The Fresser

Babka, bagels and the Great British Bake Off - a travesty

I'm in two minds about the recent Jewish bread thread on my favourite baking show

October 15, 2020 09:02

It’s time to talk GBBO. 

Of late, the Great British Bake Off has not been overly great for Jewish bakes, two of which have been defiled in the same number of weeks.

Overreaction? I think not.

First bagels were filled with food colouring and presented by the bakers like deflated balloons. Then the babka, a bake of beauty was subjected to the spotlight. Both breads are admittedly tricky to execute — and a worthy test of talent. 

Most of the bakers had never seen a babka, let alone tasted one — seriously?! Thankfully, their efforts to make the twisted, loaf went better than their brownies had in the previous round. Even though Lottie’s common sense appeared to have left the tent judging by her efforts to shoe the too-long plait into her loaf tin. 

I love this show and am fond of the bakers, but they definitely didn't do justice to bakes that have been around for centuries. And how could they when required to produce (in a couple of hours) breads that generally require an overnight prove to rise to their best flavour and texture? 

They were even kvetching in the States, where the competition is known as the Great British Baking Show. Shannon Sharna, food editor at The Nosher and author of cookery book, Modern Jewish Baking, wrote of the bagel challenge: 

“Making a great bagel is much more than just a recipe itself: it’s very much about the time and technique. One of the most important parts of a great, crusty-yet-chewy bagel is the amount of time the dough rises, or ferments. Almost no respectable bagel maker would allow the dough to rise less than 12-24 hours. Great bagel makers, including my friend Peter Shelsky of Shelsky’s in Brooklyn, lets his bagels sit for up to three days before boiling and baking. My own recipe calls for an overnight rise in the fridge of 12-18 hours.
And so I knew that to make a bagel in the total allotted time of 2 hours and 45 minutes was just ridiculous. And the result of the bakers’ bagels proved that it was a disaster.”

Find more from Shannon here.

What will she have to say about this week’s technical challenge?! Insult and injury spring to mind. Two hours and 45 minutes do not a babka bake. You simply cannot cut corners.

Baker and owner Karma Bread, Tami Isaacs, creates top notch babka, bagels and challah at her Hampstead Bakery. She was horrified that Hollywood’s recipe allows for only one rise. “Babka needs at least two proves to challenge the gluten and start fermentation. If you make the dough and leave it to prove at the end, it’s bad for flavour and digestibility” she said.  

The Jewish bread theme is undoubtedly flattering — and an indication just how bang on trend they are — but the authenticity of the recipes is shaky.

In his 2012 book - How to Bake —which is otherwise exemplary — Paul Hollywood introduces a ‘Cholla Loaf’ recipe as “traditionally served at Passover…”  His version of the normally parev (dairy-free) recipe also contains with butter and milk. Ooops. 

I’ll still be glued to my screen next week — even though my favourite, Sura, has departed — but I’ll be hoping the babka is the last haimish loaf to suffer trial by technical. 

October 15, 2020 09:02

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