"Great British Bake Off" shocks viewers with a dramatic double-elimination round

It's Pastry Week, which means it's also time for Soggy Bottom Watch

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published October 28, 2023 1:31PM (EDT)

The Great British Bake Off (Love Productions/Channel 4/Mark Bourdillon/Netflix)
The Great British Bake Off (Love Productions/Channel 4/Mark Bourdillon/Netflix)

There’s a cloud — both figurative and literal — hanging over the tents of “The Great British Bake Off” as we head into week five. Following Tasha’s illness last week, no contestants were eliminated, which left most of the bakers feeling pretty elated after some play-it-safe performances; however, that momentary relief came with a promise: A double elimination round, cutting the group from nine bakers to seven. 

On the other hand, the actual visible cloud cover outside the tents, combined with the fact that the contestants are all wearing long sleeves, indicates that the heat wave that plagued Chocolate Week has passed, which may bode well for Pastry Week (another notoriously fussy confection when it comes to temperature and handling). Regardless, college student and baker Rowan isn’t getting too cocky and summarizes what seems to be the prevailing sentiment on this season of “Bake Off.” 

“I never feel confident about anything in life and pastry’s no exception,” he said. “So I’m just gonna roll with it as I do every week.” 

In this week’s signature challenge, the bakers are challenged to make twelve individual savory picnic pies. The fillings and flavors are left up to their discretion, but the pies must be made from hot water crust pastry, and “be attractive and attempting to eat.” 

Oh, and they only have two hours to complete the task. 

In an aside to camera, co-judge Paul Hollywood went on to elucidate his personal preferences for these picnic pies: the fillings should be flavorful, but also really moist. The edges should be perfectly crimped and the top perfectly scored, both for aesthetic and technical reasons, as the steam generated from the filling needs somewhere to escape so that it doesn’t result in wet pastry and the now-infamous soggy bottom. 

The bakers are all going big on flavor this week, with a lot of classic sausage, fruit and cheese pies in the mix, including variations from Tasha, Nicky, Rowan and Josh. Matty decides to nod towards spanakopita with his spinach and feta pies, while Dan fills his crust with a play on lamb keema. There are a few pies that I’m particularly interested in: Saku’s spicy tuna picnic pies which each have a small quail egg in the center; Cristy’s pies with a decadent creamy leek filling; and Dana’s pies packed with dauphinoise potatoes, caramelized onions and a funky cheese sauce. 

“Almost like a dauphinoise pithivier,” Paul remarks, stealing a sly glance at Prue in what turns out to be a moment of not-so-subtle foreshadowing for the upcoming technical. 

The two-hour long round breezes by quickly, with a few saucy detours by Noel and Alison (lots of discussion of, uh… holes and pricks this round). As the judges begin to come around to sample everyone’s bakes, a few themes begin to reveal themselves in the feedback. Most everyone’s flavors are good, but the technical execution of the pastry largely wasn’t exactly what Paul and Prue were looking for, from Dan’s ripped crust to Saku’s soggy bottom. 

“Heartbreaking,” she said simply after Paul flipped her pie to reveal the moisture barrier of the crust had been broken.

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Rowan seems to be struggling most this week. In his pork and sweet potato picnic pies, he’d layered a piece of raw bacon between the filling and the pie lid, and it seems like the steam from the bacon prevented the crust from cooking properly. By the time Paul and Prue came by his station, the lids of his pies were literally falling off. Nicky also struggled this week, describing the round as an “absolute bag of pants,” a delightful phrase that I’m determined to begin weaving into my everyday conversations. 

Cristy, however, pulls it out with her creamy leek pies, earning her a Hollywood handshake. 

Soggy Bottom Watch continues in this week’s technical challenge which is (you guessed it) a decadent dauphinoise pithivier. Much like Dana’s picnic pies from the last round, this classic French pastry features a laminated crust stuffed with creamy potatoes, caramelized onions and Roquefort sauce. It is, as Prue describes, “carbs on carbs served with cream” and it is apparently heaven. 

Again, like all the technical challenges, the bakers are provided with very, very sparse directions to guide them through the baking process. Paul simply tells the bakers that “the textures on the inside and the outside must be perfect,” which, of course, starts with the pastry crust. What makes it work in this dish is that cold grated butter must be incorporated into the pastry a bit at a time, and then folded; essentially, you want layers of dough, butter, dough and butter to get that signature golden-brown pastry flake, much like what you see when you cut into a fresh croissant. 

The potatoes also present a slight challenge to the bakers. They need a little bite when put into the pie so that they don’t become mushy during baking, however they can’t be too raw because — well, no one wants to bite into a pie filled with raw potatoes drowned in Roquefort sauce. 

This is another quick-moving round peppered with more baking-themed innuendo, this time largely centered around the instruction that the bakers are meant to “knock up” their pastry edges. After assessing the field, Nicky, Josh and Matt are at the bottom of the group thanks to sloppy pastries and ill-cooked potatoes. 

Tasha is officially back in the game with a strong third place finish, while Dana, who had a bit of a leg up thanks to her signature bake, comes in second place. But it’s Dan — who nicked himself with a grater and had to actually restart his pastry — who manages to come out on top with a “recognizable pithivier” that both “tastes delicious and looks professional,” per the judges. 

Overall, Paul and Prue agree that pastry week is a step up from the middling performances during last week’s chocolate challenges, but that could all change during a deceptively simple showstopper challenge. The bakers are asked to make three ornate pies with a rich, sweet pastry crust. They should also have some kind of thematic thread linking them in their presentation. 

"I’ve never had a dry apple pie before."

The bakers have four hours, which seems like a long time, but I’m immediately concerned about Rowan. He plans to make three pies based on his favorite show, “Absolutely Fabulous,” which will include hand-painted portraits of Edina and Patsy. It’s a gutsy move for someone who hasn’t excelled in the last few showstoppers. 

And, indeed, after a tense round of rolling, shaping and filling delicate pastry dough, Rowan can’t even pull his overstuffed pies out of the tins without them bleeding and oozing fruit filling. Delicious? Probably. But definitely not what Paul and Prue are looking to reward in this round. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, my heart dropped for Nicky when Paul took a bite of her bake and said simply, “I’ve never had a dry apple pie before.” 

Those moisture issues were enough to convince the judges that Nicky and Rowan should both go home this week as part of the double-elimination round — but not before rewarding Cristy with the title of Star Baker.  

At this point, I still think Dan and Tasha are going to be our final two bakers, but who knows? Maybe Cristy will absolutely dominate “Botanical Week,” which is new to the series. Per the show description: “In a Bake Off first, it's Botanical Week and the bakers tackle bakes inspired by nature, starting with a spice-filled Signature, followed by a herby Technical and topped off with a floral dessert Showstopper.”


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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