Greetings! Crikey, the panel and crew have probably only just finished digesting James’s enormous cake from last week (if you didn’t see it, each slice was about the size of a windbreak) and already we’re on to Episode 2, Series 3 of The Great British Bake Off!
Natasha was sent packing last week, so we’re now down to eleven bakers, which, unfortunately for the quality and accuracy of this blog, is still rather too many for me to recap property. So we’ll have to stick with edited highlights until the number becomes more managable I’m afraid.
Given that the Bake Off is far too gentle to spring surprise evictions like Big Brother, or machiavellian double sackings like The Apprentice, I think we can assume it will be quite a while yet. That’s unless someone dares to modify one of Paul Holloway’s recipes again.
Anyway, this week, the theme is bread. Easier than cakes, right? WRONG.
The contestants are eased in with the reasonably easy signature bake, which consists of twelve flatbreads – six made using yeast, and six without. The method of baking, and the flavours they add, are up to the bakers. The trick is apparently to bake them at a high temperature for a short space of time, to avoid them rising too much.
Paul Holloway says that they ‘shouldn’t have an envelope inside’ them, which will come as a disappointment to anyone who likes the idea of finding free stationary within their flatbread.
Naturally, the contestants come up with all sorts of wonderful flavourings to add to their breads in an effort to impress Paul and Mary. For example, James is using brewer’s yeast from the Shetland Isles, Peter’s doing a fennel and nigella seed naan with a bannock bread (no, me neither) and Sarah-Jane is also adding beer to her toasted coconut and lime rotis.
Brendan turns out to be some sort of bread tourist, and is part-way through a quest to make every single variety of bread in the world, so he gets truly into the spirit of the task and cooks his Middle Eastern taboon bread on hot rocks. Fancy!
Mel goes over to talk to Cathryn about her chilli, garlic and coriander flatbread, before realising that the bread itself is nestling under the tea towel that she is leaning on. Probably just as well that these are supposed to be flatbreads.
Despite all of these flavourings, it’s hard to get excited about flatbreads in the same way it is about cakes. They also seem to go less spectacularly wrong, so on the whole the contestants fare pretty well, although last week’s ‘star baker’ Victoria frets about her effort.
Now on to the marked bit of this week’s competition, the technical bake. It’s an eight-strand plaited loaf, and they have two hours to do it. You’ll know roughly what this looks like – the carefully constructed braided bake that you might see putting in an appearance at a harvest festival or in the bakery in The Wicker Man.
Turns out it’s a right bugger to bake neatly, as each strand must be the same length and width to make a neat plait, and it comes with a complicated preparation diagram which has more in common with a knitting pattern than something you’d find in the kitchen.
Previous perfectionists like Cathryn and Brendan really come unstuck with this task – it’s so hard to achieve the even pattern and texture with dough, unlike the impressive and precise effects that are possible with icing and decoration.
Stuart drops one of his strands of dough on the floor, but rather than picking it up, dusting it off and applying the ‘three second rule’ like we all would if we were at home, he throws it away and makes another one, because he’s on the telly.
After a few innuendo-laden soundbites about the length and width of their dough strands, the fruits of the contestants’ labours are revealed. And, errr, they aren’t great.
This test is judged blind, unfortunately this only means that the judges can’t see whose bread is whose, rather than that they can’t see the bread at all, which might have been preferable given some of the efforts. The clear winner is John, whose bread is scarily ‘near perfect’. Peter, whose plait is all over the place and whose dough is largely uncooked, is trailing in his wake.
And now for the third and final test: bagels. The contestants must make one batch of savoury bagels, and one batch of sweet ones. If you’re wondering how bagels achieve that smooth and crispy texture, it’s because they’re boiled before they go into the oven (well, it was news to me, anyway).
Again, there are some brilliant flavourings on offer, especially Brendan’s chocolate and vanilla twisted bagels. However, these later cause controversy when Paul declares that they are ‘bread rings’ rather than bagels, even though their presentation and taste is very good, and that Brendan’s ‘sweet’ is apparently ‘too savoury’.
There’s just no pleasing some people, is there?
When you see the problems that a lot of the contestants have with their bagels, it’s hard not to be seriously impressed by how difficult they are to bake. I’ve now seen them in a new light – they’re misshapen, Ryan’s are completely flat, they’re uneven, there really is a lot more of an art to it than most people surely realise.
A couple of people decide to jazz theirs up with quirky presentation – Cathryn, (whose bagels look very good), hangs them on a sort of miniature twee washing line, and Stuart, bafflingly, hangs his on a mug tree. But it’ll take more than those sort of diversion tactics to get past the shrewd eyes and tastebuds of the judges.
Unsurprisingly, John gets star baker, and it’s Peter, who just seems a bit too cack-handed for a lot of the tasks, who leaves the competition. There’s no brave face for him, and he laudably isn’t afraid to admit that he’s gutted to be going. Ryan and Victoria both seem to think that they had a lucky escape.
Are they right? Tune in next week!