Welcome to the Eater round-up of Great British Bake Off 2020, as Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, and Noel Fielding return to Channel 4 with the 11th series of cakes, puddings, breads, and inevitable recourse to terrible baking puns. Filmed in a bio-secure coronavirus bubble, producers had originally said that Paul Hollywood’s terrible handshake was cancelled, but somehow, it is still here, as sweaty as ever.
Great British Bake Off 2020 Episode 6, Japan Week, tackled … Japan … with a signature challenge covering nikuman buns, a technical challenge covering mille crêpe cake, and a showstopper covering Kawaii-inspired cakes. It was, unfortunately, an Orientalist mess. Here, now, is Great British Bake Off 2020 Japan Week, (sort of) as it happened.
Great British Bake Off 2020 Japan Week: The Introduction
Phew, thank god none of the Great British Bake Off hosts have ever performed racist caricatures of Japanese students, that would really start the episode off bad—
Okay, well, at least none of the judges have made ignorant TV series about Japanese cul—
Ugh roll it.
Great British Bake Off 2020 Japan Week: Signature Challenge
Steamed buns. Nikuman. Originally Chinese. And steamed! Japanese baking culture is both full of buns, which are baked — kare pan; anpan; melon pan — and interactions with flavours from Western culture. One of the best bakeries in the city specialises in Japanese hot dog pan! So why is GBBO asking bakers to steam an originally Chinese bun and fill it with Chinese or Indian ingredients during Japan Week?
3:30: Dave is putting turmeric in his buns to really accentuate the “Asian food? It’s all the same!” vibe going on here, but his filling is close to a kare pan, so, some credit due. Unfortunately he’s calling it chicken katsu curry despite there being no breaded, fried cutlet to speak of and Matt Lucas pretended he said “cat poo curry” and I mean really? Really? Really? Casual food racism on British TV in 2020? That’s the gag?
Hermine is making her buns look like pandas, which are Chinese. Peter is filling his buns with what Noel calls “Chinese stir fry” whose ingredients are kind of Thai, kind of Chinese, kind of Vietnamese, kind of losing my mind here. Quite a few animal buns going on.
— Charlotte (@charemmablog) October 27, 2020
[Percy Pig has entered the chat]
5:45: Marc is putting dal and paprika in. I might have to check out of this. If the piece ends early, I am deeply sorry. Mark is making a cheeseburger-filled bun, which is irritatingly close to the kind of Yōshoku-adjacent thing that could have been interesting if. the. original. bun. were. even. Japanese. at. all. Lottie is on the cheeseburger hype too. It could be an unforgettable luncheon!
10:35 Hermine is the only baker so far to acknowledge the resonances between French and Japanese baking culture so going to row back slightly on her pandas. She’s also the only baker whose title card refers to them as nikuman.
13:00: Laura literally says, out loud, “there’s probably a technique, I don’t know.” There’s also a subplot whereby Paul Hollywood, he who said Japan didn’t understand baking on a TV show about Japanese baking, hates gherkins and the burger bun-makers have to accommodate him.
“It’s Japan week here on Bake Off so Laura’s filling her buns with Chinese-style pork because, y’know, like whatever, right?” #GBBO
— Joney Ong (@Joney_Ong) October 27, 2020
21:14: Signature challenge tiers
- This is simply not Japanese baking tier: Hermine, Mark, Laura, Marc, Dave, Peter, Lottie
An addendum — the problem with this challenge is twofold. One, it’s ignorant of Japanese baking culture. And two, GBBO is an influential show! People watch it and people bake along to it, and something demonstrating the execution of traditions and dishes of great cultural significance needs to get them right, lest what happened last night happen, and Twitter be flooded with photos of people baking “Japanese” … char siu bao.
In this age (and especially in the recent climate) one would think – or at least, hope – proper research and fact checking is done before an episode like this is made…
— Naoko Mori 森尚子 (@naoko_mori) October 27, 2020
Great British Bake Off 2020 Japan Week: Technical Challenge
25:02: Matcha crèpe cake. 2018 Instagram-bait, come on down! Again. More firmly situated in Japanese pâtisserie tradition than the buns were in any Japanese tradition, it’s a technically complex yogashi — Western-style — dessert. Shokupan? Mochi? Dorayaki? No? Okay!
27:12: This year’s technical challenges are still going the way of the professional kitchen round on Masterchef:
I The Professional I
I Kitchen Round I
— Sam Whyte (@SamWhyte) August 24, 2018
23:15: The dominant energy of this challenge is, unfortunately, “my opinion on matcha is a personality,” oscillating between “eww I’m eating a lawnmower” and “ahh, the antioxidants!” Is the mille crêpe cake dusted in matcha powder a functional metaphor for this episode, a dusting of clichéd Japanese identity hiding a fundamentally white, Western core? Like all great rhetorical questions, the answer is—
26:52: A bit of old-fashioned GBBO jeopardy finally appears, as the bakers make their crêpes under pressure to keep them thin enough and not inadvertently use too much mixture that they can’t make the eleven layers. Yes! Mark says, out loud, “I’m just filling crevices with matcha powder!” Readers, please return to the entry at 23:15. Peter says, out loud, “game, set, matcha.” Readers, please return to the entry at 23:15.
36:30: Technical challenge tiers
- Antioxidant tier: Peter, Lottie
- Grass tier: Hermine, Dave
- Lawnmower tier: Laura, Marc, Mark
Great British Bake Off 2020 Japan Week: Showstopper Challenge
40:00: Kawaii. The consumer subculture of slightly maverick cuteness that grew from an 11th century description to a full subculture amid 1960s and 70s protests against cultural conformity in Japan, before going worldwide in the 1990s. Surely GBBO can’t mess thi—
Watching #GBBO and it’s Japanese week. They’re currently making “kawaii” cakes. “Kawaii” famously means “cute” in Japanese…except they keep pronouncing it “kowaii” which means “scary.”
— Ewan (ユアン) (@HippieDalek) October 27, 2020
Supposed to be cute but it’s scary? This episode just keeps bringing in the metaphors that inadvertently sum it up.
37:47: Dave is using matcha again, because it’s the only Japanese flavour profile that exists.
39:07: Peter is doing a castela cake, credit to him; Lottie is doing a cotton sponge, credit to her. Yuzu and Japanese whisky are coming out. Things are, dare I say it, looking up a little bit….
My mum thinks kawaii is a type of cake and nothing I am saying is convincing her otherwise #GBBO
— RJ (@echo_RJ) October 27, 2020
watching #gbbo and wondering if anyone’s going to point out that reducing japanese baking to “kawaii” and adding a GEISHA onto the cake is more than a little problematic
— rae (@steamedsiumai) October 27, 2020
56:00: Showstopper challenge tiers
- Kawaii tier: Peter, Lottie, Marc, Dave
- Kowaii tier: Mark, Laura, Hermine
Great British Bake Off Japan Week: Results
Star baker: Lottie.
Going home: Mark, as the GBBO judging credo of “well, there are three rounds, but nevertheless, the showstopper is the only thing that matters” makes it mark again.
Running theme: If you’re going to do a Japanese-themed week with a judge who hosted a bad food show about Japan and a host who did racist caricatures of Japanese students for money, it’s probably going to go badly.