It’s “Free From Week” a.k.a the semi-finals, a.k.a. the point in the competition where everyone left is a really good baker! The excitement of that (and of Matt and Noel in some very cool shirts) is quickly quashed by an unbelievably awful sketch moment with Paul hulking out in some shoddily done green makeup. Say what you want about this man, and I’ve said plenty, his skill set does not extend to sketch comedy.
This week, we’ll be doing “Free From” bakes: a vegan bake, a dairy-free bake, and a gluten free bake. Noel has slipped out of his lovely ’70s shirt into a fetching blue sweater because British summertime 2021 was a cold, wet nightmare. The signature challenge is dairy-free ice cream sandwiches, which I can’t help but think was set when they producers assumed warm weather would be an added level of difficulty.
As we are down to just five bakers, we get an in-depth look at what each person is producing. Lizzie is keeping her flavors pretty simple with oat milk vanilla ice cream between almond praline biscuits;they’ll be embossed with paw prints since vanilla ice cream is her beloved dog’s favorite snack.
Chigs has clearly gone hard into research mode for his, something that he must be great at since (as they continually remind us) he has only been baking for 12 months. He seems to really know what he’s talking about with his mango, lime, and coconut ice cream sandwiches with vegan white chocolate and pistachio decorations, with a focus on water and fat content that no one else seems to have quite grasped.
Giuseppe is making ginger biscuits around a tofu-based ice cream flavored with orange juice, orange zest, orange essence, and candied orange, because no one wants to taste the tofu in the tofu ice cream. Jürgen is doing a macaron ice cream sandwich flavored with pistachio, almond, and stem ginger based as his childhood occupation as the local ice cream taster. Crystelle is doing a tahini, coffee, and miso ice cream sandwich, which must be her fifth miso-based bake in a row. What is going on here? Was there a sale on miso? Is Crystelle doing secret product placement for “Big Miso”?
Everyone seems to be hyper-competent, no George or Maggie constantly apologizing, which is refreshing. Lizzie’s 100% cocoa biscuits are pitch black, which looks really cool even if they remind Noel of the “inside of a coffin” and Lizzie of “jaguar wee.” Jürgen is leaving everything down to the wire with his macarons, not giving them any time to develop the skin that gives them that lovely shiny dome. He says that wasn’t a problem in the practice tent, but I suspect that was on a more pleasant day. On a lovely sunny day, the skin can form almost instantly but on a cold wet one like they seem to be having… I don’t have high hopes for these macarons.
When it comes to the results, a lot of the criticisms are very familiar. Giuseppe’s are faultless, Lizzie’s taste great but lack finesse, Chigs’ are technically perfect but need bolder flavors, Crystelle is in the middle of the pack with a solid effort. The wild card comes from Jürgen whose ice cream sandwiches, which he puzzlingly presents on a curved dish, are a complete mess but so long as you close your eyes they taste heavenly.
On to the technical and it is vegan sausage rolls. Now, the phrase “vegan sausage roll” might sound like an innocuous one to a non-Brit, but they were at the center of a national outrage when national bakery chain Gregg’s launched them as a menu option back in 2019. Greggs had long been thought of as a working-class establishment and it producing a vegan option was a betrayal because, as I previously mentioned, the British relationship between class and food is DERANGED. The vegan sausage roll made headlines across the country, sold out everywhere, was debated on TV, and Piers Morgan spat one out live on television. So yes, you may think the bakers are baking a crispy snack but it’s actually a bold political statement.
Even bolder is that Crystelle adds her water to the pastry within the Magimix, which is a recipe for overdeveloped gluten and pastry hell. Lizzie seems the most confident with the vegan puff pastry which bodes well; when you are laminating pastry, it’s all about working quickly so being hesitant works against you. Chigs and Giuseppe also seem to know what they are doing too, lots of swift rolling and folding going on. Once they move onto the fillings, a combo of mushrooms, herbs, lentils, and Crystelle’s beloved miso that really make you realize how few savory things the bakers have had to make. Beyond the terrine pies and cheese straws, they’ve really been lacking.
The resulting vegan sausage rolls aren’t going to be converting Piers Morgan any time soon. Chigs and Giuseppe are at the top with edible offerings, Lizzie’s lamination is good but her sausage rolls are pretty dry, Jürgen is fourth (probably only because he doesn’t admit that he dropped them on the floor), and Crystelle is dead last with some seriously unappetizing creations and an accompanying chutney that is so spicy it makes Paul choke and Prue’s nose run.
Going into the signature, Paul and Prue put Lizzie and Crystelle at the bottom which seems kind of unfair to Lizzie? By my recollection she had a better day than Jürgen. The challenge is to make a two-tier gluten-free cake which isn’t exactly a huge shake-up, but giant cake show stoppers are always pretty fun, bringing together multiple elements and scope for design.
Crystelle is going with yet another tribute to a family member, baking a rice flour cake flavored with coconut, jaggery, and cardamom and decorated to look like a dress her grandmother pre-selected for her sister’s wedding and had hanging from the back of her door. Surprisingly, the dress looks like it would be worn at the Moulin Rouge which makes me want to know more about Crystelle’s grandmother.
Giuseppe is making the approximately 50th Black forest gateau of the season for reasons only understood by him, Jürgen is going with three tiers of ombré chocolate sponges with apricot and whisky, and Chigs is going with two tiers of red velvet. Chigs has a filigree chocolate collar and plenty of fabulous-looking design element, but after being criticized for his flavors, red velvet seems like an odd choice.
Best of all is Lizzie’s concept which is a tribute to minds that work differently. Lizzie explains that she’s lived her whole life with special educational needs and would like to pay tribute to those with things like attention deficit disorder, dyspraxia and dyslexia with a fabulous colurful design. It’s a really lovely idea made better by her continued refusal to heed any of Paul’s advice.
The biggest upset comes from Giuseppe, who plummets from pole position with a messy, strangely textured Black forest gateau. Paul doesn’t sugarcoat it, saying “I expected better from you.” Crystelle’s trajectory goes in the opposite direction—her cake is nutty, moist, and presentation is neat as a pin and “witty.”
Jürgen does very well too, even if to my eye his cake looks a little blob-like and whisky, apricot, and chocolate doesn’t exactly sound like a marriage made in heaven. The judges love it and use the word “beautiful” over and over again. Chigs triumphs yet again, nailing all his complicated design elements and Paul unashamedly “loves” it even though no one seems to twig it’s supposed to be a red velvet cake? The sponge isn’t red and everyone just refers to it as chocolate.
Best of all is Lizzie’s cake, which is even more wonderful than her design suggested. It tastes great but it looks even better, a gorgeous cacophony of color and texture that Paul says he’d proudly “have on his 40th.” Prue is openly thrilled that Lizzie has finally given them the finesse they’ve been asking for.
When it comes to the judging it feels like anyone (well anyone but Chigs) could go home. Paul and Prue say elimination is between Lizzie and Crystelle, which feels a bit arbitrary, and that perhaps Jürgen and Giuseppe feel so pre-destined for the final they won’t even consider the option of eliminating them.
Chigs looks terrified as the judges re-enter the tent but has no reason to be—he wins Star Baker for the second time. Lizzie and Crystelle cling to each other as the dreadful news comes. It was close but even a spectacular showstopper couldn’t save our beloved Scouser. Lizzie, we’ll miss you very much!
Next week, Patisserie! It’s a minor comfort that Lizzie would have hated patisserie week.
- I’ve said it before, but wow, this has been a male-dominated season! Only one female star baker win to seven male ones.
- I’m all for the five-second rule but there is a pandemic on? Didn’t feel okay for Prue and Paul to be fed sausage rolls that had been on the floor.
- In the best seasons of this show, you get to the final few episodes loving everyone and anyone leaving is a so sad. Well done to the casting department. They found five fantastic quarter finalists.