By Anne Latini
September 13, 2019 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Last week was Biscuit Week, and while we said goodbye to Jamie (the Frosted Tips of Frosting Tips) and celebrated Alice, it has since become very clear to me that the biggest winner in cookies was actually all of us, thanks to Lizzo and Cookie Monster, star bakers of our hearts.

This week we’re in for some major Paul chest-thumping because we are about to enter his very precious territory. This is a land full of danger. Seasons upon seasons of Bread Weeks have taught us plenty about the potential pitfalls of overworked gluten, underproofed dough, and bakes that needed more time. No doubt, at some point Paul will ruthlessly press down on someone’s bake and declare, “See? It’s turning back to dough.” The skills needed to master the complexities of bread baking are sometimes lost on bakers who prefer to craft decorative cakes and sweet puddings. Historically, we’ve seen bakers shine and we’ve seen bakers break this week. So who will rise to the occasion and who will leave the tent with something left to prove? Wake up, hustlers, let’s get this bread.

Signature challenge: Filled tear-and-share loaf
Sweet or savory, must be made with yeasted bread dough and baked as one loaf to be torn apart.

Henry is building a chicken and pesto checkerboard, using charcoal to color every other piece pitch-black. Prue likes the way the checkerboard looks, but Paul thinks it’s all a bit bland in terms of flavor.

Michelle is making a noson caws, which translates to “cheese night” in Welsh. I’d really love to tell you the two kinds of cheese she includes, but I’ll save myself the embarrassment of trying to understand how Welsh works phonetically. Whatever — it’s cheesy and it looks delicious, and that’s really all we need to know. (Cheese is the best! Remember that!) Prue thinks the presentation is a bit “messy,” but the judges both agree that the textures and flavors are spot on, leading Paul to compliment Michelle on having great ideas.

Michael is a fitness instructor back home? Did we know that already? Does it strike anyone else as vaguely masochistic to take a spin class in full fluorescent lighting? Anyway, his bandages are gone and I think I may be willing to put week 1’s gigantic bloody mishap behind us. He’s making a Keralan star bread flavored with coconut and a “kick of chili.” Prue looks nervous. Ultimately, the judges love the effect of the red-striped dough in the twisted star shape. That combined with the balance of flavors earns Michael the very first Paul handshake of the season. A handshake during Bread Week!? That’s extremely major, and now I’m definitely ready to put week 1 behind us. I’m sorry I called you a hazard to yourself.

Quiet threat Rosie is preparing a chili and Manchego loaf filled with Mediterranean vegetables and a balsamic reduction. But more importantly, in the clip of her at home… is she giving that cake an IV? Did I see that correctly? Rosie, you’re the right type of crazy, and I love it. During the check-in, Paul is afraid that her brioche starter looks too wet, but she promises it’ll turn out nice and buttery. When the loaf comes out of the proofing drawer, Rosie is rather disappointed with the rise — but it’s no matter, because Prue calls it “heaven” and says she could eat “a lot of it.”

Phil is honoring his Italian ancestry with a smoked pancetta and cheese focaccia tear-and-share tree. Prue finds the result very “tempting,” and Paul loves the flavors.

Steph works three part-time jobs. Now, let’s not forget that these bakers keep up with their real lives during the weeks between bakes, and they’re expected to be testing their signature and showstopper bakes in the breaks between filming. This woman is a hero, and someone needs to please get her a cup of tea and a comfy chair, pronto. For her tear-and-share, she is also crafting a star-shaped loaf, but hers is full of sun-dried tomato, parmesan cheese, and her own special pesto. The judges love the flavors, but Paul notes that it’s been overbaked, rendering it “bone-dry.”

Priya’s smoky jalepeño tear-and-share is a flower filled with paprika, cheddar, and chilies. Prue calls it “very cheesy,” which I think we can all agree is a high compliment. (Another win for cheese!) Paul calls it “beautifully baked,” even if it was a little overproofed.

Proving yet again that we should definitely be best friends, Amelia is making a chorizo brunch loaf with peppers, caramelized onions, and harissa. But, like, girl, what do you mean you hate cheese? Is that even an opinion a human being is capable of having? In the end, Paul wants Amelia to work on presentation, as the pieces are uneven, giving it a look of being “thrown together.” The bigger problem, though, is that the filling is too intense. A bit too much chili throws Prue into a coughing fit, and Paul suggests that just having minced everything much finer would have done the trick.

Riding high off last week’s big win, Alice is taking her loaf in a sweet direction. She’s opted for a baklava-inspired ring with candied orange, dried rose petals, and chopped pistachios. They all keep pronouncing it bak-LA-va (as opposed to our American BAK-la-va), but I think that comes out sounding a bit too much like “balaclava.” Though, on second thought, it would be hilarious if she presented a tear-and-share loaf in the shape of a ski mask. When you’ve had your fill, you can wear it to rob a bank! Paul says it’s dry, but that doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker as they agree the flavors are great and Prue calls it “delicious.”

David seems to have strayed pretty far from his week 1 fat-free fitness vibe because he’s making a cinnamon-bun-inspired loaf of bread rosettes topped with vanilla buttercream. Paul seems to think frosting doesn’t belong on cinnamon buns, but don’t fret because we, as an entire society, are here to tell him that HE IS WRONG. In the end, Paul calls the bake “perfect,” despite a desire for much more dried fruit in the mix.

Helena is also making cinnamon buns, but hers include toasted pecans and a cream cheese frosting (this recapper’s personal favorite frosting). She tells the judges she likes them gooey, and they frankly do not seem even a bit bothered. I hope we can all agree that real cinnamon buns should need to be eaten with a fork and several napkins. Unfortunately, Prue and Paul seem to have a problem with the “tear” part of this tear-and-share, though they love that it invokes the flavors of a good “American” cinnamon roll.

Should you make these at home?

Of-freaking-course. This is the kind of baking that could warrant and entire chapter in How to Win Friends and Influence People. They’re just as good for condolences as they are celebrations, and are particularly good for making a Wednesday feel a little less like a Wednesday.

Technical challenge: Burger baps
8 white burger baps and 4 veggie burgers.

Well, TIL that Brits call hamburger buns “burger baps,” which is just so preciously adorable and full of the exact brand of whimsy that I have truly come to expect from our bake-obsessed cousins across the pond. I suppose they use “bun” to refer to sweeter things like Chelsea buns, so when pressed for a term for the bread that goes around the picnic staple, they were like, “Err, how about ‘bap’?” and that was that. I love it, Britain, never change.

Surprising absolutely no one, Phil has never made a veggie burger in his life. He’s a “meat man.” We never doubted it, Phil. Amelia winds up with 7 grams of dough left over after shaping and decides to “sod it” and not try to even things out. Michelle likes a “big bap.” David likes a “pert bun.” No one seems to know how long the baps should be in the oven, and lots of people realize too late that their burgers are too big for their buns.

Amelia’s miscalculation (and dare I say somewhat flippant attitude) lands her in last place. David’s pert buns come in second. Henry’s “very, very, very good burger bun” lands him first place.

Should you make these at home?

Yes, but promise me you’ll spend the entire barbecue cheerfully correcting everyone when they compliment your homemade buns. “They’re actually called burger baps, can you believe it?!” Pinkies out!

Showstopper: Display of artistically scored decorative loaves
A scene that contains two impressively sized loaves, with an emphasis on the decorative scoring.

Henry is making rye loaves and an herby fougasse. Paul is skeptical about scoring a fougasse, which is typically decorated with cuts all the way through rather than the delicate scoring they’ve requested. Alice is celebrating her love of geography with three loaves depicting the globe, a compass, and the Union Jack. Reprising last week’s abundance of animals, Priya is scoring her boules with a tropical scene, including a flamingo and a peacock, and coloring her dough with bright red beetroot powder and blue pea flower powder. Steph is also using beetroot powder, as well as turmeric, to color her bouquet of flowers on breadstick stems.

David is making a trio of tribal masks with a deep sourdough flavor. Immediately after scoring, I have to say that these masks look really, really cool. You can see the layers of color in the dough, and the patterns are super-fun. Devastatingly, however, the deep scoring causes the bread to split and explode in the oven, turning the colorful design into a bit of a mottled mess. Unrelated, I also feel it is my journalistic duty to report that in a cutaway scene David is seen eating a banana for no reason at all. Whoever edits this show is clearly having the most fun ever.

Not to be outdone on the animal front, Rosie is crafting a full-on safari, complete with a lion, giraffe, and elephant. I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone of one of the best things to ever come out of Bread Week: season 6 quarterfinalist Paul Jagger’s Cecil the Lion bread sculpture. Mere months after the tragic death of the real Cecil the Lion, Paul sculpted a beautiful tribute from cranberry and orange sweet soda breads and we felt the physical grief of loss all over again as we watched the judges slice into the sculpture for evaluation. While Paul somehow did not win star baker that week, he did receive a special commendation for his work. Rosie, no pressure, but your lion has rather large footprints to fill.

Buoyed by his signature challenge handshake, Michael is bringing the heat with a Mediterranean campfire. He’s baking bread flavored with garlic and parmesan and olives, colored with charcoal, and decorated with scored flames highlighted with red food coloring.

Helena is celebrating Halloween yet again with a bread cauldron full of spiders and snakes. She uses a cast iron pot to achieve an ideal humidity in the oven to bake her green pumpkin-shaped loaf.

Michelle is planting a beautiful garden of flowers, butterflies, bees, and a snail from sourdough flavored with rosemary and raisins. Hoping to rebound from her subpar baps, Amelia is also taking inspiration from flora and fauna with a caterpillar and butterfly garden scene colored with matcha and beetroot.

I almost entirely missed Phil introducing us to his bake and had to rewind and look for it because at the time, I was so distracted by having to retrieve my eyeballs from where they had rolled to the back of my skull after hearing him say he wanted to knead his dough gently and “treat it like a lady.” Between this and being a “meat man,” I’m not sure I’m rooting for Phil anymore. Either way, he’s making some sort of victory wreath with cheese, spelt, and herbs.

Making Cecil proud, the judges commend Rosie on her safari scoring, particularly loving the variety of scoring techniques she’s employed. Alice’s travel scene scores high on looks and bake but comes up just shy on flavor. David’s split masks deliver on a guaranteed Paul moment, as he prods his fingers into the slice and declares it barely done and “all style, no substance.” David seems relieved, obviously thinking it was going to go worse.

Helena’s Halloween scene is found lacking in decorative definition, a too-solid bake, and unimpressive flavors. Henry’s accidentally baking-paper-riddled herb garden fougasse is fine, but his nicely flavored rye loaves are doughy in the middle (another Paul prod moment, as promised). Steph’s flower bouquet pleases the judges, and Priya’s exotic birds get a passing grade. Paul describes Phil’s simply adorned medal as “beautifully baked.” Michelle’s garden is a mixed bag, with some loaves nicely crusty and some a little stodgy.

Amelia’s loaves look underdone to Paul’s eye, but Prue doesn’t seem convinced. Ultimately, though, it’s the complete lack of attempt at flavor that puts the judges off. Michael’s campfire design impresses Paul, who can’t help but remark on one blown-out loaf. But that one bad score is forgotten when Paul slices inside and finds a deliciously flavored loaf that, if my eyes can be trusted, is actually making him smile.

Should you make these at home?

That would be perfectly lovely, but perhaps just try your hand at scoring a single decorative loaf before moving on to a complete scene.

It’s three straight challenges of straight fire talent that earn Michael this week’s star baker. Star baker and a Paul Hollywood handshake all in one week — not to mention all in one Bread Week — is really nothing to scoff at at. I hereby issue a formal apology for ever having doubted you, Michael. I was wrong, and I am sorry.

Going home this week is Amelia, and you know I’m heartbroken about it, but it does feel right. This is precisely an example of how Bread Week can break a perfectly good baker. Or maybe we can all just agree that she’s going home because she had the nerve to announce on global television that she doesn’t like cheese. I mean, who doesn’t like cheese?

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