is criticized for her bakes being too disconnected from each other. Her bigger issue, however, is her execution. Her showstopper is too plain for Paul, being mostly the same color and height, and while her chocolate tarte is delicious, her tartes tropézienne and religieuses are dry. As for Alice, her big swing pays off. Her cabinet may be too cloudy to see through, but once it’s removed, her entremets looks gorgeous. Paul critiques her mousse, but both he and Prue love her flavors, particularly the raspberry, and once again, her strong showstopper appears to have pulled her through to the next episode.

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The judges’ critiques leave plenty of room for debate. Will David go home for essentially baking a cake? Will Steph’s poor showing in the technical put her in danger? Or were Rosie’s missteps in her showstopper enough to send her home, despite her strong technical? In the end, Alice is awarded Star Baker for her beautiful entremets, and Rosie is eliminated. The producers make sure to have both Paul and Prue explain why they chose to eliminate Rosie over David, a welcome bit of transparency that’s particularly necessary at this point of the competition. Rosie has been a real treat this season, delivering interesting and creative bakes as well as plenty of delightful banter with Noel, and it’s disappointing, though unsurprising, to see her go. While Steph remains the front-runner and favorite to win, the field has narrowed a bit. As Alice demonstrates here, when she executes her concepts to their fullest, she makes exactly the kind of bakes the judges love: high impact, visually striking showstoppers. Then there’s David, whose precision and cool head may put him over the top, if he manages to find the right balance between his preferred flavors and those that speak to the judges. Despite its struggles midseason, The Great British Baking Show has set itself up for a compelling, exciting final. Here’s hoping they stick the landing.

Stray observations

  • Steph’s late realization that her domed tartlets, “look like boobs,” and the subsequent shot highlighting this, is hilarious.
  • Rosie’s relieved, almost manic laughter after winning the technical is charming and so very relatable. She was a long-shot to make it to the final, but at least she was able to nail the technical on her way out.
  • Season 10 has rebounded for me in a big way, but I remain highly skeptical about the final. The previous season finale’s campfire technical was the kind of stunt I expect in lesser shows, and I’m not confident that the producers took the right lessons away from that experiment.
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