GBBS 2021 Power Rankings – Dessert Week

Hello there! Welcome back to the GBBS Power Rankings!

What’s that, you say? My shirt is splattered with blood, and so is my face? Huh, that’s odd. I didn’t notice until you pointed it out, and I have no idea why that would be the case. Oh, this? This is also pretty strange, it appears to be a human tooth, of all things. Give me a second and let me check something. Yeah, I seem to have all of my human teeth still, so I guess the plot thickens. What do you mean, why am I holding a cricket bat with a bunch of rusty nails poking out of it, one that is likewise caked in rapidly drying blood? I have no idea why I would be in possession of such a thing as that, and under normal conditions I would begin to suspect you’re pulling my leg, were it not for the fact that I just looked down, and wouldn’t you know it, that sure seems to be a bloody, nail-dotted cricket bat in my dominant hand there.

I find all of this strange, curious, and disturbing. I seem to be exhibiting the signs and symptoms of someone who has chosen violence, but as you, my faithful readers would know, I would never dream of doing such a thing in these rankings. I propose that it is best for all of us that we put this little curio behind us, without further investigation. Wouldn’t you agree? I think we could all stand to stop bandying about wild accusations of psychotic, frothing-at-the-mouth rampages directed at a certain pair of pasty Brits for the time being. Care for some dessert? That sounds like a nice way to unwind, doesn’t it?

Of course, there’s nothing all that calm or relaxing about Dessert Week, which is often a nightmare gauntlet of crèmes and egg whites and jellies and all manner of other finicky substances that are a pain to whip together in the first place, and I mean that literally; in many cases; they require grabbing a whisk and going to town until the things that don’t want to cohere into a unified substance cohere into a unified substance. And then, once that’s done, there’s nothing to do except shove it in the freezer and sit around in a terror state, hoping that the stuff sets.

Fittingly, Dessert Week featured a small handful of high-profile disasters that distracted from a large amount of smaller ones. Just about everyone in the Tent had problems with something, whether it be cracks on the pavlova or a joconde collar that was a mess at the seam or a sticky toffee pudding that didn’t stay in the dang oven for long enough. For a bit there, I was concerned that this week would give us our first true Disaster Technical of the season. A Disaster Technical is one in which none of the bakers, not even the one who came in first, actually do a decent job of making the recipe in question; it’s happened enough times over the course of the show’s history that I’m always on the lookout for it to happen again. This wasn’t an actual Disaster Technical, but it was close.

The potential for a Disaster Technical is the reason why the Did Anyone Succeed field exists in the episode info section. That said, it’s been three consecutive weeks where the judges’ comments indicated that the top two placed bakers – and only the top two placed bakers – succeeded at the Technical. That seems like an implausibly specific success rate, so much so that I’m beginning to think it’s a function of editing rather than bake quality. I’m not one to alter any my methods for crafting this column in the middle of a season, but I might have to ditch the Did Anyone Succeed field entirely, and note Disaster Technicals some other way.

This week’s Rankings feature very little movement, but what movement there is comes near the top. I’ve made no secret of my belief that this is a very stratified Tent, having hitched my wagon to three particular bakers who I’ve all but penciled in for the Final. This week, the triumvirate has been broken for the first time this season, and while I was able to make a final decision as to who should hold the top spot, it was not an easy decision by any means. To the rankings!

Week 4 – Dessert Week

Signature Bake: Pavlova

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: 4 Individual Sticky Toffee Puddings

-Judge: Prue

-Judging Parameters: Fully baked, light sponge. Properly made, smooth caramel sauce and crème Anglaise.

-Did Anyone Succeed? Lizzie and Jürgen

Show Stopper: Joconde Imprimè

Star Baker: Chigs

Eliminated: Maggie

9. Maggie

Place In Technical: 9th

Change: 0

There was a point during this week’s Technical when Maggie, in the midst of attempting to make her annihilated, accidentally gluten-free puddings appear if not presentable, then the closest to that bare minimum standard as possible, said “anybody watching will feel very sorry for me.” I’m not a total monster; I myself have been in situations where my failure was certain, and there was little for me to do except put a brave face on it. So as far as that goes, I do empathize with Maggie, here. But also, Rochica got knocked out last week for this? Are you kidding me? Any time a baker’s Tent tenure barely survives, their next week invariably goes one of two ways. They either rebound from a bad week and put in a decent or better performance – some of these rebound weeks have been quite dramatic, indeed – or they continue their rapid, unraveling descent, thus squandering their last opportunity at extending their stay. Maggie’s Dessert Week obviously falls into that latter camp. Her pavlova was tasty, but collapsed on the sides and just generally looked a mess. Her first joconde sponge came out of the oven too early, thus necessitating it be remade. A baker needing to remake a component of any bake is always scary to see, but we’ve all seen bakers pull it off, or at least pull it off well enough to make it the right decision. Maggie probably made the right decision to do her sponge over, but it didn’t pay off, with her collar bursting at the seam at the last second. And, of course, both her Signature and Show Stopper were entirely straightforward and traditional in their conception, giving her no margin of error and necessarily funneling the judges’ focus towards the execution of fundamentals. Unfortunately, the execution wasn’t there, and Maggie knew it, too. I suppose that is a bummer, but I’m still stuck on how much of a waste it was.

8. Amanda

Place In Technical: 8th

Change: 0

Speaking of bakers who survived the week by the skin of their teeth, I thought there was a real chance that the judges would have chosen to send Amanda home, and I wouldn’t have been that shocked had they gone in that direction. Amanda also had a rough go of things in all three rounds. The look of her heart-shaped pavlova got high marks, as did the texture of her bavarois and, uh…whatever other fillings were inside her joconde. Neither of those are nothing. Pavlovas are tricky to get looking good all the way around, and while I don’t know exactly what a bavarois is, it sure seems like the sort of thing that can separate and/or break entirely pretty easily. So it’s good those went well in a week where little else did. Her joconde collar broke just like Maggie’s, and her break may have been even more dramatic. Maggie’s filling seeped out; Amanda’s burst forth onto the presenting tray. The raspberry flavors of her pavolva didn’t really come through. Her Show Stopper mostly just tasted like booze, and not booze and apples. And, in all likelihood, she only came second-to-last in the Technical by virtue of remembering to mix the flour in. Amanda does get another chance for the third time in four weeks, and I’m starting to legitimately wonder if she’s gonna end up sticking around until the Semis. All you have to do is slightly better than the most worst for another four weeks, right?

7. George

Place In Technical: 7th

Change: 0

All the way back in Cake Week, I mused that perhaps, if George found a way to calm down and bake more within his means, he could emerge as one of the Tent’s better bakers. This means that I’ve spent the past four weeks waiting for George to pull it together, and it just hasn’t happened. Pulling the pavlova out of the oven and socking it in the proving drawer so that he could bake a few biscuits to go with was an…odd choice. I’ve never made a pavlova myself but Prue’s remarks on the technique made it pretty clear that one’s pavlova should stay in the dang oven. Surely George must have practiced this beforehand, right? If so, did it work out? And if so, did it work out more than once? I have many questions. I must also mention George’s Show Stopper, which got dragged for being a mess and having too many peanuts in it; really neither judge had too many nice things to say about it. Which is why I would like to state for the record that I thought it looked absolutely fucking delicious, and had I been forced at gunpoint to consume at least one of this week’s Show Stoppers, I would’ve picked George’s. All I want out of this life is to shove giant wads of chocolate and peanut butter into my face. I like George, and I relate to his energy. That is why it gives me no pleasure to admit in the sight of the entire internet that George’s ceiling, and his potential to put together an impressive run down the stretch, is limited.

6. Lizzie

Place In Technical: 2nd

Change: 0

Don’t let Lizzie’s good showing in the Technical, where she was one of the very few bakers to leave her sticky toffee puddings in the oven long enough for it to fully bake, distract from the rest of her week. Alas, it wasn’t all that good of a showing. The purple food coloring and rosemary-infused, light green crème drew heavy criticism, but the pavlova itself also got dinged for being stodgy. I forget if that means it was under-baked or over-baked – I’m pretty sure it means under-baked – but in either event, that’s not great. Other bakers had cracks, but only Lizzie’s pavlova wasn’t cooked quite right. Yes, she got high makers for taste, but much like last season flavor screw-ups have been few and far between in this Tent. If everyone’s pavlova was tasty (except maybe Amanda’s), then tastiness is not sufficient to cover up problems with the bake itself. And, like George, the judges really didn’t have too many nice things to say about her Show Stopper. The decoration was a bit of a mess and the textures of the fillings were all wrong and the flavors themselves didn’t work together all that well. That little souvenir trash bin was cute, though, and apparently Liverpool has a distinct and iconic skyline? You learn new things every day, I guess.

5. Crystelle

Place In Technical: 5th

Change: -1

Crystelle didn’t do anything wrong to see herself dropped a spot, but in a week where her non-sexual power rankings life partner Chigs knocked it out of the park, Crystelle couldn’t hold onto her spot just by continuing to be herself. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a baker of her caliber; she has yet to truly mess up a practice bake, and she even improved in the Technical this week, finishing in the dead center of the pack instead of near the bottom. And, both her Signature and her Show Stopper were pretty dang good, if a bit short of great. Her Signature had the flavors down pat, but her meringue was a bit too thick. This might have been because it was built out horizontally and not vertically, but the flared, fluted look of it was unique and received high marks. Paul gave her some guff about her Show Stopper having too much lime in it, but as we’ve all seen Paul will sometimes choose to be weird about certain flavors. Also, too much lime for what? Did her fillings cross the absolute threshold of quantified lime flavor parts per million that no dessert dare cross? Or did the lime steal too much of the spotlight from the coconut, pineapple, and almond flavors? It’s not clear, and that’s chafing at me. Regardless, I still very much consider Crystelle a playoff dark horse. I have no trouble seeing her remaining in the Tent until the Semifinal, especially if she continues to step her game up in the Technical.

4. Freya

Place In Technical: 6th

Change: -2

Alas, poor Freya. I admire her decision to stick to her guns in Dessert Week and keep making everything vegan, whenever possible, but talk about not making things easy on yourself. It was always going to be an uphill battle for Freya this time out, especially in the Signature. If the best way to make a vegan meringue is with aquafaba, but aquafaba meringue does not have the same level of structural integrity as egg white meringue, but one of the hallmarks of a good pavlova is the contrast between the crisp exterior and the fluffy interior, then a baker insisting on making a vegan pavlova has their work cut out for themselves. And, when it came time for judging, it collapsed in the center, as she foresaw. Also, the raspberry coulis fell flat. But hey, the piping on those flowers was pretty sick, wasn’t it? Making a vegan joconde imprimè presented its own challenges. She had to square her joconde collar, which didn’t seem to cause issues but easily could have. But unfortunately, the problems Freya had in the Show Stopper seemed to be less related to the inherent difficulty of going vegan. She just didn’t execute up the same standard. The fillings were messy and the textures were weird and apparently the orange was too strong, although once again it’s not clear if the flavor was too much in absolute or relative terms. Given my resistance to move bakers around too much after one particularly good or bad week, I was fully prepared to keep Freya in the top three, but after thinking a bit harder I realized I just couldn’t. What happens to Freya in Pastry Week? What if there’s a Patisserie Week? Yes, she’s only had one rough week out of four, but more weeks where going vegan makes every bake that much harder are in the future. Before this week, I thought Freya was good enough to overcome those inherent challenges. Now, having seen her struggle and maybe get a bit shaken as a result, I’m no longer certain that’s the case.

3. Chigs

Place In Technical: 3rd

Change: +2

On the flip side, I was also hesitant to bump Chigs up into a top three that I was really starting to think would last for the entire season. Yes, Chigs had himself a week to remember, but where would I be if I strapped a rocket to everyone who ever snagged a Star Baker award? If I started giving oxygen to ideas that dangerous, why I might just be in contention for the Best Column Covering a Baking Competition Based on a Ridiculous, Made Up Conceit Pulitzer, and my psyche would crumble to dust if I were to ever receive that much attention. Anyway, I’ve been giving the pavlovas a heck of a lot of attention, given how unimportant the Signature it is, but frankly, I think it was the more interesting challenge this week. If you fuck up a pavlova, there’s almost no way to hide it (ask George if you don’t believe me), and it’s very hard to not fuck it up. Chigs, of course, nailed his Signature to the tune of a handshake, which I would make a bigger deal of were it not the second handshake in as many weeks. (Remember that one season – I think it was the first Channel 4 season, but I can’t be certain – where Paul was handing out those things all willy-nilly, and we all stopped giving a shit? I do!) That said, nailing both that and his Show Stopper is an undeniable accomplishment, and he absolutely earned his Star. Anyway, I was preparing to explain myself for keeping Chigs out of the top three when I remembered that he was that close to being the Star Baker in Biscuit Week, as well, meaning he’s no one-week wonder. I said back at the beginning of the season that I thought Chigs could go far, and now he’s capitalizing on that promise, to a degree beyond my most optimistic expectations. But of course, there’s nowhere to go from Star Baker but down. Good on Chigs for breaking into the top three, but now it’s time to see if he can stay there.

2. Jürgen

Place In Technical: 1st

Change: +1

1. Giuseppe

Place In Technical: 4th

Change: 0

I’d be lying if I said that putting Giuseppe on top ahead of Jürgen reflected a real gap in their Finals prospects. As far as I’m concerned, they’re both neck-and-neck. That said, this decision was not arbitrary. Yes, part of my reasoning is principled; I only move bakers around in the rankings when I must, and Giuseppe has shown enough at this point that I can’t knock him out of the top spot without real cause. Dessert Week provided no such cause. Jürgen had a damn fine bounce back week after Bread Week’s baffling misfires, but the only challenge he clearly bested Giuseppe in was the Technical. Also, Jürgen’s Show Stopper was based on traditional, Tudor-period English flavor combinations, and for fuck’s sake, why would you do that? The English don’t know how to make anything taste good now, a full five centuries later. I can’t imagine how dire the culinary scene was back when the plague was a salient, everyday concern. What’s worse is he talked up this one time where he made a joconde with kissing U.S.S. Enterprises, and we didn’t get to see it! Come on, man! At the risk of being the worst kind of fawning nerd, that would’ve been sick, and no one in the Tent would’ve needed to know you’ve done it before, either. That seems like a layup to me, but perhaps this exact lack of ambition is the reason I would never, ever come close to entering the Tent, even if I wanted to. Giuseppe, for his part, didn’t have a perfect week either, but it he did have a better one. His Show Stopper was excellent all around, if a bit simply presented, but that didn’t seem to hurt him at all. If I really wanted to to bump Jürgen into first, perhaps I could make more hay of the fact that Giuseppe’s pavlova might have been a bit under baked, which is arguably a greater sin than Jürgen’s slightly messy cracking. That’s too thin a pretense for me, however. I’ve been burned by calling bakers virtual locks for the Finals before, so I won’t do it here, but can you actually imagine either baker getting bounced before then? I sure can’t, and I don’t think that’s for lack of imagination.

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