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Montreal-style bagels

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Baking Minute: bread week with the Canadian Baking Show

The second episode of the Canadian Baking Show focused on one of my favourite things — bread! The bakers were challenged to make some of the most difficult and technical kinds of bread, while still including a unique and personal flare on their creations. I was excited to watch this episode as bread is, unfortunately, not something I have mastered.

The first challenge was to make Focaccia, a fluffy Italian flatbread seasoned with oil, herbs, and various vegetables, meats, or cheeses. It’s a delicate bread — the dough must have even air pockets and too many toppings can turn this dish into a pizza. I was enthralled with Julian D’Entremont’s baking this week. His use of Nova Scotian dulse, a kind of seaweed, was really inspiring and representative of his hometown of Halifax. I loved that other bakers were trying it out while their breads cooked. At the end of the day, I think the unofficial winner of this particular challenge was Sabrina Degni, whose Focaccia was inspired by her Italian grandmother, and Linda Longson, who used rosemary-infused oil and sea salt for an absolutely gorgeous and simply delicious bread.

The technical challenge was, of course, the Montreal-style bagel. I thought this challenge would be easier, but I’ve since learned that bagels are deceiving. First you have to kneed the dough, but not over-kneed it. Then boil it in honey water. Then dry it. And then FINALLY you cook it. There are so many ways it could go wrong, even the bakers from Quebec had a hard time. The judges wouldn’t even try James Hoyland’s bagel as it was raw. Poor guy.

The showstopper challenge was to create a bread centrepiece with a sweet filling. I have to say, there is a huge difference between how these bakers performed last week and this week. Maybe it took them a while to get used to the cameras being in their faces or to get used to the tent-in-a-field atmosphere, but the final products of this challenge were a lot more put together and clean than the cake challenge in the premiere.

What was even better than the final product was the reaction of the bakers. When the judges cut into the bread and they saw how it looked in the inside, whether a bunch of even layers of filling or swirls of fruit. They were so proud! While there were a lot of amazing creations, my personal favourite was Julian’s, who made some mouth-watering cinnamon buns with a Kraken in the middle. Oh, and he also had fried bread as tentacles!

There has been some criticism about the judging of the Canadian Baking Show, and I do agree that at times it can get repetitive, especially during the technical challenge where they just keep repeating the words “crispy”, “soft”, and “chewy”. But, I was rather impressed with the commentary in the Focaccia challenge. The judges gave advice to the bakers, patiently explaining what went wrong and what went right. I’m hoping the judging gets a bit more creative as more contestants leave and there is more television time for this part of the show.

The winner of bread week was Sabrina, who rocked all three challenges and created a really unique centrepiece with a weaved bread basket. The person who left this week was Sinclair Shuit of London Ont. (hometown of Winnipeg), whose centrepiece pear puff pastry wasn’t cooked enough to please the judges.

Next week is dessert week…God help me!

Let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments below! In the meantime, I’m going to go and eat a muffin…or some french toast…or maybe just a whole loaf of bread.