I am on my holidays, as you might know. I have been out, tripping the light fantastic every single day, except today, when the children and I decided that holiday or no holiday, we needed to watch The Great British Bake Off, and that was that.
It may sound sad, but such is our love for GBBO that we did not consider it to be a sacrifice to do this.
We welcomed it. Oh yes.
So, this week was the bread round. This is the first week that Paul Hollywood really gets to show off his credentials.
Insert your own double entendre/ooh er here.
If you missed it, you can watch the episode here.
This week, Mary had put aside her Avengers outfit, probably not wanting to outshine Paul. She knew there was no competing with her once she was cat suited up and ready to roll, so she did the honourable thing and affirmed that in the kingdom of bread based products, the gimlet eyed silver fox is king. I note he made a valiant attempt to keep up with her when discussing the technicalities of making fancy bread, standing in the drizzle, wearing what was either Bergerac’s cast off leather bomber jacket or a very dubious rain coat. I think it was supposed to make him look slightly debonair, slightly louche, a bit like a gumshoe, but all of whose cases revolve around bread. A sort of bun based Mike Hammer.
The first round saw the bakers being asked to make twelve bread rolls using rye flour. As per, they all had to be both identical and delicious – the bread rolls that is, not the contestants. It would be very strange to have ten Normans under one piece of damp canvas. That would never do. One Norman is enough for anyone.
A tricky one, rye bread I think, although I have heard that it is much more palatable these days than way back when I first got to grips with it.
In days of yore, rye bread was something to be feared, resembling as it did, a small, rough piece of dense matted material. Imagine if you will, a Brillo pad sized object woven from coconut matting and Wookiee hair. That was your basic rye bread. When the word rye was announced, I shrank back in mortal terror…and yet tasty looking specimens were produced by all. This was despite Paul’s ominous warnings about the difficulty of working with rye. Basically, rye flour is the Sex Pistols of the flour world. Instead of being nice and compliant and smiling at you when you pound the living bejeezus out of it, it fights back and calls you a bastard, before spitting into your yeast and going to the back of the oven to have a bloody good sulk.
People did look worried for the most part, except Norman. Norman was prepared for all eventualities with a handy laser temperature gun for finding out how his buns were steaming inside what looked like a miniature version of the Eden project domes made out of plastic bags/hair nets. If they got too hot he could use the gun to blast his way out of trouble like the darned tootin’, plain speaking, plain cooking hero he is. He probably would have fashioned a horse out of brioche dough and headed for the hills, rounding up the rye buns as he went. He didn’t have to worry. He was all over his rye bread like a Scottish ninja. Kate didn’t look troubled either. Bread, it was clear from the offset, was her forte, and she made some stonking buns, as did Luis.
Iain, on the other hand, was very worried indeed. He does some excellent worried faces. He looks rather like a slightly traumatised weasel when disaster threatens to strike. His face gets longer and his hair and beard get pointier and he looks like he might burst out of the Wild Wood and nick Mr. Toad’s car at any moment in order to effect a swift getaway. I hope Paul had his steering lock on.
Iain’s face would be excellent as a new design for those games you used to get in Christmas stockings, the ones where you get a picture of a balding head and a packet of iron filings and a magnet, so you can make your own beard/hair combo. If the baking doesn’t work out I would totally let Iain take that idea to Dragon’s Den.
Chetna also worried in this round. In fact, it is fair to say that she did a great deal of fretting during bread week. She scolded, cajoled, wheedled and threatened her bread into submission, pulling her hair, poking at her face like it was itself a bit of reluctant dough, and generally panicking in a very, very quiet but intense way. You could feel the stress radiating out of the television in waves.
My favourite part of the signature bake was the moment the cameras caught Martha and Nancy gossiping about what Paul had said to Martha about her egg washing her rolls. It was such a perfect moment of ‘He said/she said, Well! Ooooh!’ All you needed was a Les Dawson bosom and a fence between them to make it sublime.
In the end everyone did very well. Iain in particular was cheered by producing something that pleased Paul and Mary. His beard nearly hit the floor with surprise. Kate wowed everyone, as did Luis, and nobody created anything truly disastrous, which was cheering.
The technical was to make four basic ciabatta loaves. The word basic here, is entirely misleading, as there is nothing terribly basic about a ciabatta. It is, like most things of Italian design, beautiful to look at, but an absolute nightmare if it goes wrong.
The things to look for in a ciabatta of excellence, are a good rise, a crisp, floury surface, and plenty of visible air holes in the bread. The key, we were told by Paul, who had gone slightly gnomic, was to have ‘patience’.
This is the sort of statement that usually has the opposite to the desired effect on me. I would be out the door, down the road and in Waitrose before you could say ‘fresh yeast’, buying myself a ciabatta and then buggering off to eat it somewhere lovely whilst stamping on a picture of Hollywood’s face. I can’t help myself. I am automatically drawn to disobey such things. I blame my mother. And Paul Hollywood.
This statement led to such a mass raising of eyebrows in the tent that a small lamb was wafted over backwards in the field outside thanks to the back draught. His recovery was charted in the programme that followed, the one that shows Claire Balding bothering poorly animals so that Twitter can melt down from what my son calls ‘cuteness power.’
On the whole the ciabatta round did not show the usual front runners off to their best advantage, as nearly everyone in the tent’s idea of patience was roughly the same as mine, and most people shoved their dough into the proving tray to rise. This, apparently is very, very bad when it comes to ciabattas. They do not like it up ’em, and prefer to be coaxed, gently into the light of a new loaf, during the hours of daylight and at room temperature. Even Nancy and Richard, who are usually on top form, got this spectacularly wrong. The winner this week was Kate, who it turns out, is as zen as you like when it comes to proving bread, and the loser was Jordan who, we found out this week, has been nick named Captain Chaos for just such occasions.
The show stopper this week was to create a centrepiece loaf that had to be spectacular and yet practical, a bit like the loaf equivalent of an Aga, and about as stressful to deal with. Poor Kate, who had had an otherwise stonking weekend, totally blew it, when the middle of her otherwise gorgeous twisted loaf full of coriander and prosciutto ham, turned out to be raw. Iain surprised himself with a lovely Moroccan themed bread. Nancy surprised us when her English breakfast stromboli turned out to be too soggy. Diana surprised all and sundry by producing some bloody nice bread with new fangled ingredients you could tell she hadn’t really quite gotten to grips with yet.
Martha nearly killed everyone in the tent, and indeed everyone on the national rail networks, with an epoisse cheese to fill her bread with, of such vicious smelliness that it is apparently banned on public transport in France. It would be banned here too, if anyone lived long enough to report the encounter. Thank goodness the tent flaps can be unlaced or it would have been certain death for all.
Norman nearly killed Paul, who he is developing a deep seated annoyance with thanks to Paul’s refusal to believe that anything other than good, plain country cooking, rendered with space age technology, might not be the way forward. In an ideal world, ruled by Norman, all food would be brown. Exquisitely brown, but still brown, and made with such skill it would last you a lifetime, a bit like a well made suit.
Jordan looked like he had killed everyone with his show stopper bread, which he made with strawberries, and raspberries, and cheesecake, and brioche dough, and which was so runny, that when he tried to twist it up to bake it, it oozed everywhere in a scene reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sadly, it was his undoing, and he exited the tent, covered in gore, and never to return.
Luis won Star Baker this week, thanks to his gorgeous bi coloured rye bread, and his damn good ciabatta and his fancy pants Spanish epiphany bread, which Paul declared too Spanish, until Mary stared him into submission. Which just goes to show that you don’t need to be wearing the catsuit to be wielding the whip.
Next week it is dessert week. I shall spend the intervening time drooling and inventing a spoon which can break through the fourth wall.