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The Great British Baking Show delivers a heartbreaking semifinal elimination in “Patisserie Week”

Peter’s Strawberry and Elderflower Babas, The Great British Baking Show

Peter’s Strawberry and Elderflower Babas, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

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It’s been a somewhat off-kilter season of The Great British Baking Show, with strong bakers stumbling seemingly out of the blue only to be eliminated early. Whether that’s due to the stresses of living in the show’s production bubble or this season’s condensed filming schedule, it has led to a final four few may have predicted early in the season. Unfortunately, that trend continues this episode, which sees a fan favorite and the seeming front-runner for the win beset with trouble and ultimately eliminated.

The gloom that will eventually hang over the tent is nowhere to be seen as the episode begins. The final four bakers are excited about the semifinal, but each has different feelings towards pâtisserie. Peter is stoked, Laura is out of her comfort zone, Dave is nervous, and Hermine is feeling the pressure. Pâtisserie is her thing; all eyes are on her. Noel and Matt congratulate the bakers on making it to the top four, then introduce the signature challenge. The bakers will have two hours and 45 min to make 12 identical pâtisseries using pâte à savarin, a yeasted, enriched dough. The bakers have free reign on the shape and flavor of their savarins, but they should be soaked with syrup and have an elegant finish, befitting their semifinalist status. Prue will be looking for refined presentation and Paul notes the precision necessary in the proving stage, something that will be hard to gauge, as the heat wave from “1980’s Week” has returned.

While the bakers play with their dough, looking for the perfect silky, stretchable consistency, the episode previews each of their bakes. Hermine is making rum babas with crème pâtissière, Chantilly cream, apricot glaze, raspberries, and tempered chocolate decorations. The judges are excited to see what she presents, expecting a lot given her second Star Baker win and background in pâtisserie. Laura is also making rum babas, with a citrus twist. They’ll have a poached pineapple, kiwi, and passion fruit filling and Chantilly cream on top, with pipettes of rum syrup to add an extra final kick of flavor. Paul tries to psych her out as she’s working, but Laura fortunately shakes it off, with some encouragement from Prue and Noel.

Dave is returning to Mexico for his flavors, making honey tequila-soaked savarins sitting on a mango and passion fruit curd, topped with honey and cocoa Chantilly cream and a sliced mango rose. Prue is skeptical of so many strong flavors all mixed together, but Dave is confident, and Prue remarks on this. He’s being set up for the Most Improved edit. Peter’s the only person not using alcohol in his bake, opting for a delicate elderflower and lemon syrup instead. His rectangular babas will be topped with strawberry and elderflower and lemon crèmes diplomat, as well as sliced strawberries and edible flowers. Paul is clearly rooting for Peter, encouraging him to match his early season heights.

After some fun with Laura and Matt, who visualize Paul before punching down Laura’s proven dough, the bakers move on to piping their dough into their molds and re-proving their savarins. Then it’s off to the ovens, as they start preparing their creams and toppings. Noel tries to goad Hermine into trash-talking Laura, but she’s not having any of it. Her fate is in the hands of the universe. Those may not be the steadiest of hands, though, as Hermine is the only baker unhappy with her savarins when they come out of the oven. Hers have split, likely due to under-proving. With more than half the time already gone, Hermine decides to start over. She won’t be able to give the second batch more time than she gave the first, but with the judges expecting perfection from her, it’s easy to see why she takes the risk, hoping for a last-minute miracle.

As Peter takes a tweezer to his final presentation, Dave delicately shapes his mango roses, and Laura pipes admittedly more rustic decorations, Hermine scrambles and just manages to finish her bakes. And to her credit, they look lovely. Unfortunately, while her crème pât and Chantilly cream are delicious and both judges like her flavors, her savarin is under-proven, with too tight of a texture. Laura fares better. Her icing is a bit messy, but Prue loves her sponges, which are delicate and light. Paul thinks her spices are a bit heavy-handed, but both of the judges are happy with her babas overall. Dave is complimented immediately on the texture of his savarins and Prue retracts her earlier skepticism over his bold flavors. Paul doesn’t connect with Dave’s presentation, but that’s a minor issue. It’s a lovely dessert. Last is Peter, whose rectangular babas are wonderfully delicate. The texture as the judges cut into them is absolutely gorgeous, and Prue can’t help but giggle at how delicious they are. Paul puts out his hand for Peter’s first Paul Hollywood Handshake, and like that, there’s a new leader in the tent.

Paul’s example technical, The Great British Baking Show

Paul’s example technical, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

The semifinal technical is bound to be a doozy, and while Peter is still riding a handshake high, none of the other bakers seem particularly thrilled heading into it. Paul has chosen the technical and he warns the bakers that they’ll need to be methodical and precise. The bakers have two hours and 15 minutes to make a Danish kransekake or cornucopia cake. Fans may remember a different tweak on this cake from the 2018 New Year’s Day special, with Benjamina, Rav, Rob, and Sandy. They had to make Paul’s pistachio-coated kransekake Christmas tree. This is the same concept, just shaped differently to make a horn of plenty.

The bakers are at a complete loss, trying to puzzle out the instructions. Shaping the dough so that the stacked rings curve to make a cornucopia will be difficult, but Paul is hoping the bakers will at least nail the cake’s textures, both its crispy exterior and chewy interior. The innuendos start early in the segment, as Paul finishes his explanation of the cake by offering Prue a taste of his horn, but the bakers have no time for such tomfoolery as they struggle to understand how to shape their dough. Laura’s in particular trouble, in danger of spinning out until Matt talks her through her anxiety and helps her center herself. On the other end of the spectrum, Hermine stays dourly focused, not responding to Noel’s shenanigans until he suggests they pull the old two people in a trench coat gag for a suggestively placed horn of plenty reveal. This pulls a snicker out of her, and by the time the bakers are battling with their caramels, the mood in the tent has decidedly lightened.

When the judges return to judge the technical, it’s clear the bakers have had some trouble. Only Hermine’s looks right and Dave’s is hilariously suggestive, stopping Paul in his tracks. Paul repositions Dave’s bake, and it turns out Dave has achieved the desired shape for the horn, he’s just not placed it correctly on its base. After judging, Laura winds up in fourth place, the only baker to under-bake her horn. Dave takes third, having significantly overbaked his rings. Hermine is the most successful with her shape, but her horn is again overbaked and hard, which knocks her to second, while Peter’s poorly-shaped horn comes the closest to the desired texture, giving him the win.

Dave’s horn prompts a reaction, The Great British Baking Show

Dave’s horn prompts a reaction, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Going into the showstopper, Peter is in good shape, but the other three bakers are all in trouble. A lot will come down to the final round. The bakers will have four and a half hours to make a cube cake, which is a three-tier stack of mini cube cakes. They can be whatever flavors the bakers want, but they must be precise, uniform, and exquisitely decorated, and should the bakers make the cake tier supports out of edible materials, they will get extra points. It’s a fiddly, detailed bake, and one entirely appropriate for pâtisserie.

For his bake, Peter will be playing with chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio, making a sponge, mousse, and mirror glaze of each flavor and mixing and matching them to make his 25 mini cube cakes. It’s a lot to tackle, but he’s not worried, having had success in his practice runs. Hermine hasn’t been so lucky, so she’s abandoned her previous plan and will be trying something completely new. She’ll be making two variations of mini cube cakes, coffee and praline and chocolate and cherry. As she says, “If it works, that’ll be amazing.” It’s a massive risk, but one she feels good about.

Dave is taking a different kind of risk, celebrating chocolate with his three varieties of mini cube cakes. Given the expected heat in the tent, his white, milk, and dark chocolate glazes may not work. While he’s only making one type of sponge and mousse, he’s also chosen to make three different caramels, despite his difficulties with caramel in the technical, and he’s the only baker making his cake tier supports, which will be coffee and chocolate biscuits. Chocolate is a theme for Laura as well, who is the only baker making one type of mini cube cake, a Black Forrest-inspired recipe. Each cube will have five layers: a biscuit crumb, dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate bavarois, a chocolate sponge, and whole cherries, with a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Paul is a big fan of those flavors and is excited for her bake, but Prue gently reminds her she needs to step up her presentation. Laura’s really proud of the recipe, though, and certain she can execute it well.

Dave’s Celebration of Chocolate Cube Cake, The Great British Baking Show

Dave’s Celebration of Chocolate Cube Cake, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

There’s plenty of foreshadowing around the bakers’ use of gelatin, and this is where Hermine fans may start to get nervous. She’s unsure about her recipes. Hermine seems able to make a delicious sponge in her sleep, but mousse, with gelatin? That requires precision and viewers have been warned over and over this season about how easily it can go wrong. A quick cut to Laura shows she’s in trouble too—that’s definitely not how a mirror glaze should look—but Peter and Dave seem securely on track.

Hermine is still pouring her layers of mousse while the other bakers are getting their cakes out of their molds, a labor-intensive process. Dave and Peter are in the zone, but Laura’s work station is a mess, her glaze far too thin and seeping onto the floor. Meanwhile, Hermine’s coffee mousse is rubbery and she won’t be able to glaze her cubes. They’re a far cry from her standard and from the textures the other bakers have managed. Barring a shocking turnaround, Peter and Dave will be battling it out for Star Baker, and Hermine and Laura will be up for elimination.

Dave is first to be judged. His cakes look great, tidy and pristine and, as Matt mentions, the chocolate glazes are seemingly none the worse for wear despite the heat. As Paul and Prue cut into the cubes, the layers are defined and textures clear—Dave’s nailed it. The proportions are excellent and both judges love the flavor and textures. Paul commends Dave for his improvement over the course of the season; we have our finale underdog. Laura is next, her cakes an unappetizing mess. Paul blames the heat for her failed glaze, but that doesn’t track. Her glaze was off early in the round, it didn’t melt or thin as the temperatures rose. Both Paul and Prue hammer home their disappointment in the look, which Laura acknowledges. Once they cut in, though, the cakes look great. The mousse is smooth and even, the layers clear. Paul loves the flavors and Prue loves the textures, so depending on Hermine’s showing, Laura may just have a shot.

Peter’s Chocolate, Raspberry & Pistachio Cube Cake, The Great British Baking Show

Peter’s Chocolate, Raspberry & Pistachio Cube Cake, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Peter’s cubes aren’t quite as neat as Dave’s, but they’re certainly tempting. Paul and Prue try each of Peter’s combinations and they all look terrific. The textures and proportions are spot on and both judges compliment his flavors. Peter has distinguished himself, going above and beyond. In comparison, Hermine’s cube cake is a mess. Laura’s glaze may have run, but at least her cubes are structurally sound. The bottom layer of Hermine’s cake is buckling under the weight of the upper layers, threatening to collapse. The cherry mousse in Hermine’s cherry and chocolate cakes is overpowered by the freeze-dried raspberry garnish and her coffee and praline cakes are rubbery and stodgy, Hermine having misjudged the gelatin. There’s no way around it. Expectations were high for Hermine and not only has she not delivered to her standard, her textures and flavors are the worst of the tent.

Hermine’s demeanor is heartbreaking throughout. She knows she’s likely going home, despite having been the favorite going into the semifinal, but she puts on a brave face. She’s hyper aware that she’s being watched and her pains to stay cheery and upbeat only underscore the crushing disappointment she must be feeling. The judges’ deliberations are more compelling than usual, with Noel actively repping Team Hermine. Looking at Hermine and Laura’s cakes side-by-side, Laura’s is definitely the better of the two, and Laura seemed to edge out Hermine in their Battle of the Babas. However, Hermine was much better in the technical and she’s been stronger all season.

It’s smart to include Noel’s turn as Devil’s advocate, anticipating the audience’s reaction. Unfortunately, the judges decide to play up the element of surprise, to the episode’s detriment. Paul’s, “It could go either way” is disingenuous. All season, they’ve judged each episode standalone, which means perennial second-to-last Laura has earned her place in the finale. Pretending it’s a toss-up makes their decision to eliminate Hermine feel punitive rather than justified, punishing her for failing to live up to their heightened expectations. It also sends Laura to the finale with the air of a coddled favorite, rather than an equal competitor whose delicious flavors have more than earned her that slot.

In the end, Peter’s strong signature and technical win help him edge out Dave for Star Baker, sending him to the finale the new front-runner. Dave’s nipping at his heels, though, and raring to go. After a heartfelt build-up from Noel, Hermine is eliminated. It’s hugs all around, the judges commending her for her excellent baking, but her interview is tough to watch, as Hermine does her best to be okay with her elimination. This is the hardest cut all season and it’s one fans are likely to remember for a while. The final three are not who many will have expected, wunderkind Peter facing off against flavor queen Laura and dark horse Dave, but they are all talented, creative bakers. Hopefully the finale will deliver, sending the season out on an affirming, satisfying note.

Stray observations

  • Perhaps they’re an established trend in baking, but cube cakes just seem like more complicated petit fours.
  • Laura is likely to get blamed by some fans for Hermine not making the final, but Hermine got in her own way this episode. I can’t help but wonder how differently this episode would have gone had she had the usual week at home to practice and hone her recipes.
  • After the many rough eliminations this season, I’m newly primed for an all-returnees season of Bake Off, featuring bakers who were front-runners but faltered either right before the finale or after a string of successful episodes. If they eventually do such a season, fingers crossed the producers bring Hermine back, should she wish to return.

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