We’ve not had to deal with anything so crusty since Widdy got eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing.
1. First of all, hello. I’m Steve, and I’m alternating blog-posting weeks with Chris this series. I’m a bit worried he might have slightly over-egged my credentials last week, but I have watched every episode and managed to get emotionally overinvolved every year, so hopefully that will stand me in good stead. Historically, I have a habit of supporting the female contestants that other people aren’t so keen on (I wanted Holly to win last year, and while I was rooting for Edd in series one, I didn’t see why people kept painting Ruth as some sort of monster) and/or the most attractive male contestant. Hey, I’m only human. Also, I probably do more baking than Chris does, which is still not exactly a large amount, but I make a mean chocolate brownie and have used them on numerous occasions to try to buy people’s friendship. Oh, and I baked a passable raspberry cheesecake once. So those are pretty much my credentials.
2. After the fluffiness of Cake Week last week, it’s time for serious business: bread-making. I attempted bread-making once, in that I had a go at a fairly basic soda bread recipe and ended up with a loaf that, while irrefutably bread, was not tall enough to make a satisfying sandwich and too wide to fit in the toaster. But it was bread I had baked with my own fair hands, and damned if I wasn’t going to eat it one way or another. Since then I’ve been meaning to actually buy a proper bread tin and bake my own bread rather than just letting half a loaf of Allinson’s go mouldy in the bread bin every week, but like many of my self-improvement ideals, it never really got beyond the idea stage.
3. One of the interesting things about this week was that, unlike the first episode where everyone had a fair degree of cake-making experience, it was quite to divide the regular loaf-bakers from the obvious novices. Last week’s Star/Ma Baker Victoria was quick to admit that that doesn’t bake bread herself, but she was hoping that her love of Indian food would be enough to carry her through the Signature Bake challenge, where the contestants were asked to make a selection of flatbreads. James, meanwhile, was crazy prepared. EIGHT YEARS prepared, in that he’d brought along his own little batch of yeast in a sealed jar that he’s been cultivating for little shy of a decade. We must remember that James is from the Shetland Islands, and speaking as someone who also spent several years of his life stationed off the Scottish coast (the Outer Hebrides, for my sins), I can confirm that that is pretty much what passes for entertainment up there. That and trying to beat your personal best in the “see how long you can go without throwing up on the three hour ferry journey to the mainland” game. Speaking of unusual pastimes, Brendan revealed that he’s in the process of baking his way around the world, and has already turned out around 90 culturally diverse breads, though he still has several hundred to go. Have I mentioned I kind of love Brendan? No disco dips this week though, sadly.
4. Despite the difficult nature of the challenge, there weren’t any huge clunkers. Victoria’s flatbreads did indeed disappoint, with Paul and Mary remarking that her naan and chapattis tasted bland and underseasoned. Peter, meanwhile, hit entirely the opposite obstacle when his naan and bannock bread were deemed too salty. I suspect Peter knew he was in serious trouble this week, because there’s no other explanation as to why he turned up with a framed picture of a (much younger) Mel and Sue on his workstation, other than the suspicion that he might be going home very soon and an attempt to grasp some screentime while he still could. And fair play to him, it worked. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the only time you’ll be hearing “Peter” and “it worked” in any sort of close proximity for the rest of the post.
5. The thing about bread week is that it’s Paul Hollywood’s speciality, so you’d better believe he was grabbing any opportunity to look super-smug, and that extended to the terrifyingly taxing technical bake, where he set the bakers the challenge of producing an eight-strand plaited loaf. Most of the contestants reacted to this news as if they’d just been asked to bake a topographically accurate map of South America without the aid of an atlas. It was a particularly traumatic experience for Sarah-Jane as she realised it was about to highlight not only her failings as a baker but also as a mother, when she confessed that she is a constant disappointment to her daughter because she can’t plait her hair. It transpired that the contestants had actually been left fairly comprehensive instructions on how the loaf should be plaited, but they were coded in such an impenetrable fashion that, even after practising on ribbons and strips of greaseproof paper, several of them were still none the wiser.
6. One person who managed an advantage of sorts was Stuart (who, I noticed this week, appears to be wearing a wedding ring – sorry ladies, and gentlemen of the persuasion that tend to read this blog). Remember last year’s dramatic first episode, when Rob amplified his woobie potential by a thousand per cent by dropping his cake on the floor while icing it and having to serve FLOORCAKE to Paul and Mary? Well, Stuart suffered a similar incident this week when he accidentally chucked his dough on the floor – though it was fairly early in the process so he had time to start again, and he craftily kept the FLOORDOUGH to practice plaiting while the non-floordough was proving. This did not escape the attention of Cathryn, who was alarmed by the neat way that Stuart was folding his tentacles (as several of the bakers euphemistically referred to their strands) and suspected that the only explanation for this is that he must be a secret knitter. Actually, Cathryn spent a lot of her time looking enviously at everyone else’s work and, while I still like her, she’s pretty much completed her transformation into the Eeyore of the group, mopily sitting on a stool and pointing out that John‘s plait was brilliant and hers was rubbish. As it transpired, the quality of plaiting varied considerably – John, James and Danny led the pack (despite an impressive third place finish in this round, I still couldn’t pick her out of a line-up), while Peter finished last having served up something that looked like a giant Bonio, and he and Stuart both committed the cardinal sin of sending uncooked dough out to be judged. Manisha, meanwhile, displayed an impressive commitment to mediocrity by finishing sixth in the technical challenge for the second week in a row. Given that previous winners are conspicuous in having been inconspicuous in the first few weeks, this may prove to be an impressive strategy. Either that or she’s just biding her time until a mid-table boot, who knows?
7. If you’re wondering where this week’s educational segment is, well, so were we for the majority of the episode. But just when we thought we were about to be denied entirely, Mel went on an intrepid journey into the history of the bagel in Britain. The main thing we were supposed to take from this is that bagels arrived in this country in the late 19th century, but never really crossed over from the Jewish community into the mainstream in the same way that they did in America, which enabled the Americans to market them to us as some sort of uniquely American foodstuff. Also, Mel chatted to a rabbi about how to ensure that bagels remain kosher, which wasn’t particularly remarkable but Mel was so wonderfully earnest the whole time while establishing fairly basic facts about kosher food, which I loved.
8. As you’ve probably guessed, the bagel history lesson came because the contestants’ Showstopper Bake involved making 24 bagels – 12 sweet, and 12 savoury. I didn’t even know you could get sweet bagels, and to be honest, a lot of the time when the contestants’ recipes were revealed, I couldn’t tell which one was meant to be which. But I digress. After a fairly impressive round elsewhere, Brendan came a little unstuck here by attempting to be a little bit too fancy with his twisted bagels, and ultimately his sweet ring was not to Paul’s taste, getting the dreaded response of “it’s not [what we’re looking for]” (although no smackdown will ever be as epic as Mary Berry full-on seething “IT’S NOT A PIE!” in response to Jo’s offering last year because it only had pastry on the top and not underneath. Mary Berry is my spirit animal). Also running into trouble was Ryan, who oversoaked his dates and didn’t quite get the poaching/baking balance right, with the unfortunate effect that his bagels “concertinaed up into flatbreads”. Poor Stuart had another bad round, being told that his bagels were overproved and didn’t look right. He should probably go to John for some advice on how to use his middle finger to make sure that his ring expands to just the right size and shape. (Sorry.)
9. Having come close to contention for Star Baker (she never could cry!), the bagel incident ruined Brendan’s chances, though he still got singled out for a solid effort in the other two rounds. Ultimately it came down to the two most consistent performers of the week, James and John, with John winning out for this week’s accolade. I’m very happy for him, but I’d be even happier if he’d realise how much better he looks with his fringe pushed back. Cady, tell him he looks sexy with his hair pushed back. Incidentally, Paul wanted us to acknowledge here that, historically speaking (if 2010 counts as history), the previous winners have all done well in bread week. That as may be, but last year’s Star Baker (but she knew how to die!) in that week was Yasmin, who came fifth, so John probably shouldn’t start…doing whatever Great British Bake Off winners do yet. (Write a cookbook? Sign up for Good Food Live? Guest judge The X Factor? I dunno.)
10. This left Victoria, Stuart and Peter at risk of going home this week. Victoria’s good form from last week was almost certainly enough to keep her out of any serious danger, but I think she’s well aware that it was a near-miss for her and she’ll probably be working hard to repair the damage next week. It was essentially a coin-flip to see who would go out of Peter and Stuart, but since Peter had such a relentlessly disastrous weekend, Stuart got a stay of execution, and expressed a desire to improve his placing: “Instead of being at the bottom, I want to be at the top.” Hey, you only have to ask. As for Peter, he probably sealed his fate the second he served up his bagels on an American flag, having not had the benefit of seeing Mel’s VT about how we have just as much of a claim to bagel heritage as the Yanks do. Such acts of wanton treason cannot be tolerated on BBC2.
Next week: tarts. Soggy bottoms. Stuart possibly having an actual, genuine FLOORCAKE disaster. Chris will be here to guide you through it.