Pasties, Pastries, and Problems

The Great British Baking Show | Netflix | W5: Pastry Week

Edible architecture? Flaky golden crusts? It’s pastry week in the tent, and this marks the halfway point of the competition; several bakers say they’ve been looking forward to this. Will they – and their pastries – avoid soggy bottoms and rise to the occasion?

Signature Challenge

First up: the bakers must make their version “of the Cornish national dish, the pasty” (and that’s “past-ee”, not “paste-ee”). They’re tasked with making 8 pasties with any pastry or filling, in any shape, at least 15mm long. What are pasties, exactly? They’re basically meat pies; kind of like a Jamaican beef patty as we know them in the US. The bakers get to work and come up with some interesting flavors – including Peter’s smoked haddock and boiled egg pasty, and Lottie’s “toad in the hole” pasty. Here’s how they turned out!

When judging, the number of crimps in the dough was called out for some bakers, as well as how dry the fillings were. Overall the bakers seemed to do much better than the previous challenges; Paul and Prue had great things to say to several bakers, including Mark and Hermine.

Technical Challenge

Prue’s eclairs

The challenge, set by Prue, is to make 3 raspberry and 3 salted caramel eclairs in 2 hours 15 minutes. Making choux pastry and creme pat for the eclairs are precise tasks, and things can very easily go wrong – especially since the bakers have a pared down recipe.

There’s some trial and error in this challenge, as the bakers aren’t told how long to bake the pastry, and some people – like Marc, Linda and Lottie – have some trouble off the bat. Linda re-makes her pastry and hopes she’ll have time to bake it again…

Some other bakers have trouble with the fillings and toppings, then filling their eclairs. This challenge really looks tough, across the board, and no one seems too confident with their work, as per usual!

Here’s how the bakers’ work turned out:

Linda comes in last place, Mark in third, Hermine in second, and Peter in first!

Showstopper Challenge

The showstopper challenge, as Noel puts it, is to create “An exquisite sweet tart, contained within an intricately-latticed pastry cage” that must be free standing. Caged tarts? Sure, why not?! Prue says the bakers’ tarts should be really luscious – the kind of tart you want to eat a whole lot of but shouldn’t. As usual, the bakers’ designs are quite ambitious – there are intricate weaves on the various cages and flavors that run the gamut. Linda says she’s making a gypsy tart, and Noel says it was his favorite dessert, but that he hasn’t seen one since he was in school. Bless!

The cages that Mark and Linda make unfortunately break; Mark is able to somewhat salvage something, but Linda was not. Here’s how the caged tarts turned out:

Dave does well, as does Hermine; though Paul breaks her cage when he lifts it, the judges love her tart and cage. They give compliments to Laura, Lottie and Peter, but Mark and Linda come up short.

The judges deliberate and Paul says it’s “painfully” close for who will be eliminated this week as there are several options. Ultimately, Matt announces this week’s Star Baker: Laura! Her caged tart really looked incredible. Noel announces who will be leaving the competition this week: it’s Linda, who really did struggle with each of the week’s challenges. She says she’s proud of herself (she should be!) and all of the bakers breathe a sigh of relief until their next trio of baking challenges… M

Chocolate Challenges

The Great British Baking Show | Netflix | W4: Chocolate Week

This week the bakers are tasked with handling all things chocolate. If this season is like seasons past, they’ll quickly learn how difficult working with chocolate can be while making sure they have exceptional flavors to impress Paul and Prue.

Signature Challenge

First up this week is a favorite chocolate treat: brownies. The bakers must make a batch of 18 brownies for the judges, and Prue warns that the bakers may not want to ice their brownies, or they’ll be sickly sweet. I agree – brownies and icing rarely mix well.

Most bakers use various nuts, but Peter puts figs at the bottom of his pan and pours his batter over them so that the figs will top his brownies – an interesting approach! Lottie gives herself a whole lot of work with her double-baked chocolate and pecan brownie topped with raspberry cheesecake. Sounds amazing, but also extremely stressful. There are even a few s’mores (which is “quite an American term, but it basically means melted marshmallow, I think” according to Laura) -inspired brownies. Incorrect s’mores assessment aside, s’mores brownies sound incredible.

The bakers stress over their brownies, and some are in fact raw in the middle; but here’s how they turned out!

Peter’s fig brownies are “ok” according to Paul; Laura’s are far too sweet according to Paul and under baked according to Prue. Sura doesn’t fare much better as Paul doesn’t like her flavors, and Prue again says the bake is wrong. Overall, only Mark got mostly positive comments. Matt in a voice over mentions before the Technical Challenge that the bakers could practice their brownies, so this was even more disappointing that no one did a decent job.

Technical Challenge

A batter babka than one she had in New York, according to Prue #sus

Paul’s challenge for the bakers is to make a chocolate babka, a traditional Jewish loaf cake, in 2 1/2 hours. It seems like none of the bakers have made or tasted a babka before so this should be interesting.

The bakers follow the instructions, which say to “Cut through the middle of the dough into two long pieces. Then lift the right half over the left half, followed by the left half over the right half, repeating the process to make a two-stranded plait.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Tangent time: I put this part in because I’m mildly obsessed with with the word “plait,” as this is what we Americans refer to as a “braid.” Checking the Google, the British use the word plait, which comes from the Old French “pleit”, which means “a fold.” We Americans use the Old English word “breġdan/braiden,” which means “to weave.” The more you know!

The bakers seem to fare better in this challenge than the brownie challenge; here’s how some turned out:

More than I could do! But Paul and Prue are tough judges.

Paul and Prue rank the bakers, and have varied comments. Overall the bakers seemed to do pretty well.

In last place is Lottie, who struggled in the challenge more than most. Mark comes in third, Laura in second, and Linda comes in first place! Paul asks her if she’s ever made a babka before, and she says she hasn’t – impressive!

Showstopper Challenge

It’s a white chocolate celebration cake for the Showstopper this week, and it must be made for a specific occasion. It must have a minimum of two layers and be baked in 4 hours.

White chocolate isn’t technically chocolate – it has no cocoa solids in it, a generally accepted requirement for calling something chocolate – and Prue says working with it can be a nightmare. She tells Lottie to remember she “only has to be not the worst,” which Paul jokes is a great mantra.

As usual the designs are impressive, but the bakers have some difficulties. Check ’em out!

The judges say Sura’s cake is inedible because it’s raw in the middle; they also criticize Linda’s piping work on her English Rose Cake. Peter’s cake is successful and gets complimented by the judges, as does Laura’s.

The judges deliberate, and Noel has the nice job of announcing this week’s Star Baker: it is Marc! Matt has the not so nice job of announcing the baker who’s leaving the competition: it is Sura, who Matt says just had a bad week.

This week’s challenges seemed really difficult for the bakers, and some rose to the challenge but others struggled. I think it was the right call to eliminate Sura, since she didn’t do well in either the Signature or the Technical (though neither did Lottie, but Lottie’s showstopper may saved her from elimination). With only 8 bakers in the tent, I can’t wait to see what confectionery concoctions they task the bakers with creating next week! M

Dough Nuts

The Great British Baking Show | Netflix | W3: Bread Week

It’s bread week in the tent, and this relatively new challenge in the The Great British Baking Show usually makes for some interesting creations. Baking a cake or cookies is an intricate process, but proving* dough for bread is a whole different challenge entirely.

*In cooking, proofing (also called proving) is a step in the preparation of yeast bread and other baked goods where the dough is allowed to rest and rise a final time before baking. During this rest period, yeast ferments the dough and produces gases, thereby leavening the dough (via Wikipedia)

Before the baking, a writer’s note: This show is called The Great British Bake Off in the UK, but because Pillsbury owns the trademark for the term “Bake Off” in the United States, they changed the title to “Baking Show.”

For the first time since watching this series on Netflix, I noticed how they do the introduction for the US audience: if you watch closely, this week it’s exceptionally clear that Noel and Matt both say “Welcome to The Great British Bake Off,” but the audio is dubbed over at the end to say “Baking Show.” I foolishly thought they just filmed the intro twice, and never noticed this bit of great British trickery! End of note.

Most bakers are nervous about these challenges, as they are not experienced in making bread. Let’s see how things turn out!

Marc has a buttermilk mishap

Signature Challenge

The bakers must make two loaves of soda bread – one sweet and one savory – and a butter to go with them. Prue says she’s expecting lots of cheese, herbs and nuts, and it would be nice to see someone using something different.

Careful what you wish for, Prue… Rowan’s breads have Italian sausage, olives, capers – and polenta?! Peter uses black pudding (no comment) and ginger beer, and Hermine uses smoked salmon and Gruyere cheese.

When they’re done baking, the bakers tap the bottoms of the loaves to make sure they’re hollow inside – pro tip!

Here’s how some turned out:

Salmon + bread = handshake!

Most bakers do well with this challenge, though some breads come out more cake-like, according to Paul; however, Rowan’s Italian-inspired breads didn’t hit the mark.

Hermine’s soda breads earn her this season’s second Hollywood Handshake TM – he says he thinks her breads are very special. #TheFeels.

Technical Challenge

Paul’s advice for his challenge? “You need to get your timings right.” Helpful. This could apply to any situation, in any scenario, really. I wonder how often the bakers even listen to the “advice” because it’s never particularly useful… anyway…

The goal of the Technical Challenge

The challenge is to bake six rainbow colored bagels, and very few of the bakers have made bagels before, let alone with five different colored doughs.

The bakers all have different techniques on twisting, rolling and preparing their rainbow dough, but they all actually seem to be very successful in creating bagel-looking forms of dough. When they prove and then boil, things start to fall apart.

The bakers put their boiled dough in the oven to bake, with a wide array of varying results. Some are very thin, others very flat, and some are over-proved (according to Paul). Overall the bakers got the colors and flavors, but the consistency and shapes are all over the place. Rowan comes in last place; in the top three are Mark in third, Marc in second, and Linda in first.

Over the rainbow

Showstopper Challenge

For the final bread week challenge, Paul and Prue ask the bakers to create – in 3 hours and 30 minutes – a bread plaque, representing a celebration of the thing for which they are most grateful.

The plans are very ambitious; Hermine attempts to make brioche and focaccia to depict her road trips to France. Lottie plans to make her house, in bread, while Peter uses stencils to make the Edinbugh skyline. It’s a good thing they get to practice this type of bake (though seeing them try to do this with no practice at all might be hilarious television), though even with practice many of the bakers have trouble with steps along the way.

The bakers finish their bread plaques, and some are sights to behold! Here are a few of the finished products:

Hermine and Sura get positive comments from the judges; Laura and Peter are less successful. Marc’s Dharma Wheel was impressive all around; when you consider that every one of these constructions was made of bread, it’s impressive to me when any detail comes through – in bread!

Matt announces the week’s star baker is Marc! His Dharma Wheel looked incredible, and according to the judges tasted great as well. Noel announces that the person leaving the tent will be Rowan – who has had a rough go of it for the past few challenges.

So bread week, as usual, was tough for the bakers – though some managed to make some great creations. I think they should just chuck this gimmick; it was a novel idea when it started, but to me it still seems out of place in this competition. I know bread is baked and it’s a Baking Show, and it can’t always be about cake and cookies, but does anyone – the judges, the bakers, the audience, Noel – really enjoy bread week? Let’s leave the savory and the bread out of the baking competition; we could all use more sweet things on TV, right? M

Cookie Lover’s Dream

The Great British Baking Show | Netflix | W2: Biscuit Week

It’s cookie time in the tent as biscuit week kicks off (with a snap!).

Signature Challenge

The bakers have 2 hours to create Florentines, which must be dipped, decorated and/or coated in chocolate. Prue explains that Florentines usually have nuts and dried fruit bound together with caramel. #Mouthwatering!

Fun fact: in the UK, raisins made from green grapes are called “sultanas.” I call all raisins “disgusting.” Moving on…

Several bakers use mango in their Florentines; there are square cookies, cookies with edible flowers, lots of raisins, and even some airbrushed decorations.

Prue worried about Mark’s very large nuts (I really don’t think she meant the double entendre, but that’s how it was received, with a laugh from everyone). Here’s how some turned out:

Much to Lottie’s surprise

Paul and Prue were happy with most of the Florentines, though some didn’t have enough cookie-snap. Lottie’s cookies impressed Paul – who said he couldn’t find a fault with them – earning Lottie the first Hollywood Handshake TM of the season!

Technical Challenge

Prue sets the challenge, in which the bakers must make 12 hand-shaped coconut macaroons – six of which must be drizzled and filled with chocolate, and six must be piped with mango curd. They have 1 hour and 45 minutes to do so.

Prue says macaroons are trickier than they sound, because there are a lot of things that could go wrong, and the bakers must be precise to get the right textures all around.

How they should turn out

The bakers start making their mango curds with their pared down instructions, and most seem to get it right. They move on to processing the coconut to shape their cookies; they pipe the coconut onto six rounds on rice paper (for the six mango cookies), and flatten some more coconut onto six more rounds, for the chocolate ones.

As the instructions just say to “bake”, the bakers wing it and chuck their cookies into their ovens. Don’t you just love these technical challenges? They’re supposed to be golden brown, but most of the bakers seem to have trouble getting them completely baked.

How they did turn out

The judges critique the macaroons and ultimately most were under baked. When they are ranked, Mak came in third, Mark came in second, and Dave came in first. This was a struggle for most, and Rowan came in last place.

Showstopper Challenge

The final challenge is to create a 3D cookie table setting from a memorable meal each baker has had. What does that even mean? As Matt says, they need to use cookie dough in order to make cookies that “deceive the eye into thinking they’re teapots, or cups or knives, etc.” They have 4 hours to complete the challenge, and this sounds near impossible (even though they do get to practice).

Prue says she wants the bakers to use their dough “as a clay” to mold their creations. Even with actual clay, this would be incredibly difficult. Adding in the fact they need to make these sculptures taste good and actually keep their shape? Good luck!

Indeed, each baker has a ton of work to do. Some bakers struggle to get their cookies out of their molds, and even Paul admits this is a tricky challenge. Some bakers come up with some amazing designs, others aren’t so successful. Delightfully British Prue tells Rowan “it’s not [his] best,” and she knows he can do more. On the flip side, she and Paul both love Peter’s Scottish cranachan – a mix of oatmeal, whiskey (!) raspberries, honey and cream. We know Prue loves boozy desserts!

Here’s are some of the finished products:

After some deliberation, Noel announces Dave is the Star Baker for the week! Matt then announces the baker going home for their biscuits is Mak (to Rowan’s relief).

Noel being Noel

So after week 2, Dave and Peter seem to be leading the pack, while Rowan is having a hard time of things. More importantly, everyone seems to having such a great time on this show – the contestants seem happier and more giggly, and I think that’s because of Matt Lucas’ jokey energy. He certainly makes Noel laugh, and they seem to be getting along quite well and feeding off each other’s goofiness.

Truly, how can you not smile at an adult man wearing a knitted sweater with a giant smiley face? M

Bake or Bust

The Great British Baking Show | Netflix | W1: Cake Week

The kindest competition on Earth is back! The Great British Baking Show (known across the pond as The Great British Bake Off), returned on Friday with a brand new season. As with everything else this year, the show has been modified behind the scenes to take necessary precautions for a certain virus that shall not be named.

For the uninitiated, the baking competition and filming are usually done inside a massive white tent on the weekends, and the bakers go home during the week; they are able to do their day jobs and practice for some of the upcoming challenges.

The 12 bakers in this year’s competition essentially volunteered to be quarantined, and live in (as baker Peter put it), a “wee Bake Off village” for the run of the competition. Ultimately, it seems that in front of the camera, everything will be business as usual.

Paul, Prue, Noel and newbie Matt

Also new this season is comedian Matt Lucas (Little Britain, Bridesmaids), who takes over co-hosting duties from Sandy Toksvig, along with the returning Noel Fielding. Judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood once again rate the bakes.

As usual, there are 3 parts to every episode (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Signature Challenge: This challenge is for the amateur bakers to show off their tried-and-tested recipes for bakes they might make for their friends and family.

Technical Challenge: This challenge requires enough technical knowledge and experience to produce a certain finished product when given only limited – or even minimal – instructions. The bakers are all given the same recipe and are not told beforehand what the challenge will be. The finished products are judged blind and ranked from worst to best. They place their bakes behind the person’s photo.

Showstopper Challenge: This challenge is for the bakers to show off their skills and talent. The judges favour a bake that has a professional appearance but is also outstanding in flavours.

Kicking off the competition is Cake Week. Who will be the competition’s first Star Baker, and who will be sent packing?

Signature Challenge

I couldn’t do this in 2 years, let alone 2 hours

The first Signature Challenge is to make a Battenberg – a rectangular cake covered in marzipan – with 2 complementary flavors, in 2 hours.

As usual, the bakers have mixed results.

Baker Loriea’s bubblegum and cream soda Battenberg was flavorful but, as Paul put it, “bone dry” and there were quite a few more dry cakes. Though the bakers mostly knocked it out the park, design-wise, Linda’s ambulance-shaped Battenberg was interesting, but unfinished.

Overall, though, these were beautiful Battenbergs all around even if the flavors didn’t always hit the mark for the judges.

Technical Challenge

Paul’s challenge for the bakers is to make 6 miniature pineapple upside down cakes in 90 minutes. Some bakers said they’ve made them before, but others said they’ve never even eaten one.

What they should look like

In miniature molds, the bakers put cherries and pineapple rings; they then have to make caramel – an always dodgy process – to put on top. Afterwards, they prepare a cake mix, layer in and bake.

Most bakers manage to get their upside down cakes out of their molds properly, but poor Linda’s are a mess. Most bakers also put whipped cream on top of hot cakes, melting the cream all over.

As they’re bringing their cakes up to the front table to be judged, baker Sura is shooing away a fly and accidentally knocks into David, sending most of his cakes flying to the floor. #Gutted! She apologizes profusely, and they pick up the cakes. Matt says they’ll explain what happened to the judges, and that the first two on the plate were fine, so they can judge based on those; which they do!

Paul and Prue rank the cakes, and Rowan, Peter and Sura take 3rd, 2nd and 1st places, respectively.

Showstopper

The first Showstopper tasks the bakers with creating cake busts of their personal heroes, in 4 hours. It must have a head, and must be made mainly from cake.

Some bakers tackle musicians: Marc is going to attempt a David Bowie Ziggy Stardust bust, Linda will attempt a lemon and orange Bob Marley, and Laura will create a Freddie Mercury. Other famous busts include Sir David Attenborough, Charles Darwin, Marie Antoinette and Lupita Nyong’o.

Sura’s Attenborough bust falls over as the bakers leave the tent, and her fellow bakers give her suggestions on how to keep it upright; she opts to lean it on a roll of piping bags.

The ambitious busts are something to behold, including a mouth-less Bob Marley:

After the judging and some deliberation, Matt announces this week’s Star Baker: Peter! Noel then reveals the baker who is eliminated: Loriea.

So the season is off to a great start, and it’s very nice to have this show back in my life. It’s comforting TV, and really is the nicest competition out there – the bakers genuinely help and root for each other while creating some of the most impressive creations out of cake, bread, and anything else that can be baked.

Matt Lucas fits in well with Noel and the judges, and I found myself laughing more at his commentary than I did last season with Sandy; though I think many English comedians could fill the role, he did a great job in the first episode.

After the past 6 months, I for one am looking forward to soggy bottoms, Hollywood handshakes, and all the British humour I can get – and maybe I’ll be inspired to try baking things, again; thankfully, the fire department is only a few blocks away. M