It’s Patriarchy Week on the Great British Baking Show! We’ve got wrinkly sacks and phallic breads, and more importantly, tons of mansplaining. The bakers are doing bread this week, Paul Hollywood’s bailiwick, which means that he’s even more grouchy than usual about how everyone is courting disaster due to their paltry skills. He ends up eating his words as well as the bread — but we’ll get to that.
First, it’s the signature challenge: a chocolate bread. Right off the bat, Paul has concerns about Candice’s dough, which either has too much butter or not enough (this is one of those situations where it might help if I were a baker at all). Rav’s loaf is looking too small, in Paul’s opinion, plus Rav calls it a babka which Paul scoffs is “more normally a cake” — and listen, again, I'm not a baker, but I am a Polish Jew, so I consider myself something of an expert here. Babka is bread-shaped and reasonably bread-textured in the bread-y parts and is there really that hard of a line between a sweet bread and a bread-y cake? If you don't want breads that are sweet and have chocolate in them, don't assign a chocolate bread, that's my opinion. I once brought babka to a bread party and I stand by that decision. (Yes, I once attended a bread party. It was glorious. Paul was not invited.)
Paul Hollywood also contradicts Benjamina's babka taxonomy, though for a different reason: He's given up on “babka isn't bread” and moved on to “babka isn't twisted that way.” Listen, Hollywood, stay in your lane. Mary agrees with me: “Don't be grumpy about it,” she says. She’s more worried about Benjamina having time to bake her babka completely, a concern that will prove to be prophetic.
Andrew is making a variation on an Irish barmbrack, and he'll only be proofing the dough once; the other bakers are proofing (waiting for it to rise), knocking the air out, and then proofing again. That's not how barmbrack is made, though, not that Paul Hollywood cares: as the bread expert, he is not only more Polish but also more Irish than you. “Does it end up looking like that?” he asks, sketching the cross-section of a barmbrack in the air. “Because it has no strength. It's trying to grow.” “My justification is it's come from the traditional recipe,” says Andrew diplomatically. Nobody snipes back at Paul this episode; you can't prove that Candice means anything when she says, while adding chocolate to gobs of dough, that “no one likes small under-filled balls.”
Paul continues his tour of terror: “You're great with your flavors a lot of the time,” he says of Tom's chili chocolate bread, “but when you fail, you catastrophically fail.” To Michael: “You're making a right pig's ear of that.” Why wait for the bake to be done before you start insulting people?
Well, because a lot of the disasters Paul predicts don't come to pass. (Think of Selasi drawling “disasterrrr” while grinning and twirling scissors nonchalantly on his finger. It’s more like that.) “I think the choice of proofing it once was probably the right way,” Paul admits of Andrew's bread, which he loves. Tom's used exactly the right amount of chili flavor, and Rav's tiny loaf is the perfect size — it's actually cooked all the way through. Take that, loaf size queens. Mind you, there are plenty of unpredicted failures, almost all some variation on under-baking (Benjamina's babka is “like wallpaper paste,” and Candice's is so raw that Paul won't eat it). Several people — especially Kate, Candice, and Jane — struggled with having too much filling for their breads to finish baking all the way through.
For the technical challenge, the bakers are being asked to make 12 dampfnudel, and no, they don't know what that means either. (It turns out to be a kind of steamed dumpling/bun.) This is the best kind of technical: a food none of them have seen or heard of, with at least one booby trap — in this case, if you get impatient and lift the lid too early while the buns are steaming, they'll deflate. It's all the more astonishing that most of them wind up with something that at least looks like the dampfnudel Paul and Mary are chowing down on in their pavilion. Although Kate has a good attitude no matter what: “These will always be the best dampfnudel I've ever made.”
The dampfnudel challenge is occasion for some excruciating calculations — “What's 900 divided by 12?” Candice asks Sue, who answers, “Sort of... 80 something?” — but also some clever thinking. “Step seven is steam the dough balls and step eight is make vanilla custard,” says Andrew. “I feel like making the custard is a hint as to how long to steam them for, so basically when the custard's done, I'm going to take the lid off.” This cunning plan lets him avoid the trap where it's impossible to visually check on the dough balls because of all the condensation on the pot lid. (Several bakers lift the lid too early so they can see what's going on.) There's a lot of non-visual cooking in this challenge; they also have to cook the dumplings until they're crisp on the bottom, except without being able to really see the bottom to check. All this flailing in the dark, unsurprisingly, leads to a lot of dampfnudel that are either too dampf or not quite dampf enough.
I've learned a lot from the Baking Show about things like windowpane tests and enriched dough and Cypriot independence, but the biggest lesson of this episode is that under-baked dampfnudel look not only unappetizing but obscene. Val's, Andrew's, and Tom's buns are kind of pale and flabby, but that's how they're supposed to look; Rav, Jane, and Kate, though, have produced straight-up wrinkly scrotums.
But they'll have a chance to climb back up the ranks in the showstopper challenge: a braided centerpiece using at least three kinds of flour. Andrew's flower basket, with real flowers, is a particularly appealing design; so is Kate's intricately plaited corn doll. Val's Noah's Ark concept inspires more skepticism and a lot of ribbing about how her animals are A) unrecognizable B) frequently un-partnered. And remember how I said last week that Tom was a nerd? He's making a representation of Thor's hammer and the Midgard serpent, except it looks like a giant ankh. Even I want to give him a swirly right now.
Oh wait, did I say giant ankh? That's just the sketch. The “Thor's hammer” loaf itself looks like a giant... um. Well. “The shape you've created here... it's very male, isn't it?” says Mel with uncharacteristic delicacy. Luckily there's still another proofing to go, so maybe it'll expand a bit and... hmm, that might not be better.
Most people learned their lesson from the signature about not overfilling their bread, and there's a lot less raw dough going around, although Val's ark is still under-baked (and her giraffes look like slugs). Tom's actually learned the lesson a bit too well, and gets criticized for not having nuts in every bite of his “very male” bread. Paul thinks the gaps in Andrew's weaving are too big to count as a plait, but he wins praise for the look and flavor of his centerpiece, and Mel crowns him with his own basket. Jane's made a “splendid loaf,” and Benjamina's “gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous” heart-shaped bread garners no criticism at all. Kate's corn maiden also gets raves across the board; Mary says later that if it were just about this one challenge, Kate would win Star Baker.
But Selasi, Candice, and Rav have more mixed critiques — some of their breads are worse than others, or their flavors aren't on par with their design, or they just haven't done enough braiding. And Michael's Cypriot flag bread is deemed “a mess.” To his credit, Paul tries to soften the blow by offering Michael a shot of the strong Cypriot liquor he brought to bribe the judges (or possibly just intoxicate them into incoherence).
Sue introduces Tom's Star Baker win with a barrage of Thor puns (and, showing admirable restraint, no dick jokes at all), and we get a chance to see the artistic things Tom can do with his eyebrows when he's genuinely surprised. And after an overly spicy signature bake and a low middle technical finish, it's Michael's turn to go — although Val recognizes that there but for the grace of Paul goes she. “I'm hanging in by the skin of my teeth,” she says, “and the challenge next week, my goodness, it is a challenge.” It's batter week, which means puddings and pancakes — but no more bread, ever again. No matter how much of a challenge it is, at least Paul won't be such a grump.
• All Food TV Coverage [E]