The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, Episode 21 – Bread Week

Welcome, once again my friends, to The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition! This week we got down to old school basics and tried our hand at the food upon which empires were built. That’s right, we returned to that most basic of baked goods, a yeasty treat that bakers have made for over 14,000 years. This is Bread Week!

This will hopefully be the last of my incredibly short writeups. I’ve knocked a lot of episodes out in a short span, so I should be able to return to my wordy, rambling ways before long. For now, though, let’s get started.

I did not bake anything this week. I intended to make Irish soda bread, because I absolutely love it, but I fell asleep. I’d love to give a better excuse than that, but the truth often isn’t very pretty nor exciting. I fell asleep and had no time to bake before dinner. So we have only three entries this time. You have my apologies.

Remember in a previous episode how I mentioned that Mark will occasionally craft extremely well balanced flavors and then turn right around and destroy those flavors by cooking the hell out of his food? Apparently some people thought that write up was a bit harsh. So I’ll refrain from commenting negatively on Mark’s Onion & Chive & Garlic Butter & Cottage Cheese “Pitas”. They smelled great. And if you dissected one and just ate the gossamer bready inner layer, they were quite good. Unfortunately that thin strata of goodness was sandwiched between a dense wad of barely cooked dough and an outer layer that… well, one doesn’t wish to be harsh. I’ll just leave these pictures here.

If we judged our bakes on appearance alone, Dan would be the all time king of all bakes for the rest of eternity. I can say without question that I have never seen a more evenly baked, more perfectly colored loaf of bread than Dan’s Amish Loaf. These pictures do it no justice at all. If an artist painted this loaf, you would say it was bad art because no loaf of bread could possibly look so perfect. It was amazing. I didn’t want anyone to cut it. But I’m glad we did because it turns out the interior crumb was just as even and beautiful as the crust. It was like looking at something rendered in CG, but I could reach out and touch it and smell it and chew it up. It was excellent bread, but oddly sweet; the perfect accompaniment for a thick spread of butter. I can’t help but imagine how mouthwatering it would be toasted with a thin spread of melted peanut butter on top. But as good as it was, I couldn’t vote for it.

My vote had to go with Mandy’s Eight Strand Plaited Loaf. To the best of my recollection, Mandy is the first one of us to tackle a recipe directly from The Great British Baking Show. Yes, I made a schichttorte back in Episode 1, but that was a heavily modified recipe of my own design; Paul and Mary would certainly NOT have approved. Mandy, on the other hand, kept it traditional by using Paul Hollywood’s own recipe from the second technical challenge of TGBBS Season 3. And it was fantastic!

No, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to, but I refused to hold that against Mandy when I judged it. I’ve watched tutorials explaining in detail how you’re supposed to braid an eight strand plaited loaf. I watched Paul Hollywood himself explain it step by step. Even with liberal use of the pause and rewind buttons, the plaiting process makes no sense to me. I couldn’t follow it. I challenge any mathematics Ph.D. with a concentration in topology to follow it. It’s the least intuitive, most unnecessarily complex food design I’ve ever seen.

But Mandy’s bread was DELICIOUS. The crust was perfectly toasted, exactly what I’d wanted for my soda bread, and the crumb was perfect. Just enough gluten formation to keep the bread firm, but tender enough to be an absolute pleasure to eat. We even gave the bottom the old Paul Hollywood scrape to test for doneness and it passed with flying colors. And that’s why Mandy is this week’s Star Baker! Congratulations, Mandy, and thank all of you out there for joining us. Be sure to come back next time for Pumpkin Week!

Until next time, bon appétit!

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