GBBO: the life lessons I learned from the female bakers in the semi-final

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Helen Bownass
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As semi-final night arrives in the Bake Off tent, two of the bakers had a particularly tough week. Here’s what we made of pâtisserie week. Warning: week nine spoilers ahead. 

Tonight was the penultimate week in baking land, aka semi-final week,  and sadly for me – and all my fellow Hermine and Laura fans – it was not a great week for the women of the tent, despite all four of them finalists being called, by Paul “the best bakers we’ve ever had”. 

And that’s putting it lightly – even Paul Hollywood made a pointed comment that: “the lads have had a good week.” The fact there was another heatwave, to warm up the sweaty bakers as they sheltered in their canvas cooking land, while making the finest French pâtisserie, didn’t help matters.

But here’s what those disastrous experience in baking taught me about life. 

GBBO: Laura
GBBO: Laura

Screw self-doubt

I’m a big fan of Laura. She’s been a relatable ray of joy throughout the last nine weeks of baking, but something wasn’t right tonight, and it showed (except for the part where she was punching her enriched dough, imagining it was Paul’s face). 

I think she let the pressure get to her and started to doubt herself and doubt the competition. She bemoaned the fact she was out of her comfort zone (I would argue the whole of 2020 has been a non-stop rollercoaster out of our comfort zones). And she certainly wasn’t happy about the (phallic looking) Danish cornucopia, aka the horn of plenty, aka ‘Paul’s horn’ saying: “I’ve never heard of it, never eaten it, never seen it: that’s going to be fun isn’t it!”  Before getting tearful and uttering a heartfelt: “I don’t have a logical brain. This my worst fear of not being able to present anything.” And although Matt offered some reassuring words her self-doubt showed. 

However Laura seemed to have an attitude shift on day two - maybe that large gin and sambuca shot she promised herself at the end of day one helped, saying: “I’m just going to have fun today, bake from the heart. What will be, will be.” And though what came from her heart was a melted mirror glaze that gushed chocolate all over every surface, she  produced a black forest cube cake that Prue decreed “worth all the calories”.

Was it fair that Laura got to stay in over Hermine though? I’m still to be convinced of that one. 

GBBO: Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood
GBBO: Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood

The pressure of expectation can cause you to sink

Hermine broke my heart a bit tonight. This was the week the pâtisserie loving baker was waiting for; the culmination of all her skill and prowess. As Prue said: “this should have been Hermine’s finest hour.” It was not. 

Day one started well as she calmly decreed that her success was in the hands of the universe – although my blood pressure got an unwelcome jolt where she started remaking her baba’s, with only an hour to spare, when the first batch didn’t rise properly.

But day two saw Hermine baking something she’d never made before. I’m no baker (I firmly believe cake recipes are guidelines to be explored at will and there’s no difference between six and 12 oz of flour), but I know that winging a recipe, that you wrote the morning before, might be an error.

It wasn’t pretty, and Hermine knew mid-way through she’d made a mistake. She looked utterly defeated and didn’t want to carry on, but a quick pep talk from a revived Laura helped her at least get her cake out - although I suspect she’ll never forget Prue telling her: “By your standards, it’s a failure.” 

When it comes down to it I blame Paul for what happened to Hermine this week that saw her leave the show; if they hadn’t kept going on about how good they expected her to be, and just let her be good, she’d have smashed it. 

It’s always the patriarchy’s fault. 

Images: Channel 4

The Great British Bake Off is on All 4