Last night's penultimate episode of The Great British Bake Off saw the four remaining bakers tack a classic French theme, patisserie.
The end is in sight, finally, as last night's semi-final saw the final four bakers whip up some domed tartlets, Saint Honoré tartlets and patisserie-filled sugar boxes. With everything to play for, I was delighted to see that all the bakers still entered with the typical Bake Off brand of wholesomeness, wearing ties to honour Henry, who left the tent last week.
Throughout this season, the judges (looking at you, Paul) have helped to create an atmosphere that isn't very Bake Off-like, in my eyes. Paul has tried to become a true villain and the producers are clearly indulging his whims, while Prue seems a bit like the eccentric, lovable great-aunt that everyone just tolerates. However, the contestants have clearly continued to love and support each other, with this one simple act showing that the true heart of Bake Off is still in the right place.
The Signature Challenge
In the first challenge, the bakers had to create beautifully decorated domed tartlets with a sweet pastry base. David seemed determined that he would be in control this week – and possibly go for Star Baker – and produced rhubarb and aperitif-themed tartlets, that seriously pleased the judges. Their only qualm was that the nuts he decorated the bake with weren't as fine as they should have been, which is a small issue in the grand scheme of things. Similarly, Alice started out strongly with her chocolate, hazelnut and almond tartlets. Other than slightly scrappy piping work around the side of her domes, Alice's bake was near-perfect, marking her as an early contender for Star Baker.
On the other end of the scale, Rosie and Steph didn't fare as well in the first round. Steph, last week's Star Baker, ended up with domes that were too soft, but tasted lovely. Rosie had a similar problem as her créme patisserie didn't set at all, resulting in a runny tart.
The Technical Challenge
Everyone dreads the Technical Challenge but it seemed like the contestants had even more fear than usual this week considering there were so few of them left, leaving them with far less room for error than ever before.
This week Prue set the challenge, which is a change as Paul has had quite a run this season, resulting in several fiendish tasks. However, it seems that Prue tried to emulate Paul's villainy, calling for a Saint Honoré with full puff pastry, créme Chiboust, choux buns, caramel and whipped cream.
The results were a mixed bag this week, with Alice and Steph both struggling and coming bottom of the pile. David, who finally came top in last week's technical was again relegated to second place. In a shocking and frankly unfathomable turn of events, Rosie came first in the Saint Honoré technical challenge.
Rosie seems like a lovely, charming person, but baking is not her strong point and she really should have been eliminated weeks ago. In this challenge alone, she had to restart several elements, admitting that her puff pastry was leaky and not up to scratch. Although her bake was probably the neatest on the gingham altar, surely it didn't taste good enough to come out on top?
The Showstopper Challenge
This week's task was a little weird, but proved very entertaining. The judges asked for the contestants to produce a sugar box filled with patisserie of their own choosing including a baked element.
The results were a mixed bag, but Alice was worthily awarded the title of Star Baker, redeeming herself after her bottom place result in the Technical Challenge. Her layered entremet cake was deemed delicious by the judges with stunning sea-themed decoration that featured sugar coral and blue mirror glaze. Could Alice be in just the right spot to take the title in next week's final?
Steph, as always, pleased the judges again with a stunningly classic opéra cake complete with jaconde sponge, macarons and a shiny dark chocolate glaze, all encased inside a box of pure sugar. It showed a level of professionalism that we've come to expect from Steph at this stage, so I was glad to see that the judges didn't try to pull a shock semi-final elimination out of the bag after her poor performance in the Technical.
David seemed to be in trouble at this week's judging as Paul and Prue were unimpressed with the patisserie element of his Showstopper, which was a simply decorated, fruit-based layer cake topped with buttercream cacti. However, his two-tone stained glass box was seriously impressive which saw him saved, meaning Rosie finally got the boot.
Her 'concept of time' bake consisted of flavourless cakes, tiny religieuse and dry biscuit, while her glass box was fairly battered looking. With nobody else to unfairly boot out in order to save her, Rosie was finally given her marching orders. I've said it before, I think there was an element of producers interfering or judges playing favourites this season because Rosie, while lovely and very entertaining, really did not deserve to stay in the competition this long.
The finalists have been chosen, with it seems that Steph, David and Alice have quite the challenge ahead of them. It seems like the playing field is wide open, but at this point I wouldn't put my money on anyone but Steph taking home the glass cake stand of victory.
Watch the preview for the final episode below and be sure to tune in next week for end-of-season recap.