It’s “Bread Week” in the tent which always proves (geddit?) entertaining. Things start off on a promising note with barely any cringe comedy in the introduction. Or it’s possible that we’ve become so numb to these shenanigans that two comedians fishing with bread-based double entendres barely raises an eyebrow.
After singing a solid bread-themed rendition of “Lord Of The Dance,” we are off with a signature focaccia challenge. This is actually a pretty generous initial challenge; among bread-baking geeks, focaccia is known as being idiot-proof. With its high moisture content, it lends itself to a lovely airy irregular texture and fabulous crust. Plus, you don’t really need to shape it into anything particularly arduous. Throw in some decent toppings and you are virtually always onto something delicious.
Giuseppe, as our resident Italian, is invoking some childhood flavors, complete with olives from his hometown, although he admits his family used to buy their bread. George is doing something similar with halloumi and mint that speaks to his Cypriot roots and sounds utterly delicious. Paul virtually shoots laser beams with his eyes at him when he says he didn’t add all the water to his focaccia dough. Thankfully, he picks up on it and starts over with a lovely wet dough.
Crystelle and Lizzie are going for very sophisticated-sounding focaccias. Lizzie’s truffle-packed focaccia sprinkled with truffle salt sounds utterly divine, while Crystelle’s roasted grape, feta, walnut and fennel focaccia sounds like a gorgeous deconstructed cheeseboard. Less convincing is Maggie, who’s going with simple tomatoes and thyme, insisting “a traditional flavor is a traditional flavor because it was good in the first place.” Careful Maggie, that line of thinking is how we got Brexit. Also a bit on the weirder side is Freya’s fajita focaccia, Rochica’s that seems to contain approximately, 200 cloves of garlic and Jürgen’s kipper and boiled egg one that, even as a smoked fish fan, churned my stomach.
When it comes down to the judging, George made the right call! His focaccia generously topped with tiny herbs looks particularly appetizing. Crystelle and Freya also pull off their non-traditional loaves; the two of them are proving quite formidable competitors as the weeks go by.
Rochica’s floral design is pretty but her overly garlicky flavors are a mess, proving once again that what works on Instagram doesn’t necessarily impress on Bake Off. Jürgen, for the first time, disappoints with his, although it actually doesn’t look as disgusting as it sounds. Maggie also does pretty poorly—her focaccia is unambitious and not particularly well executed, with the scorched cherry tomatoes sitting on top of a un-foccacia-like smooth dome.
Giuseppe, a man who seems to become even lovelier with each on screen appearance, is clearly very nervous as the judges approach. But his focaccia looks absolutely textbook perfect: crunchy and airy, with the little tomatoes and olives tucked in wells below the surface. When the judges start to praise him, his eyes well up and so do mine. We both break down into full tears as he receives the first handshake of the season and Paul asks for his recipe.
This is what makes this show such a joy to watch. Food has always been a way of communicating love and when people eat what you make it’s a vulnerable experience. So to see Giuseppe make something inspired by his childhood and be moved by praise connects to the fundamental in the joy of baking.
Jürgen is clearly a little salty about his first failure, and manages an unsubtle humblebrag about how he’s won star baker twice so it’s possible the judges have higher expectations for him. This is about as bitchy as this show ever gets and it’s a thrill.
On to the technical, and it is ciabatta bread sticks, which it seems like Italian Giuseppe might have the advantage on, but he insists he’s never made them before. The rest is pretty unexciting stuff; the mixers are doing the kneading and the time restraints dictate the proving times, so it’s only really when it comes to the baking itself that’s there is a huge margin of error available. Rochica and Crystelle make big errors and serve up floppy underbaked breadsticks while Maggie and Jürgen don’t redeem their disappointing signatures.
In third and second place are Amanda and Lizzie, respectively, who have strongly rebounded from two initially poor weeks, and right at the top is Giuseppe! He’s done his nonna proud with some fantastic ciabatta breadsticks, all uniform and neat with a light twist to encase the fillings.
Going into the showstoppers, Giuseppe looks unstoppable, but Lizzie is in a strong position to earn star baker too. Right at the bottom are Maggie, Rochica and JÜRGEN! That’s right, the impossible has happened and our favorite German trombone player is having a disastrous week while Lizzie is rising to the occasion. It’s things like this that keep the show interesting, Jürgen’s knack for precision that shone with cakes and biscuits doesn’t apply to bread because so much of bread is unpredictable and can come down to how sluggish your yeast is, the gluten content of the flour, the temperature of the room, the warmth of your hands. Bread is a living breathing organism that requires flexibility and instinct.
For the showstoppers, they’ll be making milk bread sculpture. Milk bread is a delicious sweet comforting thing, but all that extra fat and sugar in dough makes the yeast and the bake all the more unpredictable. Maggie, Amanda and Freya are all making sea-life inspired sculptures; the most intriguing sounding is Maggie’s bright red piña colada octopus. It’s genuinely inspiring that her sugar cookie disaster last week didn’t make her any less ambitious with her designs.
Crystelle and Lizzie are both going for milk bread roast dinners, Chigs and Giuseppe are making baskets of fruit and vegetables (impressively, Chigs is also making the basket out of bread), George is making a koala, Rochica is making a weird birdcage thing with a nest and a bird outside of it which is… a choice, and Jürgen. Well, Jürgen is making a baby loaf I would described as cursed. Not since little wooden Annette appeared onscreen has a baby been so unsettling. All in all, Jürgen seems like quite a different person to previous weeks—a little frayed, loud, and anxious. He’s clearly not a man used to baking failures.
Freya’s and Amanda’s seaside scenes turn out absolutely adorably, and Maggie’s matte mangled octopus suffers with the comparison. Even worse is Rochica’s birdcage, which is pretty underwhelming design-wise, but also lacks literal substance. The whole thing would make for a very light snack. Paul rather cruelly chastises Maggie and Rochica and says he can’t believe they spend four and a half hours on their offerings. Jürgen’s baby is upsetting to look at but not incompetently made which he seems satisfied by. George’s koala, Chigs’ picnic, and Crystelle’s roast dinner are all pretty impressive. On the whole, the design skills seem to be collectively improving. Lizzie’s hog roast is another strong entry from her this week and comes with one of her signature bizarre stories about her pet pig who slipped on ice and had to be put down. I’m thrilled for Lizzie to have done so well, but mostly for myself that she’ll stick around to tell more colorful tales. And thankfully, Giuseppe delights the judges again with some truly beautifully crafted fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to star baker, it surprises absolutely no one that it goes to everyone’s favorite alice band-wearing Italian. It’s an extremely well-deserved win.
As for the elimination, it seems like they could flip a coin between Rochica and Maggie, but Rochica is the one chosen to go. It may have come down to Maggie at least having done some pretty impressive work in “Cake Week,” while Rochica never managed to distinguish herself as a contender.
Next weeks, Desserts! Where Jürgen’s knack for precision may warrant a comeback.
- I want to know more about Giuseppe’s family. So far we know his dad is a fantastic cook and his Mum is a fantastic “eater” who has never heard of Bake Off… Where does she think Giuseppe has been the last couple of weeks?
- I love bread week as I am a total bread nerd that takes my sourdough starter on long walks to improve its biodiversity. This episode was a great example of the beauty and frustration of bread baking,
- I don’t think Amanda or Maggie will make the final I hope Amanda stays around for a while. Unlike Maggie she seems to be ambitious with her bakes and willing to think outside the box!
- I know I’ve gone on record as saying I want Paul to stop with the handshakes entirely but now I think I just want him to do them but very sparingly. Say threea season?