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Great British Bake Off 2017: bread week recap

Great British Bake Off 2017: bread week recap

by Howard Middleton 13 September 2017

Can the contestants prove their worth in this series' bread week? Howard Middleton keeps us up to date with all the happenings in the Bake Off tent.

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The Berkshire breeze blows in a yeasterly direction this week as the ten bakers tackle bread. With rain pelting the flimsy plastic windows of the tent, they’re challenged to a signature bake of twelve fruited teacakes made with enriched dough.

There are a lot of cranberries – so many that we interrupt this programme to bring you a special appeal on behalf of the little fruit, which seems to be bouncing perilously towards possible extinction. It’s not been so popular since Delia Smith caused a national shortage in 1995.

Stacey’s Christmas-inspired cranberry and cinnamon teacakes are served with mulled wine jam and orange butter. Steven’s madras cocktail teacakes include the ubiquitous cranberries and orange, this time with a glass of vodka butter.Steven says it’s just there to ‘lift the flavour’ – he samples it and gasps a little, like he’s been slapped in the face.

James can’t decide if his citrusy teacakes are Dutch or Nordic in origin. With port-soaked cranberries and sultanas, they’re judged to have a fantastic taste but only worthy of a Fielding handshake.

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Scottish Tom says he’s only familiar with teacakes of the Tunnock’s variety – mallow-topped biscuits covered in chocolate. He nods a subtle tribute by adding white chocolate to his cranberry and orange buns. Paul thinks the dough has a great flavour but there’s not enough fruit.

Liam, another teacake virgin, is relying on his nan’s Jamaican yeasted bun to provide a more familiar substitute. Enriched with Irish stout, spiced with ginger and cinnamon and served with almond butter, the buns sound delicious but turn out to be underbaked.

Kate complains that her butter’s ‘gone weird’ and starts her blueberry, cinnamon and cardamom buns again. They turn out to be a bit small and slightly overbaked but with good distribution of filling.

Bearing the scar of a little scooter injury earlier in the week, Yan’s scooting off track with her masala chai-spiced teacakes served with keri no chundo – a spiced mango jam, which Prue hails as ‘delicious’.

Sophie’s tagine teacakes include everything but the lamb – her Moroccan-spiced buns contain almonds, apricots, medjool dates and sumac served with fig jam. The judges think they’re short on spice.

Flo says she can’t be doing with clock watching – ‘I never time a cake or nothing’. Her cinnamon and orange teacakes are served with an orange and whisky jam. She likes the fact that there’s time to relax a little in bread week. We never actually see her making the jam. I like to think she’s snuck in a jar of Tesco’s Finest and a hip flask and casually mixes the two whilst nobody is looking. Flo’s that kind of baker. Sadly her efforts are underbaked and underfruited.

Mother-in-laws aren’t usually known for inspiring a batch of buns but Julia’s has. Her English teacakes, studded with Earl Grey-infused fruit, are served with orange marmalade. Slightly underproved, the judges still decide they’re jolly good.

Sadly Steven proves his buns too intensely in the heat of the oven and they sink back, putting the double-starred baker in danger. Paul warns ‘it’s not your finest hour’ but the vodka cocktail butter puts a smile on Prue’s face.

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Technical challenge

In the time-honoured way of the technical challenge, the judges depart the tent and Noel and Sandi get to deliver the best pun of the series so far – ‘Prue and Paul are going off to go drag racing’ – ‘yes, it’s Prue-Paul’s drag race’.

Meanwhile, the task at hand turns out to be a cottage loaf complete with decorative slashes. From the comfort of the judges’ private tent, Paul explains the technique for ensuring the two loaves are intimately bonded together. He describes how he drives a digit through the dough to the baking sheet beneath. Prue cheekily asks, ‘Do you flour your finger?’

Stacey thinks she knows the answer; convincing us that Paul uses two floured fingers. She demonstrates the method, though where she’s discovered this insider information is anyone’s guess. I search online for ‘Paul Hollywood – two fingers’ and just find myself at the back of a queue.

James looks like his story arc is hinting at an early exit this week – he laments his lack of bread experience and says ‘inside I’m crying’.

As several bakers try to weigh up the perfect ratio of bottom to top, Kate justifies her low tech, ‘doing it by eye’ approach – ‘no one had scales in a cottage’ she says. Sadly she misses the finger trick and in a scene worthy of Carry On Cottaging, her top falls off. Kate’s condemned cottage just saves James from the bottom spot, whilst Stacey’s firm fingering ensures she comes first.

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The showstopper

This week’s showstopper is described as ‘the toughest bread challenge ever’.

It can only be rivalled by next year’s, which will no doubt be the toughest bread challenge ever, ever. This time however, the bakers must create an impressive bread sculpture using three natural colours.

Paprika seems popular. As does squid ink. Flo uses both in her ‘Davy Jones’ locker’ creation. Kate also plunders the high seas for her squid ink octopus on breads of green spirulina and red dulse seaweed… with paprika.

Paprika raises its little red head again with Julia’s ‘snail under a mushroom’. Topping a black treacle and malt-flavoured rye bread stalk with a potato and beetroot cap, Julia shapes her red pepper and paprika snail and feels there’s something disturbing about its appearance – ‘it just looks inappropriate’ she says.

Steven proudly announces he’s making a handbag and Prue responds with a touch of the Lady Bracknell’s. ‘You’re making a handbag?’ she exclaims.

Stacey is also accessorising with a challah hat, flavoured and coloured with charcoal, lemon and turmeric. Prue calls it ‘elegant’ but ‘the flavours are wrong’.

Liam’s ‘kneadapolitan’ ice cream sculptures are flavoured with apricot, beetroot and cocoa. Going into the oven they look like triple-decker cottage loaves and come out suffering the fate of ice cream on a warm day. Poorly proved, Liam somewhat redeems himself with ‘fantastic flavours’ but Prue privately admits she’d like to shake up the teenage baker.

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Tom’s beetroot pink roses lose their definition but the yellow turmeric blooms fare better, looking pretty in a pesto bread basket. Sophie’s basket includes a picnic of pandan-coloured green ‘apples’ filled with an apple compote, alongside red beetroot ‘grapes’. It’s ‘marginally underbaked’, a little pale, but ‘pleasant’.

James’ chocolate owl perches impressively on green tea baguette branches but Paul says ‘the walnut and raisin is losing its battle against the saffron’. Prue adds pithily, ‘you’ve got everything right except it doesn’t taste nice’.

Yan packs a lot of detail into her sculpture of Basil the Vegetarian Dragon. He’s joined by a hoard of little bread pumpkins and sweet and savoury toadstools, all sitting on a floor of coriander focaccia. Yan’s strong, bold flavours are ‘almost too strong’.

Flo despairs a little when she spies her fellow bakers creations – ‘some of them are marvellous aren’t they’. Fellow squid ink aficionado Kate catches a shoal of compliments for her smoked garlic octopus but a flustered Flo first mistakenly describes her creation as ‘Tom Jones’ locker’ then overwhelms the judges with paprika.

Back to Julia’s priapic paprika creature – the snail’s pert bulbous head and two tiny eyes cockily challenge the judges not to smile. Paul fails and gets a fit of the giggles. ‘Are you going to pull yourself together?’ asks Prue. He does so just in time to enjoy Julia’s fantastic flavours.

Steven’s fabulous handbag is flavoured with manchego, chorizo and sherry. With chocolate and peppermint handles and a curried breadstick chain it’s another Bake Off classic. Wowed by the flavours and the amazing artistry, Paul exclaims, ‘that is ridiculous!’ He means it in a good way. Bread has attracted a few Hollywood handshakes in the past; it even earned the programme’s first (and so far only) commendation, so what more could Paul do to show his appreciation? He simply asks Steven to stand beside Prue whilst he takes a seat at the amateur baker’s bench. It’s a generous gesture to suggest that Steven could teach Paul a thing or two. Of course he does this safe in the knowledge that he won’t actually be replaced as a judge. Will he? Steven glances at the tabloid coverage of Paul’s historic choice of fancy dress and decides there’s no harm in tidying up his CV.

Disappointing signature teacakes prevent Steven from making it a star baker hat trick – the accolade passes to a modest Julia and her cocky snail. Fabulous Flo blubs in a field as she exits the competition and the nation sniffs along too. Then it’s back to another round of unbridled affection with bakers, judges and presenters smiling and hugging like never before. Paul embraces Steven with such enthusiasm it almost knocks me off my feet. What a wonderful year to be in the tent.

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