Bread Week on The Great Kiwi Bake Off

This was the week I was particularly looking forward to because in all my reading and recreational researching, any discussion of Māori baking recipes mentioned rēwena, which seemed to be a sort of sourdough bread where the starter is made from fermented potato (or kumara or sweet potato). Naturally, I figured if The Great Kiwi Bake Off didn’t do “Māori week”, then at least Bread Week would be a great opportunity to feature a little Māori heritage on the Great Kiwi Bake Off.

Alas, I was to be disappointed on that count.

The Technical: Challah

When Mads announced that Dean had set challah as the Technical, I was impressed and a little surprised. As enriched breads go in New Zealand, you’re more likely to encounter brioche than challah, which is a shame because I freaking love it, and I’ve really missed it since I moved to New Zealand.

Challah Loaves

But as I watched, my raised eyebrows fell into a furrow. Bakers reaching for milk? Joel fishing out his butter only to add it in later? Only 1 egg – or, in Vanessa’s case, none? That’s… not challah. At least not the way I understand it. In fact, it looked a lot like a plaited (or braided, for the Yanks) loaf of brioche.

Now, I am not Jewish. At least, not that I know of – it is entirely possible my ancestry includes some Sephardic Jews. But the point is that anything I learned about Judaism came from my friends and their families, going to synagogue with them, attending their Seders, or even just hanging out at home for a weekend away from university (or college, for the Yanks). And because there is a Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) meal on Friday night and on Saturday afternoon, I became well acquainted with challah, over which a blessing is said at the beginning of those sacred meals. As a result, my collective knowledge of challah could be summed thusly:

  • the word “challah” originally referred to the setting aside of a small portion of any bread being made as an offering to the Jewish priests in the Temple in Jerusalem – in modern times, some people still observe this by removing a bit of dough and burning it in the oven while saying a blessing;
  • there must always be two whole loaves on the Shabbat table over which the blessing is said to begin the meal;
  • challah is enriched with eggs but not dairy, to avoid potential violations of kashrut, or Jewish dietary law, that forbids the mixing of meat and dairy;

Clearly, I am not a challah expert… but going back to the show, I was concerned that the recipe Dean had given the bakers contained both milk and butter – something I had been told was a definite no-no. And every recipe I had ever seen for challah reinforced that lesson, in that they distinctly did not include dairy. I began formulating this post with a fiery reprimand for co-opting and corrupting a food of rich religious significance.

And then I checked myself: This is not my religion. I likely don’t fully understand what I’m about to talk (or type) about. So I reached out to the Jewish scholars and rabbis amongst my friends, described what I’d seen, and asked what they thought about the Great Kiwi Bake Off’s recipe for challah.

The overall response from the two rabbis I spoke to was that while it’s true that it isn’t traditional to include dairy in bread, the Great Kiwi Bake Off’s inclusion of milk and butter isn’t actually a problem or offensive (so long as it’s made clear that it contains dairy). The Diaspora is large and varied, so the extent to which they follow tradition varies as well.

Additionally, one rabbi I communicated with said she has even turned regular bread recipes into challah by changing the shape, though it actually “does not need to be a certain shape. [She] could use a regular loaf for challah, but [would] rather use a pretty braided bread. It is more traditional.”

So it seems that while there is definitely a traditional convention when it comes to challah – and that convention is what I was taught – there is also room for latitude. It was a good reminder to me of what I so value about food: that it is ultimately inclusive and should bring people together. Shame on me for getting caught up in definitions that divide.

And hey, at least if the Great Kiwi Bake Off wasn’t going to feature their Māori heritage on Bread Week, another Kiwi minority got a little shout-out, right?

It actually made up for my earlier disappointment a little bit, because although the Jewish population in New Zealand has always been quite small, I think it does not get nearly enough recognition for all it has contributed to New Zealand’s heritage. J.S. Polack, Bendix Hallenstein, Julius Vogel, David Theomin…. I could fill a whole blog post describing how they helped make New Zealand what it is today and I’d still only be scratching the surface. Alas, that post will have to wait for…well, an entirely different blog, I guess.

And while I doubt the idea of promoting the Jewish heritage of NZ ever entered into the producers’ heads when they were planning this episode, I’ll take what I can get, non-traditional challah and all, because I’ll bet you this episode has got Kiwis googling challah recipes now, and hopefully learning a bit more about Jewish food, which is a small step in the right direction.

(My favorite non-dairy challah recipes are here, here, and here, if you’re interested).

The Signature: Scones, 6 sweet and 6 savoury

savory scones with cheese and spring onion

After the intensity of the Technical, you could really see how much happier the bakers were to be back on familiar turf with the Scone Signature Challenge. And I’ve started noticing that these bakers are seriously not very adventurous bakers. I mean, Joel got teased for doing very basic flavors but…8 out of 9 savory scones had cheese in them…and half of them used feta. Sonali probably went the furthest afield with paneer, There was also a lot of spinach (4 out of 9) and sundried tomato (also 4 out of 9).

I guess I was expecting a wider range of flavour combinations, like you generally see on GBBO. Sonali’s savoury scone was probably the closest in that regard, whereas on the sweet side, I think Jeff shows the greatest creativity with what essentially amounted to a Pumpkin Spice Scone… I mean, I know the spice mix had pepper in it, but the overall flavor? Yeah, it was Pumpkin Spice… which is done to death over in the U.S. but here in New Zealand not so much, ‘cause pumpkin pie is not so much, so yeah, it was a little bit more out there than the others.

Annnnd Joel continued to kill me with how chill he is. As un-innovative as he is, I like that he was also unapologetic – he is who he is, and this is how he bakes and that’s what they’re judging him on. Clayton on the other hand… his answer to Dean about why overworking the scone mix will impede the rise – “It’s bread!” annoyed me. He’s starting to annoy me. I like to see enthusiasm but if you don’t know something, just say you don’t know.

The Result

I know Vanessa had a forgetful week, but I was still a little surprised she got the axe and not Stacey. I mean, when you look at how they did in the two challenges, they were sort of neck and neck: Vanessa finished ahead of Stacey in the Technical, and while both stumbled on the sweet scone, both of their savory scones got high praise… or so it would seem. On second viewing, it sounds like as Sue is praising Vanessa’s light, well-execute scone, Dean is frowning, shrugging and calling it “simple”. So who knows….but it does seem like judges are taking the whole competition into account, which is a bit different than how GBBO does it, where the judges try to only look at that weekend’s baking.

As for the winner, I couldn’t be more pleased for Sonali, who very nearly went home last week. I like her and really hope she keeps her focus.

Leftovers

Overall, this week was ultimately thought-provoking for me, which I wasn’t expecting but rather enjoyed. Next week I’m off to Wellington for a few days, so posts may be a bit delayed (at least the baking ones).

One comment

  1. I went through a similar emotional journey with the challah, even though I don’t even know where I originally got my very basic challah knowledge, but then when I googled recipes I found a whole bunch with dairy and varying amounts of eggs on blogs written by Jewish people, so I had to let go of my outrage lol. I do think they should have acknowledged it’s Jewishness a bit in the show and given a bit of background to it.

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