It turns out that baking is a full contact sport. Don’t believe me? Make note of all the purple band aids (on the hands of our contestants) that are multiplying week by week. Whether they cut themselves, burned themselves, or were bitten by Paul Hollywood, it is obviously dangerous in that tent!
It’s bread week and I give all props to those who can bake a great loaf (even merely a good loaf). I have only tried baking bread once before, and I think my neighbors are still using it as a doorstop. But, to quote the great philosopher, Under Dog, ‘If at first you fail your deed, try again till you succeed.’ Translation: I will make bread again and someone is going to have to eat it (picture me raising my fist to the sky like Scarlett O’Hara as I say that). But first, the Big Existential Question of the week: At what point does sweet bread cross the Rubicon and be considered to be cake? I think this is an important issue and none of the candidates are addressing it.
You Can’t Hurry Love:
…but you can hurry bread. This week’s Signature Bake challenge is Quick Bread, meaning bread made with no yeast. And it doesn’t need to be kneaded which is a good thing because no one wants to hang around with a kneady bread.
As usual our bakers are flavor-mad, coming up with all kinds of imaginative combinations. Ugne made chocolate bread with salted caramel sauce (again, why is this not cake?). Matt used smoked salt. I’d never heard of smoked salt before. I’m learning new things every week on this show. Alvin’s Manchego Prosciutto and Basil Boule looked insanely good, truly a thing of beauty that got him such a great response from the judges it left him “feeling dangerously happy”. Uh-oh. Sandy’s Bacon and Onion Soda Bread was an old family recipe and a tribute to her Irish heritage. Nadiya was not so successful with her Mexican-inspired bread, and neither was Dorret who was told her bread was rather homely (though I’m sure it had a nice personality).
Tamal, again achieved greatness with a Fig, Goat Cheese and Walnut Boule that made me want to climb through the TV. But the win went to Ian, who made a boule infused with a pesto, made from wild garlic he picked in the woods… and he stone ground the flour himself on rocks he chiseled from the quarry behind his house, or something like that. I had no idea garlic grew wild in the woods, but the thought of it is enough to make me want to take up hiking.
The Technical Challenge, bake four identical baguettes, (not ciabattas), and as usual, a key bit of the instructions are missing from the recipe: The bit about the oven steambath to crisp the crust. Some of our bakers knew this and some didn’t. Hilarity ensued.
It is in this challenge that we learn that waiting for the bread to rise is like waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Ugne exudes the utmost confidence that her baguettes will be deemed the most sincere. Others have not quite so much faith. Ironically it was Matt, the fireman, who didn’t put enough water in his dough. Go figure.
Then all too quickly the judges turned up and the steambath became a bloodbath. No one likes to see their bread dismissively poked. It was a trauma some of our bakers may never recover from. I still don’t understand what makes a baguette turn into a ciabatta, or why a plastic container is better than a glass one for proving dough. What did everyone do before plastic? Or was that a red herring? But I do now know that when you see that crack on the side of your bread it is a mistake. Turns out all these years I’ve been enjoying incorrect bread. Who can I see to return the misspent calories? Seriously.
Ian wins again! His baguettes were deemed the most sincere by the guy with the big orange head. Everyone else gets a bag of rocks.
Baby I’m-a Want You:
For this Show Stopper Challenge, our carb artisans have a mere five hours to make a bread sculpture using three types of dough, one of them filled. Inspiration abounds.
Sandy was inspired by the Poppies at the Tower; a great idea, but judges thought it was clumsy and tasted like cardboard. (Again, how does Paul know what all these unusual items taste like?) Thankfully she was saved from total oblivion by the strength of her pesto. Flora was channeling Project Runway, making a bread corset that was ‘spot on’. Matt baked a Brighton Pavilion stuffed with Sag Aloo (an Indian dish made with spinach and potatoes) that the judges found the humor in (if not the bread skills). After hearing what they thought of his bread, one thinks it was the nostalgia of days at the beach that saved him. The ever creative Tamal made a bread bicycle that was a big hit. I hope the people at Citibike were watching.
Ian had the elves who live in his garden shed make another contraption/bread mold to bake his sculpture, a pot of flowers that was pronounced magnificent and lovely (and it was!) Ian bakes for his family every day (of course he does). Where do these people get the time? Prison Paul’s fantastical lion sculpture got a rave review, with Hollywood Paul saying it was the greatest thing ever in the history of bread. Getting that kind of compliment from the toughest judge was something special indeed.
In retrospect, the judges should have mentioned something about size restrictions. But they didn’t, so Alvin went All-American. He made a cornucopia, something he was told that all Americans have for Thanksgiving. Well, I’m not sure about that exactly, but he does have the over-eating part down. I do believe large portions is what we are known for. Large portions and guns. Alvin needs a baking editor. He bakes the way I write; we can’t stop ourselves. Unfortunately the result was so gargantuan, he may have broken some union rule by carrying his doughy opus up to the gingham altar himself.
Say Goodnight Gracie:
We quickly learn that Dorret didn’t practice her bread! Sigh. Her idea of an unmade bed was just a theory that she hadn’t tried before – unlike Nadiya who (I think said she) made her snake charmer basket six times before she got to the tent to try and perfect it. And unfortunately for Dorret, this time it was lights out for her.
Even though Ian was named Star Baker for this week (how could he not be?), the judges gave a special commendation to Prison Paul for his lion sculpture. Could an MBE from his former boss, HRH the Queen be far behind? I think not.
It Don’t Batter to Me:
For my own bake this week I went with the quick bread, but rather than convert a regular recipe to gluten free, I just googled ‘gluten free quick bread’ and found this Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread on the Gluten Free on a Shoestring blog. With chocolate chips it looked more like cake than bread, but I wasn’t going to hold that against it (and Ugne made chocolate bread, so there).
However, I had a big problem with the baking (I wish there was a hotline for mid-bake emergency questions). The recipe said the dough would be wet, but this was very wet – like batter. It had to be baked in a pan, not a free form loaf. And when the 50 minute bake time came and went and I tested the bread, instead of the toothpick coming out with a few crumbs, it came out with raw batter on it. The bread was nowhere near done. I was in a no man’s land at this point, not sure what to do. I ended up baking it another 20 minutes.
I tried the bread and it tasted good to me though it didn’t look like it rose much and I thought it was a bit rubbery (maybe under-baked?) But I brought it to a party anyway to test it out on a new batch of guinea pigs friends, and they all raved about it. Even so, I thought I could do better, so I tried it again, only this time I baked it at 350 degrees instead of the 325 the recipe had called for. (I also added a half cup of finely chopped walnuts I had left over from week one’s Walnut Cake.) Another key bit of info: someone at the party had told me that you should strain the grated zucchini. Lesson learned. (Thanks, Louis!) I’m sure I didn’t get all the liquid out. It was still very wet but it was much better! It rose higher and got a better golden brown color. I still think of it as cake and not bread though. I also think it would be insane to put a slice in the toaster and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Yeah, I’m a regular Dominique Ansel!
Another tip, (yes, I know, am I really in the position to be handing out baking tips?): The recipe calls for you to combine all the dry ingredients and whisk before adding the wet ingredients. So for my second attempt, I combined all those dry ingredients before I went to work in the morning, so it was very easy to complete the bread when I got home. Maybe this is how baking phenoms like Ian can find the time to do it every day? For me, while I won’t be baking every day, I think this Zucchini Bread just might become my go-to hostess gift for when I’m invited to a party. Whether I start getting invited to more or less parties will remain to be seen.
Do You Believe in Magic?:
If you attempted to nibble on the corner of your TV screen when any of these three recipes were on camera, no one would have blamed you. I will attempt to convert at least one of these to gluten free and bake it, but just not this week:
Alvin’s Prosciutto, Manchego and balsamic onion soda bread, flavored with happy tears
Tamal’s Fig, Goat Cheese & Walnut Bread (Though I think I’d want to make it maybe with Gruyere cheese instead of goat cheese, but that’s just me.)
Ian’s winning recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto Bread (Wild garlic-picking garden elves not included.)
On your marks, get ready…BAKE!!!:
If you do bake along, please post pictures of your own baking creations using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow.