The bakers try their hand at an array of questionably-provenanced Japanese dishes.
It’s Japanese Week on The Great British Baking Show, as the series celebrates a culture not well known for its baking, but with an indelible cultural impression nonetheless (though more on the show’s success rate on that later). Noel and Matt welcome us all back to the tent in a manga-inspired cold open, letting us all know that we’re in for some Asian-inspired treats (more on that later) too. Most of the bakers seem excited about the challenge because the playing field is leveled, as most are attempting Japanese baking for the first time. Also, it’s Paul’s 100th GBBS episode. Not a bad way to celebrate! Let’s dig in!
Up first is the signature challenge, where each baker is tasked with making 8 steamed buns. Lots of bakers opt for Asian flavored fillings, like Dave’s chicken katsu curry, Laura’s pork belly with hoisin sauce, and Hermine’s chicken nikuman. Marc’s going for an Indian dhal filling. Peter’s stuffing his lamb designed buns with minced lamb and spices. Lottie and Mark have a burger off, both filling their buns with traditional beef burger patties and toppings. Paul puts in a request for them that they leave the gherkins (that’s pickles for us Americans) off one bun since he can’t stand them. It’s fun to see the bakers standing by their steamer baskets on the stove instead of peaking at an oven. Overall, the bakers do well with their buns, and Paul luckily avoids gherkins.
Next up is the technical, set by Prue. She tells the bakers not to panic, and she and Paul swiftly leave the tent. Noel and Matt reveal she has tasked the bakers with creating a Matcha Crepe Cake. The bakers have to create and layer 12 matcha crepes with strawberries and white chocolate ganache. The cake also needs a finishing coating of matcha powder and must feature a fruity crescent design and edible flowers on the top. Prue explains to Paul that this shouldn’t be that difficult of a challenge as surely all the bakers have made crepes and ganache before.
Back with the bakers, things seem to be going great until it comes to flip their crepes. Dave seems to be finally warming up to the cameras, doing a successful pan flip. Nearing the end of their matcha mix, Laura and Mark realize they won’t have enough to make all 12 crepes. After the crepes, it’s ganache time. Most seemed cool with incorporating the meringue with white chocolate. When Mark mentioned he was going to whip his meringue into the chocolate, I shook my head. You gotta slowly fold your meringue or the fluffy egg whites will lose their texture! Things are not looking good for Mark.
The bakers put the final touches on their layered crepe cakes, wondering what a “crescent” fruit design could mean. Some pick up that a crescent is a half-circle. Others go rogue and toss their toppings on top, hoping for the best. They bring it to the judge’s table, and they are ranked in the following order: Laura (7th), Marc (6th), Mark (5th), Hermine (4th), Dave (3rd), Lottie (2nd), and Peter (1st). I like Peter and Lottie, so it’s good to see them at the top. My heart did break for Laura and Mark who produced okay but not great cakes. We’re halfway through the competition, and the tiniest of mistakes could send a good baker packing.
It’s day 2 and time for the showstopper. Each baker has to create a kawaii cake (kawaii means cute in Japanese), so Paul and Prue are looking for charming cakes. Mark hopes his avocado emoji cakes will hit the mark. Dave and Marc are making cakes inspired by their pets. Finally, we get a Hamish cake! Hermine’s got a Cherry Blossom cake. Lottie has a jiggly toadstool cake. Peter goes for a shuttlecock design (for the Americans a “shuttlecock” is that bouncy thing you hit when playing badminton). Laura’s making a pineapple upside-down cake that will look like an upside-down pineapple.
All seem to crack on without major issues. Well, all except Laura, who tears up when her fondant breaks. Luckily Noel and Matt help break the tension, and she gets her fondant on the top with minor breakage.
It’s judgment time. Peter shows off his shuttlecock with sparklers, but Paul comments his sponge is “a hell of a chew.” Lottie’s cake really wows the judges, and Paul comments that he hasn’t had a jiggly cake like that since his last trip to Japan. Hermine’s design got a bit messy. Marc and Dave’s canine cakes were fun in design and flavors. Laura’s design was a bit unkempt, but Paul and Prue thought her flavors were bang on. Mark’s avocado cakes were in Paul’s words, close to inedible.
Paul and Prue deliberate the past two days. Marc, Dave, and Lottie are in line for Star Baker. I know I haven’t been a big fan of Dave, but he’s really opened up in this episode. Mark and Laura are at the bottom of the bakers. Both had minor issues in their signature and technical challenges. Mark’s showstopper was almost inedible whereas Laura’s had great flavor but could have used some refinement with the design.
The judges head back to the tent. Noel announces that Lottie is this week’s Star Baker. She did great in the technical and created a jiggly showstopper that really wowed Paul and Prue. Sadly, the baker leaving the tent is Mark. He had a bad week in the tent, and his showstopper really lacked the flavor and texture to save him. Mark in his confessional says he’s crying happy tears and is very proud he made it this far in the competition.
Predictions and other thoughts:
- Paul commented that Hermine is the most consistent baker in the group. I think that consistency will pay off with Star Baker next week.
- I think the next baker to leave the tent could be Laura. She had a rough go of things in the tent this week, and I’m not sure if she’ll bounce back from some of her bakes.
- Now with Mark getting booted off, I have to revise my top three predictions. I think Peter, Hermine, and Lottie will be our top three bakers.
- While we at The Spool are hardly the ones to be the arbiters of Japanese culture, this episode received some backlash for the seeming inauthenticity of the dishes this week — the steamed buns are basically Chinese bao, not Japanese, and the technical has them adding matcha powder to French crepes. It feels like a lapse in judgment (and racial sensitivity) to avoid authentic Japanese dishes in Japanese Week; at best, it feels lazy, and at worst it evinces an Orientalist approach that reduces East Asian culture to a monolith. It doesn’t help, of course, that none of the judges and remaining bakers are Japanese — some gesture toward inclusivity would have been nice.