Great British Baking Show Power Rankings – Desserts Week

If you’re like me, you are a perpetual prisoner to your own ignorance. Despite my best efforts, every season I’ve seen of the Great British Baking Show has featured a week called ‘Desserts Week’ or something similar, and every time I see this I think to myself, “But like, at least 85% of everything made on this show is a dessert! If they’re gonna start have a ‘Desserts Week’, they might as well just call it ‘Baking Week’!” I know on some level that the word ‘Desserts’ here means something more specific than the broad category of items I take it to mean (basically anything sweet eaten at the end of a meal), but I’m still not sure I could provide a good definition of what this word means in the sense it is being used here, even at gunpoint.

But since I don’t have much else going on these days, let me give it a whirl anyway. What does ‘dessert’ mean in this context? The best working definition I can come up with, based on the elements common to the desserts produced in this week’s three challenges, is:

A dessert is any prepared sweet that does not have a necessary relationship to any kind of pastry (such as a sponge, pie crust, or biscuit), even if it contains one (or more) types of pastry.

Seems reasonable on its face, doesn’t it? And yet, I don’t think this definition really works, because the idea of a ‘necessary relationship’ to a kind of pastry has more to do with naming, usage, and semantics than any facts about the objects this definition of ‘dessert’ is meant to describe. That probably sounded like a bunch of abstract philosophical hooey, and perhaps it is, but bear with me, I can explain what I mean by that, I swear. It’s best to use an example to do so, so take a moment to consider the Celebratory Bombe that served as this week’s Show Stopper Challenge. A bombe that contains sponge is similar to a cake with mousse or ice cream, and distinguished primarily by the domed structure of the dessert.

Some of the bakers made a bombe that contained sponge, while others did not. However, whether or not there was sponge in the bombe had no bearing on whether or not each baker’s Show Stopper was considered a bombe. Therefore, a bombe does not have a necessary relationship to any pastry, since it is considered a bombe regardless of whether there is sponge present or not.
Now consider a regular old ice cream cake. Think of what such an ice cream cake looks like on the inside (and, for the moment, assume it to be in the shape of a typical sheet cake). Form a picture in your mind – there’s layers of ice cream and layers of sponge, with some sort of icing/ganache/glaze/etc. on the outside. Most of us have seen an ice cream cake before, and it’s reasonable to assume that we can all agree on what makes an ice cream cake an ice cream cake, and we would certainly agree that in order to be an ice cream cake, there needs to be, well, cake. Therefore, unlike a bombe, an ice cream cake does have a necessary relationship to a type of pastry, since it requires sponge.

Now, think of that same group of ingredients and layers, but this time, instead of being presented in the form of a sheet cake, the dessert is in the domed structure of a bombe. Because the inside ingredients are the exact same as the object we have identified as an ice cream cake, you or I or anyone would be justified in describing the object using the term ‘ice cream cake’ to describe the object.

However, because the object is in the shape of a bombe, and because ice cream is an ingredient commonly found in bombes, and it’s been established that containing sponge does not disqualify such an object from being a bombe, you or I or anyone would also be justified in describing the object using therm ‘bombe’, and since a bombe is a kind of dessert as defined above, that justification extends to the term ‘dessert’, as well. But for an object to be correctly described as both an ‘ice cream cake’ and a ‘dessert’ as defined above creates a contradiction. The term ‘ice cream cake’ strictly implies that the object has necessary relationship to a type of pastry, and the term ‘dessert’ strictly implies that the object has no such relationship.

In logical terms, these two terms cannot be used to describe the same object, and yet, in reality, they can, because the term ‘dessert’ as it is actually used has nothing to with whether or not such a ‘necessary relationship’ is present. Therefore, I am forced to conclude my definition of ‘dessert’ sucks. Really, Desserts Week seemed to be Things Paul and Prue Want the Bakers to Make That Don’t Fit Neatly Into Any Other Theme Week, which admittedly makes for pretty terrible copy but also makes for a good definition of Roaring 20’s Week.

(If this seemed like a whole lot of words to build an argument without a meaningful conclusion, or otherwise seemed a colossal waste of time, congratulations, you have just figured out why I struggle to find a real job or contribute to society in any meaningful way. If this seemed like a whole bunch of busted syllogisms, false dichotomies, and altogether terrible logic, congratulations, you have just figured out why a PhD in Philosophy was never in my future.)

Anyway, once again I seem to have wondered off topic. It’s time to rank some bakers! Now that there are only six bakers remaining, all of whom have had moments of brilliance at some point in the season, the question of who will make the Finals has become even more heated. Right now it may seem like two of the three places in the Finals are sealed up, but stranger things have happened than an early-to-mid-season powerhouse or two falling short of the final three. And beyond those two, the Tent hierarchy is confusing, chaotic mess – just the way I like it! On to the rankings! (Methodology is here, spoilers abound, you know the drill.)

Week 6 – Desserts Week

Signature Bake: Layered Meringue Cake with Filling

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: 6 Verrines (Layered Fruit & Coconut Dessert with Struesel & Biscuit Topping)

-Judge: Prue

-Judging Parameters: Evenness and definition of layers. Well-chilled and set individual layers. Crisp biscuit on top.

-Did Anyone Succeed? Yes; for once, everyone seemed to get the basic idea right. Placement largely a function of refinement and precision of execution

Show Stopper: Celebratory Bombe (Domed Dessert with Layers Inside)

Star Baker: Steph

Eliminated: Priya

7. Priya

Last Week: 7th Change: 0

Place in Technical: 7th

After putting up a dicey performance for the third consecutive week, Priya’s time in the Tent has come to an end. It’s a shame, really, since outside of a last place finish in the Technical, none of her bakes this week were all that bad. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean those bakes didn’t have issues. Her Signature meringue cake had too much amaretto and was also overbaked, both of which are significant problems regardless of one’s feelings on purplish cream. What’s more distressing is that her Show Stopper seemed pretty decent, and hardly the worst of the week (which I will address in due time). It looked nice and elegant and the sponge inside was good, the only real problem was that her chocolate mousse was too sweet, overpowering the raspberry flavors that were meant to serve as a complimentary pairing. Perhaps the judges were being polite in describing this, but this too did not seem to sink the entire enterprise. (As an aside, I would like to call out Prue for stating before the Show Stopper began that Priya needed to stop talking and focus on time management; I’m sorry Prue, did Priya break into your house and tell you how to shit? The Tent is stressful, let Priya manage that stress as she sees fit.) Like Helena’s ouster last week, Priya’s Elimination here was a tough loss for a baker who may have had a defined ceiling, but who put up a decent showing on the way out.

6. Henry

Last Week: 4th Change: -2

Place in Technical: 4th

By contrast, Henry had a straight up terrible week overall, and not unlike Priya’s surprise survival in Roaring 20’s Week, just what the judges saw in his performance to save him is unclear. The simplest explanation is his middling placement in the Technical (middling is always better than dead last), but both his Signature and Show Stopper showed Henry’s worst tendencies. That Show Stopper, in particular, was a perfect storm of suck. He spent all this time on an admittedly clever cardboard construction meant to help set his mousse in segments, but then the mousse just tasted like cinnamon, the bombe itself was layered with dense, tough, and bland sponge, and the presentation on the outside wasn’t all that great either. All the clever planning in the world isn’t going to save a bland bake that doesn’t even look all that nice. His Signature looked straight up messy, although at least it tasted OK, and Paul in particular seemed impressed with the homemade jam on the inside. Still, Henry has continued to demonstrate an unfortunate tendency to be fussy and detail-oriented about stuff that doesn’t matter, resulting in subpar bakes. If he can apply that focus to his fundamentals, Henry could make a playoff run, but after six weeks, there’s little reason to believe he’s able to do that.

5. Rosie

Last Week: 5th Change: 0

Place in Technical: 5th

After a string of quietly impressive showings in weeks 2-4, Rosie has struggled to put together a complete bake since. Her Signature this week was one of the worst in the tent, with flat discs of meringue adorned with absolutely nothing, and even though the raspberry flavor was decent, her ‘cake’ was topped with a too thick layer of chocolate that messed with the texture of the whole thing. Rosie did have a better showing in the Show Stopper, however, this too was marred with significant flaws. While it looked a lot better overall, Prue called out the unnecessary blow torching work on the outside, which didn’t work with the vivid red piping. And while it looked good on the inside, looks can be deceiving. Her mousse wasn’t quite smooth, and her use of mango left the judges cold. All told, Rosie didn’t have the worst week in the Tent, even of the remaining bakers, however, Rosie’s mental fortitude down the stretch is becoming a concern. For the second week in a row, she reacted to a tough showing in the Signature by expressing distaste for the parameters of the challenge itself (as I noted with Phil, such distaste is irrelevant to the judges), and she seems to be showing signs of mental exhaustion; it’s also worth noting that her recent Technical placements have been middling, too. Everyone left in the Tent still has a shot at the Finals, but Rosie needs to regain some of the steely determination she showed early on to make good on that chance.

4. Michael

Last Week: 3rd Change: -1

Place in Technical: 6

Even though he takes a hit in these rankings this week, and even though he seemed to skirt on the fringes of Elimination, there was a lot to like about Michael’s performance in Desserts Week. First off, he managed to get through the week without freaking out about anything, and he took the criticism of his bakes on the chin like a champ. In addition, Michael has show a real knack for flavors throughout the course of the season, a trend that continued this week. Granted, chocolate with orange and chocolate with cherry are easy combinations to work with, but we’ve seen bakers whiff on such layups before. And, it’s worth nothing that good flavor skills have historically been a great leg up in the playoff race. That said, for all of Michael’s success with taste, his technique is becoming an issue. For the second week in a row, Michael came in second-to-last in the Technical. His meringue in the signature got soggy as a result of being encased inside a chocolate shell; he got away with it here, but lack of structural understanding of this sort can sink campaigns down the stretch. His bombe took a lot of flak for tacky decoration, but more concerning than that was the cheesecake inside (dude seems to really enjoy cheesecake), which didn’t set. That’s bad news when a big part of the judging pertains to whether or not the inside set. Michael has shown a lot throughout the season, but he still has mistakes to clean up.

3. Alice

Last Week: 6th Change: +3

Place in Technical: 1st

Alice has the inverse problem – her technique is often sound, but a lot of times her bakes have been relatively bland. This was a problem for her Signature this week, which looked the business and had good chocolate coming through, but was missing the cherry essential to the intended Black Forest experience. Nevertheless, Alice pulled up in a huge way this time out. Coming in 1st in the Technical is obviously a huge boost, but her Show Stopper was of the caliber that netted her Star Baker all the way back in Week 2. Expertly designed and decorated on the outside, well-defined on the inside, and featuring perfectly balanced flavors (no easy feat with tiramisu), Alice’s Show Stopper was a great reminder of what she is capable of at her best. Despite this huge bounce back, there are still reasons for concern with Alice’s game. First and foremost, Alice’s consistency is an issue, as she’s only done particularly well in two of those weeks. Granted, those two showings were extremely impressive, but Alice will need to repeat this level of performance next week to solidify herself in the upper echelon of the Tent. Her problems with flavor are a real concern. And while she nabbed 1st in the Technical this week and back in Biscuits Week, her placements in the other weeks were mediocre. At her peak, Alice is a shoe-in for the Finals, but that might not matter if she can’t make those peaks repeatable.

2. David

Last Week: 2nd Change: 0

Place in Technical: 2nd

Another week, another showing from David that was pretty damn good overall, but not good enough to net him Star Baker. Sunrise, sunset. David’s biggest strength is his decoration and presentation; his aesthetic whiffs have been all but non-existent. The structure and bake of his creations is usually in the top tier, as well, although he did have some problems with the jelly in his Show Stopper this week. Flavor was something of an issue for David, as the spices in his Signature came through too strongly and clashed, which held back what was otherwise the best-decorated and best baked meringues of the round. In the Show Stopper he had the opposite problem as his shiso didn’t quite come through. More encouraging was David’s Technical, which saw him rebound to 2nd a week after coming in dead last. David bakes at a high level week in and week out, to the point that there isn’t much more to say about his skills. It would certainly be a huge boon if he manages to nab Star Baker at some point, but as I’ve said before, unless something disastrous happens David is almost certain to make the Finals, and isn’t that more important?

1. Steph

Last Week: 1st Change: 0

Place in Technical: 3rd

Seriously, after three consecutive Star Baker awards, there’s not much left to say about Steph, the undisputed ruler of the Tent. Since I’m starting to run low on superlatives to describe her performances, I would just like to point out that her bombe in the Show Stopper was transcendent despite the fact that she made it harder on herself, not only in eschewing sponge of any kind, but also by pouring a glaze on top, and yet, her bombe was still flawlessly executed. It’s becoming easy to think Steph is indestructible; she could probably crap the bed entirely next week and survive, and maybe do the same the week after that and still be fine. There’s no reason to think she’ll do either, though, because Steph is too good.

Next week continues the run of ambiguously themed episode with something called Festivals Week. Uh, sure. Will Steph maintain her stranglehold on the top spot? Will David finally get Star Baker? Will a third true contender emerge? Come back next Thursday to find out. Later!

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