The Great British Bake Off: Pâtisserie
October 24, 2018 11:49 AM - Season 9, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Semi-final week: only three out of Briony, Kim-Joy, Rahul and Ruby can go through to the final. Firstly, our bakers must go in search of lost time the approval of Prue and Paul with madeleines, then they must attempt one of the most complicated technical challenges ever, the Torta Setteveli, before producing 12 each of three different types of pastries: choux pastry, pate sucree and puff pastry Mille-feuille.

Twice we had bakers snatch a well-received bake from apparent disaster: Rahul with the madeleines, then Briony with the technical challenge (an area where she plainly doesn’t feel comfortable). So, it was all to play for going into the show-stopper; unfortunately, Briony made a tactical error in trying to go for impressive pastry that (a) took up far too much time and (b) didn’t turn out very well. Given how Rahul was having a bit of a disaster I did hope against hope that Briony might scrape throught but it was not to be.

Paul really was in utter bastard mode, wasn’t he? Not just in the very tough judging, but in the borderline psychological warfare against the bakers. I swear that by this stage in the season he could walk up to any one of them and say “so, did you remember to moisten your squirrel?” and the poor victim would sprint out into the grounds to look for a squirrel to run under the tap.

Talking of swearing, I really want to see the unexpurgated cut with all Ruby’s expletives. I get the strong impression the bleeped-out stuff we heard was just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by Major Clanger (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This episode... it wasn't fun. I'm not sure if it's genuinely a change in the show, due either to the demands of a new (non-BBC) production team or just the need to keep coming up with new things over the course of many seasons, or if I'm just oddly sensitive these days, but I really feel like the bakers are being overfaced in the challenges and it's not enjoyable to watch and it all came to a head for me in this ep. Yes, pâtisserie is demanding, but I don't want to watch a bunch of professional-calibre pastry chefs deliver professional quantities of professional-calibre sweets at scale -- I want to be inspired by a bunch of clever home bakers showcasing their creativity. And I definitely don't want to watch Paul yell at the contestants for making their pastries too big, or running out of time to glaze in the end -- yes, it would only have taken Rahul a minute to glaze, so don't you think he would have done it if he'd had even a minute left? This week's showstopper felt like an exhausting slog and the feedback was relentlessly critical and I really felt they didn't give the bakers enough time for such a challenge -- if such a challenge was even feasible. The talent level of the contestants has consistently been on the rise, and the difficulty of the challenges has been increasing to match, but this felt like too much. It's almost put me off watching the final.

I feel like the contestants are getting a bit freaked-out and demoralised and getting caught up in their heads due to the pressure, and making mistakes as a result. I don't want to watch people leave the show due to that sort of bobble. It's no fun. I found Kim-Joy's struggle with the mousse really confusing. It was a bit strange that she'd never made mousse before, but why did she find it so difficult and upsetting? And what on earth happened with Briony's bakes, aside from the time-and-oven management issues? Sugar for salt? It seems like it was all exacerbated by the stress. Sandi and Noel are delightful, and genuinely caring, and are clearly both doing their best to cheer and reassure the contestants, but it isn't enough. I'm in total agreement re: "bastard mode" -- Paul's weird choice to be so over-effusive in early episodes and then do his damnedest to be a harsh, intimidating taskmaster in the later episodes. It all adds drama, but not the kind of drama I come to GBBO to see. (I come to GBBO for sweet gestures like the adorable arm-linking the contestants do when the results are announced. Also the smutty jokes.)

Also, Briony was my favourite and now I am sad. I knew it was going to happen when I saw how thick her chocolate pastry was, and going full-puff rather than rough-puff was a critical error, but again, I partly blame the parameters of the challenge. She had the best interpretation of the brief, I think, but clearly did not have enough time to execute. Rahul scraped by being boring as heck, and the others benefitted by cheating a bit on the mille-feuille (which was the only way to manage the challenge at all). It was the right decision, but it didn't feel great.
posted by halation at 2:24 PM on October 24, 2018 [18 favorites]

This was so stressful. First I thought Ruby was going home when I saw her CUTTING HER MADELEINES FFS. Then I thought Kim-Joy was going home when she didn't know how to make a chocolate mousse. Then I thought Rahul would go home when so much of his stuff went completely pear-shaped. But Briony. Dammit I really wanted her to get to finals. She's talented as heck and had a really fun banter with the hosts. She seemed to be one of the few bakers with the same weird "let's play badminton with a gorilla" sense of humor.

These challenges are impossible. I want to see home bakers making a goddamn Madeira cake with a nice crack. And where are all the soggy bottom jokes? GBBO, I'm giving you a hard stare.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I completely agree. These challenges are too hard, Paul is being a giant dick and two of the three going to the final I expect to pass out at any minute. It's not relaxing. Prior to these past few episodes, just the theme song playing would slow my heart rate down, but not any more. LEAVE OUR BAKERS ALONE!
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:05 PM on October 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

I really feel like the mood has shifted too far to the stressful end. I feel like the bakers are having to do too many things badly, rather than concentrating on doing a few things well and actually showing their technique and understanding.

This is the first C4 season I've watched and tbh, I am not sure I will watch the next season. And Paul can go get in the sea, quite frankly.
posted by halcyonday at 2:57 AM on October 25, 2018

I fully agree with the criticisms here. I've watched Bake Off almost from the beginning, and this year's series is so difficult to watch. There have been moments of tension in the past (BinGate, Howard's custard being stolen, etc) but they didn't feel manufactured in the way this year's bad moments have been.

I mean, take the technical. The entire setup was riddled with Pru and Paul hyping how blimmin' impossible the bakers would find it, and then, like, it was basically fine? Kim-Joy's wobble over mousse notwithstanding, the problem areas seemed to centre around the gelatin in the chocolate glaze, and they all coped otherwise. But all the hype, and Paul's swap from prickly-but-constructive to barking-like-a-drill-sergeant, just served to get everyone even more stressed than they already were.

The person I least cared about getting into the final was Ruby, and I'm really sad to see Briony go. She was definitely, as Sandi put it, a force of nature. My guess is that Ruby will win, as she seems the most adept of the three at not flipping her wig over something going wrong. If Paul continues playing head games with the contestants (not content with glaring from the sidelines, he's now actually tasting their components now?), I think that quality will become more important than ever.
posted by catch as catch can at 3:34 AM on October 25, 2018

I’ve been getting the feeling that Noel would rather be somewhere else, but maybe it’s just that his sense of humour doesn’t work very well when everyone around him is having meltdowns.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 4:48 AM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've never really warmed to Noel as a host. It was a deliberately ~weird choice to get attention and derail "b- b- b- but what about Mel and Sue????" complaints. But it doesn't work. Sorry, Noel. You try to be nurturing, but the Tent is really not the right time or place for dada. I think Sandi is alright but still comes off as a bit too stiff-upper-lippy. This gig requires you to be half presenter and half social worker. Maybe Jo Brand? She used to be a nurse, right?
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:08 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This was way too stressful, and I agree, some of the challenges, especially in the later ones, are just getting ridiculous. Complicated things are fun, but having them make too much with not enough time and hoping they're the least bad instead of just actually good? That's not Bake-Off. It goes against the spirit of the show, and makes me so sad. I didn't start watching this show just to see everyone cry, and now everyone's crying, and that level of stress is just mean.

I don't mind some of the trickier challenges, especially as we get to the semifinal and the quarterfinal, but why does it have to be so much? Why can't it be one or two? I really miss when the semifinal showstoppers were: 24 entremets (two flavors), a choux pastry gateau, 36 fondant fancies, or one great big chocolate centerpiece. Tricky, but all of the same style, either in one big thing or one kind of pâtisserie, with just variations in flavors/fillings.

I hate it when they all fail because of a lack of time or basic information being provided. I remember a few technical challenges going sideways because of assumptions you'd need to be a mind-reader to get, instead of just having them rely on basic baking knowledge and instincts. They're good bakers -- give them challenges that work within the time and resources they have!

I'm sorry that Briony's gone; her personality was so charming! I really liked the group of bakers themselves this year, which is why I will watch the final. I'm not on board with the head games and increased drama of the last couple episodes. If the final is also like that, then I'm out for next year. I watch Bake-Off to relax and get ideas for things I want to make myself, and so far there's not been much of either in the past few weeks.
posted by PearlRose at 7:19 AM on October 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Interesting article on the mechanics of filming the show; apparently there can be over 30 crew alongside the bakers and judges/presenters, all of them having to be kept carefully out of shot! And yes, the producers do identify 'storylines' for the bakers, although they claim not to go over the top with this.
posted by Major Clanger at 9:05 AM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

See, I'm sort of seeing this another way, and kind of explains why Ruby is doing better now than she did in the beginning of the series. They all did all right in the technical. All right enough, anyway. Where everybody seemed to struggle is in the stuff that the bakers are bringing into the tent, stuff the bakers presumably planned during the week and tested and adjusted and and and. Ruby really _really_ struggled with this early on, but I think she figured out how much the TV production interfered with her planning and took it into account, so she's become more predictable. Sometimes her bakes fall flat like her madeleines tonight because she's not particularly familiar with them, but she really seems to have figured out the planning.

And It always sort of seems like the quarter and semifinal bakes are really trying to overwhelm the bakers to force them into an error - last year's semifinal was 24 signature choux buns and a merengue centerpiece showstopper in not nearly enough time, the year before was 24 signature palmiers and 36 showstopping fondant fancies. This is normal for the week, and didn't seem beyond the pale this year, honestly. Possibly the bigger surprise is that while the bakers in previous semifinals have managed a bit better, they were all over the place this year, making sort of surprising errors for bakers this far into the competition. One of the things I enjoy is seeing the bakers grow into the competition, start to stand tall and proud of what they've accomplished, and I'm not sure we saw that arc this year in any of the finalists. I mean hell, Rahul is getting even _more_ moody and defeated somehow.

Now, where I'll grumble is Paul's insistence that the pâtisserie needed to be tiny little bite-sized delights. Paul, you're thinking petit four, maybe? I'm sure there's overlap, but this year's pâtisseries didn't seem outsized compared to prior years' pâtisseries. And he seemed awfully insistent on glazing the fruit on the tarts and.. I dunno. On the other hand, a dusting of powdered sugar would've gone pretty far for not a whole lot of extra effort.

The wife's question this week: Sherbet? (re verbena) I don't think we have anything quite like it in the states, although maybe pixie sticks / lick'm'aid comes close? Is it the effervescence or the sharply tart and acidic powdered candy that defines it?
posted by Kyol at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

(We haven't had the pudding discussion yet. Maybe next year.)
posted by Kyol at 9:40 AM on October 25, 2018

Now, where I'll grumble is Paul's insistence that the pâtisserie needed to be tiny little bite-sized delights.

Agree. Those all looked like perfectly cromulent patisserie from my local French bakeries. Maybe a little on the tall side for the mille-feuille because they all wanted to put standy-uppy fruit in for some reason, but the tarts all seemed perfectly tart-sized. Also his hard-on for glazing the fruit was baffling. You gave these poor people not enough time to create umpteen pastries and you're whinging about fruit glazing?
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:51 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The wife's question this week: Sherbet?

It's kind of like Pixy Stix / Fun Dip, but crossed with Pop Rocks, if that makes sense. But definitely granulated smoother, like Pixy Stix, not crunchy like Pop Rocks -- it's both acidic and effervescent. You can often find Flying Saucers in bulk / "olde time-y" candy stores in the US, and they're filled with sherbet.
posted by halation at 12:29 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Huh, I always figured they were filled with the dust the swept up from under the cabinets. I'll have to pay closer attention the next time I find some.
posted by Kyol at 12:37 PM on October 25, 2018

Yeah these last few haven't been as fun.  I've never liked reality television and this is quite literally the only series of it I've ever watched—because it's so low key and mellow.  That the contestants are so clearly not having fun at the moment really pulls me out of it. I've been willing to ignore put up with the reality-tv editing hi-jinks like cutting it to make the final minute look completely out of control when the actual final minute is almost certainly quite different, along with other obvious edits-for-drama, but that patience wears thin real fast when the challenges are just deliberately dickish.  When all the tension is now hinging on simply making the time to complete too short to pull off, it feels a lot less fun and much more arbitrarily hard.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:54 PM on October 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

Yup, I don't want to be mean to the bakers, but I'm kind of inclined to go with Paul's disappointment over the showstopper outcomes this week, Ruby excepted. I feel like Rahul, Briony and Kim-Joy had done much better work during the past few weeks, accomplished some really tricky tasks and, based on previous years, I was expecting them to... just be a bit more positive and/or organised and/or ambitious, somehow. It's the ruddy SEMI FINAL. Time to shine. And I agree with Paul that the patisserie were too big, by about a third, and just generally the designs were too baggy. Proper patisserie should be tight. And glazed.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of it becoming the Paul Hollywood show, with him stalking the tables trying to psyche out the bakers over technicalities while they're struggling to get cakes on plates. And he can stop with the friggin' handshake bullshit too.

It seems like one of those chemistry issues, where once lovely Jon left, the group atmosphere tended towards the gloomy side of serious, leading to people spiralling, not having fun with their bakes, panicking, overthinking. Perhaps leading to choices like Rahul playing it excessively safe this week with (most of) his flavours. Could be the pressure is being amped by the Channel 4 producers in search of that storyline, so perhaps I'm being unfair on the bakers.
posted by doornoise at 5:54 AM on October 26, 2018

It's very weird watching this current series compared to the early ones on Netflix. There is a point where the standard jumped, you couldn't just be a "Mum who bakes" and be on this show. Now it's all people who are at a talent level just below all but the best professionals (they are much better than a lot of professionals). As such I am not surprised that the challenges are getting ridiculous. It is still a competition and they need to do things that allows Paul and Prue to separate the bakers. That said I don't need them to be so harsh when doing the judging.

That said I think early in this season, Paul was being very nice and complimentary (there was a ridiculous show where he gave out four handshakes), I think the production team may have had a word and I think he has swung too far the other way. I assume he will come back to where he was for the next season. Also hoping that Prue comes more into her own, she's definitely more willing to disagree this season than last but she's not acting on camera as much as a separate opinion maker.
posted by DoveBrown at 6:04 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Agreed, DoveBrown. I think Mary Berry did not stand for a lot of Paul's silliness, which helped to keep that ego in check and let the more sensitive bakers have some breathing space. Prue knows her shit up and down, back to front and sideways, but perhaps has been too polite or hasn't the inclination to slap him down. Drama king that he is, he's sucking up all the oxygen and most of the judging time despite her ridiculous list of accomplishments. Who knows what's in their contracts though?

Ruby has obviously had to deal with a bunch of Paul-types before, working in construction. Tease him, push back on the nonsense, and don't let his little power plays get to you. Easier said than done, though. I worry for Kim-Joy and Rahul next week.
posted by doornoise at 6:28 AM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Rahul should have gone home last week, and that would have changed up this week. I can't begin to understand how someone who *burned his bake* stayed on. Then it's possible that Manon could have gone out this week and we'd have Briony in the final.

I really did like the first season with Prue, and was glad that the show hadn't really changed. Now, I've lost faith in the producers, and it's not fun anymore.
posted by tzikeh at 9:19 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I very much missed Manon, given this week’s theme. She could have told everybody (apart from Mary Berry, once) how to say “mille-feuille” - admittedly not an easy pronunciation.

I spoke to somebody from the Netherlands a few weeks ago, and they told me that the whole country is still giggling over last season’s attempt to say “stoopwafel”.
posted by rongorongo at 2:05 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can see it being very easy to go down the rabbit hole of Bakerology, arguing over who would have gone through if a different baker had been eliminated the previous week. It's hard to imagine that Manon wouldn't have performed a bit better this week than she did last time (given that the main criticism of her last time boiled down to her cooking French-style) and equally it's difficult to see her having a harder time this week than Briony, so I suspect that if Rahul had gone out in Week 8, the final would have been Ruby, Kim-Joy and Manon.

Twenty years ago, we'd all have been on and someone would have set up which would get twice as much traffic as the parent group.
posted by Major Clanger at 8:02 AM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Interesting article on the mechanics of filming the show

It was indeed interesting; and it throws a new light on the issue of food mixers: whether they are Kitchen Aid or Kenwood the production crew must view them as a nightmare: up to a dozen of the fucking things - each of which kicks out enough noise to drown out the dialogue of the person using it - and probably everybody else in the tent. A baker might be operating one for several minutes and each baker will have their own particular schedule. It is also not going to be possible to tell them to lay off the mixing so that the filming can happen on schedule.

Likewise, apparently, with heavy rain showers: enough noise to spoil all interviews (but not to stop the action).

The article also touches on the fragility of many TGBB contestants : their real charm is often that they are people who are interested in baking more than they are interested in becoming TV personalities. They are not like a typical X-Factor contestant who lives for exposure on a stage. Nor do they have the benefit of multiple takes or auto-tune: if they fail then they will do so in a prolonged irretrievable manner. It does sound as if they production crew are torn between the need to give the contestants space and dignity - versus the desire to depict stress and drama: both van produce appealing footage but the balancing act is very tricky to achieve.
posted by rongorongo at 11:26 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was wondering why I felt flat about the penultimate episode but everyone here has summarised it well.

I am SO OVER Paul's stupid psych out mind games. And he seems to have it particularly in for Ruby? "Oh you're not freezing your raspberries...?" Fuck off, Paul. I'm so happy she got star baker this week and I'm always impressed that she just lets his stupid comments roll off her. I had forgotten she worked in construction, it makes sense!

There was a preview of next week's final where Ruby is telling Rahul to breathe because he seems to be on the verge of a panic attack. I really just can't with him anymore. Dude needs therapy and seeing his anxiety and discomfort documented on what is to be a lighthearted show about biscuits just does not make for good telly. It's not suspenseful and it doesn't add color and it does not endear him to me. It's uncomfortable and grating.

I hope Kim-Joy pulls out all the stops on cuteness and twee, go out with bang!
posted by like_neon at 3:13 AM on October 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

This episode was a lot of fun to watch with my (French) SO, if only to see her cracking up at the many and varied pronunciations of "mille-feuille" and getting annoyed at Paul's pronouncements about what does or doesn't constitute "authentic" French patisserie. It was a shame to see Briony go, but I'm solidly Team Kim-Joy since John left, and think Ruby is great fun to watch, so it'll be a fun final for me.

I am SO OVER Paul's stupid psych out mind games. And he seems to have it particularly in for Ruby? "Oh you're not freezing your raspberries...?" Fuck off, Paul. I'm so happy she got star baker this week and I'm always impressed that she just lets his stupid comments roll off her.

Watching the way Paul interacts with the few who're left, I get the impression that he's fully aware Ruby isn't going to take his nonsense too seriously, whereas with e.g. Rahul he still teases him a bit but treads much more carefully. It's hard to tell from just seeing tightly edited snippets, but I think it's friendlier and more careful than it looks at first glance. Teasing, not bullying.

That said, since the move to C4 -- and especially this season -- it does seem that Paul and his judgements are becoming much more prominent in the show, alongside a steady ramping up of the emotional stakes. Most reality TV/talent shows (X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, etc etc) lean heavily into the sob story: every contestant has dreamt of success since they could walk, this is their one golden chance to change their life, their final opportunity to make their dying grandparent proud, and they're never more than a milk rebuke away from photogenic tears. It's tawdry and, frankly, exhausting to watch.

At the start, Bakeoff had a bunch of perfectly likeable people baking in a tent for fun, with no prize money and no-one's dreams riding on it. Even as the contestants pushed themselves to excel, the hosts worked hard to maintain an atmosphere that was both caring and fundamentally quite silly, and famously sabotaged shots of people crying when the pressure got too much. This season, it feels like the programme makers have been much more determined to portray a tough competition with Paul as a strong central judge, and been much more willing to wallow in shots of people stressed and crying both during the competition and in the post-challenge interviews. The trailers and judge's scripts keep playing up the increasing stakes and tension, but the low stakes are about 90% of what I liked about the programme in the first place. Sandi and Noel are both great individually, but at least for me fail to bring the same chemistry and gentle daftness that Mel and Sue made look so easy.

Maybe it's an inevitable consequence of applicants' standards improving over the years, and financial stakes going up as book deals/TV opportunities start looking more attainable for finalists, but it does feel like Bakeoff is sliding rapidly away from a bunch of talented people doing something for the joy of it, to the same artificially tense and emotionally fraught production as all the other big talent competitions.
posted by metaBugs at 8:10 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I totally agree! And if next year there’s even a whiff of that evolution in the first two episodes I am totally going to bail.
posted by like_neon at 8:41 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Like many here, I didn't find this episode remotely enjoyable and actually had to pause it while Kim-Joy was having her "wobble" regarding mousse. The reason I really loved this show was for the food history (which others have noted could easily have been integrated this season) and that it was more light hearted. That the contestants were more about truly enjoying baking than becoming tv personalities. Much like like_neon, I'll give next season a chance...but not much of one because this is really not enjoyable for me and if it's not enjoyable....there's really no point.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:43 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can only echo what everyone else is saying about the amped up tension really not being much fun to watch.

The first bit, with the humps, was enjoyable because I made a drinking game where I drank every time they said hump or bump.
posted by peacheater at 6:40 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

someone pls verify that peacheater is still alive thx
posted by Spathe Cadet at 5:32 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

reality-tv editing hi-jinks like cutting it to make the final minute look completely out of control when the actual final minute is almost certainly quite different

This has been driving me bonkers all season. They've really started overusing the fakery, and now every episode is structured to make it look as if someone completely iced and decorated a cake in thirty seconds.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:52 PM on November 26, 2018

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the hilarious moment when Rahul didn't know why "hump" is a funny word! The poor dear.
posted by kayram at 6:18 PM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can't believe I can still comment here, but I'm watching this season on Netflix rn and *I must tell somebody*!

Agree with so much upthread but must add/differ wrt Noel's qualities as a presenter: I think Noel seems fun and pleasant and like your goofy ol' mate, but he doesn't really have a compassionate/nurturing gear, at least not the way that Mel & Sue did. He engages with the bakers with his mild "fuckin wit ya" vibe, and that's fun when everything's up for grabs. But if the baker is really in distress, he doesn't have another gear and he just has to walk away. When Jon was on the ropes, and Briony was struggling, or when Kim-Joy was in tears, he had not a clue.

Neither he nor Sandi could figure out Rahul's sense of humor, and they made it seem like he didn't have one. They would just stand at his station and badger him and then finally drift away in frustration as he ignored them or gave them dumb looks. The other bakers found it pretty easily, though, if you watched them interact with him. Around the semifinal, Noel and Sandi finally got clued in.

The thing that bothers me most about it, though, is how much cognitive/emotional bandwidth this behavior eats up for the bakers, having to fend off this sort of clueless teasing. I think it actually interfered with the bakers' ability to process and prioritize the tasks of their bakes. Ruby is skilled at it (yeah, construction), and I guess other the men generally have the socialization to allow themselves to ignore other people, but I just watch the other female bakers struggle with allotting resources between interacting with presenters vs focusing on baking tasks and it makes me sigh.

Mel and Sue made the show and the competition great bc they read the room and let the focus be on what the bakers brought to the tent, not what drama could be squeezed out of them with additional conflict.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:48 PM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

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