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A Crème Brûlée, a Tiered Cheesecake & a Dessert Nobody's Heard Of

July 26, 2016

Allison Robicelli will be recapping each episode, week-by-week. Read her last, and tune in to the show on PBS.

Welcome back to to Welford Park in beautiful, overcast England for episode four of The Great British Baking Show! This week is “Desserts,” which is an extremely vague title.

Desserts, or egg proteins? Photo by James Ransom

If we were going for accuracy this episode would have been titled “Egg Proteins,” which I suppose isn’t as exciting to the average viewer as it is to me. Because let me tell you guys, egg proteins are my jam: Last week’s bread episode gave the the quivers because it’s not my forte, but this week? Man, I would have dominated this round so hard. At least I would have in my head, because I’ve been on food game shows before and it’s the complete opposite of real life. I like to imagine that the loveliest show in Britain is far different behind the scenes. They probably have beautiful plush chairs, get fed, get to use the loo whenever they want without interns watching them, and get neck rubs from Paul Hollywood. Have you seen his hands? Those bad boys have been working dough for decades. I wouldn’t mind them working me for a bit—nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

First challenge: Crème Brûlée

Mat, our resident firefighter and David Tennant lookalike, decides to do a coconut and lime number, saying that he likes the combination because it’s sweet but not sickly. Paul glares at him like he had told him he banged his mom and says “So you think coconut is sweet, then?” and Mat starts trembling and stuttering and making sure there are no knives anywhere close to Paul’s grasp. This is troubling, but also adds to Paul Hollywood’s bad boy appeal. I wonder what other fruits and vegetables whip him into a violent rage.

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Golden Boy Ian has opted to make a crème brûlée using pomegranate not one way, but two whole ways! There will be fresh seeds in the custard, and also a pool of pomegranate molasses at the base, which Paul claims he has never heard of. I’d call bullshit on this, seeing as they’re grown in Cyprus and are featured heavily in its cuisine, and I’ve got six chapters about Paul’s years living there in the unauthorized biography I’ve been writing (one is about food, the other five are descriptions of what I think he looks like in various swimsuits). But I know he wouldn’t be lying to us, because this isn’t American television. The Brits stand for integrity.

Sandy opts to make hers with lemon and melted liquorice candies because she’s obviously lost her mind.

I’m starting to feel like there’s something seriously wrong here. Perhaps they had just sprayed the lawn for voles. Perhaps Silence has Fallen inside of the tent. Whatever is happening in this episode isn’t what I normally expect from these contestants.

Not everyone is successful. Mat underbaked and didn’t get a good caramel. Contestant Paul over-baked and added too much liquor. Sandy’s didn’t set at all and, you know, added liquorice. But Ian did very well, even though Paul said he hated the “newfangled” pomegranate molasses, as did Tamal, who I am slowly beginning to fancy. His rhubarb and ginger crème brûlée is beautifully flavored, with just the perfect amount of wobble.

Whatever is happening in this episode isn’t what I normally expect from these contestants.

Technical Challenge

Before they reveal what recipe she’s selected, Mary Berry offers this sage advice: “Read the recipe thoroughly, then try to visualize what it should look like at the end.” And with this, we learn our technical challenge is Spanische Windtorte, another dessert that no one under the age of 80 has ever heard of.

Here, from Wikipedia:

Often called “the fanciest cake in Vienna”, it is a dessert that became popular during the Baroque period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Spanish reference is due to the Austrian House of Habsburg and their fascination with Spain.

The House of Habsburg actually controlled Spain for nearly two centuries, during which they took over most of the world and were known for their inbreeding: The final Habsburg, Charles II, was severely deformed and completely insane. Though they may be extinct, we will always have this elegant tower of meringue to help us remember them.

The French meringue is first piped into a series of identical rings, as well as two discs. Once baked and dried, they are carefully be stacked, coated with even meringue to create a hollow vessel, then baked again. It is then piped decoratively with Swiss meringue, which, while also made of egg whites and sugar, has a completely different taste and texture—it’s akin to marshmallow. It’s baked again, filled with strawberries and whipped cream, and then topped with ugly-ass violets made from edible Play-doh, because after doing all that work, why use actual candied violets? Why not make it look like a sad excuse for a Mother’s Day craft from preschool?

Contestant Paul ends up winning this round, keeping the momentum going after his big Bread Week victory. Sandy messes up pretty badly again, but rallies herself to turn it out in round three.

Showstopper Round

This week the contestants are tasked with making three tiered cheesecakes. The one caveat that is given is that the cheesecake must be sweet and not savory. Thank GOD. I hate getting all stoked for cheesecake, then getting a mouth full of tarragon. Don’t toy with my emotions like that. And then stupid jerk Ian decides to make herb cheesecakes. Damnit, Ian. I don’t want to hate anyone on this show now that stupid hat guy is gone, but you’re pushing it. Stop smuggling wild things foraged from your 400 person village into the tent.

Mat, who has been in trouble, opts to do three cheesecakes based on candy bars: peanut butter, honeycomb, and, once again, coconut. I think he’s morbidly curious to find out just what it is about coconut that seems to set Paul off. My guess? Attacked as a child by a flock of migratory swallows. He finally has a long overdue success here, with the judges raving over every layer.

Beautiful 19 year old Flora, who has come in second or third in nearly every competition, decided to make an elderflower and granola cheesecake, because she’s secretly 90.

We get good efforts from all of the contestants save Sandy, who for the third straight round is a hot mess: One cake is raw, the other is unevenly cooked, and even though the challenge was for a tiered cake, she has made them all the same size and just stacked them on top of each other. Our darling Tamal tries to help, because he is the nicest guy in a tent full of nice guys, but nothing helps her. She is the one leaving us this week.

Next up: Alternative Ingredients! Our bakers are going gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free. I have high hopes this will be the most interesting episode of the season. Or it will be horrific. Let us know what you thought of this episode in the comments.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Allison Robicelli is a James Beard-nominated food writer, a Publisher's Weekly-starred author, and lots of other fun things. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she currently lives with her two sons and four cats in Baltimore, Maryland.


Scott W. September 28, 2016
You are so goddamn funny it's not even funny goddammit! By the by, my wife bought me your book "A Love Story With Cupcakes". Wheeeeeee!!!!! <3
Kris T. July 29, 2016
I love these recaps as much as the show. Loved the Monty Python reference!
chefrockyrd July 29, 2016
I look SO forward to reading these recaps. I have watched all of the episodes but go back and rewatch after reading your hysterical words. Thanks for making my day.
Laughing so hard i am crying.
Zainab July 28, 2016
No mention of Nadiya's incredible soda pop cheesecakes with the cascade of Swiss meringue? It's been a year and I'm still mad that that bake didn't win her star baker.
Allison R. July 28, 2016
There's a lot to cover! I'm doing my best!
Zainab July 28, 2016
Ack, sorry if that came off a little harsh! I'm loving your recaps; just hoped Nadiya's cheesecakes might get a mention because of Paul's look of pure joy when he tried that cream soda extract. I didn't even know his face could do that.
Maria V. July 26, 2016
You are hilarious. Keep 'em coming.