“That’s very daring. Yeah. Very. I won’t tell you why.” Martha was precociously threatening to eggwash her baps and, in bread week, Paul Hollywood wasn’t going to be so kind as to stop her making a fool of herself.
Even more than everything else in the Bake Off tent and indeed the universe, bread is Paul’s domain. It’s very him. Tough, unpretentious, dusted with flour on top. Paul hogged the chats and the judging – no FondantGate stares from Mary Berry this week, as she enjoyed what was virtually a week off. To their immense credit, the contestants rebelled during the signature challenge of 12 identical rye rolls, led by teen delinquent Martha and her solemn promise re the brushed egg: “I’m gonna do it anyway.”
Having been told off for excessively plain baking, Norman determinedly continued his war on fancy with some simple caraway and sultana rolls. Iain ignored Paul’s scornful look as he lovingly caressed his dough instead of pummelling it mercilessly, which is what dough really wants. Nancy was adamant that a 70g roll would be done in 15 minutes, the nutter. Jordan insisted that his unworkably dry dough was exactly the way he does it at home, which might not be much of a defence.
Last week, Diana realised that her younger rivals were using trendy flavours and intricate designs that she, with her decades of WI-style traditionalism, can’t match. Her response? Carrying on with increasingly ramshackle old-school bakes, announced with a mix of cheerful resignation and suppressed hysteria. “They’re cheese, and walnut, rye rolls,” she said, sounding well aware that the guy at the next bench was probably plaiting two different doughs into a geometric taste experiment, as indeed Luis was. Having whacked a truckle-load of cheese into her dough before she’d even proved it (“There’s some Shropshire Blue, and a bit of Stilton”), Diana herded the stuff into flowerpots, shoved it in the oven and hoped for the best.
Richard and Nancy were underbaked, while Chetna – who is starting to look as if she really just wants to cook the same delicious spicy onion thing for every challenge, and might thus struggle in cream cake week – was flat. Strugglers Jordan, Norman and Iain came through, as did Diana once Paul had savagely trimmed off the top of her toxic cheese cloud. Hitting the front were Kate and Luis thanks to their perfectly glazed, delicately flavoured rye.
Luis even received Paul’s new top gesture of approval: the low handshake across the worktop, with hand pointing downward to retain ultimate supremacy, but still with enough affection to make Luis go giddy.
As ringleaders tend to, however, Martha received the harshest words from the authorities. “Because you put the glaze on the top, which has falsely accused the roll of being ready, you’ve brought them out too early.” Never let a glaze falsely accuse your roll, Martha. Write this down.
“Be… patient,” announced Paul enigmatically before the technical bake: ciabatta. The contestants soon surmised that this riddle referred to the proving stage. Everyone knew deep down that the person who left theirs the longest would have the airiest dough, but this meant playing chicken with the other bakers, daring them to break from the pack and start cooking to avoid underbaking. Who would crack?
One of the triumphs of GBBO is its very subtle, very polite cruelty: as the weekly eliminations continue and the bakes get harder, sometimes you can see which contestant won’t be able to cling on for much longer, however desperately they try. And sometimes, you can see they know this full well. This week it was Jordan, who spent the episode burbling manfully about how he hoped what he was baking would turn out OK. At one point he asked the viewers, or the camera crew, to cross their fingers. Jordan tipped his ciabatta dough out of the bowl first.
Once again, the technical bake had given Norman a chance to make something plain and get away with it. Now in the showstopper, he knew he couldn’t just follow his instincts and deliver a doorstopper. Fillings were expected. Norman reluctantly cooked up chicken, pesto and roasted vegetables. “For me this is very exotic,” he said, self-mockingly. “Pesto!” In truth, he’d looked a bit overawed at the prospect of chicken.
Norman sarcastically wondering if his fillings might “satisfy the most discerning palate” hinted that he thinks he’s been around the block too many times to be judged by Paul Hollywood, who is famed for his austerity but is like an over-lipsticked trainee jester compared to Ol’ Norm. That Paul had actually really liked Norman’s straightforward rolls in round one didn’t matter. The grudge is set. When Paul pointed out that Norman’s showstopper had fallen into the classic trap set by a filled bread – too much filling, leading to a wet bottom and a gappy top – Norman did not look pleased.
Luis powered to star baker status by creating some kind of Portuguese bread crown. He suddenly seems like he has the deep knowledge of a series winner. His final flourish this week: successfully gold-leafing an olive. But problems beset the resurgent Kate, whose prosciutto was too tightly wrapped for the dough to bake; and Nancy, whose Full English stromboli still looked delicious. It contained sausages, bacon, egg and tomato – Nancy just stopped herself throwing in 20 Superkings and a copy of Racing Post as well. Chetna, meanwhile, was told by Mary that her delicious spicy onion thing was “just a bit cakey rather than bready”.
Jordan’s was beyond cakey. It was more of a pudding. He’d attempted a brioche with cream cheese and jam, willing it to work. On some level he knew it wouldn’t and, as Paul and Mary tried to be kind about the raw, sodden dough because they could see his eyes filling with tears, Jordan knew he was out.
>>Week two: Is this shop-bought fondant? Tell me this isn’t shop-bought fondant. Did you buy this fondant from… a shop?