Seven bakers returned to face this seventh round of The Great British Baking Show and its challenges, all, no doubt, with the same question on their minds. Would their culinary creations be good enough to protect them from the forthcoming double elimination promised by Paul and Mary?
As you likely recall from last week’s competition - I mean could you ever un-see all that blood? - John’s food processor accident during the showstopper round led to an unprecedented decision not to send anyone packing. That meant that John, Sarah-Jane and James, who were all on the short list for potential ouster, survived to bake another day. Fortunately, recognition for excellence was not suspended and the experienced, clever, slightly old-fashioned but ever consistent Brendan was named Star Baker for a second time.
So it was with great resolve to make the most of their reprieve that our bakers entered the tent ready to demonstrate what they could accomplish with enriched dough.
Paul and Mary were armed with the determination to ax a pair of bakers. Meanwhile Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc brought along an arsenal of silly bun puns (i.e. get your buns in gear, you should all have buns in the oven and get your hands off your buns).
In the signature challenge, the bakers were asked to make two dozen identical, evenly baked, yeasted buns of any type – even Mary Berry’s hot and firm buns would be acceptable. They had three hours to complete the bake using a soft, wet enriched sweet dough.
Paul Hollywood set the technical challenge this week with one of his own recipes. Bakers had to make ten jam doughnuts in two and a half hours. They had to be consistent in size, shape, jam distribution, and color and timing was identified as key to the frying process.
For the showstopper round, the contestants were tasked with baking a celebratory enriched dough loaf which could commemorate any event including Christmas, Easter or Mel’s birthday. Mary hoped to see originality in this bake with a spectacular appearance and special taste.
It was notable that the showstopper challenge deviated from the normal schedule beginning immediately after the technical round to allow the bakers' enriched dough to be proofed overnight if necessary. Brendan, Sarah-Jane and Ryan chose not to start their dough until the following day and worked on their flavorings instead. James and John both whipped up a sponge starter to enhance the flavors of their loaves.
Brendan’s signature Eastern European flavored Chelsea bun(skis) featuring a Polish poppy seed lemon-vanilla filling were a big hit. The judges found the structure light, the texture soft and the whole bake totally original and delicious. Ryan’s lardy cakes filled with sultanas and raisins were miniatures of a larger traditional farm cake. The baker of the supreme lime pie impressed Paul into silence yet again and received the first Hollywood handshake of the season.
James was the only baker who had ever made doughnuts, so it was logical he would come first the technical challenge. The medical student was the neatest of the jam injectors, his doughnuts were cooked inside, equal in color and bakery quality. James felt like he had cheated because of his experience. Danny’s doughnuts had enough bounce, jam and color to earn her second place. John came in third despite the fact that his doughnuts spent a bit too much time in the fat fryer.
One of the few successes of the showstopper round was Brendan’s Black Forest Christmas stollen. His 70’s loaf with a modern twist ticked all the boxes for a celebration bake. It had good texture and flavor and the marzipan decorations depicting the twelve apostles was showstopper-worthy.
But it was Danny with her unique qualifications to provide intensive care to any flagging bun that nabbed this week’s Star Baker title. The judges loved her Yorkshire inspired signature bake which combined the flavors of a Bakewell tart with a Chelsea bun. Mary called them sheer heaven to eat. Danny followed that up with a second-place technical finish and a festive European Christmas wreath showstopper. Her brioche loaf featuring soaked sultanas, chopped pistachios and orange curd filling had a nice strong color and excellent flavors. Danny said it was the icing on the cake because she already knew it had been her best baking weekend so far.
The signature round was replete with less than satisfactory bakes this week. John’s return to the tent was probably less auspicious than he would have hoped. His Chelsea cherry and almond saffron buns were disappointingly bland due to his accidental omission of almond extract. Sarah-Jane’s orange, nutmeg and saffron buns with honey and butter glaze were under proved, a little dry and lacking in flavor. And Cathryn’s attempt to create something new from an old recipe failed to impress. Her Lady Arundel’s Manchet buns were the right size but under proved, different colors and in need of more cream and jam filling.
The technical was difficult for the uninitiated doughnut makers of the group. Sarah-Jane’s raw batch came in last place and Ryan’s flattened, over proved, chewy excuse for doughnuts were close behind in sixth place. Cathryn was vocal about her doughnut troubles. She found the dough akin to kneading a big ball of chewing gum and coined the alliterative terms “frantic fry time” and “doughnut doom.” Her fifth place doughnuts were technically underdone, though had a good amount of jam.
The showstopper was a struggle for a majority of the bakers. Mary found the whiskey flavored jelly in James’ kugelhopf-brioche baba to be a bit over the top and Paul said the structure wasn’t carrying the flavor. Cathryn’s Bonfire Night tear and share brioche with cinnamon and cream cheese frosting shimmered with a sparkler on top and had a lovely flavor, but it was the texture of a cake rather than an enriched loaf. John faltered again with his marzipan stollen. After an overnight prove, his starter sponge was almost frozen so he had to start over with a new enriched dough. A natural risk-taker, John created an impromptu method of stuffing cherries and chocolate into a strip of marzipan. Alas both judges found his loaf exceedingly stodgy.
With everyone except Danny and Brendan in the danger zone, Sarah-Jane and Ryan were ultimately chosen to exit the tent.
After his signature triumph, the competition went downhill quickly for Ryan. He continued to fall short in the technical round and the tipping point was his savory Chinese roast pork loaf showstopper (char siu bao). It didn’t have much of a wow factor, it was quite pale on the outside and raw inside.
Sarah-Jane never got off the ground this week. Her signature was unremarkable and she came in last in the technical. With her sour cherry, marzipan and dark chocolate six strand Christmas plait, she hoped to show she had grown in her skills since bread week. Unfortunately the outside was dark and ripped and the inside was raw. Mary kindly remarked that she got her flavors right anyway.
There were lots of hugs and tears as the remaining bakers had to bid farewell to two of their comrades. Ryan said his wife will be happy he isn’t messing up the kitchen anymore, but that doesn't mean he'll stop baking. Sarah-Jane loved everything about the competition and was proud she made it to week seven. What an accomplishment for a woman whose previous idea of bravery was getting to the competition by herself on the train!
Five bakers (Brendan, Cathryn, Danny, James and John) advance to the quarter finals and it only gets more intense from here. How do you see things playing out? Will technical experience triumph over ingenuity and boldness? And how about those Doughnut Dollies in their converted club-mobiles serving American GIs in Europe? Comfort and morale in the form of deep fried dough and a friendly smile. Let the baking chat commence!