I can’t rightly claim to be any sort of bagel sage. I have had a few bagels in my day, but no less than 60% of them were the mass-produced kind you get in plastic bags at the supermarket. While most of the physical properties of these bagels would doubtless draw the ire of bagel-knowing society, they were a delight to my youthful palette. They were good and they were tasty and they often had a pleasantly crisp crust on the bottom, and it was only in my later years that I came into understanding of what constitutes a proper bagel. I must confess that to this day, that understanding remains tenuous at best.
In this context, perhaps you can understand my utter befuddlement at the concept of the Rainbow Bagel, as presented in this week’s Technical Challenge. I thought the ideal bagel crust was supposed to be crisp, and the chewiness is more on the interior, but even as I type this out I’m not sure if this is actually a parameter I was taught by someone else who knew more about the bagel’s Platonic essence, or something I just made up.
But even so, I thought the Rainbow Bagels on the judges’ table (and therefore, the bagels that were meant to serve as exemplars) looked a bit shit. While I can admire a shout-out to the NHS in a pandemic, the color combination was nothing less than a total nightmare; it didn’t so much invite me to dress it up with salmon, cream cheese, onion, and capers as much as it called to mind dubious memories of shoving less reputable Laffy Taffy flavors into my face out of boredom. The crust had a sheen to it, but no browning (which I suppose was for the best), and the inside looked like plain old bread. Seems like a disappointing bagel to me. Am I missing something? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m legitimately curious.
Nightmarish aesthetics aside, I am pleased with the restraint shown in the design of this week’s challenges. Last season’s stress problem was due in no small part to excessively demanding challenges. Almost all of last year’s Signature Bakes required the sort of fussy, intricate decorations that were only required in Show Stoppers in previous seasons. This meant that the actual Show Stoppers were just as tough at best, outrageous at worst. The Technical Challenges were brutal to the point of seeming mean-spirited.
Perhaps, if GBBS was intended to pit pro bakers against one another, it would have felt more fair. But the show very explicitly features amateur bakers in the Tent, and the steep difficulty of last year’s bakes projected a sense that the show was losing its own thread. Outside of a somewhat outlandish Cake Week, this season feels like a course correction. This week’s Signature was more in line with what a Signature should be, testing knowledge of baking technique and flavoring skills with minimal frills, and saving the crazy decorations for the Show Stopper, the parameters of which were demanding but reasonable. And while I could gripe about the Technical all day if I wanted, I cannot deny that it was a fair challenge. As a result, the stress levels in the Tent for Bread Week remained within normal parameters for the second time in a row.
The Rankings, however, remain something of a mess. Unlike last week, in which the middle and bottom placements fluctuated while the top stayed mostly the same, this week’s shakeups are largely in the upper echelon, while the bottom and middle are becoming more entrenched. This isn’t a complaint – I think it’s a compliment to the overall quality of this season’s baking crew that a clear front-runner has yet to emerge – but it did make this a difficult Ranking to compile at a point in the season where I was expecting stability and clarity.
There are no less than seven bakers remaining who I could see cracking into the Semi-Finals, and yet all of those seven have had their struggles, meaning I have to be ready to eulogize their Tent tenure at any point. It’s exciting and confusing in equal measure.
Week 3 – Bread Week
Signature Challenge: 2 Soda Bread Loaves (1 Savory, 1 Sweet)
-Recipe: Rainbow Bagels
-Judging Parameters: Well-proved bagels that rise without collapsing. Proper boiling time and texture. Proper shaping and color incorporation.
-Did anyone Succeed? yes; Linda and Marc
Star Baker: Marc
Last Week: 10th Change: 0
Place in Technical: 10th
Alas, poor Rowan. I know I went in pretty hard on the guy last week in this space, but now that he’s been officially Eliminated I feel bad for doing so. He might not have brought his best baking game in Bread Week, but his self-deprecating jokes game was on point. Then again, to say he didn’t bring his best is colossal understatement. Both of his Signature soda breads were under baked, under risen, and dense. His decision to use a hefty amount of polenta in his sweet loaf backfired, and backfired hard. His Show Stopper looked the business but was under proved and bland, with the promised bleu cheese and walnuts largely absent from the finished product; Paul seemed to take it personally when Rowan described his process of pressing the cheese into the dough (I’m not clear on what difference that makes, but whatever). The point is, both of his practice bakes were disasters, and he came dead last in the Technical, and he was baking on borrowed time after last week as it was. Put all that together, and Elimination was the only option.
Last Week: 8th Change: -1
Place in Technical: 1st
Taking the top spot in the Technical usually bodes well for a baker’s week, but doing so was Linda’s only real success in Bread Week; I can only assume she would have been in real danger of going home had she not. Her Signature loaves were both under baked, with the fruit in her sweet loaf all pushed out towards the edges and burnt, which I think is a real shame, since she used honey that Mak left her after getting bounced in Biscuit Week, in a display of baker solidarity that served as this week’s strongest reminder that the Tent is fundamentally an extension of the class war. In the Show Stopper, her cool design did not save her from the judges’ slings and arrows once they cut into her plaque. It was under proved, dense, and bland. After three weeks, Linda has shown a few flashes here and there, but has had few bakes that were successes all around, and has seemed to struggle mightily with many of the practice bakes. Unless Linda takes a drastic leap forward, she seems unlikely to stick around for more than another week or two.
Last Week: 9th Change: +1
Place in Technical: 6th
Laura has flashed a bit more potential over the first three weeks, but her bakes are prone to misfires and strategic miscalculations. Her Show Stopper from Bread Week demonstrated her potential for greatness and potential for folly in seemingly equal measure. It had a simple but cool look that earned her high marks from Prue, and the flavors inside were good, but since her focaccia was buried underneath a couple of bread-based theater masks, it didn’t rise or bake properly, throwing off the texture of the whole thing. Her soda breads were slightly under baked, and her sweet loaf didn’t have enough cherries for the judges’ palettes. Last week, I took Laura to task for stating she wasn’t big on details (although really, I should probably praise her for her honesty), and I can think of no better way to sum up what went wrong with her bakes than “lack of attention to detail”. As baking flaws go, this seems like it should be correctable, but I’ve seen far too many bakers come into the Tent and fail to address equally fixable flaws. As such, I can’t be terribly optimistic about Laura’s long-term prospects.
Last Week: 4th Change: -3
Place in Technical: 9th
See, this is why I couldn’t place Dave higher than 4th after Biscuit Week, even though he did more or less ace it. When Dave struggles, he often struggles with flavor. We saw this in Cake Week, when his Show Stopper leaned too hard on artificial mint, and we saw it again in Bread Week, as both of his practice bakes lacked the proper punch. They were baked well enough, but his sweet loaf didn’t have enough chocolate and his savory loaf didn’t have enough Gruyere. His Show Stopper was even rougher. The look of it was off, the bread was over baked, and outside of the mango and chili notes, the flavors didn’t really come through. Combine all of this with a second-to-last Technical placement, and it’s clear Dave had a rough, tough week. I didn’t seriously think that Dave would be sent home as a result – Rowan’s Bread Week was worse by just about every measure – but a defending Star Baker getting Eliminated the very next week has precedent, and that gave me a bit of a scare on Dave’s behalf. We’ve all seen what Dave can do when he’s on, but he’ll need to find consistency in order to capitalize on his potential.
Last Week: 6th Change: 0
Place in Technical: 3rd
Listen, I don’t want to rag to hard on Mark. He seems like a nice guy, and he seems like someone I would get along with if we knew each other personally. But for the third of three weeks, Mark finds himself 6th in these Rankings because I simply don’t know where else to put him, and I’m starting to wonder if some sort of weird variation on the Peter Principle is taking effect. His practice bakes are always acceptable and usually pretty good, but rarely impressive, and that trend continued this week; unlike Dave, I certainly can’t knock him for consistency. It’s worth point out, however, that Mark might be the most consistent performer in the Technical in this year’s Tent. Most of the bakers, including the ones who have shown flashes of true greatness, have bounced around in placement, whereas Mark quietly earned his second consecutive top three placement. I have no doubt that Mark can hang around for a few weeks longer, but he’ll need to up his game a bit and go on a real run before I take him seriously as a contender.
Last Week: 7th Change: +2
Place in Technical: 2nd
I am delighted to see Marc succeed after a Cake Week that I thought merited Elimination. That said, I find his selection as Star Baker a bit curious, and perhaps more a product of having almost the best bake in all three rounds when everyone else struggled at least once. Both of his practice bakes had issues, even if they were minuscule. His savory loaf received high marks all around, but his sweet loaf didn’t have enough cranberry, and was a bit doughy to boot. His Show Stopper was a bit rpough around the edges, as well – literally, in this case, since he got dragged bit for the platting around the outside – and was also under salted, which doesn’t sound great. These were nitpicks, though, and I’m heartened to see him capitalize on his continued Tent tenure. At the risk of veering into self-parody, though, I want to see Marc do consistently well before I put him any higher in the Rankings.
Last Week: 1st Change: -3
Place in Technical: 4th
If I’m going to go on and on about the importance of consistency, perhaps it’s a bit harsh to bump Peter down an entire three spots after one bad week, given how impressive his performance was in the first two weeks. But Peter has always looked mortal, even when he has looked very good, and I’m starting to grow concerned. His Show Stopper was a low-key disaster, putting him in the conversation for Elimination during the judges’ conference, and although I didn’t take that chatter seriously for a single second it’s still worth noting. Long term, I’m more concerned about his tendency to make his bakes gluten-free; don’t get me wrong, I think it’s admirable that he’s doing it in tribute to his gluten-intolerant brother, and I don’t have any problem with it, personally. But I am starting to worry that one of these weeks, he’s going to go gluten free on a bake and the judges will decide that they’re just not into it, and it will get him in trouble. This sort of happened with his soda loaves, which Prue called out as ‘gluey’ in texture. It’s not fair, and it’s a perfect example of a situation where the judges could stand to be more open-minded, but I worry all the same.
Last Week: 5th Change: +2
Place in Technical: 7th
I can knock the Paul Hollywood Handshake for being dumb and corny all I want, but I can’t knock what it represents. Hermine took a huge gamble in the Signature, particularly in baking a savory soda loaf chock full of smoked salmon, and with an equally unique (and boozy!) sweet loaf, she provided the best bake of the entire week. Her gambling in the Show Stopper didn’t work quite as well, though, as Paul was less than impressed with her decision to line the perimeter of her plaque with an enriched dough, which typically takes more time to make than was given for the challenge. I sort of sense that Paul kind of had it out for that decision regardless of the result, since Prue didn’t seem to mind it nearly as much. In either event, the rest of her Show Stopper was well-received, even if the décor was a bit of a mess. I’ve been high on Hermine since Cake Week; I think her potential for success on each bake is nearly limitless. When she does well, she does really, really well. But she doesn’t always bake all the way to that potential, and, more distressingly, her Technical scores haven’t been great in the past couple of weeks. If Hermine can start pulling those scores up, she can go the distance.
Last Week: 3rd Change: +1
Place in Technical: 5th
In a Tent with no clear front-runners, Lottie has been one of the most consistent performers week in and week out, and this is what bumps her up all the way to 2nd in something of an off week. Like many of the bakers, Lottie’s sweet loaf in the Signature used fruit, and like most of the bakers who went that direction, said fruit wasn’t all that well distributed; she also set herself up for failure in placing the maple bacon bits on the top, guaranteeing spillage. Likewise, the white bread in her Show Stopper didn’t pack enough flavor. This may sound like Lottie had real struggles, and thus makes a curious choice for Ranking advancement, but read between the lines and it’s clear that the criticisms she received were either minor, problems for other bakers as well, or both. She was still in contention for Star Baker at the end of the episode, and continues chugging along at a high level, and with great unflappability.
Last Week: 2nd Change: +1
Place in Technical: 8th
It’s Sura, however, who has shown the most through the first three weeks. Like Hermine, I’m a bit worried about her less-than-stellar Technical placements in the past couple of weeks, but her skill in the practice bakes is so clear that most of those worries are easy to tune out. For the third week in a row, her practice bakes were on point. Her Signature loaves didn’t quite have the color Paul and Prue were looking for, but they had nothing but praise for what was inside, and they had nothing but praise for her Show Stopper, too. Of all of the bakers in the Tent, Sura is the closest to shoe-in for the Finals after three weeks, and therefore, she takes the top spot in the Rankings.
Next Week: Let’s see, gimme a sec, I need to open my phone so I can check Netflix…yeah it doesn’t say. Cool cool cool.
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