American viewers may not know this, but The Great British Baking Show started partly as a history program. The initial first season (which never aired here in the U.S.) was one-part baking contest, one-part fundraising initiative, and one-part "history of baking." It wasn't just Bread Week because that's what the contestants were baking. The tent was also located at a historical landmark in a city known for its bread, while Sue and Mel (famous for the food history program The Supersizers Go...) visited factories in town that had supplied England's population with bread since the 9th century, 200 years before William the Conqueror.
By the time the show reached the U.S., these had reduced to a single five-minute segment, which PBS edited out, airing it as bonus footage at the end of the program. When the show moved to Channel 4, Sue and Mel walked, and those segments left with them. But by then, the show had a new way to fold in baking history, after the wild success of "Victorian Week" in Season 6 (Season 3 for us). Welcome to the Roaring 20s, GBBO's tribute to Downton Abbey.
(The show never mentions Downton, but the timing of the episode coinciding with the movie's release isn't an accident. Especially since before this, Historical Baking Week always fell just before the Quarter Finals or was the Quarter Final, while this is far earlier, when bakers who will not be able to manage are still here.)
Speaking of who can manage, the Signature Bake is to make four Custard Pies. (These are only 1920s by the flavoring and decor. The cakes date back to the Middle Ages.) As always this is scored on a Pass/Fail metric.
- David Fancy Custards Pass (Hollywood Handshake.) Paul loves how professional they look; Noel loves how flirty the girls are.
- Michael Mango, Lime & Ginger Pies Pass. It could have been fuller.
- Priya Lemon & Raspberry Ripple Pies Fail. She boiled the custard in the oven, and the decor is a disaster.
- Alice Chocolate & Orange Custard Pies Fail. Too orange
- Steph Zesty Citrus Custard Pies Pass. Custard and pastry are perfect
- Michelle Blueberry & White Chocolate Crème Brûlée Pies Fail. Zero flavor
- Henry 1920's Pies Pass, but Barely. They're overbaked, but the flavor is good.
- Helena Lemon and Lavender Pies Fail. These are Evil Kraken Pies, but the flavors sadly are terrible.
- Rosie Little Blackberry Pies Fail on Numbers. She accidentally knocked one off the counter while pulling them out of the oven.
Prue sets the Technical Challenge, which is a dozen and a half Beignet Soufflés. Two words I wouldn't have thought to add together, but nevermind. The faces of the contestants suggest they feel the same. Sandi explains it's a fried choux-ball, filled with raspberry jam and sabayon on the side. So it's a French jelly donut with custard dip. Beignets descend from Roman times, but Prue insists these were a popular dessert of the 1920s.
We have contestants who don't know what Pâte à Choux is, and others who have never heard of a sabayon. Let's run down how disastrous the results are.
9. David: He made raw churros.
8. Michael: They're raw, but his sauce is perfect
7. Michelle: They look like potatoes
6. Alice: Too dark, sauce split
5. Rosie: A little dark, and too much jam
4. Steph: They're all different shapes
3. Henry: All different shapes, but the structure's good.
2. Priya: Good structure, but her sauce is all wrong
1. Helena: Good shape, right amount of jam, sauce split, but they let it slide
There's no obvious frontrunner going into the Showstopper, which is a "Prohibition Era Cake." These should be two-tier cakes inspired by cocktails, which were highly popular on both sides of the pond in the 1920s, and the decor should celebrate the '20s. Unfortunately, several contestants pick the same cocktails. There are four Piña Colada cakes and two White Russian cakes out of nine total, which means there are contests within the overall competition as six bakers are in a head to head with each other.
Michael’s Brambling Cake Prue and Paul love the look of it, and the lemon sponge is good, but there's no blackberry flavor.
Helena’s Vampire's Kiss Raspberry Vodka Cake Prue can't keep a straight face at the decor. Paul laughs at the red interior. Prue says it would be a decent cake "with her eyes closed."
Henry’s White Russian Cake The first of the White Russians gets high marks for the Art Deco design, but the cake is dry.
Rosie’s White Russian Cake Prue loves the decor, and the cake is moist, but her ganache frosting is "like a bar of chocolate." Still, Rosie wins this head to head.
David’s Amaretto Sour Cake The tiers sunk into each other, and the buttercream broke, but the cake itself is quite tasty.
Alice’s Piña Colada Cake The first of the Colada cakes is a mess, and the pineapple chunks are too big.
Priya’s Meena Colada Cake The decor is on her Colada cake is on the higher end of the four. Great flavor too.
Steph’s Sour Lime Piña Colada Cake It is a literal Piña Colada, decorated to look like the drink. The lime sponge is incredible; Paul says he's never tasted anything like it. It is the winner of the Piña Colada Cake-Off.
Michelle’s My Little Sister the Dancing Queen's Piña Colada Cake It's too much, with disco cherries, a cake decor stripe, and a bottom tier that looks like a pastel 1980s sweatshirt. Also, she attempted coconut shavings which don't work in a cake.
This week's Star Baker goes to Steph for a second week in a row. And because Paul never threatened it once the whole hour, this is the double-elimination episode. Unsurprising, this was a super tough week to have come so early. As the loser of the Piña Colada Cake-Off, Michelle is cut. Helena is also cut, which is a tragedy for goth cakes everywhere. At least we'll always have the Kraken.