Real talk: I’ve had an inordinately hectic week, and as a result, I didn’t have the time to write an actual introduction to this week’s rankings column. However, I do have a couple of thoughts on this week’s cold open.
This week’s cold open featured Matt and Noel vamping about baked goods in the style of the seminal German electronic music group Kraftwerk, while dressed in the red shirt/black tie look the band sports on the cover of their 1978 album The Man-Machine. In my Cake Week column, I spent no small amount of energy spewing forth my disgust with the low effort Achy Breaky Heart parody that left me bereft of will and spirit. It is therefore reasonable to assume that I have similar amounts of bile for this opening, given my expressed distaste for low effort song parodies. But truly, I do not. You’ll note that they weren’t performing a parody version of any specific Kraftwerk song (at least, not that I recognized), but rather, they were performing in Kraftwerk-esque fashion, broadly construed. This cold open wasn’t good, mind you – I still rolled my eyes more than once – but even the worst style parody is a massive improvement over changing some words in an existing song, then calling it a day.
And, since they’ve come up, it is imperative that I tell you there’s no wrong time to get into Kraftwerk! They are one of the greatest bands of the 1970’s, and essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in electronic pop. I recommend starting with their 1977 masterpiece Trans-Europe Express, but there’s nothing wrong with going to the The Man-Machine first, either. It’s not quite as good as Trans-Europe Express, but it is more accessible, with generally shorter songs and more immediate hooks. You may also be tempted to start with 1974’s Autobahn, but I don’t think it’s the best gateway album. That said, Autobahn is a fantastic album in its own right, and there are no wrong answers, here.
To the rankings!
Week 5 – German Week
Signature Bake: 2 Batches of 12 German Biscuits
-Judging Parameters: Uniform sponge and chocolate custard layers. Straight on sides. Well-tempered chocolate crowns.
-Did Anyone Succeed? Your mom!
Show Stopper: Tiered Yeast Leavened Cake
Star Baker: Giuseppe
Place In Technical: 5th
Long-time readers of this column may be tempted to think that, because I had been high on Freya previously and George didn’t have a great week by any stretch (hold that thought) that I am both shocked and pissed off with Freya’s elimination. Historically speaking, few things have torqued my shorts quite like an elimination I don’t agree with, especially when it happens to a baker I was high on. And yet, I am neither shocked nor pissed about this. Freya had a rough Dessert Week and a rough German Week, and when I examine both of these lesser performances together, I can’t help but wonder if maybe her excellent first three weeks were, for lack of a better idiom, something of a fluke. I don’t like using that term in this context; Freya obviously has a lot of talent, and I stand by my high assessment of her early weeks. My point is that I think Freya did well when the challenges were relatively easy and rooted in fundamentals. The first three weeks are cake, biscuits, and bread. Those are relatively easy to prepare for well in advance, and relatively easy to do vegan, as well. Once the challenges themselves moved away from the basics, she started to struggle. At the risk of putting too fine a point on Freya’s veganism, I must say I’m having a very tough time eulogizing her Tent tenure without examining it through that lens. It doubtlessly made things harder for her at points, but unlike her tough outing in Dessert Week I don’t see much evidence that it was a major factor in her tough outing this week. Her biscuits got stuck to the pan and they were overbaked, burning some of the fruit. Her Show Stopper was under baked and doughy, despite her best efforts to make sure it was fully cooked, and there wasn’t enough of the syrup on top. There’s not much to be done about a week like that.
Place In Technical: 6th
All of that said, I don’t see a clear reason why George was allowed to remain at Freya’s expense. Not much went George’s way, either. Paul described his biscuits in the Signature as “tough”, which doesn’t sound pleasant; he also dragged George for the bake on the upper tiers of the Show Stopper, which was too light on the outside and raw on the inside. Raw dough has always been one of the cardinal sins in the Tent, along with beefing in the Show Stopper. Frankly, it’s not clear what George did that earned the judges’ confidence for another week, having presented a Show Stopper with raw dough after a bad showing in the Technical which in turn came after a bad showing in the Signature. I guess it came down to flavors? They liked the chocolate and tahini balance of his cakes, whereas Freya’s cakes didn’t have enough of the good stuff. And yet, this speculative explanation (a very polite way of saying this is a “just-so” story, and a completely fabricated one at that) doesn’t satisfy me much. It sure seems like raw dough is a bigger problem than not tasty enough; under baked but still edible must be preferable to inedible, right? Perhaps the burnt fruit of Freya’s biscuits hurt her a lot more than I’m assuming, but does the Signature matter for some reason all of a sudden? That would be odd, if so. All of that said, I like George and I think there is a real logic to eliminating Freya, so I’m not mad, I’m just a bit puzzled. George gets to bake for another week, but he’s a known quantity with clear limitations. I’m skeptical he’ll get much more time than that. Also, I spent the entire Show Stopper terrified for the guy. Can you imagine baking a Show Stopper on this show as an anniversary gift for your wife, and then that very gift is deemed poor enough to warrant your elimination? What a nightmare! I was worried he’d get bounced and his marriage would crumble as a result. This is why I don’t put myself out there; I feel like enough a disappointment most of the time, anyway. Thanks, chronic depression!
Place In Technical: 3rd
I think Lizzie is a curious case. She often has real problems with her practice bakes – I don’t think she’s had a week where she’s knocked both the Signature and the Show Stopper out of the park – but her Technical placements are consistently near the top of the pack. And yes, a lot of the criticisms she draws for her practice bakes are related to sloppy decorations and odd, off putting color combinations and other aesthetic grievances. But, consistently high Technical placements are a sign of a baker who excels at the fundamentals of baking, and I would think those skills would translate to the practice bakes a lot more than they have for Lizzie. Her Show Stopper avoided the trap of breadiness, with a yeasted cake that had the texture of a cake. But alas, Prue got on her cakes for not having enough sweetness, which seems strange to me because she had soaked raisins and icing and pineapple in and/or on them. With that combination, I would’ve expected the opposite problem, and it’s not clear how those flavors fell short. And her Signature didn’t go very well at all; Prue liked the look of her cheeky boys, but that’s where the compliments ended. The biscuits were underbaked; the almond fingers were both too big and imbalanced, with chocolate overpowering almond. At this point I’m not sure why Lizzie hasn’t put everything together, but she hasn’t. This far into the season, I regretfully lament that I don’t think that’s due to bad luck or coincidence.
Place In Technical: 8th
Here I am, having been down on Amanda for weeks and weeks, forced to swallow my pride and give her the biggest rankings boost of the week, even though her German Week performance was marred with goofy blunders. She did a great job on her heart-shaped mulled wine biscuits! Too bad there was one less of them than there was supposed to be. Paul called her Show Stopper was one of the tastiest things he’s had in a long time! Too bad the bottom layer was comprised of desultory smears of icing and almonds. And, of course, her Technical was a disaster, with a split chocolate custard that necessitated making a separate, non-chocolate crème just so that she had a pipeable substance to make the decorative florets with. But of course, the Technical doesn’t matter that much anymore, and she inarguably did a great deal better on her practice bakes than any of the other bakers further down the list. I don’t like her long-term prospects that much, but the judges seem to like her a lot more than I do, and what the heck do I know, anyway? I thought she’d get bounced in Biscuit Week.
Place In Technical: 2nd
Is it cruel for me to demote Chigs out of the top three in this fashion, but one week after moving him into a top three that I once considered nigh-on unbreakable but two weeks ago, and which is now permanently missing one of its members? I mean maybe, yeah. In my defense, however, I’d like to point out that, seeing as this column is an exercise in imagined, bizarro anti-journalism providing nothing more than a few extra quasi-associated drabs of discourse resembling, but legally distinct from legitimate cultural critique in an internet already poisoned with said, that I am operating fully; nay, ideally, within the parameters of this particular genre of sensationalist garbage by fattening Chigs up with praise one week only to sacrifice him on the altar of Content Creation the next. Also, Technical aside, he didn’t have all that good of a week. Chigs went into the week feeling that he had to step up his flavor game, so he made sure that his almond horns had so much orange zest in the, they couldn’t be missed; unfortunately, this came at the expense of the actual almonds. His Show Stopper cakes were visibly overbaked and also very dry, and from the sounds of the judges’ comments the candied fruit peels, while good, didn’t really save the operation. In short, he had the sort of week that, while easily survivable now, will get him into major trouble if it happens two or three weeks from now. Come playoff time, a pretty good Technical is not going to save a baker who whiffs on bake times and/or flavors in the practice bakes.
Place In Technical: 7th
Of course, this is because we all know and acknowledge that the Technical has become essentially meaningless, and few if any bakers in GBBS history have benefited from this sea change in judging philosophy more than Crystelle. For the third time in five weeks, Crystelle came in second-to-last in the Technical, yet hasn’t even sort of been in trouble in any of those weeks, because her practice bakes have been top-notch, or close to it. (Is there any more valuable a skill in recent Tents than consistently being second worst at something?) This week, her performance was as true to this form as it could be. Her gambit of baking her biscuits in a sheet, then cutting them afterward paid off just fine, despite Paul’s initial skepticism. They looked nice and uniform, anyway, and Prue called them a triumph. Her Show Stopper was one of the most complete of the entire week. The row of roses along the height of the tiers was simple and elegant-looking, and the flavors all worked together, and if there was a problem with the bake itself, neither judge saw fit to mention it. All of that said, I still think Crystelle isn’t at the level of the top two bakers. Even granting that the Technical doesn’t matter too much, I think her consistently underwhelming placements in it are a problem for her, insofar as they reduce her margin for error. Put another way, what happens when Crystelle gets yet another bottom placement, and then follows that up with an underwhelming (or worse) Show Stopper? Right now, right this second, I like Crystelle’s chances better than I like those of anyone below her here, but her position this high in the rankings is fragile. She’ll probably switch places with Chigs next week, anyway.
Place In Technical: 4th
Can I just say that all of the comments from the hosts, the other bakers, and even the other judges that, because it was German Week and because Jürgen is a very good baker who is also German, he must have had Star Baker locked up before the baking even began, was noxious and stupid? That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works! No baker should be forced to deal with additional pressure solely because of ethnic and/or cultural pigeonholing. This shit is stressful enough, clearly. Even more damning is Jürgen’s comment to the judges early in the Show Stopper, when he pointed out that while yeast cakes are a thing, tiered yeast cakes are not. In other words, the Show Stopper’s design had less to do with highlighting actual German baking traditions and more to do with providing an excuse to show off a bunch of fucking tall cakes, yet again, and to the exclusion of anything else. (Shouldn’t we have had Pastry Week before we jumped to the bullshit themed weeks?) To me, that made all those comments even more unbearable; if you asked me, a native Minnesotan, to go win a cooking competition of three-tiered Hotdishes, I would tell you to go fuck yourself with a spork, and further demand that you thank me for responding to that request with such courtesy rather than expressing my true feelings. Jürgen had a perfectly fine week by any reasonable standard, but fell just short of Star Baker because his Show Stopper was too dry and not quite up to snuff. This was regarded as a disappointment, but for all the wrong reasons.
Place In Technical: 1st
Yeah, he’s really good. What? I told you I had a hectic week, and what more can I even say about the guy? I don’t have a minimum word count, and you’re not my English teacher.
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