Welcome to the Eater round-up of Great British Bake Off 2021, as Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, and Noel Fielding return to Channel 4 with the 12th series of cakes, puddings, breads, and inevitable recourse to terrible baking puns. Filmed again in a bio-secure coronavirus bubble, Paul Hollywood’s terrible handshake is here, sweaty as ever, and the tent stands on.
Great British Bake Off 2021 Episode 7 was Caramel Week. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged a caramel tart signature; a trademark violating “caramel biscuit bar” technical, and a sugar dome showstopper, as the seventh episode of GBBO kicked off. There was high expectation, burning sugar, and myriad opportunities to reference Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic, ‘Kubla Khan.’
Caramel week? Needs salt
The only thing more certain than sugar going into caramel at any time in world history, is salt going into caramel on any food TV competition at least ten years after it was actually cool.
So thank you to Crystelle for the obligatory miso caramel element in her signature, fulfilling the necessary food world prophecies. Meanwhile, the breadth of this “caramel tart” challenge actually worked, where sometimes taking such broad strokes can mean flavours or presentation overawe understanding the assignment. Some chose to bake caramel tarts, adding time pressure and freezer pressure to their work; others chose to make a straight-chilled tart, which made things easier, but could also leave them lacking in the ambition stakes. After last week’s return to form in Pastry Week, perhaps the show is back on track... Oh, no. Wait. What’s that? The judges say the baked good centred on one key flavour, caramel, has too much of the one key flavour, caramel, which is also the centre of the entire episode? But, also, the flavour is not caramel enough? Oh. Okay. Sorry Giuseppe: you’ve been done.
Jürgen took that personally
It had evidently been too long — one week — since Jürgen or Giuseppe won Star Baker. So Jürgen duly stepped up, taking home his third of the series and putting him back at the top of the table alongside his Italian rival. However, none of them can count on the security of consistent success. Because ...
Yes, they’re Twixes, we get it.
Great British Bake Off is approaching its annual tipping point
Following the penultimate episode of Great British Bake Off 2020, Paul Hollywood accounted for Hermine’s unexpected and undeserved elimination by saying that those “new to Bake Off” might not have understood that each week is judged independently of the other. As this writer wrote last year:
If that’s what Great British Bake Off wants to be, that’s cool, but it plainly is not. The judges regularly discuss previous weeks in deliberations; previous Star Bakers are constantly brought up; themes are revisited. It’s a series! Of course they are!
So if GBBO does want to go by week by week, it needs to do it properly, and also ask who that actually serves. One of the show’s strengths has always been its investment in the bakers’ journeys — they tell everyone how it’s going, people find their favourites, and they care about how well they do. If everyone knew that those previous weeks didn’t matter, then maybe the fandom would change; the problem with Hermine’s elimination, and Sura’s earlier in the series, was that it felt like the judges were telling the audience to care about every episode and then telling them that they had been fools to do so, because they didn’t matter at all.
This mode of judging also doesn’t serve the contestants: broad technical mastery should guarantee success in a show that is called The Great British Bake Off.
So, with five bakers remaining, where will the series go? If betting, one would have to tell viewers to expect a surprise Jürgen or Giuseppe elimination. Imagine the scenes.
Credit to the challenge where it’s due
To repeat last week’s mantra: Showstoppers can often be ludicrous, over-the-top challenges deliberately designed to create failure and/or suspense over and above testing people’s ability. But pâté en croûte was a winner in Pastry Week, and this week’s stately sugar domes were also a hit. It could be argued that they were somewhat tangential to the cakes upon which they were placed, but Lizzie’s ingenious inversion showed that they did allow for invention — and also suggested that the final four isn’t quite as predictable as it seems.
Star baker: Jürgen
Going home: George
Running theme: Xanadu?