You thought you knew bread. Honestly, admit it, admit to yourself that you thought you knew bread. You thought you had it all sussed; from baguettes to ciabattas and everything in between, you thought you had a pretty firm handle on everything that could possibly be done with dough. I know this about you, because I thought it too. I had presumed - after finally encountering a pitta at the age of 14 - that I had rubbed noses with every type of bread there was. I would never have the arrogance to claim to be an expert in all things yeast, modesty and an admittedly still hazy working knowledge some of the more exotic sourdoughs prevents me - but, let me just tell you this in no uncertain terms, I know my way round a batch loaf. It is no exaggeration to say that, over the course of my life thusfar, I've probably consumed a weight of bread roughly equivalent to a heavily laden Ford Fiesta - all this is to say, I thought, we thought, we knew bread. We were wrong.
Last night's Bake Off then was nothing short of a monumental shock. One of those cataclysmic, eye-opening experiences that sends you reeling. A bucket of icy-water sloshed into the face that leaves you gasping for air as your world, and everything you presumed to know about it, is turned upside down - for last night was bread week and some of the concoctions they were wheeling out - to the average armchair bread connoissuer - were nothing short of lunacy.
I do not know where the line between 'bread' and 'cake' is drawn. I have to assume that out there, somewhere, there is someone who has a clear idea on their points of delineation. To the average observer however, they were really blurring the boundaries between these two last night, what with the first challenge asking the bakers to make 'Chelsea buns'. By any sane person's metric I would've thought these to be well within the remit of desserts, but alas they were apparently not. We briefly moved back into safer territory with garlic naans comprising the second challenge, before veering wildly off-piste in the showstopper which consisted of some sort of weird wedding cake - that was made of bread that was sweet, but was still definitely bread rather than a cake.
In amongst all this confusion - the fallout of which I'm sure is set to cause schisms throughout the baking community - the show proffered its usual glut of oddities and talking points, a summary of which we will now journey through. N.B. Due to the bread based nature of the content, gluten intolerants are not welcome.
1) Paul's Prowling; Or, Prowl Hollywood?:
In essentially every second shot of last night's episode Paul Hollywood seemed to be there in the background, sinister, lurking. Perhaps it has always been thus. Perhaps I have just never been attuned to his omnipresence before and had therefore presumed, save for the brief interviews conducted with each contestant as they bake, that he was absent for the majority of filming. Where he'd go, I do not know. I'd imagine that he would perhaps be whisked off to some adjacent canvas building where he'd hang upside-down, like a bat, from a special frame while he screamed at a nearby gateaux that was just out of reach. This is apparently not the case however and instead it seems he just prowls the tent, a look of supreme disgruntlement etched onto his large face. He circumnavigates the tent's perimeter looking simultaneously incredibly judgemental and like a distressed polar bear in a dilapidated Chinese zoo.
2) Terry Gets Through Animals:
It is week three. They have so far shown three of those weird VTs of Terry and his enigmatic homelife, where he seems to alternately split his time between arts & crafts; running an artisanal livestock farm and brewing his own liquor. Featured in each of these VTs have been the animals of Terry's life. The first showed him near a flock of sheep and then atop a recalcitrant horse. The second showed him knee-deep in, what can only be described, as a massive-fuck-off swarm of bees. Last night's episode showed him with an exuberant schnauzer. This is too many animals for one man to own who isn't either a) a zookeeper or b) the ring-master of a Victorian circus. What is worrying is that there is never any evidence of the preceding week's animals in any subsequent VT. I am not here to cast aspersions, and say that Terry is baking his animals into his cakes in some kind of grotesque Sweeney Todd-lite scenario, all I am saying is that I've seen no evidence that this isn't the case.
3) Rahul Is A Baking Machine:
Rahul was put on this earth to do one thing, to bake. His entire being has been sculpted, crafted by some higher power, with the sole purpose in mind of making scones, crumbles etc. His body is infused with baking. His brain is brioche, his arms are roulades, treacle courses -sluggishly - through his veins. By all reasonable medical standards, he should be dead, and yet he's not. He's in a tent in rural Berkshire making cakes.
4) Jon Is The True Baker:
Jon will probably not win this competition, and that is a shame as he seems lovely. However, there is some alternate universe out there, one slightly different where the competition is not adjudged on who is the best at baking, rather it is judged in terms of who looks the most like they should be a baker. If only this competition were The Great British Baker Off - where the baking merits of the contestants were entirely overlooked in favour of who seemed the most natural wearing an apron while knuckle deep in plump, floury dough. It would be Welsh Jon, we all know this to be true. Welsh Jon is like a baker from The Beano that has somehow spilled into real life and he deserves to be celebrated for this.
5) Hollywood Vs. Bread:
There has never in the history of this verdant earth been a man who is as needlessly tactile with food as Paul Hollywood. I have a theory that Paul Hollywood only ingests half his nutrients by traditionally eating food, the rest is consumed through manual osmosis as he wrings and squashes, an eclair say, through his large hands. For this is what Paul Hollywood lives for, tearing baked goods apart in his large paws. Last night, his lust was pandered to by producers, with the contestants first tasked with making Chelsea Buns which by their nature are made to be torn apart, before their attentions were turned to garlic naans. However it was during the showstoppers that he really let loose. Paul Hollywood mauled at and tore down each towering construction of bread/cake with a relish rarely seen outside of an oppressed people joyously destroying the statue of a toppled despot. It was like watching a fox loose in a chicken coop. It was a bloodbath, Hollywood became lost in a blur of dough, a haze of debris thrown up as he ravaged and prodded his way through each tray-bake, naan and tiered wedding cake.
6) Antony Sits on The Floor Too Often:
He has done this in every episode. He seemed to insist on being at as low an altitude as possible for baking. It is too early to say whether this factored into the circumstances behind him leaving.