Great British Baking Show Episodes 3 & 4 Recap: Punching Bread & Shattering Dreams

Photo: Courtesy of PBS.
Editor's Note: We're recapping the third season of The Great British Baking Show every Friday after the episode airs on PBS. Need to catch up? You can find season 1 on Netflix and our episode 2 recap here.
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We’re back in the tent not once, but twice this week. In back-to-back episodes, “Bread” and “Dessert,” we witness the true ascendancy of Ian, he of the scavenged produce and bespoke baking tools. We also learn that many of the contestants aren't quite sure what a baguette or a violet looks like, and that Mary Berry is a huge fan of puns.

First, we have bread. The signature bake is quick bread, where “bicarb” (bicarbonate of soda, what we call baking soda stateside) is used as a leavener. Despite Paul Hollywood’s sometimes skeptical stares when he and Berry visit the bakers to find out what they're making, most breads turn out good to very good. Poor Dorret’s soda bread however, doesn’t fare well with the judges, nor does Mat’s overworked loaf.

We learn that Sandy once purposely lost a race in school so her friend, lagging behind, wouldn’t finish alone. Bless her heart. As cheery as the tent is, you just can’t be that much of a team player.

Last week I griped that the technical seems like an opportunity to trip people up with obscure treats, but a classic baguette, now that actually seems like a fair challenge, right? As it turns out, Berry thinks it’s a “particularly nasty” challenge (chosen by Hollywood, obviously), especially since he omits key details like steaming the bread in the oven. She was right to be concerned.

Not only do several contestants skip the steam, but they don’t even know how to score the baguettes to achieve the iconic diagonal slits on the finished loaf. In the end, not even the best baguette is perfect — Ian receives first place, but Hollywood tells him not to get “too cocky” as they were underbaked. Undeterred, Ian says he’ll have a “fizzy pop” at the pub to celebrate.

The showstopper turns out to be a time for redemption. Their job: make a 3D sculpture using three different bread doughs. Nadiya, who has thus far underperformed on every technical to date, saves herself with a gorgeous snake sculpture as part of a snake charmer’s basket. Paul, who came in dead last for his not-so-baguette-y baguettes, stuns the judges with a lion sculpture that Hollywood declares the best he’s ever seen.

Meanwhile, Mat’s Brighton Pavilion (allegedly one of Britain’s most recognizable landmarks) and Dorret’s Unmade Bread (a play on a Tracey Emin's unmade bed) don't make the cut. Dorret even revealed during the bake that she hadn’t even practiced her signature. After that, her departure seemed a forgone conclusion, though I believe it was Berry’s offense at having to look at an unmade bed, edible or not — that really was the nail in her coffin.

Ian, after an unknown number of fizzy pops from the night before, gets star baker for his flower pot sculpture, which incorporates both his family's favorite multigrain loaf and another one of his self-made baking contraptions to achieve the perfect plant shape.

This week two episodes aired back-to-back, so it's straight on to the next weekend in the tent, "Desserts." First, nine remaining bakers must create the perfect crème brûlée custards, then caramelize the top without the aid of new fangled blowtorches. As Berry observes, there was no such thing when she was a girl.

Ian, with a new haircut, overachieves with pomegranate not one, but two ways, in his crème brûlée signature. Though most bakers are able to execute the satisfying, caramelized crunch, several struggle to get a good custard, including Paul’s, which scrambled, and Sandy and Flora’s, which Sue dubbed "crème bru-lakes."

The technical is yet again completely confusing and obscure — an Austrian dessert inexplicably called Spanish Windtorte. Now, it's Hollywood's turn to accuse Berry of being too hard with her choice. However, the bakers fare far better than they did with the baguettes. What trips them up the most isn't creating an entire cake purely from meringues, instead, it's about what the heck a violet looks like. Baker Paul finally gets to show off his sugar craft and takes first. Alvin's over-cooked windtorte earns him last place.

Finally, it's on to cheesecakes for the showstopper. The newly-shorn Ian bowls over Berry and Hollywood with three "spicy and herby" baked cheesecakes (seriously, Hollywood cannot get over the combination of apple and tarragon), though the true showstopper is Nadiya's soda-inspired tower, which includes a can of soda pop, seemingly hovering in the air. Sandy, who struggles both with breads and desserts, and couldn't complete her cheesecake tiers, has to go, though she does so with a smile on her face. Bless her heart.

Her cheery departure is overshadowed by Ian's third week in a row as star baker. While Ian maintains a kind of baffled amusement, we get the closest thing to a villain on Baking Show, as other contestants sneer he's becoming a bit of a teacher's pet. You can almost hear them say "just kidding!" between clenched teeth.
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