So wait, this show has a quarterfinals now? When did this happen? Did they call Week 8 the quarterfinals last year and I just forgot about it? Have they been calling Week 8 the quarterfinals for the entirety of the show’s run, and I’m finally noticing it now? I guess I’m not surprised, since as any long time sports fan will tell you, playoff format expansion is the way of all flesh, but I am annoyed nonetheless. I was all set to use and abuse ‘heading into the playoffs’ as a transitional phrase in this week’s article, and apparently I missed the boat already if this week was already the quarterfinals. Constructing a good transitional phrase is hard work, and now I’ll be stuck using ‘heading into the Seminfinals’ for this whole write up, which is a much more distracting phrase; by the time I use it for the 18th time, everyone is gonna notice.
Also, are we sure this is the playoffs? Because it sure seemed like all of the bakers left in the Tent got their asses handed to them this week. No one inspired real confidence. The Star Baker award went to the only baker who didn’t fuck up the Show Stopper, making the awarding itself feel as though it was done by default. The baker who did the best in the Signature was Eliminated at the end of the episode. Most bakers had a tough time with the Technical. It was a really rough week all around.
The relative disaster of this week’s Show Stopper merits further examination. As some of you may recall, there was a very similar Show Stopper a few seasons ago that required the bakers to build a tiered pie similar in overall shape to a wedding cake, except made of, uh…pie. I think it was required to be savory, but it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this story. This was the season featuring the universally beloved Martha, who looked like a good bet to make the Semifinals, at least, before she beefed this particular Show Stopper in spectacular fashion.
Her concept for the tiered pie was three different meat pies on each level. The ground floor pie – necessarily the largest by surface area and most integral to the bake’s structure – was primarily filled with chorizo, and when I say ‘primarily filled’, I mean ‘stuffed to the absolute brim’. There was so much freaking chorizo in this thing. This proved to be a huge problem, because this meant that as the chorizo cooked in the pie, all of the fat rendered out into the crust, rendering it completely sodden in spicy pork grease. Make no mistake, spicy pork grease is exactly as delicious as it sounds, but it will make a mockery of your attempts to make a structurally sound pie. As such, poor Martha’s Show Stopper collapsed, as did her playoff hopes. She was Eliminated either that week or shortly thereafter, I forget which.
The reason I spin this yarn is because this season, when presented with a deeply and suspiciously similar Show Stopper, the bakers almost seemed to have this exact tale of woe from seasons past in the forefront of their minds. Everyone took great pains to make sure the fillings in their Show Stoppers wouldn’t sog up the structural works, and as a result, almost everyone’s fillings were super dry. I have no proof (or even concrete evidence) that this crop of bakers did this specifically because of what happened with Martha way back when, but it really would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, on to the rankings. This week doesn’t feature a whole lot of quantitative shake ups. With only five bakers remaining to start the week, it’s not like there’s a lot of room for movement in either direction, however, as the season is now heading into the Semifinals (1), those bakers are under an ever-more precise microscope, and as was the case last week, each baker’s write up will feature plenty of holistic analysis of that baker’s season as a whole, as I continue my mad quest to see if it’s possible to determine the season’s winner in advance.
As always, methodology is here and spoilers lie ahead, although if you’re the sort of person who goes out of the way to type up shit talk on the internet because you caught of whiff of some spoilers, I promise that your comments will not bother me in the least because I will consider you an asshole.
Week 8 – Pastry Week
Signature Bake: Savory Tarte Tatin
-Recipe: Moroccan Pie
-Judging Parameters: Quality of Worqa pastry sheets; must be neither too thick nor too thin, and capable of holding in the filling. Proper seasoning of filling
-Did Anyone Succeed? Really just David in 1st, but I guess that counts so yes
Show Stopper: Vertical Pie (Decorative base supporting at least two pies)
Star Baker: Steph
Last Week: 3rd Change: -2
Place in Technical: 5th
Henry had been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism in this space due to his penchant for putting his mental energy toward various design details, at the occasional to frequent expense of his baking fundamentals. That was part of his downfall this week, but what really spelled doom for Henry was his last place finish in this week’s Technical. For the past few weeks, Henry has put up respectable showings in the Technical, and in Desserts Week, that may have meant the difference between staying in the Tent and going home. But in Pastry Week, his run of putting up quality placements in the Technical came to a screeching halt, and his Show Stopper was the worst of the lot, to boot. Granted, almost everyone struggled mightily with this week’s Show Stopper, and Henry’s fillings suffered from dryness just like most everyone else’s, but Henry was the only poor schmuck to have partially raw crust. A raw bake is, quite naturally, the single worst thing a baker can present in any challenge, and coming in last in the Technical combined with presenting the worst Show Stopper is a recipe for Elimination in any week. It’s a shame, really, because Henry’s Signature was arguably the best of the lot. It was well laminated and well baked, with excellent spices and flavors (granted, crab and tomato is a pretty tough combination to screw up). But, as has been demonstrated time and time again, a great Signature can’t save you when you bottom out on the other two challenges. That’s the way the crust crumbles.
Last Week: 5th Change: +1
Place in Technical: 2nd
Rosie’s bump this week is due solely to her survival; as with Festivals Week, Rosie had troubles with everything with the exception of the Technical. Unlike last week, Rosie didn’t even do all that well in Technical, either. She may have come in 2nd, but this wasn’t because her Moroccan pie was all that good, just that it was better than almost everyone else’s. And even then, her dang thing split open, which is an indictment of the overall quality of Technicals presented. Her Signature tart was easily the worst of the bunch, receiving the memetically dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ criticism for having too much butter in the crust. On top of that, it appeared (and quite possibly was) scorched on the top, some of the balsamic seemed to have leaked out to the sides and bottom, and there was too much garlic for the judges’ liking in the filling. Her Show Stopper wasn’t half the disaster that she thought it was, and perhaps on some level, Rosie should be credited for not using any dowels for structural reinforcement. Even though her top pies had trouble staying in place, this didn’t seem to affect the judging, and the elaborate decoration and design received high praise. But, like Henry, her pastry was too thick (but fully cooked), and her fillings were all dry. Rosie now finds herself in the Semifinals, although it is starting to seem as though she has reached her ceiling. It’s been several weeks since she has put together a great performance in the Tent. Rosie can do some pretty great things when everything goes well, but it’s been long enough since that’s happened for her that it raises serious doubts about her ability to sneak into the Finals.
Last Week: 4th Change: +1
Place in Technical: 3rd
Alice, by contrast, hovered in the dead center of the Tent during Pastry Week. None of her bakes reached the heights Alice has shown herself to be capable of, but none of them were all that bad, either. Despite her fears that her pastry in the Signature was going to be irreparably soggy, there was only some wetness in places. What drew more criticism from the judges, and may have contributed to the moistness of the pastry, was the insufficient caramelization on the lattice-woven leeks atop her tart. Were it not for that, her Signature would have been among the best of the week, as it was tasty and well-laminated. Her Show Stopper received high marks for design and decoration, but not only were her fillings too dry, the dough itself was overworked (and it’s interesting to note that ‘overworked’ is, historically, a commonly heard criticism in the Tent that I haven’t heard much so far this season) and tough, although Paul and Prue seemed to disagree as to the severity of this issue. What is most encouraging about Alice’s performance both this week and during Festival Week is that Alice seems to have improved her flavor game. Throughout much of the season, a good deal of her better looking bakes have been dinged for being bland, but Alice seems to be taking steps to reverse that trend lately. It’s always encouraging to see a baker be able to correct for unfortunate tendencies this late in the season, but Alice’s spot in the Finals is far from guaranteed. Her only consistency has been in inconsistency, especially in the Technical, and a 4th place showing next week could put her in extreme danger, the likes of which she may not be able to survive.
Last Week: 2nd Change: 0
Place in Technical: 1
David has held the #2 spot in these rankings for what feels like an eternity, and while this continues this week, that’s really because everyone in the Tent struggled. Everyone in the Tent is vulnerable, and David may have had his worst week of the season so far, even after snagging 1st in the Technical. His Signature was a failure of concept, as it was fully dependent on the side sauces he prepared for moisture; Prue made sure to take him to task for this, as the challenge was not designed to test the baker’s sauce making abilities. David seemed to take umbrage at this in an interview clip, but as I’ve mentioned in this space a few times already, if the judges don’t think your bake has met the parameters of the challenge, it doesn’t matter if you disagree. But still, he did a good job of laminating and baking, and the flavor was there, so it wasn’t a total loss. David also got into immediate trouble with Paul when presenting his Show Stopper, as Paul clearly was against the lack of top on his pies, and disliked looking at exposed filling. In addition, some of the pastry crust at the bottom was a bit under baked, and the filling was both dry and too salty for Prue’s liking. In a week such as this, none of these problems would have put David in danger of Elimination even if he hadn’t finished 1st in the Technical, but every week is different. If David has these sorts of issues in the Semifinals, and everyone else steps up their performances, he will have less to hide behind. While it is difficult to imagine David getting sent home next week, it is possible, especially if these uncharacteristic issues persist.
Last Week: 1st Change: 0
Place in Technical: 4th
Steph claimed her fourth Star Baker award somewhat by default. It was a brutal week for all of the bakers, including Steph to an extent. This is not to say Steph didn’t deserve said award; on the contrary, one should be rewarded for stepping up in the Show Stopper in a week where no one else does. It is merely to underscore the broader point that everyone had a rough (puff) go of Pastry Week, including Steph. Her Signature received some deeply mixed comments from the judges. Paul and Prue both regarded the dolloping of goat cheese on top as artless, and contrary to the spirit of the challenge – it was added on to the finished product, not incorporated into it (note that this is a similar to the flak David caught for leaning on side sauces). Also, the pastry of the tart itself was thin, which apparently is a bad thing for a Tarte Tatin? It wasn’t clear if Paul’s comment there was a criticism or just an observation. It did taste good, however, so that’s a plus. And, of course, Steph largely nailed the Show Stopper, which had good, flaky pastry, a neat design on the outside, and the only sufficiently moist filling of the lot, which was well-flavored, to boot. Heading into the Seminfinals (2), the biggest concern with Steph’s Tent game is her Technicals. This is her second deeply middling placement in a row. I said last week that if Steph were to come in 4th in the Seminfal Technical, that would place her in obvious trouble. This remains the case, however, Steph has earned a measure of trust in her ability to do well on both of the practiced challenges, as it has been a very long time indeed since she fell truly short in the Signature or Show Stopper. Even if Steph needs to come up huge in next week’s Show Stopper, there’s no reason to doubt her ability to do so. That said, the Finals themselves are a different story. Steph has utterly dominated this season, but that does not guarantee victory, especially if her Technicals sag. Anything can happen in these last two weeks.
Next week, we are heading into the Semifinals (3) for, uhm…Patisserie Week. Oh good lord. That’s gonna be a bloodbath. I expect a massacre of biblical proportions, with weeping and gnashing of teeth and all that other fun stuff. Who will survive? Will anyone thrive? Next Thursday, I will be back for the last rankings before the Finals. End communication!
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