I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the Great British Baking Show has always been stressful. Even back when the show first rose to prominence here in the U.S., and was immediately celebrated for its warm vibes, the Tent was still jam packed with bakers on the verge of losing their shit. Remember Iain, the guy who got so frustrated with his Show Stopper that he just up and yeeted his work into the garbage? If memory serves, that was the very first season of the show to appear on Netflix back in the day, and somehow the show rose to popularity with American audiences as a bastion of genteel camaraderie despite this extremely relatable display. You put me in the Tent, I would be absolutely fucking done with this whole thing in short order, too.
That’s because the good, supportive vibes that the bakers in the Tent give to each other, while reassuring in their own way, are a misdirection. The Great British Baking Show is a competition, and the Tent itself is nothing less than a late-capitalist nightmare, where a dozen ordinary people are pitted against each other in stress tests for the benefit of an aloof and completely unaccountable ruling class. That the bakers are chill and decent to each other despite the nature of the competition is neat, and it beats the alternative – I can’t imagine how unwatchable this show would be if none of the bakers came here to make friends, but came here to win – but it does not alter the fact that, over the course of the season, the bakers will be picked off, one by one.
While I’m still waiting for the season where the bakers revolt against this setup and seize the means of production (they have nothing to lose but their chains, after all), I’m forced to admit that it would be an unprecedented and highly improbable turn of events. That’s a bummer, because as the seasons of GBBS roll on, the worse the judging gets. I’ve been doing these rankings for 2.3 seasons now, and over the course of those seasons I have had to completely purge my assumption that Paul and Prue make judging decisions for reasons, to say nothing of the many other, smaller assumptions about the show’s workings I’ve had to slough off.
Say what you will about why you, personally don’t like GBBS as much as you used to, but for me, it comes down to the decline in judging. There were always times that the show was a stressful watch. There were always dorky skits. Since dorky was and is integral to Mel and Sue’s whole vibe, it worked better in their day, but I must confess that I’ve sufficiently acclimated to Noel and Matt. But the judging, I mean…what the hell happened? I went into this season acknowledging that the Show Stopper is the only round that matters anymore, and after this week, I’m not sure I can even say that much. As a result, the judging decisions feel ever more arbitrary, capricious, and cruel. It sucks to watch, and it makes this self-imposed task that much harder. How am I supposed to rank bakers based on their Finals chances if there’s no telling what those jackoff judges will do next?
In case this wasn’t already perfectly clear, Paul and Prue pissed me all the way off in Bread Week. As a result, this week’s installment of the GBBS Power Rankings has chosen violence. Please make sure you’ve prepared yourself, emotionally; if you continue, you’re gonna read a whole bunch of not-at-all nice things. If it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think Paul and Prue deserved it. I assure you, they do.
Week 3 – Bread Week
Signature Bake: Focaccia
-Recipe: 15 Olive & Cheese Ciabatta Breadsticks with Tzatziki Dip
-Judging Parameters: Uniform size and color. Soft dough with an open structure. Even distribution of fillings.
-Did Anyone Succeed? Lizzie & Giuseppe
Show Stopper: 3D Themed Milk Bread Display
Star Baker: Giuseppe
Place In Technical: 10th
Place In Technical: 8th
Pop quiz, hotshot! Two bakers are coming into the Bread Week Show Stopper after they both had a real rough go of things in the first two rounds. Both of their Signatures had mixing issues and both fared poorly in the Technical. Upon presenting their Show Stoppers, both face similar criticisms. Both are told that the presented product does not seem to represent an amount of work commensurate with the time given. Both are told that there are proving issues with the constituent loaves, which means the texture of the finished loaves is off. The only difference between the two is that one of the bakers – the one who had the misfortune of finishing dead fucking last in the Technical – is told that their flavors are actually pretty OK, but the other is told that their loaves have no flavor whatsoever, because this baker didn’t add salt. As in, no salt was put into the bread dough at any point during its mixing. Everyone else’s Show Stoppers were a clear cut above these two. Now that you know the facts, who do you think should be sent home?
If you sense that I am rather incensed that is was Rochica that was sent home and not Maggie, who actively chose not to put salt in her fucking bread dough, congratulations! Your skill in picking up on the obvious is to be commended. I award you no points, but in recognition of your service consider yourself entitled to a firm-ish and grateful handshake, should we ever meet in person. It’s been nearly a week since the Bread Week episode was released here in the states, and I remain at a loss. Granted, Rochica’s Show Stopper didn’t look very good, and yes, she did have the misfortune of finishing dead fucking last in the Technical, but at least the constituent breads of her Show Stopper tasted like anything, whatsoever. Unsalted bread is inedible, and in an even slightly more just Tent, for a lone baker to present a Show Stopper of unsalted bread would be for them to sign their own elimination warrant, even if, unlike Maggie, that baker had been having a decent week up to that point. At several points in the last few days, I have been filled with horrid visions of being forced to try Maggie’s Show Stopper, and each time this happens, I wretch ever so slightly. I would rather be forced to subsist on heaping spoonfuls of raw flour, crushed up nori bits optional. I am baffled, shocked, and appalled at the judge’s decision.
In my efforts to determine just what the fuck the judges could have possibly been thinking, I am drawn inexorably to the conclusion that they;re on their cultural chauvinism bullshit once again. As early as the Signature, when Rochica got dragged for adding too much garlic, I was starting to worry. There’s no such thing as too much garlic! And, as I’ve noted several times in this space, there is no more prevalent white person culinary dog whistle than “too spicy”. That the judges would once again eliminate a non-white baker while letting a lesser white baker remain, and in so doing strongly imply that flavorless inedible white people mush is inherently superior to something that tastes “too much”, whatever the fuck that could possibly mean, is nothing less than an indictment of Paul and Prue’s fitness to judge a baking competition, and is therefore extremely discouraging for the rest of the season and the state of the show, generally.
Also, might I add that Maggie is really starting to get on my nerves? I don’t mind if a baker makes a conscious choice to stick to traditional flavors when possible, but Maggie, quite frankly, is a dick about it. To listen to describe her choice of flavors is to listen to her routinely flaunting the idea that the most traditional version (or versions) of any given bake are inherently superior, as though crafted into a platonic recipe ideal and handed down to us lowly mortals from on high, and not a result of the ongoing process people fucking around to see what works and what doesn’t, using the ingredients available to them. In particular, I want to give a special shout out to Cake Week, when she responded to the idea of mint chocolate chip ice cream with a snide remark about eating toothpaste, as if mint extract and sodium lauryl sulfate are the same thing. Also, you’re goddamn right I would eat toothpaste if it were as tasty as mint chocolate chip ice cream, and also also, while I can’t claim to remember every single second of my trip to the U.K., I sure don’t recall breaking into Maggie’s house and telling her how to shit. Unbelievable.
Place In Technical: 3rd
Oh right, there are other bakers. I think I forgot that for a bit there, and that’s on me. Amanda is still hanging in there, and with her effective looking octopus Show Stopper, she presented her best practice bake to date. And yet it still had some problems, apparently, as it was called out for a lack of definition, whatever that means, in this context. Is a milk bread octopus supposed to look like a rustic sourdough boule, or what? Is Paul just complaining about something to make himself feel big? Heck if I know. Amanda also made the unfortunate decision to arrange her Signature focaccia toppings in rows, so that not every slice contained all of her toppings. That’s a potentially savvy move if you’re baking for a crowd, but it backfired here, as Prue made it clear she felt every slice should have a bit of each topping. At first, I wanted to rag on Amanda a bit for this tactical error, but if recent seasons have taught me anything it’s that the judges are given free reign to assign demerits to bakers for using flavors they don’t like very much. How can I blame Amanda for baking her Signature as though it were for fussy preteens when the judges are allowed to act like fussy preteens with impunity? Good on her for having watched the show. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Amanda has had two pretty good Technicals in a row, which is impressive given her noted struggles with most of the practice bakes.
Place In Technical: 7th
Since it’s already clear that I’ve chosen violence this week, allow me throw out a hearty “Fuck you, Paul” for deriding the look of George’s Show Stopper as simple. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Paul! Here, George presented one of the very few baked goods every created that could be accurately described as ‘adorable’. Look at its cute grin and its chubby koala cheeks! I’ve never seen a bread loaf that I wanted to hug, and you had to go take a shit on it, for absolutely no apparent reason. What an asshole. Anyway, I think George had a pretty respectable week, albeit one that is cementing my impression of him as a baker with a limited ceiling. In the Signature, he initially mixed a dough with insufficient water, then started it over. This decision mostly paid off, but I’m sure he would have had a better finished product if he hadn’t started his entire bake over. And, while I can rag on Paul all day for dragging the look of George’s Show Stopper, he also pointed out that the milk bread itself was a little on the heavy side, in order to get it to stand up. I guess that’s fair enough, but are we back to prioritizing flavor over look again, all of a sudden? I’m confused. Anyway, George clearly has many talents but he has yet to put together a complete performance across all three rounds, nor has he had enough triumphs to distract from his missteps. It seems like he’s always baking nervous. If he can calm down and clean up some of his mistakes, perhaps he could emerge as a dark horse, but I fear his chances of doing so are limited.
Place In Technical: 2nd
Heck yeah! Lizzie had herself a damn good Bread Week, which gives me great joy. In crafting a signature chock full of truffle everything, and justifying that decision by pointing out that she’s not the one paying for it, Lizzie has emerged as the most genre savvy baker in the show’s history. If she is to be pitted against her fellow baker for the benefit of an unaccountable ruling class, it is good and proper for her to take that ruling class for as much of a ride as she possibly can. What’s more is that this flavor combination paid off; when I watched the episode with my wife, she said that using truffle salt and truffle oil and shaved truffles was going to get her in trouble. Paul and Prue being themselves, surely they would regard this as too much truffle, and I immediately agreed. But then, they both regarded the flavor as a triumph, instead dinging Lizzie’s Signature only for some mild proving and textural issues. Not bad! Snagging second in the Technical is also pretty huge, and huger still is capping off this kind of week with a Show Stopper that received high marks all around. So why isn’t Lizzie higher in these rankings? The issue is sample size. We’re three weeks in, and Lizzie was in danger of being in danger in two of those three. I cannot disregard those rougher showings after one good week, no matter how much I want Lizzie to instigate a Tent revolution that culminates with the bakers seizing the means of production. Lizzie does stand a chance of climbing higher, but she must first demonstrate that she can do well consistently if she is to disrupt this Tent’s apparent stratification.
Place In Technical: 6th
Place In Technical: 9th
I am doubling up on doubled up baker write-ups this week for two reasons. First, if I may be allowed to offer a peek behind the curtain, I must confess that baby parenting has kicked my ass this week. I’ve been exhausted all week, which means I’ve been procrastinating despite going into this week with every intention of not doing so, which means I am now frantically compiling these rankings at the last minute while also beating up on myself for procrastinating, yet again. The second reason is that little transpired in Bread Week to change my impression of either baker, or their respective chances. Last week, I pegged both Chigs and Crystelle as the two biggest threats to the supremacy of this Tent’s reigning triumvirate, and of the two, I gave a slight edge to Crystelle, figuring that her practice bakes are better enough to overcome her emerging tendency towards bad Technical showings. That still sounds about right, to me. In the pre-Show Stopper judges’ discussion, Paul listed Chigs as in potential trouble, which doesn’t make sense. He dragged on Chigs’ focaccia for being overbaked, I guess, but it was otherwise delicious, and with a middling Technical showing I don’t see how he could have been in actual trouble. Meanwhile, Crystelle came in second-to-last in the Technical for the second straight week, but both her Signature and Show Stopper were good enough that it didn’t matter. I must confess that two weeks of bad Technicals in a row does have me concerned for Crystelle, though. If the Technical is meant as a gauge of overall baking knowledge, and she is having consistent problems with the Technical, I fear that eventually she’ll come across a practice bake that messes her up. Still, her talent is obvious, and maybe those Technicals will improve.
Place In Technical: 5th
Oh god, kill it! Kill it with fire! Jesus Tapdancing Christ, what in the world was Jürgen thinking (or, if he is being truthful in saying the concept was his wife’s idea, what was she thinking)? That bread baby, and the thought of slicing it up and eating it, will haunt my nightmares for the rest of my natural life. Anyway, dropping Jürgen all the way to third in these rankings after an off week is, at first blush, a repudiation of what the rankings are supposed to be about. Jürgen won Star Baker in Cake Week and utterly dominated Biscuit Week; does this not merit the benefit of the doubt? And if that’s the case, doesn’t Jürgen’s performance in the first two weeks merit keeping him in the top two at the very least, if not keeping him in the top spot? It would if Jürgen’s Bread Week was a mild regression towards mortality, but from where I’m sitting, it was considerably worse than that. Jürgen didn’t just look mortal, he looked vulnerable to a degree I thought impossible. As my wife would say, Bread Week is the great equalizer, but going into this week, I figured that there’s no way the ultra-fastidious and studied Jürgen would be the sort of baker to struggle with bread. And yet, he absolutely struggled with bread! His focaccia was overbaked, under proved, under mixed, and didn’t taste all that great, either. His Show Stopper was a bit of a rebound, but was also under proved, and a total creep show, to boot. Neither of the other two bakers in this power trio up top have slipped up to this degree, or even a degree close to it. With this placement, the particulars of Jürgen’s bad week are given greater weight than these rankings’ useful but intentionally vague guiding principles, which is as it should be. Evidence must always override preconceptions.
Place In Technical: 4th
Compare and contrast with Freya, who hasn’t slipped up once, unless you want to count Paul’s catty bullshit about too much coffee in her brandy snaps from last week (and, to be extra clear, I don’t). She’s never presented a practice bake that wasn’t met with high marks all around, and she’s never finished in the bottom half of any Technical so far. Heck, the closest she’s come to doing so is Bread Week, when she finished a more than respectable 4th out of 10. And, of course, all of her practice bakes have been made vegan, and that has caused nary a hiccup in either flavor, texture, or presentation. Bread Week continued in this tradition of excellence, so much so that the judges had little to say about her bakes, except that they were very good. As much as I want to see both Paul and Prue shipped off to Siberia these days, I’m going to take a cue from them and keep my remarks on Freya’s performance brief, because again, I put off writing this week’s column for far too long and I’m starting to unravel.
Place In Technical: 1st
Speaking of shunting Paul off on a less than voluntary voyage of tundra exploration, you know what else has me messed up about this show right now? Every season, there’s always a Bread Week, and every Bread Week, the show regards Paul and his bread expertise with even more slobbering ego stroking, as if the guy needed more of that, against all odds. The message is clear: Paul Hollywood has forgotten more about bread making than you could ever hope to know, and he’s in charge of this Tent for a reason, and don’t you forget it. And look what fucking happens in this week’s Signature! Giuseppe rolls in with a focaccia recipe that calls for using milk instead of water, which Paul has never heard of and therefore regards with deep skepticism. But, when it’s time to actually judge the focaccia, it turns out it was a masterpiece, with a flawless texture and bake, and so Paul hands out one of his theoretically rare and prestigious handshakes, then demands that Giuseppe give him the recipe. So, here’s my beef. I don’t expect that an expert in a subject be familiar with absolutely every single aspect of that subject. Every subject contains infinite multitudes, and the knowledge any of us could ever hope to possibly accrue, even if that knowledge is limited to a single subject. It doesn’t bother me that Paul doesn’t actually know every single thing about bread, it bothers me that he can be such a jackoff about his expertise when he still has more to learn, just like the rest of us. He only shows humility when forced to, as he was when judging Giuseppe’s Signature. The dude could be worse; unlike the Gordon Ramsays of this broken world, at least Paul is still constructive, even when he’s on his worst behavior. But in the context of a GBBS that increasingly feels judged less by two professional baking experts and more by a couple of vaguely racist omnipotent tricksters, it’s dispiriting. Probably, some of you are mad that I have hijacked what should be a triumphant writeup for Giuseppe to bitch about the judges even more than I already have, so uh…good job, Giuseppe! You killed it. His Bread Week was every bit as dominant as Jürgen’s Biscuit Week, and that’s cool! That said, this is my GBBS column, and I can do what I want. Tough cookies if you don’t like it.