It’s week five of The Great British Baking Show, and contestants are about to be confronted with their most challenging theme to date: Alternative ingredients. Breads without gluten! Cakes without eggs! Ice cream without dairy! Ian without secret herbs in his pants!
Speaking of Ian, Mel and Sue bring up the fact that he’s been dominating the field in the opening seconds of this episode. The producers try to pull an American and get the other contestants to “trash talk” him in their confessionals, but it just comes across as adorable. Their confessionals take place in a lush landscaped garden with bunny rabbits hopping across it. They have a goddamn prison warden on the show making sugar flowers and macarons. Do they not get Bravo across the pond? Someone needs to send Brandi Glanville over there to show these people how it’s done.
First Challenge: Sugar Free Cake
I have never been a fan of sugar-free baked goods. Generally they’re made with artificial sugar substitutes like Splenda, which are designed to not be absorbed by the body, meaning that in large quantities they will give you explosive diarrhea and possibly cancer. But enough about that—let’s talk about cake!
While the challenge is “sugar-free,” everyone is still using some form of sugar: either honey or agave. The only contestant that comes remotely close to making an actual sugar-free cake is Mat, who makes a carrot cake that’s getting most of its sweetness from chopped up dates and (shudder) raisins. The worst ingredient in the world which always answers the question “I wonder what it would be like to be surprised by a random chunk of slime in this cake?” Contestant Paul has also opted to make a carrot cake using sultanas, which are nothing but golden raisins using an alias in an attempt to bullshit you. If I was the judge, they’d both be losers.
Ugne, our resident competitive bodybuilder and health food blogger, decides not only to do an agave cake, she also decided to make it gluten-free, and she uses her own flour blend, and it contains whey protein powder, because why the hell not. On her blog it looks beautiful! On the show, it collapses. Mary Berry tells her that she tried to do too many things that they didn’t ask for. This isn’t the Olympics: You don’t get extra points for the difficulty of your routine. Especially when your cake is the equivalent of a gymnast falling off a balance beam, ripping off her unitard, and setting herself on fire.
Embracing simplicity, and doing it well, is a lesson that has repeatedly been stressed on this show: Mary waxing poetic on Madeira cakes, Paul extolling the virtues of a perfect baguette. Alvin seems to be the only contestant today who remembers this; he makes a classic pineapple upside down cake, with maraschino cherries and agave. He finishes an hour before the rest of the contestants, and begins to fret that he hasn’t done enough. Unlike other contestants who have previously found themselves in the same predicament, Alvin wisely sticks to his guns, serves the cake as-is, and the judges go wild over it.
Tamal makes a grapefruit polenta cake and is predictably cute and goofy and I think I’m starting to fall in love with him a little bit. The judges love him, too. Know who they don’t love? Ian. He serves a beautiful cake covered with edible violets, which Mary says is lovely and simple, “but perhaps, a little too simple.” WTF, Berry?!?! You don’t get to have both. Fortunately Paul comes straight out and says the cake tastes like crap, so he covers for your feeble attempts to knock the crown off the king. But I’m onto you, lady.
Technical Challenge: Gluten Free Pita Breads
This week’s recipe is supplied by Paul, and I have absolutely have no idea what they’re talking about for five minutes because the Brits pronounce it “pidda bread.” This means I’m unable to understand one of Mel and Sue’s puns this round, which is fine by me because I hate puns more than I hate raisins and artificial sweeteners.
Our winner this round is Nadiya! This is a major victory for her, since she’s been close to last place in nearly every technical challenge. But the bigger story here is Golden Boy Ian, whose pitas placed him fifth out of eight. The judges whisper he’s in danger of going home because after being perfect for weeks, he has placed in the middle of the pack twice today. Take note of that, B students of the world! If you try your best and succeed, everything else you do that isn’t perfect will be seen as failure. In the tent, and in life, never aim high. Aim somewhere towards the middle, and try to be adorable. Like Flora!
Showstopper: Non-Dairy Ice Cream Roll
Ice Cream Roll is essentially the British Fudgie the Whale: a classic everyday ice cream cake that eschews our American penchant for excess. Theirs is entirely sensible: vanilla ice cream, a spot of jam, and vanilla sponge cake, shaped like a log.
The contestants are tasked with making their own ice cream, with the caveat that it must not contain any dairy. Tamal decides to use coconut milk and put a tropical spin on things… and then realizes that Ian, Contestant Paul, Mat, and Alvin have all decided to do the same thing.
Two of the contestants are bringing elements of their heritage into the challenge, which I can’t get enough of. Nadiya, whose family is from Bangladesh, decorates her chocolate-strawberry-lime roll by piping a henna-inspired inlay into her sponge. Alvin adds a splash of pandan extract to his coconut ice cream, a play on a Filipino dessert known as buko pandan that I need to seek out and try immediately.
Now to my favorite moment in the history of this show. It revolves around the only thing I hate more than raisins and artificial sweeteners put together: FONDANT. That disgusting edible Playdoh that normally acts as nothing but a cutesy cloak to meant to disguise really shitty cake making. Contestant Paul is doing a mango coconut ice cream roll that will look like a desert island, with palm tree images inlaid into the sponge, and topped with a bikini-clad sunbather sculpted from fondant. He decides to keep her naked, then dress her while on the cake, and Mel becomes very concerned that there’s no “gusset” covering, as the Brits would say, “her minge.”
Then the hysterics start, and I have a lighting bolt moment: These people are as shamelessly perverted as I am! Even Golden Boy Ian, who is making a sugar sculpture of a coconut tree, is in on this: Mel says “I love your hanging nuts”, and Ian responds “Yeah, I had to put three, instead of two, for obvious reasons.” THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I’m no longer worried about receiving a restraining order from the Paul Hollywood estate.
Sadly, not everyone gets to stay in the raunchiest tent in England, and bodybuilder Ugne is sent home after another disastrous round. Her peanut butter ice cream did not set firmly because she had ribboned it with jam, and even though the flavors were fantastic, they could not look past the fact it was a sloppy, melted mess. Later, she would tell The Daily Mail, “it’s a terrible moment when you know your baking has failed and your dreams are crumbling around you,” and that her loss depressed her to the point where she was unable to bake or bodybuild for an entire week.
We pull out of the emotional nosedive by the credits, because this week's star baker is not Ian, but Nadiya! She of the henna roll and the perfect pita—she has finally gotten the big win she’s needed after struggling all season to find her groove. The final moment we see is her talking about how proud she is of herself, and then I start to get misty eyed. This show, guys. This show gets me in the feels every goddamn time.
NEXT EPISODE: Pastry! Next week we’re due for a technical challenge from Mary, so expect another dessert that no one has eaten since 1948.
Did you watch this week's episode? Do you think the right person went home? Tell us in the comments.