Bread week

Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 3 - Bread Week

by Howard Middleton 20 August 2015

As the sun rises over bread week with the might of a well proofed bowl of dough, the contestants set about making quick breads, French breads and staggeringly impressive 3D sculptures. Series 4 Bake Off legend Howard Middleton takes us through the ups and downs of the week's episode.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

The oven temperatures are rising and there’s an unmistakably pleasant searing aroma at the back of the nose – yes, it’s bread week.

This week’s signature is a ‘quick loaf’ inspired by soda bread – a yeast-free bake that uses baking powder or bicarb, with a boost of buttermilk.

Mat and Nadiya abandon any thoughts of the bread’s Irish heritage and both go Mexican for their quick breads. It’s jalepenos at dawn. Nadiya sniffs her spicy bowl… then sniffs it again to be sure, to be sure.

Mary’s eyes light up at Dorret’s walnut and Stilton loaf. “I love Stilton’, she tells Sue. I engage in a little bakery chat with the TV screen – telling Mary about my recipe for walnut and Stilton biscuits. Sadly, Mary doesn’t hear me. Our citron clad doyenne walks away with astringent aplomb and I feel a little foolish. That’s the problem when things have been pre-recorded… and you’re talking to Mary from Sheffield. I’m not sure Mary has ever been to Sheffield.

Suddenly, the tent is tense – Paul’s words and silences strike fear with equal measure. Has Flora messed up with her choice of rye flour? Will Alvin’s manchego be too strong? Is Ian’s wild garlic about to frazzle in the oven’s heat? In the end, the answer is no to all of the above. Phew. And Paul has kind words for nearly everyone – Flora’s loaf is “bang on”, Alvin’s is “a thing of beauty”, and Ian’s strikingly verdant offering is “a work of magic”.

Mat and Paul
Like Marie before him, Mat mistakenly believes charm will make Paul overlook any culinary shortcomings
Hollywood handshake
Mary can only look on, humbled, as the Hollywood Handshake takes place

Mary thinks she can smell the raising agents in Ugne’s chocolate and salted caramel bread, but Paul gives it the thumbs up. Tamal’s fig, goat’s cheese and walnut bake is deemed “gorgeous”. However, it’s amateur baker Paul who gets that ultimate gesture of excellence – the Hollywood Handshake.

I don’t think I ever got the Hollywood Handshake. I’m sure I would remember. The nearest I came to it was a Hollywood Hug at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham nearly two years ago. It was one of those manly matey hugs but I still swoon at the memory.

Anyway, I’m back in the room and we’re back in the tent…

The technical challenge looks deceptively simple – four baguettes. But the bakers can’t decide whether to prove their dough in the oven (really?), on the side, or in the ‘proving drawer’ – that mainstay of the Bake Off tent that’s really a plate warmer.

Fat baguettes
We laugh, but in a few months time the ciabaguette could become the latest trend in hybrid baking
Very much the face of one hearing their various baking shortcomings reeled off one by one by Paul Hollwood

Sandy titters at the thought of putting her loaves in a couche – a linen bed, but she rolls like a pro.

At the judging altar, there’s been a general tendency to under prove and under bake, with loaves that look too flat and too fat and some horrific slashing. Paul’s moment of blissful contact with Mr H’s hand is cruelly yanked off him and he’s painfully dropped to the bottom slot. Impish Ian’s baguettes needed a little more baking but they’re clearly the best of the batch.

After a segment on the history of Ukrainian wedding bread sculptures (I kid you not), it’s on to the showstopper of 3D loaves. The brief calls for an impressive creation of three different types of bread, one of which must also have a filling. The bakers have five hours. We expect to be hugely impressed. We also thank goodness for the magic of editing.

Mary Berry
Mary seems positively overjoyed at the prospect of a Chelsea bun bicycle . . .
Mary Berry
. . . but altogether less so by Dorret's 'winging it' attitude to the showstopper task

Tamal pedals down the path of James Morton from series 3 and creates an edible cycle, but his flavour combination of fennel, chai and marzipan is a first.

Flora’s herbe couture includes a delicately crafted Gaultier corset. Nadiya wraps a simple russet strand around a silicon muffin pan and charms life into a spicy snake, serving it with a za’atar basket. Mat takes curried dough and builds the Brighton Pavilion. This is seriously moreish TV!

Ugne is worried that her Easter bunnies are losing their currant eyes. Sue adds to her woes by admitting she didn’t know they were meant to be bunnies in the first place.

Dorret is producing a loaf inspired by Tracey Emin – adding arty coolness to her CV. Unfortunately, she admits that she’s never made this before, or practised it at home, potentially putting the pain into pain. Ouch!

Sandy thinks that hers looks like “a lot of manhandled bread”. Personally, I'm not averse to a bit of bread man handling.

Horn of plenty
Lifting Alvin's horn of plenty is a three man job
King of the Jungle
There was nothing cowardly about Paul's lion, which received a special commendation

At the court of Paul and Mary, Dorret’s bed is judged to have a damp mattress. Alvin proves you can feed a county from a single oven and Mary damns Sandy’s poignant display of poppies with faint praise by saying you could eat them with a dip. What she really means is, “Sandy dear, you've taken five hours to bake Doritos”. But it’s Ian who is once again crowned King of the Golden Crust and poor Dorret is frankly toast.

However, in another Bake Off first, amateur Paul’s bread lion is so impressive that he’s awarded a special commendation. Which is like a Hollywood Handshake with knobs on. Really I'm not the slightest bit jealous.

Next week it’s desserts – the anniversary of that fateful week my custard went astray. I may need a therapist on standby. I’ll definitely need a bottle of Calvados.

Image credit: BBC / Love Productions