Okay, so as the title of this post might just give away – I’ve never watched Great British Bake Off. Like, ever. So tonight I thought I’d try it out and it turns out I’ve tuned in at an exciting time: it’s bread week.
“Welcome to yeast,” says Paul, his eyes glinting. “I’ll be watching them every step of the way. There’ll be no place to hide. I’ll be on them like a rash.” Delicious.
The 12 contestants don their aprons as they are welcomed back to the Bake-Off tent for their first challenge: to make 36 breadsticks, 25cm in length, of any flavour and a dry texture that would snap in half (“a bit like one of Paul’s hair shards,” notes Sue).
The contestants are barely able to handle the tension of waiting for their breadsticks to rise and then cook. “They went into the oven much more even than they came out,” muses Christine, sadly. “Welcome to yeast,” counters Paul, a glint in his eye.
Next, it’s time for the Bread Technical Challenge, where the contestants are instructed to produce eight identical English muffins: an even bake, a chewy textures and airholes in the crust texture.
The Technical Challenge is a test of the contestants’ ‘baking instincts’ and their control over their tools. When it comes to cooking the muffins, the temperature on the griddle is vital: too high and the muffins will be raw and burnt; too low, and they won’t cook properly. There’s a slightly awkward moment where presenter Sue sqauashes one of Howard’s muffins with her elbow; he acts like he doesn’t care but we know, Howard. We know.
The final challenge: “a beautifully decorated loaf. The flavours, the flowers, the frou-frou – it’s all up to you”.
“To produce the perfect decorative loaf, the bakers will need to know how dough reacts when twisted, shaped and moulded,” notes Sue. The bakers design loafs inspired by Picasso, yin and yang, festive wreaths and peacocks; Lucy is criticised for keeping her design basic.
My new favourite, Rob, reveals he is making a Paul the Psychic Octopus tribute loaf; “of course that’s what it is,” intones Paul drily, surveying the mass of doughy tentacles. Frankly speaking, all of the loaves look amazing, and make the Hovis in my cupboard look decidedly unappealing.
Further tension as the cooks wait for their bread to rise, and then cook just enough to avoid both rawness and burning. “I said I wouldn’t be one of those lunatics on the floor, kneeling by the over,” says Glenn, waiting for his bread to prove. “And here I am…”
Then it’s time for the judges to give their marks – and unleash some rather fabulous dough-based insults. “They look like rather posh little slugs,” notes Mary sweetly of Mark’s eight-strand plait loaf.
It’s suddenly five-to-nine and it becomes glaringly obvious that my first foray into the Bake Off is nearly over. Ruby wins Star Baker for her white chocolate and orange peacock loaf; Lucy is voted out for her uninspiring tomato loaf and encased in a ‘Sue and Mel sandwich’. Until next time, GBBO…
Next time: tantalising trifles, wizard’s hat and making things small, against all instincts…