There's a 'dough-verload' in the baking tent
Credit: PBS

If Oprah watches The Great British Baking Show, she must be extra happy right now because it’s Bread Week. But that’s not all! Thanks to PBS, we’re treated to a double dose of GBBS this week, so we’ll also be talking desserts. Before we start at the Signature Bake, the bread-and-butter of the competition, if you will, we have to set our drinking game word of the first episode: crust! Now let’s get rolling. (And no, the bread puns will not cease throughout this recap.)

Inside the tent, Mary tells the bakers they’ll be making quick breads — breads that use baking powder instead of yeast to rise — and she’d like them to make two different kids, without tins, in two and a half hours. As the bakers begin to work, the judges make the rounds quizzing the contestants on their choice of breads. The most delicious-sounding are Mat and Nadiya’s Mexican quick breads and Tamal’s goat-cheese-infused bread (key words include: “big chunks of cheese”). Then there’s Ian adding in garlic from his herb garden. Classic Ian. Dorret’s making walnut-and-Stilton soda bread… sounds worrisome. Judge Paul, however, is more concerned with Baker Paul’s ratio of flour to buttermilk, which could create a bitter bread.

Ian leaves his bread in the oven until the very last minute, which pays off. Paul claims his bake is a “work of magic.” Unfortunately, Dorret’s is on the tight side, but Mat’s has a lovely crust. The most notable bake, however, is Paul! Mr. Hollywood declares, “It’s excellent” before he has another piece.

There’s no time for wheat-ing around, let’s get straight to the Technical Challenge. The bakers are told to make four identical crusty baguettes in two and half hours. Right away, proofing proves difficult for the bakers. There are too many options: Do they use the proofing drawer? The oven? Or leave the bread out at room temperature? And how long do they proof for? Guess that’s why they call it a challenge.

In no time at all, the judges are stepping up to give some biting feedback. Some baguettes look more like ciabattas — not really a problem in my eyes, but apparently it’s not what the judges are looking for. Some are under-proofed, some need more crisping, and some are a variety of shapes. Nadiya’s seem to fail on every front and even get a “I just feel very sorry for whoever’s these are” from Mary. Eek. It’s a brutal judging, or as Flora puts it afterward, “Paul Hollywood was punching bread, shattering dreams in there.” But Ian gets the win.

We’re on a roll here, so let’s move right on to the Showstoppers! This week it’s 3-D structures made out of bread. Get excited! There should be three types of dough, one of which needs to be filled. The bakers have five hours to complete the task. “If they don’t come prepared, they’re going to come unstuck,” says Paul, trying to get in on the pun fun.

Tamal is making a bicycle out of bread. Mary looks absolutely delighted by this idea, but Paul — and even more worrisome, Tamal — is having trouble picturing how it will stand upright. Alvin’s making a Thanksgiving cornucopia because he has relatives in the States. (I immediately thought Hunger Games and weapons, but that’s just me.) Paul’s making a lion, Nadiya a (unintentionally exploding) snake, Flora a skirt and corset, and Ian-the-fond-gardener is piecing together a potted plant. And Dorret’s creating an un-made bed — a bed made of bread! I wish I had a little more faith that the best invention ever would actually be a success…

…and it’s not. When we get to judging, Mary’s unimpressed and Paul doesn’t think it’s worthy of five hours of work. Plus, it’s raw in the middle. Dorret is crumbling.

Despite looking like a bike with flat tires, Tamal’s creation is a success, so he can ride off into the sunset happily. Paul’s predator is also well-received. Bread-god Paul Hollywood gives high praise: “It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in bread, ever.” Then adds, “I wouldn’t have attempted anything like that.” It has teeth, claws, a mane, and it’s packed with flavor. Gotta be the Star Baker, right?

Well no, he’s not, but he does get a special commendation and a round of applause for creating the best bread sculpture Paul Hollywood has ever seen. As it turns out, Herb Man Ian is dubbed Star Baker this episode. Dorret is toast in this competition. It’s the end of her BBC baking days and my terrible bread puns… but not the end of this recap…

NEXT: Who’s ready for dessert?

Desserts: the pièce de résistance of the baking world. Sharpen your sweet tooth — there’s a whole lot of sugar coming at you. (P.S. “Delicate” will be your drinking game buzzword for the next hour.) We’re told that over the next two days, the nine bakers left standing will make a whopping 144 desserts. Amazing.

For the Signature Bake alone, they’ll have to create 12 identical crème brûlée, the French classic with vanilla bean and caramelized sugar. The brûlées can be any flavor the bakers like, but the curve ball is they can’t use a blowtorch; the tops must be caramelized under a grill.

This one is a “deceptively difficult” challenge, according to Paul. (Really, when are they not? We haven’t forgotten the walnut cake of week 1, Mr. Hollywood.) The bakers start with basic custard. Cooking and cooling the custard in time is worrying Mat, who’s opted to make a coconut-and-lime dish. I’m willing him to do well. He brings so much humor. As does Sandy, who’s adding licorice to hers and popping extra in her mouth as she goes.

We’re back to adding obscure fruits this week, as Ugne throws some Amarula into the mix. It’s an African cream liqueur made from the exotic marula fruit. Mary thinks it smells Irish. Ian’s popping in some pomegranate, Nadiya’s infusing some tea, and Tamal’s working with rhubarb and stemmed ginger (and some rhubarb crisps — if they work out). Meanwhile, Paul’s going for a confident exterior and tossing in flaked almonds.

The bakers must make sure the fruit, liqueur, etc. is fully chilled before they add the custard on top, otherwise… Well, picture scrambled eggs instead of sweet deliciousness in your dessert.

Before the bakers top their creations with a layer of caramel, they must cook the custard in a bain-marie, essentially a heated water bath. The window between undercooked and overcooked is very small. To tell if the desserts are done, the bakers must shake them and see how they wobble. “The wobble should be like my backside,” says Sandy. Please don’t go home this week, you wonderful, hilarious lady. (Pausing to add a new word to the drinking game: wobble.)

Then they get to caramelizing. “This is the brûlée part,” Sandy informs us. “Otherwise they’re just pots of crème.” Got it.

Alvin’s in trouble. He’s going to break my heart one of these weeks. He forgot to hit the grill button on his oven, so his desserts aren’t caramelized at all. They’re just crèmes.

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Nadiya puts hers in teacups since they’re tea-flavored, which is “fantastic” in Paul’s mind, but her texture’s a little off. Paul’s are deemed boozy scrambled eggs (watch this become the next brunch craze) and Flora’s look nice and sound good when cracked, but sadly haven’t set; they have… you guessed it, too much wobble. Ian’s, of course, are perfect. Well, almost! Paul’s not really enjoying the pomegranate at the bottom. Mat’s aren’t glossy and shiny enough. He ran out of time, so they’re runny. Sue deems them, “bru-lake.” Brilliant, Sue, just brilliant. Ugne and her mysterious fruit have set well, but the caramel on top is nonexistent. The same goes for Alvin, and Sandy’s haven’t set either. “It’s a shame you didn’t turn the oven on,” jokes Paul.

NEXT: Nerves set in with the Technical Challenge

This week’s Technical Challenge is introduced by Mary: It’s her version of a Spanische Windtorte. The dessert is the mother of all meringue cakes, with two types of meringue plus cream, strawberries, and raspberries. As always, no one’s heard of it and can’t imagine how it should look. “The instructions are very vague,” explains Nadiya. “It’s make this and make that. So you have to know how to make it.” Great.

The dish is Austrian, but includes Swiss and French types of meringue. “It’s just a meringue fest,” says Paul. That’s precisely what Mary’s sample looks like. It’s a thing of splendid beauty decorated with violets made of sugar.

Timing and temperature are critical as always. Cue high stress levels in the tent. There’s a lot of piping with precision and whipping of filling — careful to avoid curdling. In the end, Alvin comes up last, Paul takes the win, and we’re on to the tower of baked cheesecakes as the Showstopper Challenge. (Anyone else salivating?)

With four and a half hours on the clock, most of the contestants are adding regular fruits like blueberries to their cakes. Meanwhile, Ian is making spicy and herbed cheesecakes. They were literally just told to make sweet cheesecakes, so we’ll see where this one goes… Paul’s intrigued by the apple-and-tarragon suggestion, saying “It’s quite adventurous.”

Each of Alvin’s cakes is dedicated to a member of his family. It’s too cute. (Please don’t send him home. He’s been having trouble with time lately, so he’s anxious to get on. Paul and Mary: Stop asking questions and leave him be!) Nadiya’s making cream-soda cheesecake. I, for one, am not convinced. But she’s decorating it with a floating can of soda, which sounds pretty cool. Ugne the Adventurer is adding ombré-style frosting. She loves a bit of garish decoration, that one. Paul’s showing off a little with the decorations. Remember, this is the man who made a lion out of bread, so I feel pretty confident in his abilities.

Sandy is making things complicated with different flavors of fillings and different flavors of bases while Flora is keeping it simple with the same base and flavor for all three. She’s worried she’s not doing enough, but in the words of Mr. Hollywood, “It’s all down to a good bake, a good cheesecake, a good density, a good finish.” Easy.

The moment for stacking has arrived. We’re going for tiers, not tears. Cooling is paramount to keeping the cheesecakes stackable. Then there’s decorating. Then there’s tasting. Here are the high and low lights:

  • Ian’s looks stunning and the spices pay off. Mary likes it. She calls it “sheer heaven on a plate.”
  • Sadly, Alvin’s is a bit of mess. His base is like “bird seed,” but the cake is beautifully creamy. It just needed more time in the oven. I’m so scared for Alvin at this point.
  • Tamal’s caramel work gets praise, as do the flavor and texture. He gets a “fantastic” from Paul. Tamal sighs a huge sigh of relief.
  • Ugne’s piping is a mess, but it still tastes good.
  • Sandy’s third tier isn’t on top. The word “splodge” is used. It’s raw underneath.
  • Nadiya’s cheesecake has a can of soda (or in her words, “fizzy-pop”) levitating from the top of it, so I really don’t care that it’s a little over-baked — it looks really great!
  • Mat’s chocolate-bar cheesecake gets an “I’d be proud if I’d made that one” from Mar, and a “Fantastic trio — texture, appearance, and taste,” from Paul. Way to go, Mat!

Do I even have to announce the winner? Of course, Star Baker is Ian — or “Ian-genuity,” as Sue calls him.

Sadly, Sandy’s wobbling times in the tent are over. I’m so relieved for Alvin, but I’m sad to see Sandy go. The image of her playfully choking Paul after she’s told she’s leaving makes it almost worth it, though.

Nadiya calls Ian a “teacher’s pet,” and Flora counts how many times he’s been Star Baker now, declaring it “really annoying.” But neither says it with any real conviction; they’re just too nice. Still, I’d be happy to see someone else rise to the top next week, which has a theme of “alternative ingredients.” Interesting… I wonder what Ian will bring from his garden!

Episode Recaps

The Great British Baking Show
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