Dey do dough, don’t dey dough?
1. Apologies for this recap arriving slightly later than usual, as Chris and I were on our annual ill-timed holiday when it aired, and I believe we were *checks watch* in Brooklyn at the time, walking around Prospect Park. However, don’t think that we were off-duty: such is the nature of real-time tweeting that even in New York City we were aware there was a SCANDAL this week about one of the challenges involving steaming rather than baking (with a little bit of help from the free wifi kindly provided by the New York Department of Parks and Recreation), but we’ll get to that presently. Somehow I appear to be the controversy magnet of this series, having already dealt with the Jaffa Cake incident from week one (the media seems to want to make “Jaffagate” happen, but personally I refer to it as “PH and Dunkin'”) and now I’ve got the big steaming issue as well. And all this on top of Bread Week, otherwise known as Paul Hollywood’s Smuggest Week Of Any Given Series. I certainly came back from holiday to a sizeable workload, didn’t I?
2. In this week’s signature challenge, the bakers were all asked to come up with a chocolate loaf, to test them on their ability to blend chocolate mixture and bread dough and ensure that it all cooks evenly. Paul stated very clearly at the top of the show that “the last thing I want to see on this challenge is raw dough”, though I would counter that that should be the last thing he wants to see whatever the challenge. Except of course for the rumoured upcoming Fad Diet Week where they won’t be using ovens at all and serving everything raw, with special guest judges Hemsley + Hemsley, and a History Bit where Mel learns about all of the people who died prematurely due to food-related stupidity over the years. As has now become customary in Bread Week, Paul prowled around the marquee barking questions at all of the contestants relating to what ingredients they were using and in what quantities, and then offering nothing more than a silent, vaguely accusatory look in response while most of them crumbled like fresh scones at the implication that they were already doomed to failure when they’d barely even preheated the oven yet. (My personal Bread Week #goals is that one year someone will completely ignore Paul for the entire round and just bake everything the way Mary likes it.) Rav at least got actual words in response when he told Paul that his loaf would be “like a babka”, though the words in question were “it’s normally a cake”. Benjamina also said she’d be making a babka, but when she described her intended method Paul informed her that actually she was making a couronne, though Benjamina gained considerable points with me by insisting that no, Paul was wrong, she was definitely making a babka. Frankly I’m of the opinion that you just go with whatever the person who’s cooking it says it is. Andrew also tried to fight his corner when Paul expressed cynicism that his chocolate barmbrack only needed one prove, rather than two or three like everyone else was doing, by saying it was an old family recipe and that’s how it’s always been done CONSARN IT, before measuring out 2 hogsheads of milk and half a bushel of flour and baking it in a stone oven until the shadow on the sundial points north-north-west. Towards the end, everyone started second-guessing themselves over the ratio of time spent providing the dough to the time available to pop it in the oven, with Tom asserting that surely it must be the lesser of two evils to have it underproved but at least baked all the way through? Unfortunately Candice didn’t quite have the balance right and had to leave it until the very last seconds to take her bread out of the oven, at which point she needed the combined assistance of Jane, Kate and Tom to get it out of the tin and even so, this was the result.
And there wasn’t any time left to fix it before Paul and Mary had to see it. Welp.
4. So whose proving/ovening decisions were validated by the end result? Well, Paul gave his grudging approval (does he have any other kind?) to Andrew’s chocolate barmbrack, and conceded that a single prove was probably the right decision in this particular instance. Benjamina’s babka wasn’t even cooked at the top let alone in the middle, while Paul and Mary couldn’t quite agree on whether Selasi’s chocolate, orange and cinnamon bread was burnt or not. Val’s wasn’t quite cooked through, neither was Kate’s, and the bits of Jane’s couronne that were cooked were delicious but there were still quite a few bits that weren’t. The judging of Candice’s loaf was always going to be the hardest part – it was terrible, she knew it, the judges knew it, the entire viewing audience knew it – so there really was nothing to be gained by telling her that, and Paul was surprisingly sympathetic, telling Candice that she has lots of great ideas but needs to work on refining them to things that she can realistically achieve in the time that she has available. Michael’s chilli and chocolate plait was underbaked and had too much chilli, while Tom’s similar offering got a much better reception even if Paul did think it was “a load of Chelsea buns stuck together” rather than an actual loaf, and Rav’s Babkaesque loaf, which he’d spent the whole round worrying was not a comparable size to everyone else’s (we’ve all been there eh lads) turned out to work specifically because – in a SHOCK TWIST – smaller loaves don’t take so long to bake, so he’d actually had enough time to do it properly. Fancy that.
5. And so to this week’s source of controversy, the technical challenge. Paul laid on a challenge quite unlike anything we’ve seen on the Bake Off before, in part because it doesn’t involve any baking in the most technical sense.
While Candice hoped that the challenge might be “a crumpet or a bit of toast”, the bakers were in fact asked to produce 12 Dampfnudel (and you don’t need me to tell you how much fun Mel and Sue had saying that word over and over again), which are a type of steamed roll eaten as either a sweet or a savoury course and particularly popular in parts of Germany and Alsatian France, with two sauces to serve alongside them. Paul explained to Mary, away from the ears of the contestants, that the trick here is not to lift the lid on the pan to check if the Dampfnudel are cooked or not because that will let all the steam escape and stop the buns cooking, so it’s essentially a test of their ability to gauge whether dough is cooked by instinct alone. Mary tasted one and said it was “like an iced bun without the icing”. So…a bun, then? The instructions were as cryptic as ever, telling the contestants to “make a Dampfnudel dough” without giving them any clues as to what one of those might incorporate, though Val seemed to at least be familiar enough with the concept to work out that it would be like a sweet dumpling. I did quite like Kate’s perspective on the whole thing though: “I don’t know what I’m doing, so if I get it horribly wrong it doesn’t really matter: these will always be the best Dampfnudel I’ve ever made.” Just as well, really: hers were wrinkly on the top because she took the lid off too early, and burnt on the bottom. Other notable failures included Rav, who’d already declared his hatred for any and all Dampfnudeln about halfway through the challenge, as his were so raw that Paul was actually able to reform a ball of dough from them, and Jane, who also had a fair bit of rawness. Candice managed to claw back a little bit of her reputation in this round, finishing a very respectable third, while perennial bridesmaid Andrew managed second place and Val – Val! – finished on top, which was absolutely delightful to behold. She attributed her success to probably having made more dumplings than anyone else, because she’s the oldest one there. Bless.
6. Never mind the alleged controversy over whether “steaming” is the same as “baking”, let’s get on to the important matters and discuss the elephant in the room. Last week’s History Bit only offered up a “food writer” instead of the expected “food historian” or “doctor of strudels”, and this week’s expert was a mere
historian of no stated specialism, WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? Where are all of the niche experts? The people who have devoted their entire academic careers to becoming the foremost authority on what type of cake Lady Jane Grey had for elevenses? If I wanted to see a regular old “historian”, I could watch BBC Four, you know. (Oh, and apparently a German baker once made 1,286 Dampfnudeln in one day to appease an invading Swedish army who’d forgotten to stop off at ICA Nära on the way and pick up their own lunch, which meant that the army spared the village of Freckenfeld from whatever atrocities they had planned and a “Dampfnudeltor” – a gate decorated with stones in the style of Dampfnudel – was erected in his honour. So there you go.)
7. This week on Chillin’ With Selasi:
8. Just for a change, we went into the showstopper challenge with everything to play for, with only Tom and Andrew getting the “they’d have to really fuck this one up to go home now” report from Paul, and everyone else basically sitting in one slender sliding scale of jeopardy because they’d botched one or both of the previous two tasks. Their orders were to bake a savoury plaited centrepiece using at least three different flours. Apparently Michael didn’t get the memo that we’re kind of done with the autobiographical showstoppers now because he was still busy constructing a replica of the Cypriot flag to celebrate the independence of his family’s homeland while Val was making a Noah’s Ark diorama (with only one elephant, despite Mel’s best efforts to point out that this pretty much undermines the whole ethos of the Ark and essentially dooms an entire species to extinction within one generation due to an administrative oversight) and Tom was making
a red serpent and Thor’s hammer. I’m quite enjoying the little glimpses we’re getting into Tom’s psyche with each successive week, and while this isn’t quite the postgrad thesis-depth material of “his friend Pod” from last week’s showstopper, we can still have a lot of fun analysing his interest in giant snakes and sturdy tools. Certainly the fact that it looked “a bit male” during construction
was not lost on Mel, though Tom countered innocently that it was certainly male in the sense of being “strong”, and suggesting that it could also be “a T, for Thor. I’m not being led, my mum’s going to watch this.” Tom is in serious danger of becoming my favourite, let me tell you. (And a gold star to the editors for immediately following this section with Kate taking her work-in-progress out of the proving drawer and saying “she’s coming out” to no one in particular. <3) Also highly enjoyable: Selasi’s attempt to see exactly how much bullshit he can get away with when Paul questioned whether there was really any link between his two projects of a tree-shaped loaf and a tear-and-share ball, and Selasi replied that it was a homage to that time he went to Egypt and ate some bread while sitting under a tree. Some bakers added fillings just to make life that little bit harder for themselves (while attempting to retain the lesson from the signature bake that too much filling will make your bread take longer to cook), and not everyone was particularly skilled at plaiting – though Kate was, and her explanation of “I used to do this with my pony’s tail” was easily the Kate-est thing Kate has said on the show so far. Jane redeemed herself from her technical challenge disaster with two well-baked and tasty loaves, while Val followed up last week’s tribute to Planet Of The Apes with another homage to a classic of cinema, this time
The Island Of Dr Moreau. (“It’s not a mess, it’s informal,” was Mary’s brave attempt to sugarcoat it.) Tom’s Snake and Hammer bread
didn’t magically become any less sexually suggestive during its stint in the oven, but the prove and the bake were both sound. Andrew’s harvest basket was more of a weave than a plait but well-flavoured, Benjamina pulled herself out of the danger zone with a delicious braided bread heart, Selasi’s various loaves were a mixed bag results-wise and didn’t really hang together conceptually, Candice only had a 50% success rate with her two loaves and Michael’s breaded flag was a mess, and the 95% proof zivania he’d provided as an apertif didn’t sweeten the deal for the judges, although it did momentarily permit Paul to see through time.
9. I know that it’s inevitable that a show relying on the participation of members of the public is going to become fairly self-referential by the time it reaches its seventh series, but while I love a good innuendo as much as the next person, I can’t help feeling this year’s cast are trying too hard to drop them on purpose. This week we had Kate’s “I’m more of a bloomers and baps girl” and Candice’s “no one likes a small, underfilled ball”, both pretty much delivered with a wink directly down the camera lens. I know it’s all fun and games, but I enjoyed it a lot more when it felt like some of the references to genitals were genuinely accidental.
10. Paul pointed out this week that the Star Baker of Bread Week has always gone on to the final (which is a HOT LIE for starters, because Yasmin was the Star Baker of Bread Week in series two and went out in week six), so there was theoretically a lot riding on this week’s result. Mary opined that, had it come down to the showstopper alone, this would have been Kate’s week, but looking at results from across the board it was more likely to be Tom or Andrew, and ultimately they decided to give the Guaranteed Place In The Final (Disclaimer: Not An Actual Guarantee) to
Tom. Whether this is the first time the judges have had their decision influenced by the timely deployment of a massive phallic object, I wouldn’t like to speculate. Val, Candice and Michael were all listed as being in trouble, but in the end it was
Michael whose efforts were deemed not sufficient to advance to the next round, with Candice and Val’s strong turnouts in the technical challenge having presumably given them the edge over Michael who didn’t really have a standout round this week. (Fun fact: this is the first time since series two that the youngest baker hasn’t made top five.) Michael seemed pretty glum about it, but said that his mum would still be proud of him. And Paul’s promised to keep in touch, though I think he might just be after a free holiday to Cyprus. I’m on to you, Hollywood.
Next week: heeeeyyyyyy batter batter batter batter batter batter batter suh-wiiiiiing! (It’s batter week.)