Bake Off 2020 – Japanese Week: A Sheet of Human Skin

It’s good to see Mel and Sue getting work.

Well, we barely made it through Pastry Week without accusations of cultural insensitivity so good luck for Japanese Week I guess.

Steamed Buns

The Signature Challenge for the week is to make 8 steamed buns that could be sweet or savoury – thankfully everyone passed the psychiatric exam and opted for savoury. Noel jokes about stuffing his buns with dog’s blood. In a week dedicated to East Asian cuisine. It’s not a great look.

The Japanese brief was a little fast and loose as both Laura and Hermine enter the tent and think “China’s close enough, right?” as Hermine makes a batch of panda buns decorated to look like the world’s most harrowed cupboard of pandas (apparently that’s the collective noun)

They look like Junji Ito characters – who at least is Japanese. She’s feeling confident with Japanese week though as apparently there’s a lot of French influence in Japanese baking – this confidence lasted up until she was confronted with macha crepes.
Continuing both the theme of problematically merging China and Japan and animals that have been through the emotional ringer is Laura who is making a batch of buns stuffed with sticky pork belly and decorated to look like pigs, which on paper sounds adorable

However it was pretty bvious that this was going to go badly as whenever someone talked about needing to make sure your filling was not too liquidy so that it doesn’t seep through their buns, it would cut to Laura’s sticky sauce bubbling away and so we end up with a sounder of pigs that look like they’re begging you to donate £10 a month to an animal sanctuary

Having significantly more success in rendering happy animals that might not make a child cry is Peter who creates a really quite magnificent flock of sheep

He played it slightly risky as he decided to put his lamb filling in raw however while his buns looked incredible, the judges thought there was too much filling which I think Peter had realised because he had to make an emergency batch for his last few buns and because of his overfilling the outside of his dough is a little creased and if Peter had even the vaguest sense of gamesmanship he’d have said that was purpose to make it look like wool. COME ON PETER, PLAY THE GAME.
Dave also went the farmyard route with a flock of rubber chickens filled with katsu curry and Matt Lucas reaches new comedic heights by braying “HAHAHA CAT POO CURRY?!” at him and everyone gives him a look that could curdle cheese

DECK HIM PRUE.

Continuing our detour to avoid Japan at all costs Marc-with-a-C is going Indian with a mango chutney and dhal stuffed bun with a paprika flavoured dough that he is calling Hmmmm Dhals

Who are my favourite bangra Hanson coverband. Paul asks him if the dhal will contain lentils which is like asking if your risotto has rice in it (and don’t get me started on Great British Menu trying to make Potato Risotto a thing). There’s a rather cute moment where Marc, after having waited 15 minutes to check on buns, lifts the lid of his steamer to peep at them and is shocked to learn that they’ve swollen up into these monstrosities like he’s just poured water on a Gremlin

Paul has an issue with the size, but Paul always has an issue when he’s not the biggest, orangest thing in the room – Halloween is a particularly hard time of year for him. Thoughts and prayers.

Then lastly we have THE BURGER OFF as Mark-with-a-K and Lottie find themselves in a duel of The All American Hamburger. It’s a thrilling fight of shaping, seasoning, stacking and terrible burger puns that I’m sure they spent all night writing in a scene that played out like Alyssa Edwards having to write her roast in Drag Race season 5

They’re methods differ slightly though: and not just because Lottie decides she has enough time to make curly fries as well. Mark is pre-cooking his burger patty while Lottie is putting it in raw and I genuinely can’t believe that the show just walks past the organic innuendo of Lottie and Peter talking about “sticking it in raw” without so much as a second glance and beelines to Matt Lucas exclaiming “STROKE THE DOUGH TO MAKE IT BIGGER!” directly to camera. Why did we move so far from The Light? And then just to throw a bit of a spanner in the works Paul decides to tell both of them that he hates gherkins with such a passion that the two of them are forced to create a special steamed bun just for him, which he then opines that his doesn’t have enough sesame seeds on the top because that was how Mark was marking it as The Special Paul Bun. AN ACTUAL TODDLER.
Lottie goes for the full Subway experience as she makes an assembly line of fillings to build the perfectly stacked hamburger meaning that when it’s cut it looks like a burger

It was a really nice touch. Both of them are criticised for their fillings being too dry and Paul would really have liked some mayonnaise or ketchup in them. WHY IS HE ALLOWED TO JUDGE? And where was Linda with her bowls of dipping sauces?

A Steamed Bun Ranking

  1. Peter Dreams of Steam Powered Sheep
  2. Dave’s Rubber Chickens
  3. Marc’s Radioactive Buns
  4. Hermine’s Sad Pandas
  5. Lottie’s Steamed Hams
  6. Mark’s Ham Buggers.
  7. The National Society For the Protection of Porkish Welfare

Macha Crepe Cakes

If you want to see someone completely die inside just look at Laura receiving the news that she’s going to have to make a 12 stack macha crepe cake

I mean it is absolutely a pointless expenditure of your energy, mental stability and emotional wellbeing to make one of these wastes of time so I think she’s justified in her reaction.
The cake will be filled with a white chocolate ganache buttercream and wafer (wah-fur if you’re Marc-with-a-C) thin slices of strawberry and should be set enough to hold a slice when cut. They’re also all going to end up looking like the set of The Teletubbies once they’re decorated with a macha-coconut dust and fresh fruit

The first task most of the bakers take on is making the swiss meringue to use for the ganache – most of them just getting on with the task while Lottie hangs back and tries to crib notes because she has absolutely no idea what she’s doing and mutters under her breath as she put a hex on the entire Swiss nation. It’s what they deserve. Laura meanwhile has met her greatest enemy again: butter

It’s a slippery old foe.

In order to create the cakes the bakers have to make 1 very large pancake that looks a little bit like Shrek after a particularly nasty hit and run incident

(It was Lottie that did it) The main issue being that flipping such a large crepe is no mean feat, Noel eagerly tries to get someone to try it but they all use their fingers to delicately flip it, or drape it into an absolute mess

Bizarrely in a challenge involving pancakes and making sure your filling had set neither of these things caused many issues – except for Marc-with-a-C who burnt nearly every pancake and Laura who ran out mixture after making macha tortillas ending up with a crepe bungalow

No the real issue was the crescent of fresh fruit and flowers that the bakers had to adorn their cake with because we have reached The Burnout portion of the competition and everyone doesn’t seem to know what a crescent is, furthest from the mark being Dave who just covered the whole of his cake

Mark-with-a-K wasn’t much better as he just wanted to cover as much of his rather rough looking cake as possible. Peter was the only one who truly understood what a cresent was, the rest of them just doing a semi-circle

and he led the pack by a country mile as everyone trailed behind with offenses of either their strawberries being too thick, their crepes being rubbery or the outside of the cake looking a bit like a botched skin graft.

A Classification of Crepe Cakes

  1. Peter’s Crepe Success
  2. Lottie’s Burning Hatred of the Swiss
  3. Dave Being Third is an Indication of the Level of Failure
  4. Hermine’s Hooker with a Heart of Gold
  5. Mark’s Crepe Holes
  6. Marc’s Crappy Crepes
  7. Laura’s Crepe Bungalow

Kawaii Cakes

Coming in to the Showstopper Challenge the baker needing to put up quite the fight is Laura, meanwhile Peter and Lottie are stealing the show. They threaten that Hermine could put herself in danger – don’t provoke me Paul.

The Showstopper challenge is of course to produce a cute character cake that embodies that kawaii aesthetic – something cute, charming and whimsical. Now how does Hermine interpret that particlar challenge?

A cake with fondant thicker than a prison wall depicting the tale of a morose ghost of a geisha wandering the Japanese cherry orchards in the hopes of finding and murdering the man that spurned her love. It’s so deliciously far removed from anything anyone else did that it’s almost profoundly genius – like when you’re walking around an art gallery and you suddenly stumbled upon a piece that’s a single pencil line drawn on an expansive canvas. Everyone else opted for large, cartoon eyed animals and anthropomorphised objects that looked like the sort of useless knick-knacks you pick up during the sale in Paperchase, none more so than Mark-with-a-K’s family of avocados

And I think it really would have been curtains for Hermine if Mark hadn’t had the brainfart of an idea to make his cake using actual avocados – can the vegan wellness influencers of Instagram calm down and stop trying to make avocado brownies and cakes a thing? It’s ruining people’s lives here. Mark gets the dreaded “unedible” [sic.] critique from Paul – which I don’t believe had been seen since that time Norman used a lethal amount of lavender in his meringues?

Having considerably more success, largely because they didn’t make their cake using avocado, was Mark’s Burger Nemesis Lottie who decided to make her cake out of a Japanese sponge known as a Cotton Jiggle Cake. Her choice of character was either a toadstool or chibified Darth Maul depending which side of the brain you’re more dominant on

Her success is not, not entirely based on the fact it reminds Paul so much of his one and only trip to Japan during his Channel 4 travelogue that WAS NOT PROBLEMATIC AT ALL… Her flavours are also very well balanced opting for Lime and Cherry and going the extra mile to make whiskey fudge pebbles and cherry drop candyfloss which go heavily remarked upon unlike last week when Hermine made an entire batch of macarons AND NOBODY CARED. Still mad about that.

The bakers were explicitly asked to use Japanese flavours, so there’s no detouring to India this time Marc-with-a-C, so what’s he making? A honey and tahini cake. I’m maybe a little bit convinced he thought it was Jordan Week as that strikes me as very Levantine. He is also using ginger and soya bean powder (which are more Japanese) to make his cake of his dog Hamish which I’m going to be honest might be the first time the final product has looked better than the illustration

The fondant work is incredible and the judges praised it as looking very professional, which then immediately cut to Dave looking like this because his fondant work left a little to be desired

Personally, very sceptical of a cake containing tahini but Prue seemed to enjoy it – slightly surprised Paul didn’t ask for a special tahini free Hamish puppy on the side, but he was a little too busy turning his nose up at Dave who decided to revisit our old friend Macha Powder for his cake in the shape of his dog Yoki, a very cute Shiba Inu who has not received nearly enough screentime. Shibas lend themselves very well to cartoonisation – they just have a very fun face and with Dave’s meticulous attention to detail I’m not surprised it turned out so well

I’m sceptical about why you would choose to pair rosewater and macha – two flavours that are so polarising they might as well be on opposite ends of the globe – Prue did like it but she also liked the tahini cake so I’m not sure we trust her opinion in these parts. There’s a bit of an issue with his fondant not being as smooth around the bottom of the cake and he’s not the only one as Laura has a bit of a wobble as her fondant begins to tear due to The Curse of Gravity. She’s making a delightfully whimsical pineapple upside cake

It was a good thing she and Dave were at opposite ends of the tent, unfortunately it did put her in full view of Dave rather masterfully picking up and draping his vast sheet fondant that rather looked like a sheet of human skin

his vibe is very much that of a serial killer. Noel is on hand to pull her through her little moment of doubt as she stares at the miniscule tears in her fondant, that for the record don’t even come up in her judging, and I think it really justifies Noel’s place on the show. The only real critique for Laura is that it could have looked more like a pineapple, which:

I don’t think that’s fair? It’s pretty much the perfect cartoon pineapple? At the end of the day, she’s still using the limitations of cake. You didn’t tell Lottie that her demonic toadstool could look less like a paralysis demon and she won star baker! Speaking of Star Baker, it’s our perennial bridesmaid Peter and his little shuttlecock cake called Dizzy

It’s so cute and I will willingly lay down my life for Dizzy. He decided on a shuttlecock because he has apparently coached a mischief of Edinburger Children (that’s the correct collective noun) to play badminton – the youngest being 3. They’re a very intimidating street gang, it’s a real problem. I think his design just perfectly captures that Japanese mascot aesthetic, and if you’re not following Mondo Mascots on Twitter, I thoroughly suggest you do. He like Lottie opted for a very unique sponge, going for a very dense cake known as castella, which I’ve only ever had in the form of a dorayaki – it’s very dense and spongey and I imagine excellent for creating moulded cakes out of. He also opted for very individual flavours – a chestnut icing and slices of Asian pear which were sadly both a little too subtle for Paul and Prue, but I think sounds rather divine.

A Quick Kawaii Cake Ranking:

  1. Laura’s Trigger Warning
  2. Marc’s Tahini Bit Concerning
  3. Peter’s Shuttlecock-cock-cock-cock
  4. Lottie’s Kawaii Sith Lord
  5. Dave’s Queen of Shiba
  6. Hermine’s J-Horror
  7. Mark’s Avocadalypse.

As stated earlier Lottie gets the star baker for reminding Paul of a time before COVID19 – I can’t really speak to the flavours and maybe they were that mind blowing but I just thought Peter’s had that real authenticity to it. And then because Laura whipped out a truly stellar cake it’s Mark that finds himself ousted from the tent – he and Lottie were such good mates in the tent so I hope it didn’t mar the win for her too much. And I’ll miss Mark’s hair most of all

So fluffy.

NEXT WEEK:

Oh Lord. It’s BinGate Revisited.

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