I cannot really capture in words how happy I am that Great British Bake Off is back, week to week (series 11 in the UK; season eight on Netflix), gracing me with Noel’s covetable oversized blouses and Paul Hollywood’s steely gaze. I’ve never warmed to Prue (I think her judging style is very inconsistent) and new judge Matt Lucas is low-key driving me insane (his history of blackface, which Pajiba’s UK contingent told me about, doesn’t help), but at least this season is better than the last! I hated that Goth contestant! Remember when no one knew how to make lemon curd! That whole “youngest contestants ever!” season of GBBO was a mess!
So here we are, with a new group of contestants—including Emma Stone in disguise—and we’re in week five, and things are going mostly fine. We’ve already gone through Cake, Biscuits, Bread, and Chocolate. Paul and Prue kept Rowan around too long based on his potential when the man had never once completed a challenge on time, but otherwise, I haven’t found any of their decisions particularly appalling. And after last week’s brownies fiasco, it’s Pastry Week! The remaining eight bakers were trying to bounce back as well as they could! They made pasties for the signature, reminding me that I need to find a place near me that makes Jamaican beef patties so I can order approximately 27 of them to eat a time. They struggled with the technical, which was making three raspberry eclairs and three caramel eclairs. And the showstopper seemed very daunting indeed: make a tart, and then make a cage out of whatever type of pastry to cover it.
This is a patently ridiculous challenge, yes, but at first I thought, “Well, this has precedent.” Isn’t a Baked Alaska sort of like a meringue cage? The contestants had to make that in the Desserts episode of GBBO series five/Netflix season one! (Remember #BinGate, the drama with Diana possibly leaving Iain’s ice cream out of the freezer, and he threw it away and got eliminated, and then Diana mysteriously didn’t return to the competition?)
And remember, also in the Desserts episode, of series nine/Netflix season six, when the contestants had to make a chocolate dome and a sauce that would melt the dome, revealing the cake or tart ensconced inside? The heat in the tent was miserable. The chocolate domes were melting as the contestants worked with them. My favorite was from contestant Jon, who named the dessert after his daughters as Lucy and Hannah’s Ballet Cake, and it looked stupendous. The judges tasted the dessert, the chocolate dome, and the sauce altogether. It was very impressive!
So: Putting one thing in another thing is not necessarily an unexpected GBBO task. And when the GBBO judges ask for these ridiculous things, they taste them. There has to be a point to the work they’re asking the contestants to perform; otherwise, this is just torture! So, what in the actual hell went on with this past week’s showstopper, when they asked the contestants to make all these pastry cages and then just … didn’t taste any of them?
Noel mentions that the “caged tarts” will be judged, and Prue mentions that the showstoppers need to taste good, but then Paul just lifts the cage off each tart and puts it to the side and … like … that’s it! Not one cage is tasted! Not one corner snapped off to chomp on! How many gingerbread houses have we seen nibbled? How many sculptures? How many bread loaves? Anything baked or cooked or sauced is fair game for judgment. But these cages, not even one bite.
Not the cage covering Dave’s Chocolate, Mango and Lime Tart. Not the cage covering Hermine’s Lime Confit and Lemon Meringue Tart. Not the cage covering Laura’s Kent Garden Tent. Not the cage covering Linda’s Gypsy Tart (although, sadly, there wasn’t much of it because Linda couldn’t keep the strips intact while detaching them). Not the cage covering Lottie’s Apple Tree Tart. Not the cage covering Marc’s Posh Apple & Blackberry Pie Tart. Not the cage covering Mark’s Mes-SAGE in a Bottle Tart (although, like Linda, he unfortunately didn’t have much to present because his puff pastry crumbled). And not the cage covering Peter’s Blackberry and Lemon Tart.
Excuse my wonky Microsoft Paint work; I’M A WRITER, OKAY, NOT AN ARTIST. Anyway, the whole challenge and how fully the judges ignore half of it is weird! It seemed like a gigantic waste of the contestants’ time!
Why did they have to bake a “cage” for their tarts if they don’t even eat the pasty cage? #GBBO— Vote No on Amendment 1 (@franckhertz) October 24, 2020
So the showstopper challenge is to spend half of the time making a tart, and the other half making a cage that Paul Hollywood can move 6 inches starboard?— Füzžy📺Böx™ (@FuzzyTellybox) October 20, 2020
For the love of God, WHY?!#GBBO
What was the fucking point of the cage then? They haven’t even tried it? It’s just to make them fuck about instead of letting them concentrate on making an extra nice tart. #GBBO— Victoria 👻🎃 (@vickyallover) October 20, 2020
Am I getting sort of obsessive over this? YES! I AM! Because I have this distinct memory from series six/season three on Netflix, in the semifinal Chocolate episode, when Nadiya, Ian, Tamal, and Flora had to make a sculpture using chocolate and biscuits. When Flora shared that she was using crispy rice to keep her carousel together and give it structure, Paul clarified that whatever was used for the challenge had to be tasted as part of the judging. So the crispy rice, too, had to be evaluated, and its was overly bitter and crumbly. Flora was eliminated that episode, and I think of that episode often because it seemed to give us some insight into what the judges expect. If you serve it to them, they’re gonna taste it and judge it, and that feedback is going to factor into whether you stay or go.
Back to this episode: So why wasn’t that the case with these cages? At the judges’ and hosts’ final discussion, they again mention how “astonishing” the cages were, save for the failures of Linda and Mark. But who cares, man! You didn’t even EAT the things! What was the goddamn POINT?
Note: Friend of Pajiba Tara Ariano noted that it looked like maybe a cage had been nibbled …
I was mad at that too!!! When they showed them afterward during the discussion portion it looked like pieces were missing from at least some of the cages so maybe they did off-camera, but…why, then— Tara Ariano (@TaraAriano) October 24, 2020
… But I went back and no one mentions how the cages taste, just their structural integrity. There is only one shot of Dave’s chocolate pastry cage, which looks like some pieces were snapped off, but no one talks about this. No other cage laid out on the table, or shown on the presentation platters, looks like it was tasted. Which, again, seems like some bullshit!
I’m going to end on this note, which I’m sure will enrage Dustin, because my man hates Paul Hollywood with the fire of a thousand blazing suns. I actually find Paul mostly fairly amusing because he’s convinced of his own rightness all the time, and you gotta love a rich, blandly handsome white man so sure of his own authority in this one niche area, but even my patience was tried on this. When judging Lottie’s tart, which did not have any sides, he wonders: Did she fit the challenge? Did she really follow the rules?
I DON’T KNOW, PAUL, DID YOU AND PRUE ABIDE BY THE BRIEF? DID YOU FOLLOW THE RULES? DID YOU EAT WHAT WAS PRESENTED TO YOU? WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING HERE? WHAT IS BAKING? I HAVE A LOT OF OTHER THINGS I WANT TO YELL ABOUT RIGHT NOW, AND I AM GOING TO TAKE ALL THAT RAGE OUT HERE! FUCK YOU, PASTRY CAGES, YOU DUMB IDIOTS!
Series 11 of The Great British Bake Off is currently airing on Channel 4 on Tuesday nights in the UK and streaming on Netflix for American viewers as season eight of The Great British Baking Show, with a new episode added each Friday.
Header Image Source: Netflix