Next Wednesday sees the inaugural Batter Week on The Great British Bake Off. With the challenge of Signature Filled Yorkshire Puddings, Technical Piped Pancakes and Showstopping Churros, it all seems very normal, just another week in the Bake Off tent. Except there has been a lot of backlash around the proposed challenges for Batter Week.
When I first heard the rumour (later confirmed to be true) that there was going to be a Batter Week, I got excited and thought that this would be a great addition. But now that the challenges have been revealed, the hype and anticipation died and deflated like a poor souffle. And it seems that I am not the only one who thinks that! Twitter is awash with criticism about the challenges for Batter Week but let’s evaluate this brand new week.
The Signature challenge of Filled Yorkshire Puddings is an interesting one. Clearly the judges will be looking for perfectly crisp and well browned Yorkshire puddings with a tasty and complimentary filling but with this set of bakers, I’m sure we’ll be seeing daring flavour combinations from Rav, Kate, Benjamina and Tom whereas Val, Andrew and Jane may stick to classics.
Some have criticised this challenge for being too simple and being what they make every weekend for the Sunday roast and initially I agreed; whilst I have never made one myself, I know the principles behind it and how to do it. But on further reflection, I can see why they have chosen this challenge. The first Signature challenge of the series for Cake Week was the baker’s take on a drizzle cake, something which I am sure many of us have made before and know how to make, which is sort of the point of the Signature Challenge, to show off a recipe you make all the time.
Furthermore, there is a lot of skill in making a tasty filling and having it compliment the Yorkshire pudding if you add a tiny bit of spice to it. And for some of the bakers who have never made a Yorkshire before, it will be a challenge for them. From the preview clip, the judges are looking for even Yorkshire puddings, an odd criterion since Yorkshires balloon and rise so unevenly but this adds further difficulty. Paul might even get out his measuring stick and will be testing the bakers’ rise (innuendos aplenty!) but at least it’s baked in the oven (more on that later!)
The Technical Challenge of Piped Pancakes is again an interesting choice from the producers. Your initial thought is pancakes, I make those every year on Shrove Tuesday. But just how would you be able to make pancakes in a highly pressurised environment under timed conditions with each pancake needing to be cooked evenly, browned nicely, identically sized and piped perfectly?
There’s a lot more to this challenge than meets the eye but we could also be missing a few elements. Perhaps the bakers haven’t even been supplied with a recipe for the pancakes and have to make it completely from scratch without a set of scales which would be pretty tricky for anyone, especially since it has to be the right consistency so that it holds its shape in the pan whilst it’s being piped. Maybe they have to make 3 different accompaniments with the pancakes, like an ice cream, a lemon curd and an orange syrup?
Maybe they will be doing pancake art, piping portraits of each of the bakers? This would be the hardest ever Technical challenge since they’d have to pipe the details of their faces in reverse and use artistic skills to accurate define someone’s face in pancake batter? I jest, of course because with Paul Hollywood judging, they’d have to make 12 pancakes all depicting Paul Hollywood prodding Val’s Noah’s Ark showstopper, eating Val’s sister Susan while he kneads a loaf of bread with his other hand so he can hang them up in his house.
The Showstopper Challenge of Batter Week is to make their interpretation of Churros, the Spanish fried doughnuts. From the preview, we saw lots of different shapes of doughnuts from the traditional sticks to hearts and even what looked like Viennese Whirls! Some were dipped in chocolate, some were dipped in nuts and it also looked like they had to produce 2 types! A challenge indeed.
Many people are frightened of deep frying anything at home and even Mary Berry herself says that we don’t need a deep fryer at home so it would be safe to assume that this is a challenge for the bakers who may have eaten churros before but have never made them themselves! And to elevate the classic churros rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a rich chocolate dip will be tricky. I have made churros myself using a non-yeasted dough so it will be interesting to see what the bakers use.
There’s a common theme between the previous two Technical Challenges and Batter Week’s Showstopper and that’s the fact that they aren’t baked, which pretty much defeats the whole point of the show which is called The Great British BAKE Off. You can’t have too many challenges where the main method of cooking isn’t baking in a baking competition.
The pancakes will be the seventh Technical Challenge in the history of Bake Off to not be mainly baked; steaming, pan-frying, deep-frying, poaching, tempering chocolate and grilling have all been the methods employed to form these seven Technicals. Arguably there are similar skills employed in preparing dough, making meringues and making a cake batter however different cooking methods don’t necessarily mean you know whether your poached meringues or the 17th layer of your Schichttorte are cooked. And while that’s the point of the Technical, it’s not really fair in a baking competition.
And the fact is that there are many other batter-based recipes that the producers could have chosen for the Technical – by batter, I mean a dry flour combined with a wet liquid that ends up semi-liquid.
- Cherry Clafoutis, the classic French dessert, is made by pouring a batter made with butter, eggs, sugar, flour and liquid over cherries in a dish. The challenge could be made harder by serving it with a Kirsch ice cream.
- By definition, choux pastry could be classed as a batter and so anything choux pastry based could have formed a challenge, whether that be savoury gougeres or sweet mini croquembouches. Choux is challenging and would test the bakers well.
- The Far Breton is a French dessert originating from Brittany similar to the clafoutis. A Breton signature, it features prunes and raisins soaked in alcohol and it’s almost certain that the bakers would never have heard of this dessert!
To summarise, I don’t dislike Batter Week as some of the others; with some thought, I can see that this week would be challenging for the bakers. I do have an issue with the continuing trend to have different cooking methods of flour-based products which goes against the definition of baking. There are plenty of other challenges that could have been used this week instead of pancakes and churros but it does just give me an excuse to make some more of my Cinnamon Sugar Churros.