Even at this point, after six series, a landslide of loveable ‘characters’ and several moments of genuine national hysteria, you will meet people who mistakenly believe the Great British Bake Off is a programme about baking.
“It’s just people crying over cake!” they’ll scoff, when you meet them at dinner parties or inadvertently listen to a Jeremy Vine phone in.
But they’re missing the point – it is people. Crying. Over cake! If the haters looked past the pinnies and 70s seaside postcard innuendo, they would see the truth: that all life is here. Among the pastel cabinets we have hubris and underdogs, pure human endeavour and acts of god. If you can watch a woman’s whole wedding crumble into biscuit dust and not feel even a pang, then you have to question whether you’re truly alive.
Much like a cleanly inserted skewer or a canary down a mine, bread week has historically been a barometer for success or failure in the Bake Off sphere
Anyway, onwards and upwards! This week we’ve got enriched dough, plump buns and more cries of ‘raw!’ than a Katy Perry lookalike convention. It’s bread week.
Much like a cleanly inserted skewer or a canary down a mine, bread week has historically been a barometer for success or failure in the Bake Off sphere. The star baker of bread week has always gone on to the final, and often to win – so our contestants are out to prove themselves.
Not by climbing into a warm drawer. Although there’s an idea for a spa treatment.
Yeast is yeast
This week’s signature challenge is chocolate bread. Sure, let’s pretend that’s a thing! Why not? If humouring the idea of chocolate bread takes us one step closer to my dream of eventually realising ‘custard salad’, then I for one am all for it.
“We’re looking for a bread texture, with the flavour of chocolate,” explains Paul, in case anyone was planning to infuse Dairy Milk with essence of Hovis. Just so we’re clear, Hollywood, the death of Gene Wilder doesn’t mean the world needs a new Wonka. Indulge those fantasies on your own time and dollar.
Most of the bakers are making spins on a ‘couronne’, which is enriched dough, split and twisted to reveal its innards – although Benjamina and Rav both believe they’re making babka, despite apparently knowing bupkis about it.
Your favourite millennial box-ticker (of COURSE she has a pug) Candice is sporting a flawless red lip and making salted caramel and pecan brittle brioche. Surprisingly given their recent form, even Paul and Mary seem to have heard of salted caramel. This probably means it’ll soon go the way of glacé cherries and those rice paper stickers with Tom and Jerry on them.
After the first proving it’s time to knock back the dough – which I think means telling it you’re flattered but just not looking for anything serious right now – and put it a warm drawer until it’s ready to rise again. You know, like Gabrielle! Or Jesus.
But all eyes are on Andrew, who is proving his Irish Barmbrack only once, not twice.
“My justification is it’s come from the traditional recipe”, he says, which sounds reasonable until you remember that traditionally mince pies had mutton in them and women didn’t have the vote. Things evolve, mate. Time marches on.
Paul and Mary aren’t down with the raw food movement – they like their bread the old fashioned way: cooked
Speaking of modern life, they might be hip to tahini and chill about chia seeds but Paul and Mary aren’t down with the raw food movement – they like their bread the old fashioned way: cooked. So come the judging there’s only one test for the chocolate loaves to pass, and it’s digital. Failing the patented ‘Hollywood prod’ are Benjamina’s babka, Kate’s incontinent cobbles, Val’s squashy cinnamon, Jane’s soft nuts and Candice’s buggered brioche.
“With all the love in the world, I’m not going to eat it,” he crows, as Candice cries. Imagine being Paul’s child making him breakfast on Father’s Day. Imagine.
However, storming into an early lead it’s our quiet guys, proving that if you save time on charming the nation with your kooky personality, you get a better bake. Tom’s loaf is bread of heaven, Rav’s babka is fabka. The dough is cooked! The flavours are good! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!
This week’s technical challenge marks a first in Bake Off history. We’ve seen grilled cake, poached pudding, boiled pie and fried biscuit, but never steamed buns before.
Dampfnudel – ‘damp noodles’, for those of you who didn’t do GCSE German – are sweet round buns, pillowy soft on top and crispy and golden on the bottom. In Mel’s Educational History Homework (or ‘MEHH’), we learn that 1286 of the buns were once made in a morning to assuage a merciless invading army during the Thirty Years’ War. Which these days we just call ‘bottomless brunch’.
Back in the steam room, our bakers are flustered. The recipe is foggy, the pan lids are misted over, there are enough leaked nudels to seriously confuse a lot of 4Chan users – and just in case all this talk of pinched bottoms and nice smooth balls isn’t enough to push the national innuend-o-meter into critical range, they also have to serve it with plums.
When judging rolls round, Jane’s nudel are a dampf squib, Rav’s are a dampf shame and Kate, Michael and Benjamina’s buns are all universally panned. But the most e-steamed? It’s Val! Your favourite imaginary auntie, Val! She’s back in the game!
“I’m older than everybody else, and maybe I’ve just made more dumplings than anybody else,” she beams. We worry we’re wasting our lives on social media, and we are definitely right.
The mad plaiter’s tea party
Ever ones to jump on a hot trend up to three years after it appears, Paul and Mary are setting up their very own braid bar. The showstopper challenge involves three flours, four hours and a plaited bread ‘centrepiece’, presumably made by people who don’t know you can just buy candles from Ikea.
Tom is fashioning a snake and Nordic hammer and Val is making a kind of Sunday school carb homage to the story of Noah, featuring two giraffes and a single elephant. Not two elephants, Val?
Curiously nobody is paying tribute to any of TV’s most famous plaits – Pippi Longstocking; Nanny Pat’s sausage plait; Gail from Corrie – but there are some big concepts at play. Michael is celebrating Cypriot independence with his olive and coriander loaf, Tom is fashioning a snake and Nordic hammer (just in case rye bread is a bit too populist, he’s flavouring them with seaweed) and Val is making a kind of Sunday school carb homage to the story of Noah, featuring two giraffes and a single elephant. Not two elephants, Val?
“They’ve argued,” she shrugs. We should all Be More Val.
Kate is making a corn maiden, which I think is the next level up from ‘iron maiden’ at Farmer’s Daughter Finishing School. “Do you want to have more children?” asks Mel, just to remind us all that the great thing about being a woman is you are never too busy to be asked irrelevant questions about your own womb.
With such a mixed bag of results yesterday nobody is safe from eviction, and as such they’re all feeling a bit kneady. Andrew’s a basket case, Tom’s got his tape measure out and and Michael has brought Cypriot booze strong enough to stun an ox and render Mary lightly tiddly. Even Selasi is serving up a load of bollocks about his three loaves telling the story of a time he sat under a tree.
Mel’s Guess the Smell? It’s another crispy bottom! Because Selasi’s pants are on fire.
Dough, oh dear
Time to present their work to the bread board. Paul’s gripe with Andrew’s basket is that it’s a weave rather than a plait (this seems a surprising level of hair knowledge for a man who has his own drawn on in Tippex), but his flavours are delicious. Benjamina, Jane and Kate have all baked perfect plaits, and Tom’s hammer has nailed it.
In less good news, Candice’s kamut has gone kaput and Val’s ark turns out to be more ‘erk’. But it’s Michael who really falls down, when his genius plan to get the judges pissed results in Paul going all in vino veritas on his olive loaf. Poor kid. But look, as The Long Blondes once almost sang: you’re only 19, for god’s sake – you don’t need a bread friend.
Farewell Michael! Please drink responsibly.
Next week: Kate milks a cow, Selasi tells porkies and Tom makes a giant prostate out of pastry. Maybe.