Written by Melissa Watt |
Last Tuesday saw a Great British Bake Off first: vegan week. Bakers ditched their eggs and butter, in favour of vegan-friendly alternatives. For many vegans, this was an opportunity to highlight the possibilities of plant-based baking to a wider audience. Though at times patronising and stereotypical (falafel and hummus, anyone?), it was a light-hearted and informative episode.
The news of vegan week caused some controversy, with some accusing Bake Off of ruining the ‘traditional’ way of doing things. Here I must leap to Bake Off’s defence. Vegan week was a justified response to the ever-growing number of plant-based eaters. It provided a useful resource for those looking for healthier options, recipe inspiration or dairy-free alternatives. This week wasn’t only for vegans, proving equally valuable for dairy-allergy sufferers.
This episode was in no way vegan propaganda. It simply showcased delicious vegan food without making a case for veganism itself. What it did do was create a forum of debate for its viewers which is to be welcomed. Paul Hollywood certainly won’t be switching his diet any time soon.
“This episode was in no way vegan propaganda as I’m sure Paul Hollywood won’t be switching his diet any time soon. “
In fact, Paul angered some viewers by painting vegan baking as an impossible challenge. The judges, however, were ultimately proved wrong. Though working in unfamiliar territory, the bakers presented an array of wonderful bakes and innovative egg substitutes.
The first signature challenge asked the bakers to cook eight tartlets with two different savoury fillings. The bakers were experimental in their approach, with Maron whipping up vegan bechamel. Rahul’s shortcrust pastry was complimented for its crumbly and buttery texture. Even Paul seemed impressed, offering his famous handshake to Kim-Joy for her Mascarpone squirrel creation. The first break ironically cut to a burger ad. I could see the funny side, at least.
The technical challenge required the contestants to make an indulgent, tropical fruit pavlova. Aquafaba (preserved chickpea liquid) was used to replicate the chewy outside and marshmallowy inside of egg-white based meringue. Though most bakers fell short, Rahul came out triumphant with a decorative design and tasty coconut pastry cream.
The final round – the show stopper – asked for visually-pleasing celebration cakes. Kim-Joy was awarded her second star baker for her lemon and lavender cake. Covered in delicately iced fox biscuits, her design wowed the judges. Ruby was not so lucky with her collapsing cake.
Jon was sadly sent home after three rather questionable bakes. Though undoubtedly talented, his failure was, in part, caused by his lack of open-mindedness. Had he tried to embrace vegan baking like the rest of his peers, Jon might have had a place in the quarterfinal. The essence of vegan week, after all, was about trying things you didn’t think were possible.
As a whole, the episode did the vegan community proud. The GBBO introduced its mainstream audience to a world of vegan possibilities, showcasing the true variety and complexity of plant-based baking. These challenged preconceptions held by most viewers, showcasing that vegan baking is not difficult, boring or an unfit substitute.
The episode also aired at a critical time when we are reminded of our present environmental crisis. Experts have suggested that the reduction of meat and dairy consumption could limit the effects of climate change. Vegan week just goes to show that you don’t have to sacrifice flavour or texture for a more sustainable lifestyle.