The Great British Bake Off 2014 – week eight review

Ah, the sweet taste of Croatian walnut swirls. But don't put your dreams in the microwave, kids...

Today’s hot baking news: M&S, which has to set out a separate section in stores every Thursday morning for whatever Mary Berry wore the night before, protected by razor-wired crash barriers and armed police, is to further its Bake Off cash-ins by selling kouign-ammans for the first time on a UK high street.  

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Really? Those Breton beasts looked pretty heavy going. Marks and Sparks want to pour all their money into povitica. This episode was all about the potivica. Pitivoca’s the future. It was Pativicia Week.  

OK, technically it was advanced dough week, as opposed to normal bread week, when you could comfortably honk out some baps in 20 minutes flat and then nip outside for a Woodbine and a can of milk stout with Mary. Yet the tapivicia, a delicious walnutty Croatian loaf with four infinite, intoxicating inner swirls, soon took over.  

Round one demanded a sweet fruit loaf using enriched dough. It had little bearing on the final result, since everyone generally made something flawed but decent. Over- and under-proving, mistakes that still stubbornly refuse to be televisual (that’s enough putting clingfilm on slop and hiding it in a drawer now, cheers), were everywhere.   

The signature bake was notable for three things. First, it was where Martha started to lose her grip. While Luis was sculpting a Black Forest tree of tearable buns, each containing a sugar cube injected precisely with the right amount of cherry brandy and with thematically coloured cherries on top, Martha was curling up a brown log of dough with plums in it and hauling it ovenwards.  

Martha, at 17, had had an amazing run in the competition but the quarter-final was a level beyond her. Also starting to fray at the edges was Nancy, who shocked Paul Hollywood deeply with a dangerous new habit: microwaving.

Worried about the time it would take to prove her dough, Nancy slammed it into the microwave, with initially impressive results. The dough magically doubled in size. The finished product also, however, tasted like it had been microwaved. Damaged proteins. Tsk. Would Chetna or Richard ever use a microwave? No. Would Luis prove dough that way? God no. It’d be like the Queen joining Kasabian.

Most importantly, the opening bake saw Chetna unleash ponvatocia fever in Britain – you’re probably eating one as you read this – by choosing it as her fruit loaf. It stood her in good stead for the technical bake: a swirled Croatian loaf! What were the chances?

Chetna had a large advantage here, since the boom operator had only just finished eating the lush dobivisia she’d made in the morning session. Richard vowed to copy her every move, ingeniously dubbing this “watching by learning”. All over the country, shirkers, cheats and liars – the only people you can really trust – immediately switched their allegiance to Richard and willed him to win.  

This week’s unknowable mystery that turned the whole technical bake into a cruel crapshoot: how long to prove, and how long to bake, there not apparently being much time for either. “Realistically it needs an hour’s proving but I tell you what, if it’s not rising I’ll be down to that microwave,” said Nancy, fidgeting, darting her eyes round the room, silently bargaining with herself.  

Her prove was fine, but then all the bakers started struggling to spread a sticky walnut and chocolate paste evenly across vertiginously thin dough. Nancy tried doing it the hard way but soon, she was hoovering up the bits like Zammo. In the microwave it went for artificial softening. The other contestants looked on with a mixture of affection and helpless pity.  

On this occasion, taking the shortcut worked, especially in conjunction with the use of an icing bag to spread the filling and clingfilm on top so it could be rolled out – innovations Richard cribbed immediately. But it’s a slippery slope. One day you’re warming up some walnut paste and everything’s fine: your senses are sharper, colours are brighter, dough is more malleable, you feel invincible, your dreams are in reach. Soon you’re in the gutter, huffing Betty Crocker and microwaving roadkill for coins.  

Chetna, who knew the second prove needed to be cut short to allow for a long, slow, satisfying bake, romped home in first place, with nearly everyone else serving up the worst thing in the Bake Off world: raw dough. “I wouldn’t bite into that,” said Paul to Mary, having poked Nancy’s innards and not received a spring back in return.  

Normally “raw dough” is just a bit of hoopla, describing bread or cake that is merely underdone. But Martha, who had been seen nervily gazing at her long walnutty sausage in the drawer and had taken it out again for a reshaping when she should have been baking it, actually did have raw dough in the middle of her povitica. It dripped mockingly off Paul’s spoon.   

“I wouldn’t eat that, Mary, if I were you,” warned Paul, physically blocking her path and suggesting that Mary will eat raw dough and make herself sick unless a kind friend steps in.

On to the showstopper: doughnuts. “I’ve probably made in excess of 30,000, maybe 40,000 doughnuts,” boasted Paul, looking back on his week.   

The proving drawer might be boring, but it’s deadly: Martha took her unfried dough out and realised she’d left them in there for far too long, dooming herself to flat nuts and the exit flap.  

Chetna, meanwhile, suddenly lost it and handed yet another Star Baker award to Richard by serving up dull, fatty braided doughnuts – and a mousse that was more like a ganache! She’d rather have been making that sweet, sweet prodovista. I’ll see you in M&S.

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>> Week seven: how much éclair can Paul Hollywood cram in his mouth?