Second weeks are hard to parse. It doesn’t matter if it’s the second week of football, or the second episode of a new show, or the second episode of a beloved baking competition. In all three cases, there’s enough information to make jumping to conclusions tempting, but not enough information to ensure those conclusions are wise. Always remember that once is chance, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern. Two weeks into this season of Great British Baking Show, I want to say I’m seeing some clear behavioral tendencies for this group of bakers, but my ironclad belief in the above idiom gives me pause, and puts me in a mood to hedge a bit.
With this in mind, this week’s GBBS Power Rankings reflect a certain conservatism at the top. Many of the bakers who did well for themselves in Cake Week continued to do so in Biscuit Week and are starting to look as though they may, in fact, be “for real”, as the kids say (the kids still say that, right?).
However, the rest of the Rankings this week are a bit of a jumble. Some of the bakers ranked lower last week did very well for themselves; others…not so much. The middle class of this season has yet to truly take shape. Outside of the top three (and this week’s Eliminated baker), any of the other bakers could win either Star Baker or be Eliminated next week, and I wouldn’t be all that shocked.
I’m not complaining about any of this, mind you. During the baking portion of the Show Stopper, Paul Hollywood mentioned in a sort of off-hand way that this is a talented group of bakers. I’m sure he’d say that no matter what, but he has a real point. This is a really good Tent! Think of all the colossal disasters that have taken place in the first few weeks of previous seasons. Historically speaking, the early weeks have been choked with soggy bottoms and raw bakes and bland flavors and scrambled egg crème pats.
By comparison, the bakes this season have been distinguished on the margins. Almost everyone got high marks for flavor in Biscuit Week. Most bakers also received some degree of praise for their decorations, as well. The problems Prue and Paul are finding with the bakes are the sorts of nitpicky concerns that, in previous seasons, didn’t put bakers in trouble until the midway point. Some of the textures of baker’s Florentines weren’t quite right; others overworked their dough in the Show Stopper. Accordingly, this week was the least stressful week of Tent baking we’ve seen in a while. There were no baker meltdowns, structural collapses, or other wildly dramatic turns of events. However, I do want to take a moment to talk about Noel and Matt’s dynamic as hosts. Obviously, this is a new pairing, and it is going to take a while for them to find a groove because these things always take time. On top of that, the internet loves few things more than it loves complaining about changes to things, and since I think that’s stupid at best and unfortunate, reactionary, and toxic at worst. Therefore, I want to be as patient as I can with them.
That said, I must say the early returns are not encouraging. Noel and Matt have kind of been assholes! Of particular concern is their tendency to view time updates as a chance to fuck around. Yes, fucking around when giving time updates is a tradition that dates back to the Mel and Sue days, but some of the stuff Noel and Matt did this week in that regard was over the line.
In particular, and this isn’t a verbatim quote, but in the Technical Matt said “You have five minutes left until you have ten minutes left.” What the fuck is that!? Technicals are stressful enough for the bakers, and you’re communicating critical information to them. The bakers are doing the work, here, dude; don’t make their business more difficult just because you think it’s funny. Fortunately one of the bakers (I think it was Laura?) called Matt out on it; here’s hoping it’s not a trend.
OK, I’m done ranting. On to the Rankings! As I did last year, from this point on I’ll be tracking the week-to-week change in each baker’s Ranking, now that there are data points to connect.
Week 2 – Biscuit Week
Signature Challenge: 36 Chocolate Florentines
-Recipe:12 Coconut Macaroons (6 with Mango Curd, 6 with Chocolate Filling)
-Judging Parameters: Proper time in oven and outside color. Uniformity of size cross both macaroon types. Coconut flakes that are the right size, for proper texture. Consistency of mango curd and chocolate piping
-Did Anyone Succeed? Yes; Linda, Mak, Mark, and Dave
Show Stopper: Three-Dimensional Biscuit Table Setting
Star Baker: Dave
Last Week: 7th Change: -4
Place in Technical: 3rd
While it would be wrong to say that Mak had a good week in the Tent – obviously, he did not – but for the second week in a row, the judges’ choice of Elimination doesn’t sit right with me. Again, it’s not like he did all that well; Mak struggled with presentation in both his Signature and his Show Stopper. His Florentines were messy, falling well short of the peacock effect he was going for. They also failed to snap; Prue went so far as to call them ‘gooey’, which is the opposite of snappy. But his Show Stopper, while not a masterpiece, did seem to get decent marks from Prue at least, who seemed to like both the look and the flavor. Paul seemed less convinced. Obviously, being the only baker who didn’t use a mold, Mak made things harder on himself, but it seemed…fine. Mak certainly seemed like he had a fixed ceiling, but it seems silly to Eliminate a baker who got 3rd in the Technical this early on. To me, that shows some degree of promise, but who the fuck am I?
Last Week: 5th Change: -5
Place in Technical: 11th
In case it wasn’t already clear, I’m a bit gobsmacked that Rowan didn’t get ousted this week. Remember all of my “twice is a coincidence, three is a pattern” hand-wringing from up above there? Even though this season is only two episodes in, we’ve seen four ‘practice’ bakes (Signatures and Show Stoppers, so called here because the bakers get to practice them) out of Rowan, three of which have gone unfinished. Not only were his Florentines missing the promised waistcoats, but, according to Prue at least, they were nasty, to boot. If you ask me, his Show Stopper didn’t look all that finished to me, although I suppose it crossed a certain threshold of plausible deniability. But what really gets me is that, at one point, Rowan let slip that he didn’t practice his bakes this week. So, ditching the baker who probably isn’t all that great, I get. But, ditching said baker in order to keep someone who has a chronic and demonstrated inability to finish his bakes, and who finished dead last in the Technical, and who admitted to the judges that he doesn’t even fucking practice!?!?!?!?!? What are we doing here?
Last Week: 8th Change: –1
Place in Technical: 7th
Laura didn’t do much to distinguish herself this week, and when she did, those distinctions tended towards the dubious. Her Signature Florentines went over quite well, although Paul dinged her a bit for using too much milk chocolate. Her Show Stopper, though, was a low-key disaster. Paul, in particular, was displeased with a perceived lack of effort, as her display stand looked quite slapdash indeed. Had Laura placed even slightly lower in Technical, she may have been in danger this week, although my concerns with Laura are more long-term. Laura can probably do well enough to skate by for a couple more weeks, and she seems to have decent flavor instincts, but her technique doesn’t appear up to snuff. While working on her Signature (and I’m paraphrasing, here), she mentioned she doesn’t do precision. Um, friend, you’re in a baking competition. Good luck with that.
Last Week: 10th Change: +2
Place in Technical: 4th
While Linda had a better Biscuit Week than Cake Week, her bump in the Rankings is more a reflection of other people’s struggles than any great success on her part. 4th in the Technical is nothing to sneeze at, but neither her Signature or Show Stopper received much praise. That said, I am a bit confused by Prue’s comment that Linda’s Florentines weren’t true Florentines. They snapped, at least, and for all the judges’ harping on the importance of said snap, I would think that would get her clear of the Tent’s 33rd percentile or so. Linda didn’t get too many comments on her Show Stopper, suggesting adequacy; Paul said it was a bit overworked, but he always says that. Worth noting, though, that she used rosewater and didn’t get dinged for it. Will wonders ever cease, etc.
Last Week: 11th Change: +4
Place in Technical: 9th
Hey, check out Marc over here, rebounding from a bad Cake Week that nearly spelled doom to have an actually pretty good Biscuit Week. Obviously, 9th in Technical is less than ideal – in order for Marc to become a contender for Star Baker, let alone the Finals, his Technical scores will need to improve – but his Signature and Show Stopper received high marks all around. Doing well at the practice bakes is the first step towards contention, however, so it’s nice to see Marc rebound from last week’s partial catastrophes.
Last Week: 6 Change: 0
Place in Technical: 2nd
For the second consecutive week, Mark grades out as aggressively average. His greatest triumph this week was in the Technical, which doubtlessly served as a nice bounce back from a not particularly good Signature. In his interview, he expressed a preference for chunky Florentines, but alas, all they got him was the strongest whiff of Prue’s drunk grandma vibes we’ve had to date this season. His Show Stopper was polarizing; Prue liked the look but not the taste, and Paul had the opposite opinion of both. I’m still not sure quite what to make of Mark with a k, although it does seem to me the top bakers are starting to separate themselves from the pack a bit. Mark isn’t so much separating himself from the pack as he is defining said pack, so I’m keeping him at 6th until I have cause to do otherwise.
Last Week: 3rd Change: -2
Place in Technical: 5th
This wasn’t a great week for Hermine, who had a series of low-key triumphs in Cake Week. In particular, her Florentines in the Signature had all kinds of problems. They were late out of the oven and still not quite done enough. Allegedly, they had good flavors, although as noted in the intro, it sure seemed that everybody did pretty well with flavors this week. Her Show Stopper was almost the inverse; praised for its look, but dragged for its flavor. Still, when taking both weeks together, Hermine’s talent is obvious. Her Technical placement has consistently been above average, and she’s demonstrated great flair for presentation when she gets her bakes out of the oven on time. This season is still young; I would hardly be shocked to see Hermine go on a big run down the stretch, nor would I be shocked to see her stick around for a long time.
Last Week: 9th Change: +5
Place in Technical: 1st
Dave is the big winner this week in the Rankings, moving up five whole spots, because of course he is. His rocket-like ascendancy from the middling middle to Star Baker in Biscuit Week is eerily similar to Alice’s rocket-like ascendancy from the middling middle to Star Baker in Biscuit Week from last year. While Dave was unable to put together the first complete week of the season (Peter beat him to the punch last week), he did so well in all three phases that there’s little to comment on, just like Alice. So why isn’t Dave ranked higher? Again, I don’t feel that I have enough information on Dave’s true skill level to crown him just yet. These Rankings are designed to be insulated from recency bias, and as such it’s worth remembering that he really didn’t do all that well in Cake Week. Obviously, if he continues to bake at this level, Dave will become a fixture at the top of the Rankings, but we’ve seen bakers snag Star Baker and crash out shortly thereafter before. In order to cement his status as a Finals contender, Dave must show week-to-week consistency.
Last Week: 4th Change: +1
Place in Technical: 8th
I know I gave a whole stump speech in the intro on the importance of not reading too much into a mere two weeks of information, but I continue to be impressed with Lottie’s unflappability. Her Show Stopper was almost ruinous, as her Viking boat got stuck in it’s mold. Faced with a potential crisis, Lottie certainly lost a bit of cool, but she kept her composure and emerged with a Show Stopper that was a bit rough around the edges, but still looked like the things it was supposed to look like and was well-baked. And, of course, her Florentines merited Paul’s first handshake of the season. I must confess, I do think that the handshakes are overblown and silly – if the Tent is a microcosm of the class war, the handshakes seem to represent the hollow promise of upward mobility – but I cannot deny that it’s impressive to snag one (except for that one weird season, and I forget which one it was, so don’t ask, where he seemed to hand them out like candy). All Lottie needs to do to become a real force is improve her Technical scores.
Last Week: 2nd Change: 0
Place in Technical: 6th
Sura is the real deal. Her Signature Florentines would have been perfect if they had snap to them, with balanced flavor and otherwise great texture. (Note again that Sura used rosewater in her Florentines, meaning bakers were a rare 2 for 2 in terms of rosewater success rate this week.) Outside of some shoddy piping work, her Show Stopper offered little to criticize. I gave plenty of advance warning that there was little change at the top of the Rankings this week. Part of that is due to lack of information, yes, but really the larger part of it is that the top two bakers in the Rankings both had great weeks that, while less spectacular than their Cake Week performances, consolidated and solidified their placement. There’s a lot of season left, but if Sura can keep baking at the level she’s baking at now, I’m about ready to consider her Finals ticket punched.
Last Week: 1st Change: 0
Place in Technical: 10th
All of that said, it may feel a bit strange to keep Peter at the top of the Rankings. His only tru, but I e triumph in Biscuit Week was his Show Stopper, which was both evocative of the haggis it visually imitated, and tasted so good that Prue had trouble putting it down. (This is a complete tangent, but I traveled to Scotland last year, when international travel was still a thing, and I had a chance to try haggis. Since I had heard it was actually pretty good, I went for it, and yeah, I can confirm that haggis is damn tasty. If you get the chance to try it, go for it; put aside whatever weird food hangups you may have going in, and picture the best Thanksgiving stuffing you’ve ever had in your life.) His Signature was a bit more of a mixed bag. The Florentines were missing the snap, but were otherwise great. The real concern with Peter, after this week, was his second-to-last place in the Technical. Since he has yet to have a bad practice bake, I’m willing to look past this. Hell, last season David faceplanted in the Technical at least once I can recall of the top of my head, and he won the whole damn season. As long as his Technical scores don’t sag for too long, Peter might be unstoppable.
Next Week: Once again, I don’t know! Huzzah!