Sunday, September 04, 2016

Great British Bake Off, Series Seven Episode 2 (Recap with Spoilers)

The GBBO continued on its merry (or should I say berry?) way this week. Judges Mary and Paul were in fine form, though presenter Mel had to carry the whole presenting load minus her faithful sidekick Sue, who missed the filming due to a death in the family. Mel did a great job on her own, and Sue did some voice-over work and an historic tidbit, so we didn't miss her entirely, but I'll be glad when they're working in tandem again.

Since Pastor Lee made his exit in week 1, we were down to eleven bakers. The theme of the week was biscuits. Before any fellow American viewers begin to salivate about honey, butter, or gravy, I should remind you that biscuit is the British term for cookie.

And cookies (or biscuits, as I will hereafter refer to them) were everywhere in the tent this week, including the floor as Louise accidentally knocked over one of her batches while removing them from the oven. Or was that Val? It might have been both. Obviously pressure is still getting to folks inside the bunting decorated baking tent.

The three challenges for this week were as follows:
  •  Signature bake: make two dozen biscuits, uniform in their shape and size, and iced
  • Technical bake: make a dozen Viennese whirls (a recipe from judge Mary Berry, which you can see here)
  • Showstopper: make a "gingerbread story" -- essentially a gingerbread structure, at least 30 cm high, which had to contain 8 figures or objects also made out of gingerbread. The entire scene had to tell some kind of story that meant something to the baker
I don't often feel the "oh, I could do that" with any of the bakeoff challenges, but I confess I did feel that way with the signature. It didn't seem like it should be too hard to make two dozen good looking, good tasting biscuits, and then get them decorated and iced nicely within the time allotted. I must have been wrong about that, however, because lots of the bakers had trouble.

For sheer style, I don't think anything beat Andrew's hexagon shaped biscuits iced with yellow icing and decorated with bees piped on freehand. They were adorable, and I agreed with Andrew that Paul's judgment that they tasted "stale" seemed a little harsh. Andrew just went for a softer biscuit, a shortbread kind of thing, which seemed allowable, only Paul was into wanting crispy biscuits that snapped when you broke them or made cool little clinking sounds when you tapped them on a china plate (prelude to dunking them....apparently Paul thinks most baked goods should be dunkable).

Welsh Louise's idea for a flock of sheep biscuits was great, and they looked very cute, though not very uniform -- somehow some of her sheep ended up bigger than others which made for accuracy, I guess, since that's probably true of a real flock of sheep. This was sternly frowned upon in a biscuit flock, however. Michael's beer mug biscuits (yes, seriously, he shaped and decorated them to look like foamy pints of beer) won cute points too, and he did a good job making them all look alike. Apparently they also were spot on for flavor, with orange, chocolate, and malt featuring. Benajmina's biscuits also featured chocolate and orange, and they looked beautiful, sort of paddle shaped bouquets of flowers.

The other biscuits were not so memorable in my mind, except for the fact that they showcased bakers running out of time. First week's star baker, Jane, shaped her biscuits to resemble flowers in pots, but ran out of time icing them so they looked half-done and not very colorful. Charmingly funny Val told a sweet story about her dad not being able to give them ice cream treats very often when they were kids, but making sure they had them in later years at family get togethers. Her ice cream cone shaped biscuits again looked adorable, but weren't fully iced. Rav had this ripping idea to make biscuits shaped like the bunting flags in the tent and decorate them with the Union Jack pattern (veddy, veddy British) but his icing seemed runny and they looked messy. Oh! And I almost forgot, but Selasi made these very cool biscuits shaped like motorbikes and iced in bright red icing. He actually added chilies to these biscuits, which seemed odd but apparently worked out taste-wise.

On to the technical bake, which again didn't seem terribly hard, as long as you could figure out how to pipe wavy, star-like batter to make the little top and bottom rounds. And then have the swirls hold up in the oven. Apparently it helps if you put the batter in the fridge for a bit before baking, but this being the technical, such instructions were not given. Some of the bakers had a hunch the batter would work better cold, but some didn't. These were sandwich biscuits, so in addition to making the biscuits, you also had to be able to whip up buttercream and jam and get those piped inside the sandwich so that the whole effect was tidy and pleasing...apparently not easy to do when bakeoff pressure is on. Last's week's calm, cool, and collected contestant, Selasi, couldn't seem to get these little sandwich biscuits to hold up for anything. His tops lost their swirls while baking and everything just seemed to crumble. Astonishingly, he finished in last place. First place kudos went to brownie master and mum Kate, with Jane and Benjamina not far behind in second and third.

The showstopper was both interesting and messy. Interesting because it was enjoyable to see what scenes the bakers felt could showcase both their talents and a memory or story they loved, and messy because trying to get gingerbread structures to hold up is really hard. Unflappable Jane was actually heard to mutter "I hate gingerbread" (or perhaps it was "I never want to see gingerbread again," but you get the gist). Young Michael told a lovely story about how his gingerbread structure, a replica of Santa's workshop, was inspired by his first visit to Santa when he was a kid. The story held up better than the gingerbread, but then that was also true for bride-to-be Louise, whose church structure completely collapsed in a mess of white icing, and sunny Val, who didn't look so sunny as her New York City landmarks collapsed in what some online commentators have since referred to in post-apocalyptic terms.

The shining examples in the showstopper, in my opinion, came through Selasi's church and Andrew's Cambridge bridge. The latter was especially stunning in its precision and detail and the judges thought it tasted great, which was not the case for Kate's brownie troop outing, which looked lovely but apparently didn't have much taste going for it. Andrew's bridge seemed far and away the best of the lot until it got overshadowed by Candice's pub -- she created a very detailed replica of the pub her family owned when she was growing up, complete with a pool table covered in lime jelly and a sticky ginger carpet. I liked it fine, but the judges seemed completely wowed by it.

Which is why Candice -- surprise! -- took home star baker this week. Which was less surprising than who had to leave the show: Louise. It was definitely down to either Louise or Val getting the boot, and I called Louise before it happened, primarily because they'd both tanked in the first and last bakes, but Val did significantly better than Louise in the technical.

So here's my take on what might happen next and who might be a bit wobbly going into week three...

My favorite bakers so far are Benjamina, Andrew, Jane, and Selasi. I think Andrew is due for a star baker designation soon. Selasi is one of my favorites to watch, mostly because he's so kind and generous to other bakers in addition to being cool under fire. He reminds me a bit of Tamal in that regard -- can you tell I still miss the season 6 bakers? Benjamina is also delightful to watch. I would enjoy seeing her zoom to the top and maybe win the whole thing.

I would still put Candice in the second tier, along with Tom, Kate, and Michael. I honestly keep forgetting about Michael, maybe because he's so quiet, but I think he could surprise some folks and stick around a while. Candice reminds me a lot of Flora at this point, not in her looks (hard to imagine Flora wearing fuchsia lipstick) but in the ways she worries and makes bakes more complicated than they need to be. I think she could stick around a good bit too. I can't quite figure out Tom -- he seems to always be trying odd and unusual things, which could either push him to the forefront or cause him to crash.

I think Rav and Val are on the bottom level at this point. Val has established herself as the contestant who has trouble with timing, and if she has another week as challenging as this one, I think she's gone. Rav hasn't done anything truly awful, but neither has he done anything terribly solid. His work this past week just looked lackluster, right down to the fact that he burned his gingerbread.

But you never can tell. Bread week is just around the corner, one of my favorite weeks! Someone we're not expecting might step up and shine. That's the beauty of bakeoff.

P.S. Cinematographer got in a great shot of a pine bough with a drop of rain this week.

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