Finally! After a couple of underwhelming episodes, this 10th series of Bake Off – or the third after its move to Channel 4 – truly takes off with a genuinely entertaining episode, which spices up the show’s beloved formula to great success.
There is more tension in the air because it’s bread week, an engrossing time for Bake Off fans who shudder at the thought of under-proofed dough, overworked loaves and underbaked creations. Perhaps it’s owed to a new technical challenge involving veggie burger baps that might prove controversial for Bake Off purists who expect only baking, not cooking – but thoroughly enjoyable for those looking for a more experimental flavour to their favourite show. In any case, it’s a step in the right direction after a slightly lukewarm start.
And so we begin with the signature challenge, a tear-and-share loaf – a Bake Off classic whose name conjures up horror images of gloopy accoutrements, slimy dough and ill-fated shapes. Immediately (and understandably), the bakers are worried: about their proofing time, about their baking time, and about the ever-looming threat of still-raw dough (in which judge Paul Hollywood has a habit of sticking an uncompromising thumbprint to show just how underdone it is). Rosie struggles with the size of her chili-manchego tear-and-share and fears it’s not rising properly, but Hollywood and his fellow judge Prue Leith end up loving it. Michael’s star-shaped tear-and-share, flavoured with paprika and coconut, earns him the first “Hollywood handshake” (the highest honour that can be bestowed on Bake Off, short of the Star Baker title), an especially notable feat given that this is the first of this series.
On the other hand, Henry’s chicken and pesto tear-and-share, while visually appealing (it’s inspired by a checkerboard!), is deemed “a little bit bland” by Hollywood. As for Amelia’s chorizo tear-and-share, it looks “a bit thrown together”, says Leith, who also struggles with the amount of chilli in the bake. One might say that heat is such a subjective element of a dish and that its popularity varies so much based on someone’s culture and personal tastes that it shouldn’t be used as a criteria as part of a competition. Nevertheless, we must progress to the technical challenge.
This week’s technical is a Bake Off first: the contestants must not only make burger baps, but they must also cook veggie patties, which is unusual on a baking show, and assemble the whole thing into a burger-like construction! I know! How exciting! How novel! Still, this is The Great British Bake-Off, not The Great British Cook-Off, says Hollywood, so 90 per cent of the judging will be done based on the baps, not on the veggie burgers. And how many treacherous pitfalls lie ahead as the bakers attempt to craft the perfect baps! They must develop the gluten properly through good needing, lest their bun taste cakey, says Hollywood, and they must leave them to proof long enough. Amelia comes 11th, which is to say last, followed by Phil and Rosie. Third spot goes to Steph, David lands the second spot and Henry’s rewarded with the first place. And with that, we’re off to the showstopper challenge.
This week, the bakers are tasked with crafting a “display of artistically scored decorative loaves”, as Fielding puts it. If, like me, you have never baked bread in your life (save for one ill-fated attempt around the age of 10), “scoring” is the technical term for how bakers slash the dough with a knife or another sharp item before putting it in the oven, which lets the bread expand in certain places and looks pretty. Their displays must contain at least two loaves, but you don’t qualify for the Bake Off tent without being a bit of an overachiever, so naturally, our 11 bakers set out to go above and beyond. Over the course of five hours, they must make, knead, proof, score and bake their various doughs, which is a bit of a logistical challenge as, of course, their proofing drawers and ovens only have limited space, meaning they must stagger the various parts of their final creations.
Henry boldly goes for a herb-garden-themed bake involving two fougasses, a type of bread associated with Provence – a risky choice, since fougasse isn’t meant to be scored and scoring is the decisive element this time around. He pays for it come judging time as Leith deems his fougasse “quite tough”. Amelia’s caterpillar transformation (which includes a bready butterfly) suffers a similar fate – it lacks finesse, according to Leith, while Hollywood deems the baking “terrible”. Steph’s bouquet of flowers with beetroot, rosemary, turmeric and sesame seeds, on the contrary, is a hit with both Leith and Hollywood, as is Michael’s Mediterranean campfire with charcoal, smoked garlic and parmesan, and black onion seeds.
Unsurprisingly, Michael, who’s had a great episode, is crowned Star Baker, while Amelia leaves the tent. All in all, this is a great episode (it is perhaps – dare I say? – the best thing since sliced bread), powered by the mix of good-natured spirit and competitiveness that have made Bake Off a fan favourite.
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