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The Hardest Challenge The Great British Baking Show Has Ever Seen

August  9, 2016

Allison Robicelli will be recapping each episode of the new season. Read her last, and tune in to the show on PBS.

Photo by James Ransom

It’s Pastry Week! Again!

Opening Challenge: Frangipane Tart

Why isn’t this more popular in America? Buttery flaky pie crust filled with rich almond cream—is it because the almonds make it too healthy? It usually has fruit in it, too. Maybe if we replace that with rainbow sprinkles and bacon, it can become a thing here.

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This is a softball challenge, because it really isn’t hard to make a good frangipane tart; I’m almost certain that the entire purpose of this challenge was to get Mary Berry to say:

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Top Comment:
“Ok, ok....laughing like a maniac! ”
— Marsha

It’s a real test not to get a soggy bottom..”

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ANYTHING SO AMAZING IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE?!?!?! I wonder if she knows what she’s saying. I’m sure she does at least a little, as she’s spent several years huffing Paul Hollywood’s pheromones and I’m sure that messes up your brain.

But if Paul’s hormones haven’t messed up the universe’s favorite grandma, then surely hanging out with resident perverts Mel and Sue has. The judges come to Alvin, our resident straight-laced nurse and father of two, who is hiding a layer of homemade plum jam under his frangipane and fanning out plum slices in concentric circles on the top. Mel immediately seized the opportunity to blurt out “How do you fan your plums?”

Tamal opts to go the traditional route, adding pears to his tart, but in a twist he decided to poach them in mulled wine for a bit of a Christmas-y feel. And for the second week in a row, Contestant Paul has the same exact idea. Goddamnit, Tamal! Get a tinfoil hat and keep this man out of your brain!

Golden Boy Ian—he of the “magic rosemary from my field” and “foraged garlic from a shaded countryside glen”—is also going traditional with a pear tart, but with a secret twist. You ready for this? He brought guinea fowl eggs from his own chicken coop. How am I not supposed to want to punch you in the face, Ian? Can you tell me that?

All the drama from this round comes from the blind baking debate. Personally, I always blind bake, but some of these guys decide not to risk it, fearing the additional time needed to make the frangipane will cause the crust to burn. I’m not sure why they would think this, since they’re told this challenge ahead of time and given a week to prepare, but I suspect it’s because they all want to hear Mary talk more about their soggy bottoms. We get some burnt crusts, some soggy bottoms, and some “spot on” flavors. Poor Alvin once again mismanaged his time, and although he had two hours, turns out a raw tart. As always, he apologizes about 100 times while on the verge of tears, then in the confessional segment, mentions that his father was a general in the Filipino military and “failure is not an option.”

It’s just a tart, dude! When I mess things up, I just chop them up, layer them in a bowl with some whipped cream, and call it a trifle, which coincidentally is the most famous dessert to come out of Britain. Having things fail and then covering it up with whipped cream is a hallowed tradition going back thousands of years, so you’re good here, buddy. Welcome to England.

Technical Challenge: ??????

Unlike the first challenge and the showstopper round, the bakers do not know what the technical challenge is ahead of time—the reveal happens right in the tent. And this week's challenge, courtesy of Paul, is... FLOWNA! Flounauts? Flahornas?

I have no idea what they’re saying, nor do the contestants, nor does Mary Berry. It’s a savory pastry stuffed with cheese from Cyprus—Flaouna. Mary points out that this is the hardest challenge that they’ve ever had on the show, and Paul begins to cackle. He’s gone from bad boy to Bond villain, and I am doubly turned on by this.

The mystery ingredients are mahlab, which is a powder made from ground cherry pits, and mastic, a sticky tree resin which acts as a binder in small quantities—the Mediterranean version of pectin. In larger quantities it can be used as wood varnish, so I can understand why Mary is concerned. While Paul is enjoying his sadism, Mary understands the flaw in his evil plan: They’re the ones who will have to eat these things.

Mary points out that this is the hardest challenge that they’ve ever had on the show, and Paul begins to cackle.

Aside from not understanding the ingredients, the contestants don’t understand the dough, because evil genius Paul gave them no directions outside of “make the dough.” It has yeast in it, so maybe it’s supposed to be kneaded? After a few minutes of everyone kneading, Flora exclaims “Wait a minute—isn’t this pastry week?” and everyone’s self doubt immediately intensifies by twelve billion percent.

Villain Paul criticizes the shapes of the fl????na, which I thought were pretty good considering the fact that no one has ever seen one of these in their lives. He gave no instructions regarding the thickness of the dough, how large they should have been, or how much filling each should have contained. Even though they all get ripped apart, it seems they all “taste like a fl????na.”

Showstopper Challenge: Vol-au-vents

It’s time to tackle puff pastry with the king of the 1970s cocktail party: vol-au-vents! Little puff pastry cups that can be filled with just about anything you please, from truffles and foie gras to spray cheese and pimento olives. The 70s were weird, guys.

The fun part of a challenge like this is that it gives the bakers a very simple base recipe to go crazy with. Alvin sticks with the 70s theme and makes Chicken à la King. Nadiya makes her family’s Bengali recipes. Tamal’s is inspired by the greatest sandwich he ever ate. Ian, I believe, is still reeling from losing star baker this week, and is on a mission to out-Ian himself by making a scallop and bacon creation that’s doused with squid ink for absolutely no good reason. He mentions he’s a little nervous, because he made some for his wife and she hated it. And so do the judges, because this was a terrible idea. Mary even tells him that he’s trying too hard.

Now let’s get to our other two hot messes: Nadiya and Alvin. Man, Alvin is not having a good day. He completely under-bakes his pastries, and cannot remove himself from the verge of tears. Nadiya, while rolling out her puff, notices that her butter is breaking up because it’s frozen and decides she needs to make it again, which undoes her. The second batch does not have long enough to chill, and when baked, all the butter melts straight out. (Nadiya: Even if your butter breaks up, the dough will still work!) Though they are the bottom two, Nadiya pulls ahead thanks to her sublime Bengali fillings, and Alvin is sent home, giving a million apologies on his way out.

Our star baker today, though, is Mat! Who saw that one coming a few weeks ago? His pastry was perfect, his fillings fantastic, and for some reason, Mary Berry punches him twice in the stomach hard enough to wind him. Has she been beating the contestants the entire time? Is Mat a whistleblower? Tune in next week to find out more!

NEXT WEEK: Victorian! We’re going back in time to make even more recipes that no one has ever heard of, but that Mary Berry probably bakes at home once a week.


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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.


Marsha August 16, 2016
Ok, ok....laughing like a maniac!
Peg H. August 9, 2016
Omg! roflmao! I love this show but I might love your commentary more!
Hannah W. August 9, 2016
Still my favorite series of articles on the site right now. I'm laughing out loud reading this at the office. Can't wait for you to catch up, Allison! The season finally airs this Friday!!!