The Great British Baking Show Recap: October Surprise

Bless the bakers for going along with these Halloween Week challenges without the tiniest bit of snark. A recap of The Great British Bake-off season 13 Episode 6, streaming in the U.S. on Netflix as The Great British Baking Show.

This episode might be a little bit of a pander to GBBO/GBBS’s burgeoning American audience, because Halloween isn’t nearly as big of a thing in the U.K. as it is in the former colonies. The English do love to dress in costume (or “fancy dress,” as they call it), and they know what Halloween is, but I was a little shocked to hear contestants like Maxy and Kevin talk about their Halloween memories. (That Christian youth Kevin dressed up as a clock one year and went around asking for candy with his Scottish friend dressed as Toulouse-Lautrec is hilarious.) The only time I’ve ever encountered English trick-or-treaters was last year on October 30, when two young boys wearing plastic masks and holding pillowcases approached me on the sidewalk, saying “trick or treat!” as they accosted pedestrians who weren’t at all prepared for this encounter. I appreciated their initiative, though, and gave them a five-pound bill and told them to split it. Wait. I just realized I wasn’t trick-or-treated, I was mugged by cuteness and ingenuity. Damn them!

It is with a bit of foresight, though, that the producers realized this would air in October and decided to do a whole week dedicated to Halloween baking, which has become a staple in America, as spooky season now picks up right around Fourth of July and carries us all the way through Black Friday. I feel like this is the work of the Associated Gourd Growers of America and their very powerful lobbying group.

This also leads us to the first ever Bake Off/Show costume contest. Here are the official rankings:

7. KevinThis is every lazy straight guy’s costume: Put on a Halloween-themed button-down shirt and call it a costume.

6. JanuszThis is every lazy gay guy’s costume: Put on a Halloween-themed T-shirt and call it a costume. Differentiated from the straight guy by use of eye makeup.

5. DawnHer Día de los Muertos headpiece is darling, but sadly reminiscent ofMexican week, which is something we would all rather forget.

4. SyabiraI like that she has spiders crawling up her chin and blood staining her ruffled shirt, but I have no idea what she’s trying to be.

3. SandroOkay, this is really every gay guy’s costume: Just slap some wings over a hot body and call it a day. This costume (i.e., his guns) took years to make, so you can’t call him lazy.

2. MaxyWhat the Bride of Frankenstein would look like if she let her hair go natural.

1. AbdulA nerdy NASA astronaut is not only completely on-brand, but also absolutely adorable.

Oh, but I guess we’re here to talk about their bakes. Fine. The first challenge is to make an apple cake. The problem with apples is that they don’t have the kind of flavor that hammers you over the head, but the judges also want something that is more than just apple-flavored. So they go around saying, “Not enough apple. Not enough apple,” to almost everyone.

However, there are two handshakes, so it seems much like Twinkies they only come in packs of two. Maxy gets her second handshake for her apple-and-walnut cake with cream-cheese frosting, which the judges just love. Syabira gets her first for a take on her favorite Malaysian dessert, which has apples, chili, and asam boi, or sour plum. Paul is absolutely bowled over by it, and he usually only gets that way around vintage cars, girls in tight bikinis, and free cigars.

There are a couple of disasters, namely Kevin’s apple-streusel cake that was too hot when he frosted it, which not only causes the cream-cheese frosting to leak out the sides, it makes the whole cake split in two like the Great Schism of 1054. Dawn’s fatless sponge causes all of her apples to sink to the bottom (as she said they would, so why not use a different sponge?), and the decorations on the top make it sink in the middle. Everyone else comes in somewhere in between. Sandro’s Bundt-style cake looks amazing, but they hate the crystal skull on top. Also, why does he have to put booze in everything? Not everyone likes a boozy cake. I’m starting to feel the same way about Janusz’s drip technique. Yeah, both are cool, but can we get some diversity up in this piece?

The technical challenge is to make s’mores, a truly American treat, which is totally odd to me because one of the three ingredients in a s’more, graham crackers, is not available at all in the U.K. In fact, no one on a baking show should make these. The beauty of s’mores is you buy the graham crackers, Hershey bars, and marshmallows at the store, you slap them together next to the fire, and done. They’re supposed to be easy to make, and baking the composite ingredients from scratch seems antithetical to the very creation of this dessert.

Instead of graham crackers, the bakers have to make digestive biscuits, a treat that is not available anywhere in America. This is often used as a replacement for American recipes that require graham crackers, like a graham-cracker crust for a key-lime pie. But they’re not really the same. A digestive has an oatier taste and consistency. You can’t get the crumbs down to a fine dust like you can a graham cracker, which is why they are so good for certain things (like my favorite peanut butter squares). So, yeah, everyone struggles to make the biscuits and the marshmallows and to get their gelatin in there, and the whole time I’m just thinking, This is dumb. Anyway, Syabira wins, continuing her good week, and Abdul, the winner of our costume contest, comes in last with marshmallows that somehow managed to melt without there being hot chocolate anywhere near the tent.

The showstopper is to make a Halloween hanging lantern that is full of sweet treats. All right, this is not a thing that exists. This is not something that anyone has ever made. This is not even something that is vaguely inspired by Halloween, and I appreciate the bakers for going along with it without even the tiniest bit of snark. It’s so funny how I love this show every season, want to be friends with all of the contestants, yet continue to hate the decisions they make around the challenges.

Strangely enough, it seems like most people have more problems with their sweet treats than with the lanterns. Even Dawn’s, a black cat made with two halves of a sphere that are so uneven it’s as if they were gerrymandered in South Carolina, manages to hang up for a short spell. My lover Sandro’s lantern, a chocolate ball covered with skulls, is probably the most impressive. As he’s drilling into it and wearing the most adorable protective eyewear I have ever seen outside of a Bob the Builder cartoon, Noel says, “I don’t know whether to be scared or turned on.” Oh, I know what we all are, Noel. Anyway, he makes five different things for the inside, and the judges only address two because the second one has so much chili powder in it they almost die. (Add to the list of things I don’t want to see any more this season: chili powder.)

In an ode to horror movies, Janusz makes a box of popcorn complete with real popcorn on the top and little eyeball candies in it. It looks like something right out of an ’80s homage, but the judges hate his two kinds of truffles, including a trick one made with cricket powder. That is an excellent idea that Paul says is too sickly sweet. Abdul also has an impressive gingerbread lantern with a scary face on it, but it’s so sturdy it takes Prue several whacks to get inside. No one likes his date balls, though, which they say only taste of rose water.

As for Maxy’s lantern, which actually looks like a lantern with sugar-glass panes, she says it was disturbed by Noel’s zombie family that attacked the tent during the challenge. It’s still cute, but Paul and Prue hate her too-dense chocolate monsters inside. Kevin’s, just like in the signature challenge, looks to be an absolute mess, sort of like a third-grader’s drawing of a spider. I know they don’t like what’s inside, but I was so distracted by Paul Hollywood talking about “nuts hanging out” that I have no clue what Kevin actually made.

The only true winner is Syabira, continuing a crowning glory of a week. She makes an amazing-looking spider with all of these legs going around its body at right angles and eyes looking in every direction. There’s even a green light glowing from the inside, which seems like an element more of the bakers should have figured out. It reminded me of Aku from Samurai Jack. They love both the ginger biscuit of the shell and the peanut biscuit fashioned to look like a witch’s fingers. The one thing they hate is a dessert flavored with white truffle, which is mad enough that Prue tries to have Syabira committed.

It’s no wonder that Syabira is the winner, and it is also not a surprise that it’s between Dawn and Kevin to go home. I mean, it’s just a question of who goes this week and who goes next. This week, it’s Dawn, which means Kevin probably shouldn’t bother too much with his custard recipes for next week.

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