GBBS 2021 Power Rankings – Pastry Week

Finally, Pastry Week! It continues to baffle me that the first three weeks of each and every recent GBBS season have invariably been given over to cakes, biscuits, and bread, and invariably in that order, while pastry is saved for some mid-to-late week, invariably after the first stupid theme week of the season. Are you trying to test the bakers’ fundamentals, or not? Because pastry is a fundamental! You need to be able to make a decent choux and a decent rough puff and a broadly acceptable hot water crust to have a real chance of going the distance in the Tent (and that is decidedly not an all-inclusive list of important pastry types); these are all recipes that I would imagine any baker competing on GBBS would want to have down pat before the season even started. Going into the Tent without knowing how to bake these things is like going on Jeopardy! without brushing up on Presidents, art history, or the Bible.

And yet, none of these skills have been tested in a timely fashion as of late. Hell, two seasons ago, they didn’t run Pastry Week until the goddamn quarterfinal. Naturally, as someone who believes that GBBS is a sport, and who further believes that the theme weeks are increasingly an abomination (the best are still trying too hard, and the worst are an embarrassment), I can’t imagine why pastry week keeps getting put off, and I’m a bit salty about it. This is speculation, but I’ve come to assume that whoever is in charge of determining the season schedule considers pastry to be significantly more difficult than the cake/biscuit/bread trifecta, and therefore not worth testing before a certain amount of lesser bakers are weeded out.

I have no idea if there’s any truth to this, of course, but I do find the thought silly. I miss the days when soggy bottoms were universally feared in the Tent, because it happened to most every baker and the judges never let it pass without comment. Now, the bakers in every Tent are too good for it to be a widespread problem. That each new Tent features better and better bakers is a net positive for the show, but that’s all the more reason to do Pastry Week earlier and not later. All of that said, perhaps a alter Pastry Week was an excuse for Paul to dust off the old Force the Bakers to Make Filo Dough From Scratch trick in the Technical. Once every few years, the bakers are asked to make filo, and every time it happens I tighten up just watching it. It sounds like it sucks! Any sort of lamination sounds like a pain in the ass, and filo is the finickiest laminated dough of them all, and appears to provide the least margin for error.

On top of that, its relative rarity in the Tent seems to catch bakers by surprise when it is part of a challenge. Choux pastry and rough puff and hot water crust almost always come up over the course of a full season, but filo-based challenges are rare enough that it probably doesn’t make that much sense to practice it, given all the other skills a baker needs to brush up on before the season. Giuseppe and Chigs looked like they were losing their minds when they were told what this week’s Technical was, and who can blame them? Giuseppe also pointed out that no amateur baker makes their own filo dough, because you can find the pre-made stuff in any self-respecting supermarket’s freezer section.

But while some of the bakers had problems with their baklava, it didn’t seem like there were that many issues with the filo itself. I expected at least one dramatic meltdown during the Technical, where one of the bakers realizes they’ve messed up catastrophically and is then made to present a bake they know the judges are going to drag to hell (albeit in a mostly polite and constructive way). But, there was no such drama to be found until the Show Stopper, which led to not one, but two of the exact sort of dramatic meltdowns I’m talking about. Strange that the Technical rooted in a notoriously finicky dough went off with few hitches, while the actually pretty straightforward, hot water crust-based Show Stopper (the only decorative requirement was that the filling inside form a pattern, which I’m sure is tricky but isn’t nearly as mean as it could have been) is the challenge that caused real problems. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but as I’ve become fond of saying in these columns, what do I know?

We’re at week 6 of the 10-week season, and I remain shocked at how stratified this year’s Tent is. We’ve known who the best bakers are for almost the entire season, and little has happened to challenge their supremacy. There are two bakers who are obviously contenders; if I’ve learned anything from putting the column together the past few years, it’s that no one is a lock for the Finals, and yet each of these two are as close to being a lock for the Finals as I’ve seen. Then there are two bakers who are both pretty damn good, but a notch or two below the top. There’s four weeks to go, and it already feels like they’re fighting over the last Finals spot. Then, there’s everybody else, all of whom are at various points struggling, show flashes of greater skill that they never fully capitalize on, and/or getting eliminated.

As a result, this week’s rankings offer no surprises to anyone who is caught up with the show. I took the opportunity to be coy in the previous paragraph, but I don’t know why; each and every one of you knows exactly who I was referring to at each point, and most of you could almost certainly guess who is ranked where in this week’s column, without looking. Heck, my wife did exactly that on Saturday morning, before I had even started writing. But while the rankings themselves provide little supplementary intrigue, there is still much to discuss with most everyone who made it this far. To the rankings!

Week 6 – Pastry Week

Signature Bake: Chouxnuts

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: Baklava

-Judge: Paul

-Judging Parameters: Properly laminated filo dough. Properly cut pattern on top and neatly dusted pistachio topping.

-Did Anyone Succeed? What does it mean to succeed? We’re all doing our best out here, friend

Show Stopper: Terrine Pie

Star Baker: Crystelle

Eliminated: Amanda

7. Amanda

Place In Technical: 5th

Change: -2

At the risk of coming across as a cruel meanie pants, I must confess I really have been waiting for Amanda to get eliminated for the entire season. It’s not that I had it out for her or anything, but let’s face it, she barely survived Cake Week, and that never bodes well. While she had some scattered successes, her week-to-week performances didn’t inspire confidence; her continued tenure appeared to be the result of doing just enough to squeak by each week, and I ranked her near the bottom accordingly. And then, after a pretty decent showing in German Week – not any sort of breakout showing, mind you, but a decent one – I finally sucked it up and bumped Amanda all the way up to fifth, only for the other shoe to drop immediately. Them’s the breaks in this racket. A complete audit of Amanda’s bad Pastry week would take all day and elucidate little. We all (presumably) saw her Show Stopper split in half when getting pulled out of its terrine, and then watched it get repaired, with minimal success. While this week’s Show Stopper was pretty straightforward in the scheme of things, the judges made it clear that first and foremost, it was a challenge of time management, and Amanda committed the classic blunder of spending too much time decorating, leaving her with not enough time to chill the pie, leading to collapse. Her chouxnuts didn’t call much attention to themselves, but they had plenty of problems all their own. I’ve long consider using rose flavored anything a trap, since there was a time when a baker who used rose would inevitably use too much or too little, and get called out accordingly. It had been a bit since baker did get called out for poor rose use, until Amanda fell right into the old trap; she used rose extract and not rosewater, which couldn’t have helped.

6. George

Place In Technical: 6th

Change: +1

But for all of the issues Amanda had in Pastry Week, I was convinced that George was going to be this week’s elimination all the up until he wasn’t. Frankly, I’m still not sure how he survived the week, given that his Show Stopper was just as bad, if not worse, in most respects. Amanda’s pork filling was too dry, but at least it was cooked. George made the baffling decision to sock his bacon and carrot rolled sausage in the freezer for a bit, then forgot about it, and as a result said sausage wasn’t fully cooked at the time of presentation. This is in addition to his own time management disaster, which also left him with no time to chill his terrine pie, resulting in collapse. He couldn’t even get the pie all the way out of the terrine, because it was still too hot. The crust itself was underbaked and leaky, of course. Usually, I assume that when the judges are confronted with two bad Show Stoppers, where one is fully cooked but has other problems and one is not fully cooked in addition to its other problems, they give preference to the one that is fully cooked. I’m not salty that Amanda was eliminated and not George – again, I think Amanda vastly overachieved in making it this far in the first place – but I’d be lying if I said I understood it. I can think of three reasons why George was kept on, instead. First, his chouxnuts were better than Amanda’s all around, even though his filled ones didn’t have quite enough filling. That’s cool and good, but since when does the Signature carry broader consequences? Second, his Show Stopper had a neat two-toned pastry design that Prue seemed to like, despite the rest. Again, that’s cool and good, but surely it did nothing to save the rest of the mess. Third, the judges consider George a better baker than Amanda overall, and therefore kept him. From where I’m sitting, it does seem like George has had more successes, but he’s now survived two consecutive weeks by the slimmest of margins. At this point, it’s very hard to see him sticking around much longer. That said, it looked to me like he was going to town on a bacon cheeseburger immediately after the Signature ended, which I hold in the highest respect.

5. Lizzie

Place In Technical: 7th

Change: +1

For some reason, Paul mentioned in the pre-Show Stopper judges’ interview that Lizzie was in trouble heading into the Show Stopper, which, uh…what!? Prue straight up said she would buy Lizzie’s chouxnuts in a shop. Yes, she was last in the Technical, but the days when coming in last in the Technical placed a baker in actual, immediate danger all by itself are long gone, and I should probably stop treating those interview segments as though they provide actual insight into anything. And of course, whatever actual danger of elimination Lizzie may (or may not) have faced was immediately erased when she set her Show Stopper down on the judging table. Her fish pattern on the top of her pie was probably the most impressive bit of decoration she’s pulled off so far, and the pie itself was pretty good, even though the pastry was too thick. All told, it might have been her best bake of the season. That said, I still don’t consider a dark horse contender. Unlike everyone above her in the rankings, she has not baked with any consistency. She hasn’t won Star Baker, and she hasn’t been in serious contention for doing so. Still, Lizzie is hanging in there admirably, and who knows? She managed to avoid annoying the judges with her decorations this week, and if she can stop doing that and everything else breaks her way she could still make a push for the Semifinals.

4. Chigs

Place In Technical: 3rd

Change: 0

By contrast, Chigs has established his bonafides, but after two middling weeks in a row I’m starting to wonder if he has hit his ceiling. Both his chouxnuts and his baklava were good, but not great. His filled chouxnuts had a bit too much hazelnut praline filling in them, making it hard to discern the pastry structure, but at least that filling was damn good. Also, color me impressed that he managed to pull off a chocolate choux pastry. Going rogue on dough can be recipe for trouble in any week, but Chigs knew the chocolate dough would be tough without extra egg, so he added extra egg. It’s great to see him display a level of baking experience that transcends the short amount of time he’s been baking. But alas, his Show Stopper was a bit of a let down. While it did not leak a disastrous amount, his pie pastry nonetheless sprung a leak, and the judges docked further points for a perceived lack of ambition in the design. It’s always possible that Chigs will come right back with a performance that rivals his Star Baker turn in Dessert Week, or his almost as impressive showing in Biscuit Week. Now that Crystelle is starting to consolidate her position near the top of the Tent hierarchy, he may need to do just that in order to hold onto his status as a fringe Finals contender.

3. Crystelle

Place In Technical: 2nd

Change: 0

It’s not every day that you can forget to set a timer in the Tent and come out the end of the week with a Star Baker award to your credit, and yet, Crystelle did just that in Pastry Week. Granted, this happened in the Signature, as she forgot to start her frying timer on the the chouxnuts, and you can get away with all sorts of bullshit in the Signature these days. Still, when it was time to judge the chouxnuts, the lack of color, lack of definition, and lack of proper aeration did not escape the judges’ notice, even if the flavors had no issues. It was at this point that I started to worry. I had just bumped Crystelle into the top three of the rankings for the first time, mostly for a lack of better options, and I was starting to fret that I had hitched my wagon to the wrong horse. After all, hoping that Crystelle will pull things together in the Technical is like hoping that the Toronto Maple Leafs will fully cohere as a unit once the playoffs start. Imagine my delight, then, to see Crystelle pull her Pastry Week all the way up, first with her best Technical performance of the season, then with a Show Stopper that netted her a handshake, even though she made it as hard on herself as possible at every opportunity. Using curry as a pie filling takes some serious guts – unless you cook the curry down sufficiently, there’s going to be too much moisture inside – and Crystelle handled that deftly, and her design and decorations were the most ambitious in the Tent, to boot. All told, Crystelle had an excellent week, finally capitalizing on all of her potential. Now, whether she can remain in contention remains to be seen. Yes, she had a great Technical this week, but this week is a sample size of one. Given how shaky her placements have been previously, I am forced to assume she will come back down to earth in that respect. That’s not a guarantee this will happen by any means, just a reminder that one excellent Technical cannot be taken to imply she has conquered those demons. And in the final weeks, a bad Technical is all it takes to make one’s margin of error in the practice bakes non-existent.

2. Jürgen

Place In Technical: 1st

Change: 0

But make no mistake; despite falling short of Star Baker every week since Biscuit Week, Jürgen is every bit the elite baker he was in those first couple of weeks, and remains a cut above Crystelle and everyone else who might dare nibble at his heels. Frankly, he would have had the best week of anyone in the Tent were it not for the dry beef of his Show Stopper filling. That doesn’t mean he would have broken his Star Baker dry spell, necessarily; I get the impression that the judges like to distribute Star Baker awards to those who haven’t already won them when such an opportunity presents itself. Crystelle’s terrine pie probably would have trumped Jürgen’s, even if he had nailed the filling, and when it comes to handing out Star Baker, the first two challenges may as well not exist anymore. Even without snagging Star Baker, Jürgen still had the most complete performance of Pastry Week, putting forward outstanding bakes in each and every round. His chouxnuts slapped and his baklava was the best of a surprisingly tight bunch. Those two consecutive Star Baker awards to start the season have done Jürgen a real disservice. It has become to easy for me to wonder what’s wrong with Jürgen any week he falls short of Star Baker, or doesn’t keep pace with Giuseppe, or both, when it remains the case that, save for a legitimately disappointing Bread Week, he’s been right near the top of the Tent week in and week out. That he would crash out of the Tent entirely before the Finals is nigh-on unthinkable, and seems plausible if and only if the judges actually start to hold him to higher standards than the rest of the mortals. Of course, now that I said that, he’s going to crash and burn and get sent home next week, but again, them’s the breaks.

1. Giuseppe

Place In Technical: 4th

Change: 0

These rankings could not, do not, and shall not penalize obviously dominant bakers for not contending for Star Baker each and every single week. Therefore, I never gave a single though to demoting Giuseppe from the top spot, even though he was not part of this week’s Star Baker conversation. All he did wrong was put a little too much limoncello filling in his chouxnuts, and finish dead center in the Technical. If there were any flaws to his Show Stopper, they either passed the notice of Paul and Prue entirely (unlikely) or were so minor as to no warrant their comment. Truly, it was a superb owl. Any suggestion that his Pastry Week performance somehow makes him less of a Finals contender is the exact sort of recency bias-ridden concern trolling that I seek not merely to avoid, but defend against in this space. Also, holy shit, how good of a baker is Giuseppe’s wife Laura? In dedicating his Show Stopper to her, he said that she is a better baker than he is, which is nigh-on unfathomable. If that’s the case, why isn’t she on the show, then? Is she a baker by trade, or something? What if she competes next season – is there any precedent for both members of a pre-existing couple to bake in the Tent? (Yes, I know Henry and Michael from a couple of seasons ago got together, but that happened after/during their stay in Tent, so it doesn’t count, here.) What if the two members of a couple went back-to-back as season champions? The mind reels.

2 thoughts on “GBBS 2021 Power Rankings – Pastry Week

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