Mary Berry Says 'Ooze' Quite A Lot On A Chocolatey Great American Baking Show
A double episode takes the final five bakers from chocolate to custard to meringues.
ABC has taken to airing these limited runs of series over the holidays, and they're always halfway between "special event" and "hasty burn-off." After last year's inauspicious attempt to extend the Great British Bake-Off brand to us Yanks, The Great American Baking Show is finally hitting its stride and delivering a reasonable facsimile of the show we all love. Which is why this week's two-hour double episode, while keeping up with the uptick in quality, feels distressingly like ABC is trying to clear out the last few stragglers at the holiday party. We're having fun here! Don't make us go home so soon!
The first hour this week is about chocolate, with a lava-cake Signature challenge, chocolate truffles for the Technical, and mousse for the Showstopper. Hour two takes us down to custard town (meringues too), with crème brulee for a Signature, pavlova Showstoppers, and in the Technical, something called an "oeuf a neige" that looks like something a toddler would make while his mom was making dinner, but I'll trust Mary Berry that it was excellent.
Also, can we talk about the difficulty level of some of these challenges? I still feel like molten lava cakes are created by magic spells, even if you can get them at, like, Dominos (he says vaguely, like he's not intimately familiar with a Dominos lava cake). Chocolate truffles seem daunting enough even without the omitted-instructions wrinkle of the Technical challenge. Ditto and then some for the oeuf a neige. This week was the real deal for these bakers, and the crème (brulee? anglaise?) really rose to the top.
Best Moment: I have loved Jeremiah since Episode 1, and far be it from me to take pleasure in any part of his downfall, but Mary Berry's reaction to the tartness of the raspberry puree atop Jeremiah's double-layer mousse in the first-episode Showstopper challenge screamed for a gif.
Runner-Up: Prachi wouldn't have been able to get all her lava cakes onto their plates without the last-second help of Amanda and Jeremiah, who raced to help her flip her steaming-hot baking tins as the final seconds tick down. It's moments of camaraderie like that (and like Jennie's genuinely sad reaction to seeing Jeremiah eliminated) which make GABS (and its ancestors, of course) such a sweetly delightful show to watch.
So how do I rank the bakers?
As mentioned above, Prachi needed help from her fellow bakers to even get plated for the Signature challenge, and while the judges enjoyed her lava cakes, she was ultimately felled by her dense mousse and eliminated at the end of the first episode. Probably the right call. I like Prachi, but she'd been lagging for a couple episodes now, and every challenge seemed to come to some kind of crisis of preparation for her.
UGH, this was sad. Jeremiah was such an all-star in the first couple of episodes, and I'd been personally rooting for him since they showed him and his adorable husband at home. But he'd slipped to the middle of the pack, and I honestly thought he might get eliminated at the end of Chocolate Week after his kaffir-lime-infused lava cakes so offended Johnny and then his mousse made Mary pucker. But it was Custard Week that did him in, with a roller-coaster episode that saw him win the technical challenge (he was the only baker who had any kind of familiarity with poached-meringue technique), yet in both the Signature and Showstopper challenges he got the dreaded "what you made isn't custard"/"what you made isn't meringue" critique. Hard to survive that.
At the beginning of the final-four episode, Steph remarked that there was no longer a comfortable middle for her to feel safe in, which is ironic because she was the definition of an in-the-middle baker this week. Her chocolate truffles were good; her mousse was melty; her pavlovas looked great but were a little dried-out. No challenge was more indicative of Steph's run this week than her lava cakes, some of which were too underdone to even stay upright, some of which were too overdone to ooze -- my GOSH did that lava-cake challenge give Mary Berry so many opportunities to say "ooze"! -- and only a few of which were just right.
I actually thought Jennie would be going home after Chocolate Week, even though the judges liked her lava cakes a bit more than I would have expected, considering they looked like little inside-out used cupcake wrappers...
But boy did she turn things around in Custard Week, even after a shaky showing in the Technical. She took a big chance in the crème brulee by putting apples at the bottom, and it paid off in a way that you can tell Mary and Johnny were honestly not expecting. And then in the pavlova Showstopper, she pulled out a few really interesting flourishes, both flavor-wise (cranberry compote) and style-wise (striping her pastry bag with chocolate).
Amanda has to win this thing, right? Steph's inconsistent, and while Jennie's peaking at the right time, Amanda is really pulling off some hugely impressive treats every week. She essentially turned her mousse cake sideways and did a wrap-around two-toned sponge that I'm still not entirely sure how she pulled off.
I feel like if this were Project Runway, we'd have been force-fed a lot of story about how Amanda is aloof and elitist and hyper-competitive, maybe even set up a rivalry with underdog Jennie. But I like how Amanda can just be a little bit of all of those things and that's fine. It allows me to appreciate her excellence without any kind of narrative thumbs on the scale. Here's hoping she takes this thing home.