Our two professional bakers, Gerhard Jenne and Charlotte Green, give you their view on the second episode from this year’s The Great British Bake Off. Did they think the bakers used their heads with different breads?
“Lucy lost the plot with a stylish, but rather minimal, tomato loaf.”
If one episode was going to sort the wheat from the chaff, it was going to be the one on bread.
A lot of hobby bakers fall into two categories: those loving bread, and those that only ever bake cakes. On a professional level, countries like France and Germany separate the two: if you are a baker you don’t need to know about chocolate ganache, and as pâtissier you don’t knead (excuse the pun) to know about sourdoughs. In the UK the word “baker” often straddles both, and the same is expected on The Great British Bake Off. A lot is expected!
Baking breadsticks is not high on the agenda of home bakers (nor mine I must admit).The brief was for 36 identical, 10-inch long sticks, baked with a snap. It was a good way of sorting those who can deliver accuracy from the rest of the field.
Ruby, the youngest, admitted to having baked 200 during rehearsals, and thankfully she got it right on the night. This was surely a lesson that when we produce something ourselves, it does take several rounds to get it right.
English muffins, as this week’s Technical Challenge, were another tough ask. Who on earth has one of those griddle irons - or has ever retrieved it from the bottom of the drawer to use it? Most English muffins are made on an industrial scale and bought in supermarkets, or so I’m told.
Maybe GBBO will make them popular again. This challenge certainly made Kimberley look like a clever baker. She was the only one that used her loaf by choosing to use a bit of scrap dough as a tester for the bake.
She managed to divide the dough into eight even muffins, getting the proportions of thickness to diameter right. As someone who has seen scones rolled down to 5mm thickness by applicants to Young Baker of the Year, I was impressed, and thought that Kimberley is the one to watch: she’s good and ticks a lot of boxes.
On the whole I think the programme-makers are getting it about right. The Technical Challenge provides a level playing field, followed by the creative challenge, where imagination and flair are tested.
This time the bakers were asked to produce a unique decorative bread. Plaiting is a good way to show off one’s skills, and it certainly pleases the silver fox no end if someone gets into a tangle.
Several used this technique, though some were more successful than others. Rob, who was last week’s star baker, made a rather bloated octopus using food colouring applied before the bake. It was jolly, but not quite good enough.
Lucy lost the plot with a stylish but rather minimal tomato loaf, despite several hints from Paul and Mary (and myself as I repeatedly shouted at the screen) to raise her game. It was out of place in this challenge and cost her a spot in the Bake Off tent.
“I was outraged on Kim’s behalf: she deserved the accolade more.”
With Paul Hollywood’s bread-baking expertise, the contestants looked nervous as he ordered 36 perfect grissini-style breadsticks, of any flavour.
Watching Beca grimly persevere with sloppy dough, I remembered my grandmother adding ingredients until “it looked right” – instinct trumps slavishly sticking to a recipe. Kim showed off technical knowledge with the windowpane method of testing for sufficient kneading – well-developed gluten allows dough to stretch very thin. However, Lucy under-proofed hers, storing up problems for later.
All but Howard and Glenn achieved a good “snap”, although aesthetic quality varied. Cutting along rulers worked well, and twisting breadsticks also helps to conceal imperfections. Ali looked amazed at the judges’ approval, but Lucy’s plain, club-ended breadsticks were likened to ‘baseball bats’.
Next up were English muffins, made with an enriched dough, where fats produce a chewy, tender crumb and a soft crust. In proofing, Lucy exclaimed that her dough was springing back and was therefore ready; I winced. This is the opposite of how correctly proofed dough behaves. The most appropriately sized round cutter caused surprising consternation among the bakers.
When it came to cooking, the flat iron griddles confounded everyone – highly amusing to me. With Welsh roots I am very familiar with these, known to me as ‘bakestones’. Not one contestant could determine the correct temperature; the secret is to sprinkle on a tiny amount of flour, and start cooking when it begins to brown. Only Rob, Kim and Ruby managed good size, colour, and flavour.
The Showstopper was a decorative, interestingly shaped loaf, and Lucy made tomato bread, shaped like… a tomato. The judges’ disappointment was evident, as Mary scolded that with four hours, she could do more. Kim’s Peace Bread, with Iranian rose petals, was my favourite. Mark’s adornments resembled slugs. Ruby and Howard both impressed with daring flavours, but Lucy’s loaf was described as “just a cob”, and dense due to under-proofing.
Much improved after last week, Ruby was declared Star Baker, but I was outraged on Kim’s behalf: she deserved the accolade more. Lucy was sent home, surprising no-one; she was lacklustre throughout. Mark and Deborah may soon follow, and next week looks tough, with trifle, “floating islands”, and petits fours demanding many skills from the 11 remaining contestants.
You can read Gerhard’s blog here.
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Charlotte’s personal blog can be found here.
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