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‘Great British Bake Off’ Bread Week Is in Desperate Need of a Refresh

The week that separates the wheat from the chaff was again cursed by unrealistic timings

Paul Hollywood slicing up a bread baby on Great British Bake Off.
Paul Hollywood slicing up a bread baby.
Immediate Media

Welcome to the Eater round-up of Great British Bake Off 2021, as Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, and Noel Fielding return to Channel 4 with the 12th series of cakes, puddings, breads, and inevitable recourse to terrible baking puns. Filmed again in a bio-secure coronavirus bubble, Paul Hollywood’s terrible handshake is here, sweaty as ever, and the tent stands on.

Great British Bake Off 2021 Episode 3 was, as ever, Bread Week. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged a focaccia signature, which didn’t have enough time for the bakers; a ciabatta technical that didn’t have enough time for the bakers, and a by turns demonic and artistic milk bread showstopper, as the third episode of GBBO kicked off. There was a cursed Hollywood handshake, and much drama besides. Here, now, is a recap of Great British Bake Off 2021 Bread Week.

The duality of Bread Week is its blessing and curse

After Great British Bake Off continued its line in kooky intros — with Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas using bread to catch fish in a paddling bowl for reasons no-one shall understand — GBBO 2021 wheeled out perhaps its signature week, that of bread. With its myriad global traditions, focus on mastery of both ingredients and atmospheric conditions, and infinite possibility for failure, Bread Week should be the one that separates wheat from chaff. And, it is, but for none of these reasons at all.

Instead, it’s the week Paul Hollywood is best known for, which means there’s exaggerated stress, and the show refuses to acknowledge the fact that most breads need an extended period of time to ferment and prove, so people succeed or fail not because of bread’s complexities, but are being asked to make condensed, squeezed down versions of those breads in simply inadequate time frames. Of course, there are also myriad unleavened breads in the world, but that would require some global curiosity the show seems not to really possess.

And this time, the timeframes really took the piss

Focaccia, two hours and 45 minutes. Many focaccia doughs want eight, 14, 24 hours to ferment and develop both flavour and gluten, but at least focaccia-sort-of-can-be-made. Ciabatta, however — another Italian bread, which both suggests some Guiseppe favouritism and Bake Off’s blinkered view of baking — is fundamentally based on biga, pre-ferment that requires some overnight action.

But these ciabatta breadsticks are a Paul Hollywood special, for this is Paul Hollywood’s week, and that means that there is a recipe for them online. The bakers were given two hours to complete this entire challenge. Paul Hollywood’s recipe recommends proving it for at least an hour, and up to two. So the bakers are being asked to replicate a Paul Hollywood recipe for Paul Hollywood in compromised conditions. Simply: why?

You can have this demonic baby bread, Bake Off

Both Cake Week and Biscuit Week have demonstrated a key GBBO divide: One school of Great British Bake Off thought says that the increasingly difficult, elaborate showstoppers — some of which, particularly as series progress, hinge on things that aren’t about baking at all — provide drama and add colour to a competition that would otherwise get a bit staid.

And while anti-gravity cakes and biscuit toys with interactive elements are teetering a little too far towards judging bakers on things that aren’t baking, shaping and forming is a key element of bread making. So, this week’s showstopper, a milk bread diorama that demanded colour, inventive sculpting, and, apparently, a very disturbed sense of humour can be allowed. Koalas, an octopus, another octopus, and, in Jürgen’s case ... a human baby. Because it drinks milk, and is sweet.

Because this is Great British Bake Off, it managed to leave out any references to milk bread’s Japanese cultural importance.

Star baker: Giuseppe
Going home: Rochica
Running theme: Short bread.


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