“I can smell a lot of baking powder,” said Mary Berry, having a flashback. No yeast in round one of bread week: this was quickfire quickbread, with the white stuff reacting with buttermilk to produce the required party in the oven.
It proved – sorry, proving wasn’t allowed either. It turned out to be one of those tasks where everyone worries about it and foretells doom, but then it’s all fine and we move swiftly on.
Not quite everyone. “I’m hoping that they rise the way they’re supposed to,” said Dorret, flailing already and embodying a necessary but still distressing element of the competition: that moment when someone realises they’re out of their depth and starts self-destructing. Dorret’s capitulation began when her quickbreads were unveiled in the aftermath of Alvin’s prosciutto and manchego taste fiesta, and Ian’s wild-garlic artisan elegance.
“They look sort of… homely,” said Mary, kindly trying to dig a positive out of Dorret’s apologetic brown morass. Dorret had gone for what she termed classic Waldorf flavours: walnut, sultana and Stilton.
As the man on Fawlty Towers said: No! No cheese! The Stilton had overwhelmed the bake, leading to an unacceptably tight crumb. Dorret stared infinitely at what she’d done, already waiting for it all to be over.
The only other struggler was Mat, who felt Paul Hollywood’s beard menacingly grazing his hip – Mat’s quite a tall man – as he was agonising over whether to cut, slice or score his quickbread. In the end, with help from Hollywood not forthcoming, Mat took his stress out on his dough and overworked it, but it was still nouvelle cuisine compared to Dorret’s.
Even Sandy’s aggressively rustic bacon and onion crumbly splat (“I make it on a range, in Ireland”) had good flavour, while the bad omens coming from Ugne’s hair proved false. Her bob had sent a strand leftwards like a flare, a sure sign that her strange chocolatey caramel thing was a gamble. But Mary and Paul both loved it.
Winning the quickbreads easily, however, was Paul. Until now, Paul Hollywood has been circling his namesake doppelganger uncertainly, but here the chief baker began a bromance with his ideal companion: himself.
“I’ll have another piece of that,” said Paul to Paul about Paul’s cranberry and orange sweet soda breads. Then, the handshake: usually both an offer of rare congratulation and an expression of dominance, with the contestant’s wrist forced into a downward angle of submission to reinforce whose jungle it is. But here, Paul stood straight and let Paul do likewise, like a businessman happily practising a power-greeting in a Premier Inn bedroom mirror. Both men did, however, remain clothed.
“I can smell the orange,” said Mary, getting that faraway look again. “It’s coming up and hitting me.”
“I know what one looks like. I know what one tastes like. The question is, can I make one?”
Nadiya had admirably summed up the challenge of baking, as opposed to finding bread and then eating it, but in fact the ten remaining bakers had to produce quatre baguettes, pas une.
Typically, the instructions were cryptic. “Oil a plastic container,” they said, introducing the proving stage. Alvin looked with concern at the large plastic container provided, then at his dough, which was proving in a glass bowl. He held up the empty plastic one. “I didn’t realise what this was for!” Start again, Alv. Deep breaths. Plenty of time.
A key finesse was adding water to a tray below the bread to create steam for a crisp crust. “Professional bread ovens have steam injectors, so this is how you can replicate it,” said Tamal. “… apparently,” he swiftly added, trying to give the impression he hadn’t thoroughly memorised every baking textbook available.
How long to bake the four proved, slashed, shaped and floured French spears, steamed or otherwise? Mat had a stab at taking GBBO innuendo up a notch. “Bear in mind what my wife says: always leave it in for an extra ten minutes.” Hang on – “leave it in”? And then what? Set a timer and wait? Open up a copy of Racing Post? Fall asleep? I think those instructions might continue on the other side of the paper. Poor Mrs Mat.
Most of the bakers had got one or all of the steaming, slashing and baking wrong. Paul Hollywood scented weakness and went mad in the judging, slamming the baguettes’ irregularity, size and lack of crunch. How would his great new love, Paul, fare? Alas, this was the technical bake, which meant a re-enactment of the classic Greek tragedy about the television judge who must assess baguettes anonymously and ends up condemning his twin brother. “Half-baked ciabatta,” said Paul, not realising he was putting Paul in last place.
Mary took the chance to rub it in, and give Mat a double entendre masterclass into the bargain. “It looks half-baked, and it’s rather wide and short.” She meant Paul’s baguette.
With last week’s star baker Ian edging out Flora and Tamal in the baguette round, that meant Paul, Mat, Nadiya and possibly Ugne were the only people who could save Dorret from elimination. Her sixth-placed finish in the technical bake – with baguettes that were “soft”, “underproved” and “in a variety of shapes”, which tells you how badly reviewed the four people beneath her were – meant she wasn’t necessarily going home.
After a fascinating historical interlude about Ukrainian bread – go on, ask me anything – the showstopper asked for 3D bread sculptures, with three types of dough, one of them filled. Epic.
“Do! Better!” Paul pummelled his dough, stung by his baguette humiliation and promising to craft an icon to his and Paul’s huge masculinity: the giant face of a lion. “If you say you’re going to do a lion, it’s got to look like a lion. Not a dog.” The stakes were raised. “I’m making a snake charmer’s basket, with a snake and some flutes,” replied Nadiya, undeterred.
“I haven’t actually practised this bake,” said Dorret. Ah.
Ugne was once again flirting with the possibility of making everyone sick. “Truffle, with maple frosting AS WELL?” said Paul Hollywood, the bile rising. “Yes,” said Ugne. “And crispy bacon.”
While the judges started cautiously sprinkling bicarb into glasses of cold water for later, Paul reinforced his lion nostrils with foil and Dorret got on with stage one of her suicide showstopper: a marzipan-stuffed mattress, to form the basis of a Tracey Emin-inspired unmade bed. That’s “inspired” in its very loosest sense there: her raisin and fennel headboard was clearly not in the same class as Ian’s delicate bread flower, Tamal’s complicated bicycle or Alvin’s colossal horn.
Poor Dorret had to sit and watch as the others presented perfect snakes, flowers, baskets and modes of transport. She was clearly toast. But what of Paul’s lion? It was proud. “That is one of the best things I’ve seen in bread, ever,” Paul told him, rising up on his hind legs. Silently, they roared at each other again.
>> Week two: mystery pastry and an irradiated Willy Wonka nightmare
Paul Hollywood will be talking all things baking at the Radio Times Festival in September. You can buy tickets here.