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The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Proves Too Small For Bread Week

Paul Hollywood's Devonshire Splits, as shown on the Bread Week episode. They're very circular, very beautifully even in color, and very neatly decorated with cream and strawberries.
Screenshot via Netflix

Welcome to the series called The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, where Kelsey and Chris attempt to complete the technical challenges from the newest season of The Great British Bake Off in their own home kitchens, with the same time parameters as the professional-grade bakers competing on the show.

There are very few things more innate to humanity than making bread. For centuries, humans have found ways to mill wheat and set it in a weird jug, wait for a bunch of germs to land on top of it, and pray to a harvest god that it will turn into something fluffy and delicious. Bread is almost as old as civilization itself, which is a thing you can remind yourself when you are sweaty, covered in store-bought flour, and frantically darting back-and-forth in your destroyed kitchen trying to make a deranged recipe some guy in Britain wrote and gave you an arbitrary time limit to complete.

The third week of the 13th season of the adored British television series The Great British Bake Off aired last week. This week was dubbed "bread week." Bread has a lot of meanings on this show. Sometimes it means perfectly risen boules. Last year, for whatever haunted reason, it was weird little pastries that required us to learn what currants are. So we were tentative in our approach to this week's challenge.

Last week, as you probably remember, we two Defector idiots competed in "biscuit week." Biscuit is British for cookie. We made little Custard Creams. One of us turned them into protein snacks, the other gave them beautiful smiley-(and frowny-)faces. Luckily, on account of our (purely theoretical) success in both the signature and showstopper bakes that make up the rest of each week's competition, we survived to bake another week in the sacred tent.

But unlike biscuit week, where the real challenge was making good shortbread, bread week tests stamina, grit, and tenacity. It is a brutal slog. It is a reminder that every minute matters, but that for many of them, you will have nothing to do. The challenge of bread week isn't just in your knowledge of how bread works, and how long things need to proof, it is also a test of your ability to keep a warm home. The bread will not rise if it is too cool and it will not rise if it is too hot. The bread needs a goldilocks environment that only the most adept and loving of bakers can create.

The challenge for bread week was to make Paul Hollywood's Devonshire Splits, eight little buns perfectly risen, and filled with jam and Chantilly Cream. As dumbasses with absolutely no knowledge of British baked goods, we are forced to assume that these are common and given to every British child. But unfortunately for us, we had never heard of them, so we went into the challenge blind.

Kelsey McKinney: After absolutely nailing last week’s technical, how were you feeling about entering the hallowed Bread Week? 

Chris Thompson: I felt much better about this technical challenge, going in. I think part of this is that I was just very excited to bake bread. I’ve never heard of, or seen, a Devonshire split. But to me just the opportunity to bake some bread—even with enriched dough, even if the bread ultimately is overwhelmed with toppings—was still very exciting.

That was before I saw the ultra-long time limit and began to think about what this would mean for the bake itself.

KM: Absolutely. I completely agree with you except that even when I saw the time limit, I was feeling calm. I was imagining myself making sourdough, a nice big boule. I was imagining a version of this bake where I mixed some dough, left it alone for hours, formed it, abandoned it, and baked it. In a way that is what we ended up doing but in no way was it romantic or calm. 

CT: I think doing this project without a time limit would be very nice. A Devonshire split is a sweet bun of poofy bread, sliced open and swiped with homemade jam, and then topped or crammed full of basically homemade Cool Whip. These are all nice things to make, so long as you are not attempting to do so at a crazy sprint.

KM: I had no idea what a Devonshire split was before beginning this challenge, but I was delighted that it had both jam and Cool Whip, two of my favorite things. Though, I did not know it was Cool Whip at first because it had a fancier British name in the instructions. 

CT: Ooooooooooh, Chantilly Cream! Look at me, I'm a fancy guy!

KM: Ooh La-La! So fancy-schmancy! 

CT: Get over yourselves, England! And you too, France!

KM: Yeah! Grow up! This is Cool Whip! Everyone likes it! 

CT: So we’ve established that we were excited. But how was your confidence?

KM: My confidence, as we have well established by now, is built on a floor of absolute granite despite having no reason to be. So despite last week’s bake, and despite the entirety of last season, I was feeling pretty good. I worked in a bakery for years in high school, so generally I feel more confident with bread. How were you feeling? 

CT: On Thursday I was feeling great, and then on Friday, when I went grocery shopping, I was feeling a sort of giddy nervousness. I was anticipating that this bake would either produce a really delicious sweet bun confection or a really spectacular disaster worthy of many good belly laughs. And then by the time I started my bake on Saturday I was dreading it so bad that I needed like 30 minutes just to sit and breathe and convince myself to start the timer. It wasn't the steps that worried me, but as we discussed ahead of the bake, two-plus hours is a long time to commit to something that you know is likely to disappoint or fail. It's so hard to make that first leap.

KM: No! Chris! I’m so sorry! I also had to dig deep within myself to find the motivation to do a two-and-a-half hour bake on a damn Sunday, but we are very brave. Everyone is saying it: We are very brave for doing this. Anyway, that’s a great segue because … I did not go grocery shopping this week. 

Ingredients and Shopping

CT: Uh-oh.

KM: Here’s the thing. I know that everyone in the comments of this blog thinks that I am doing a bit by not obtaining the ingredients. Someone last week explicitly told me that they would still like the blogs even if I had all the ingredients. While that is very kind, it ignores the actual problem that I have, which is that I go grocery shopping on Tuesday. 

And usually, we do not have the ingredient list until after that, and then I don’t want to go back to the grocery store. The other part of this emotional issue is that I am stubborn. Why should I have to spend my (company’s) hard-earned dollars on something I am going to use one tablespoon of, one time! I shan’t! You cannot make me!

CT: It should be noted, too, that you are almost certainly the busiest person in the entire blogging business. Alas.

What were the strange or uncommon ingredients in this one? Let’s see: The dough has fast-action yeast, which is normal enough, and everything else is super normal: bread flour, milk, salt, sugar, and butter. The cream is just cream with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. But it’s the jam. The jam ingredients call for something called “jam sugar,” which apparently is known stateside as “gelling sugar,” but in any case is not something that is very often found in a normal grocery store.

KM: I am far too busy. I wish to be less busy. But I am also a very lazy baker, which is why I have never been great at it. I hate nuance. I hate measuring. I hate trying to understand what “gelling sugar” is. 

CT: Gelling sugar is sugar with added pectin and citric acid. Pectin is something called a "structural acid" and is found in fruit, and it combines with sugar to form a uhhh gel-like substance. I swear before God that any smug Defector reader who emails me to nitpick any of this science is going to be my nemesis for the rest of my life. The point is that gelling sugar helps to create gel, and that my local grocery store doesn't have any of it!

I eventually resolved to just use caster sugar and gelatin. Gelatin, notably, is not found in fruit. I know that real-deal jam-makers will not love this, but I knew that we would have a very short window of time for jam-making and I decided that the guarantee of some amount of gelling was preferable, as a hedge, to the risk of no gelling at all. That’s all there is. Yes, gelatin in jam sometimes produces an unpleasant, rubbery finished product. I’m sorry!

KM: In the end, I ended up not having: whole milk (I am not a baby nor do I have a baby), fresh strawberries (I had frozen), and “jam sugar.” Everything else I had. You are not gonna like what I have to say about the jam, but we will get to that. 

CT: Kelsey, I also found that (due to the season) it was not easy or really possible at all to find strawberries that were worthy of this project. I considered going raspberry mode but ultimately felt that was too much of a swerve.

Baking ingredients arranged on Chris's countertop.
Chris's spread of ingredients and implements.Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: There were no good ones! I even went to the Italian market and tried to buy some and the guy was like, “You don’t want these; have clementines.” So then I bought clementines instead. Whoops! 

CT: Wait.

You did this bake with clementines?

KM: No. I just ate some clementines. I did the bake with frozen strawberries, which I carefully pulled out of the FOUR BERRY MIX of frozen berries I have to make my smoothies with.

CT: OK I view that as an acceptable and even a savvy adjustment.

Stage One: Mixing and Proving, and Making Jam

CT: I assume as soon as your timer started you became a whirlwind of chaos. What was your very first step?

KM: So based on the dough ingredients, I assumed: enriched dough. And then I was like “this milk should be warm.” I don’t know why exactly I made this assumption, but I did. However, on account of not having milk, I had to improvise. So the first thing I did was put a maybe 100 ml of heavy cream, 50 ml of yogurt, and 100 ml of water into a saucepan on the stove so that it could become warm.  

What was your first step? 

CT: Hmm, I truly did not anticipate that I would see the word “yogurt” anywhere in this blog.

KM: You should be proud of me! I was thinking ahead! I only had 475 ml of heavy cream and the ingredients said we needed 400 ml for the Chantilly Cool Whip! 

CT: OK, wow, actually, it is pretty clutch that you did not waste all your cream right at the beginning. You would've been in big trouble upon entering the cream zone.

KM: It is the first time I’ve ever done that! And it was much more important to have whippable cream than “milk.” 

CT: I too had a pretty clutch start to this bake, if I may say so. I knew that every second was precious, but that the most precious seconds of all would be during the proofing of the dough. So the very first thing I did was prepare the proofing space for what I guessed would be the first of two proofing stages. 

I learned from our panettone adventure that a good temperature for proofing an enriched dough is somewhere between 81 and 85 degrees, and I also learned that I could achieve this by using the interior of my microwave, by warming it up with a cup of very hot water and a small tealight candle. So my very first step was to quickly create this warm, humid environment for my first proof. This was a challenge because this time of year the weather isn't cold enough to run the heat, so my house tends to run chilly and drafty, even in the relatively warm kitchen.

Only when this stage of set-up was finished did I begin frantically flinging ingredients together for the dough.

KM:  Oh wow! You did this so early! That was very smart. This is clutch as hell! Wow look at us experiencing “growth.” 

I did not do this, and I had regrets. I spent so much time amping myself up that I felt any second not spent making dough would lead to me having a full nervous system collapse. Instead while my “milk” was heating up, I put the flour and the salt in a bowl and swirled it around with my hand. Then I put the yeast on one side with the butter and the salt on the other because yeast and salt are famously frenemies who need time to warm up to each other. I did it this way because I didn’t want to use more than one bowl. 

CT: Oh God, I did not know that about salt and yeast.

I did know that yeast will not metabolize quickly in a cool environment—hence the warm proving space—and so I too heated up my milk, but very gently. In the meantime I just, uhh, poured my salt and yeast over the top of my flour, in a large mixing bowl. Shit!

Bread flour, salt, and dry fast-action yeast haphazardly share a large bowl.
Shit!Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: Well, we have found what went wrong, maybe. Salt is a yeast inhibitor. But also without any salt, yeast goes CRAZY. Salt is like the mom friend who you’re begging to chill out but also need around so that no one goes to the hospital. If this is wrong, do not tell me. I don’t want to know. 

CT: So at some point you joined warm dairy with dry ingredients and, what, just hand-mixed it around? I went hand-mode, personally, because I have even less confidence in the various attachments and gizmos of a stand mixer than I do in my own extremely clumsy hands.

KM: Yeah I let the warm dairy chill for a second off to the side with the yeast in it, and then mixed it first with a little wooden spoon so that it wouldn’t get all sticky on my hand. And then I ALSO went hand mode. I had a brief thought where I considered the stand mixer, but then I decided to hand knead because hands are warm, and I wanted the dough to stay as warm as possible. Also, I have trust issues in general and specifically with the stand mixer. It turned out to be a very good thing that I didn’t use the stand mixer because I realized only after I was done with the bake that I do not in fact know where my dough hook is. 

CT: Yikes! Disaster averted!

This stage was actually pretty invigorating, I would say. Just a satisfying physical activity to get the juices going. I made apple strudel last Sunday after our biscuit bake and that process involves the very cathartic step of slamming dough down onto a work surface, which is so great. I did that here, despite the bake calling for a potentially splashy oiled surface, because it’s just so satisfying, and because I am led to believe that it activates the proteins in the dough or whatever.

KM: Oooh! Apple strudel! Wow I can’t  believe you had the energy for more baking after the biscuits. You’re built different. I love kneading dough. I had to take my sweatshirt off immediately because I was becoming so sweaty. I also do not really understand the science of bread, but I do know that you must wake it up. So I set a timer and kneaded it for five minutes. Was this too long? I don’t know. But that’s what I did and at the end I had a nice smooth ball of dough. 

CT: I don’t think I went five minutes. I was feeling very time-pressed after spending a couple minutes setting up my proving space, so as soon as the dough felt smooth-ish, I dumped it into the bowl, covered it in cling wrap, and got it into the repurposed microwave. I was 13 minutes into my bake at this point.

KM: Something I did early on was set my oven to 450 degrees, because my kitchen is cool and I wanted to warm it up a little. I had completely forgotten about this microwave trick. You’re so smart! What I did was sprint up the stairs of my house and return with the tiny space heater that I keep in my office. Then I set this on the counter and pointed it at the bowl with the dough in it, which I put on top of the stove so the oven heat would also get to it. Surprisingly, this worked fine. 

CT: Do you have a sense of how much time had elapsed at this point? Or was this basically a blur?

KM:  I do. According to my messages to you, which are the only record I have, I was 17 minutes into the bake. So the five minutes I spent kneading were the only difference here for us. Yet again, we are forced to believe that this is the fastest way possible to do this. 

CT: Wow! And did you launch straight into jam-making, at this point?

KM: I did. I followed Paul Hollywood’s stupid two ingredient jam recipe by heating my frozen strawberries in the microwave, mashing them with the sugar, and setting them on the stove. Did you go jam mode immediately? 

CT: I did. I was feeling pretty cool and … not confident, exactly, but under control. So I cleaned up a little and then started prepping strawberries. It was at this point that I became worried about the amount of strawberry in this recipe. The ingredients call for 100g of strawberries, which when you measure it out is four strawberries. That’s not an exaggeration. Four strawberries!

I was muttering to myself about this when my wife came into the kitchen, observed the situation, and suggested that I should “core” the strawberries. Possibly she was straight-up trolling me at this point, but once she had completed this Inception to my brain I could not let go of the idea. My strawberries needed to be cored.

A small bowl of sliced strawberries measures 136 grams on a food scale, next to a pile of discarded strawberry stems and cores.
Photo by Chris Thompson

So I spent the next 10 minutes coring strawberries. I’m sure it was a complete waste of time.

KM: Oh my god. CHRIS. I did not core the strawberries. I didn’t have time for this. I did consider it, but the frozen strawberries were already a little cored, and also I didn’t want to. 

I think jam should have more complexity than this recipe, but we will get to that later. My mistake here was trusting Paul Hollywood. Because I didn’t have jamming sugar, I left the strawberry/sugar mixture on the stove for probably 15 minutes. Then I took it out and put it in the fridge, where later, it would ruin my life. 

CT: Oh god!

I put my cored strawberries into a saucepan, smashed them with a potato masher, added white caster sugar, and started the bubbling. Then after a few minutes I sprinkled a little powdered gelatin over the top and began stirring like mad.

I’m distressed to learn that your life was ruined by jam.

KM: We will come back to it after the second proof. 

CT: So at this point, how were you feeling?

KM: I was feeling both stressed and bored, which is a bad combo. My dough had risen for 30 minutes, but I did not feel good about shaping it, so I let it rise for 15 more minutes. This timing made me stressed, but also there was nothing for me to do. My dishes were done. I tried to check the photo that I took of the unrisen dough to see how it was faring in comparison, but the photo turned out to just be a big blur.  How were you feeling? 

very blurry photo of some dough sitting on the stove
Perfect! Very helpful photo!

CT: I still felt calm, but my calm was beginning to rattle. Panic was creeping in, little by little. For one thing, I was struggling to maintain a temperature of over 80 degrees inside my microwave, so I was afraid to open the door long enough to really take a good look at my dough and measure the rise.

But my kitchen was very clean and I felt that I’d set things up so that, if anything, my dough would over-proof, which to me seemed the morally superior way to fail this challenge.

KM: I do recommend the space heater option. My dough was very warm. Toasty, even. I had to turn the heater down because the first temp check I did had it at 90 degrees in the bowl, which is too warm for anyone. 

CT: How long did you wind up allowing the dough to proof in this first stage, in total? 45 minutes?

KM: It got 45 minutes even, and then I began to panic and took it out of the bowl. How long did you let your dough proof? 

CT: I’m checking the Slack logs and it appears that my first proving stage went from 10:04 to 11:05. A damn hour! This was too damn long!

A metal mixing bowl holds a large pale blob of risen bread dough.
Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: Wow! A whole hour! 

Stage Two: Dividing and Proofing, and Making Chantilly Cream

CT: So what did you use to divide your dough? Was this a scientific process, with weighing and measuring? Ha ha ha.

KM: I used a bench scraper, and you know it wasn’t. My stupid scale still won’t tare, so there’s no point in using it anyway because it would require me to do math, which I cannot do. Did you measure each of your little rolls? 

CT: I did not. In the final moments of my first proof, I had a horrifying realization, which I think is why that first proof went as long as it did. It occurred to me, as I sat reading blogs like a stupid moron, that I had absolutely no idea whatsoever where or how I was going to complete the second proof, which would be the more important and challenging one BY FAR.

KM: Oh no! Because the microwave was too small! Two cookie trays can’t fit in there! 

CT: Right! There is almost literally no contained space in my home other than my oven that can hold two cookie sheets at the same time in a way that is not insane. I considered emptying out a cabinet, I considered using the basement dryer, I considered using a hutch thing that my wife uses to store dresses or whatever. I was basically sprinting around my home in a panic, imagining how I could cram two large cookie sheets into various small spaces.

KM: Yeah, same! The problem with having good taste and cool stuff (read: clutter) is that there are not a lot of empty flat surfaces in my house. I did have a moment during the first proof where I considered taking the cookie sheets out of the drawer beneath the oven and using that as a proving drawer, but it was very hot in there. 

CT: In the end I decided the only suitable and also easily modified space in the entire house was … a bathroom.

"jesus, i'm sitting here reading blogs and i just realized i have no fucking idea where i'm gonna do my second proof""i'm going bathroom mode"[woozy face emoji]
A small bathroom with a red wall and a toilet.
Photo by Chris Thompson

The challenge then was to make it …………… a very hot bathroom. A very very hot and humid bathroom.

KM: Oh my god!!! HAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA! This is incredible. Did you turn on the shower? 

CT: So this bathroom is really more of a powder room. It is a half bath. So it does not have a shower. My first attempt to warm up this space was to put two lit candles and a teapot full of boiling water in the room

A small bathroom sink with two burning pillar candles.
Photo by Chris Thompson

This did not work.

KM: I gotta admit the candles don’t feel like they are gonna do a lot to me. 

CT: Right. My second attempt to warm up this bathroom was to, uhh, bring the air fryer into the bathroom, plug it in, turn it on full blast, and then rest it in the sink.

An activated air-fryer rests unevenly in a small bathroom sink.
Photo by Chris Thompson

This also did not work. Any clear-thinking person would intuit that a countertop kitchen appliance does not throw off a huge wave of ambient heat.

KM: Some day one of us is gonna give ourselves carbon monoxide poisoning. I had really bet before this moment that it would be me, but you’re making a really good case for yourself. 

CT: Ultimately I did find a good solution, I think. I wrapped my cookie sheets in trash bags and rested them on the toilet, and then I plugged a very small space heater into an outlet on the opposite wall and faced it toward the buns. This very quickly overheated the space—I had an instant read digital thermometer propped over the buns, with the display set on the floor outside the bathroom, but by fine-tuning the settings on the space heater and occasionally swinging the door open and shut I was able to keep it generally around 85 degrees.

Two trays of raw dough balls, covered in white kitchen trash bags, rest on a toilet in a small bathroom.
Judge not lest ye be judged!Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: Wow the concept of space heaters should sponsor this blog, because I also decided to overheat my little buns by placing them back on top of the stove with the space heater pointed at them, switching the trays every five minutes. I also kept having to move my heater away from the stove and then closer. 

space heater pointed at two cookie sheets covered in dish towels.
Toasty buns trying to proof.

Here, I made another mistake. Because I wanted to have the rolls rise for as long as possible, I did a half-assed job of shaping my dough into balls after kneading them, so they looked a little stupid. But I did manage to get them onto cookie sheets within five minutes, and I decided they could proof for 45 more minutes safely.  

CT: When you say “half-assed job,” how sloppy are we talking? Because mine were also pretty rough. Obviously by the time I shaped them I was pouring sweat and panicking.

Five roughly handled and not spherical dough balls are set to begin a second proving stage.
Chris's malformed dough balls.Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: I mean that they were balls, but they were not very pretty. They had creases in them, and they weren’t really domed. I felt I did not have time for that! 

CT: I really think we did not have time for it! Proofing was everything! By far the likeliest point of failure was in proofing.

KM: We didn’t! Proofing is our god and we must obey it! 

CT: Once this second proof was underway, really the only thing left to do was to make Chantilly Cream. This is so straightforward it almost doesn’t bear mentioning. There are three ingredients (whipping cream, icing sugar, vanilla extract). Just fuckin’ whisk ‘em together.

KM: That should be the only thing left to do, yes. 

CT: Uh oh.

The jam? The ruining of your life??

KM: Exactly. After making the delicious Cool Whip, I put it in the fridge so that it would stay nice and fluffy. While I was in the fridge, I was like, “oh let me taste my little jam.” WRONG! I could not taste it because I had over-cooked it, and somehow turned it into essentially strawberry candy.

"fuck fuck fuck""i cooked my jam too long""it's taffy""I'M GOING AGAIN""fuck this paul hollywood""i hate this man so much""I'M GOING MY OWN WAY""DEATH TO PAUL"

It could be pulled apart into strings, and was essentially rock solid. I could turn the bowl upside down and it did not move. This was… not good. 

very hard jam stuck at the bottom of a glass bowl
This is not what jam should look like

CT: Oh no! NO!

KM: I looked at the clock. I still had time because there was a lot of time for proofing. So I decided, you know what, Paul Hollywood is not my boss and he is not my dad. I am doing it my way.

CT: Hell yeah. 

KM:  The strawberry jam candy in the fridge didn’t really taste like anything. So this time I used equal parts strawberries and frozen raspberries that I had left from the chocolate cake bake. I used sugar, but I also added both bitters and the juice of half a lemon. Then I made jam the way I would normally make jam, and it worked great and tasted great, so I put it in an ice bath and considered this successful. 

jam inside a glass bowl inside an ice bath
Eat shit, Paul Hollywood

CT: Oh wow, I love this. That’s the Kelsey magic.

KM: I would be kicked out of the tent for insubordination within minutes. 

CT: Yes, but you would become a folk hero! I mean even more than you are already a folk hero.

KM: As if! 

CT: How long did this second proof go?

KM: I went another 45 minutes! Then I looked, and they weren’t puffy enough, so I gave them ten more. How long did yours go? 

CT: My second proof went for something like 48 minutes, according to the Slack logs. In retrospect, I really did not give myself enough non-proofing time to get this bake exactly right. But I had determined early on that basically my one real objective was to avoid the underproofing failure.

I barely had time to register whether my dough had risen at all. I simply had to rip off the trash-bag coverings and jam the trays into the oven. I was not feeling good at all.

Five ugly dough balls, having grown somewhat over the course of 48 minutes in a hot bathroom.
Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: The slack logs really are a godsend. In chaos mode, I go into such a state that I no longer retain memories. The only thing that remains at the end is what I type to you, and that’s beautiful. According to the log, my buns went in with 30 minutes left on the clock. When did yours go in? 

CT: Jesus, I’m looking at the logs and my buns went into the oven with 27 minutes left in the bake. That’s not nearly enough time! Christ!

Stage Three: The Dreaded Bake

CT: We have not discussed temperatures. I feel that this was an important point where judgment would come into play and could lead to failure.

KM: I went 425 degrees because my oven runs a little cold, and I wanted the buns at 400 degrees. 

CT: Shit. Ugh! I’m such a bozo. I went at 375. Not because my oven runs hot (it often does), but because I was so afraid of uneven baking and anything higher was just very scary to me. But as a consequence I think my buns took too long to brown up, which wound up causing an unexpected problem. How long did you give your buns to bake?

KM: I expected the buns to take twelve minutes. But at twelve minutes they were not as  brown as preferred. At 15 minutes they were also not as brown as I preferred but also I was out of time. How long did your buns bake? 

CT: Somehow in all my calculations during this bake it never really occurred to me until I was pulling my buns from the oven that they would need to cool significantly before assembly. My buns were in the oven for 18 damn minutes, and they still weren’t really browned the way I wanted them. 

I had nine minutes on the clock when they came out of the oven. I barely had time at all to cut and assemble and decorate, let alone to give them any real shot at cooling. I just dumped them onto cooling racks and stood there like a clod.

Three baked buns, unevenly browned and totally unimpressive to look at.
Picture me looking at these buns and contemplating a radical change in the nature of my existence.Photo by Chris Thompson

Stage Four: Assembly

KM: I have a new trick that I have discovered this season, would you like to hear it? 

CT: I would!

KM: First, I wave at the buns with the cookie sheet like everyone does. 

CT: OK yes, I like the waving trick. I did that with the sponges back in Cake Week and that was great. I did not think of it here.

KM: The new trick for me, though, is that I have started putting a cookie sheet in the freezer during the bake. So that it’s nice and cool. And the minute the buns are manageably warm, I move them onto that sheet in the freezer, and this helps them cool really fast! It also means that I have already established room for a cookie sheet in the freezer. 

CT: Wow, I really wish I’d thought of that. Dammit.

KM: So I put my buns right in the freezer for five minutes. Then I pulled them out, cut them down the middle with a serrated knife, and put them back in the freezer for two minutes, so they would not melt the cream. Did you do anything after cutting them? 

CT: No, I just launched into filling them. They were super hot in my hands. I also discovered at this stage that the buns from the sheet that baked closer to the bottom of the oven had “caught” on the bottom, and were slightly charred. This was extremely dispiriting. 

A baked bun flipped over to show a charred bottom.
Saw my head off with a steak knife and punt it into a river.Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: Damn! How much time did you have when you began this? 

CT: I had somewhere between four and five minutes left for decorating. Thankfully I had already sliced up some strawberries but I absolutely did not have time to do anything like a careful job of filling or decorating. I simply swiped some jam around in there (my jam was beautiful, by the way) and then basically threw Cool Whip and strawberries at the buns.

My Cool Whip immediately began to melt. I felt like I could happily leap off of a skyscraper, to my death, except that I did not have the time for it.

KM: OK I also had five minutes, and let me tell you that was not enough time to decorate cleanly! I was also throwing things. For some reason, Gwen Stefani was playing and I was feeling truly insane. It felt very much like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I was going so fast. The only amount of “decorating” I was able to do was to scrape a palette knife across the top of the buns to get rid of the excess Cool Whip. With 15 seconds left, I hadn’t “decorated with strawberries,” so I just threw some strawberries on top of every bun. To be honest, they did not look good. 

CT: Yeah my method for the strawberries was to just grab a handful of strawberries, scatter it over the top of all of the buns, and then just like press down on the top of the pile with flat hands and frantic fingers until some of the strawberries stuck in the Cool Whip. I repeated this a few times. Then I hastily transferred the buns to a platter. I spent the last like six seconds of the bake flinging powdered sugar around the kitchen, enough of which landed on the buns to give them a dusted appearance. They looked ridiculous, but they were identifiably a confection. 

KM: I forgot the powdered sugar on top even though I had set it out specifically. 

CT: Oh man. Brutal!

The Finished Product

CT: So, Kelsey, how were your finished buns? 

KM: I am not happy with them, to be honest. They look very messy and stupid. When the timer went off, I felt like I could have cried. Two and a half hours of my Sunday for small baby buns that looked like garbage. How do you feel about your buns? 

CT: So. When the timer went off and I stood back from my buns, I felt very, very bad. I knew that I had gone into this bake with a very clear and organized mind, and the feeling that I had let myself down in the end by overlooking certain things—proofing environment, cookie sheet sizes, cooling time. It was really very devastating. All I saw, when I looked at my buns, were these little failures, just little strawberry studded packets of failure. To me they were way too small, and hideously sloppy, and just very amateurish, in a way that made me feel super bad about myself.

KM: I really felt the buns were too small, even with all the proving time. Mine were a little bit larger than tennis balls. I hate them. How big were your Devonshire Splits? 

CT: Mine were also only somewhat larger than tennis balls, somewhere between a tennis ball and a grapefruit. To me this was far too small. I expected big robust softball-sized buns, evenly browned and neatly decorated.

KM: I also wanted them to be softball sized! There was also so much Cool Whip left over, which made me feel like they were drastically too small. Show your splits? 

CT: OK, yes, I will now show my splits. But what I would like everyone to know before they look at these stupid hideous things is that my wife—who had of course watched the Bread Week episode of The Great British Bake Off in order to give us our instructions—finally was permitted to look at my shameful splits and, to my surprise, said that they were, in fact, not too small. Or rather, they were small but in the same way that the buns from the contestants on the show were small. They were, in short, fine. Worse than most, but larger than some. Flat and unevenly baked—my oven is a bastard—and nowhere near as lovingly assembled, but also not as dramatically under-proofed as I’d feared.

Here are my buns:

Eight finished Devonshire splits, scattered with strawberries and dusted with icing sugar. Actually they are fine!
Photo by Chris Thompson

KM: WHOA! Really!? This is huge news, which does make me feel better. Thank you to your wife, whose emotional buoying of you will also buoy me. That’s beautiful. I like your buns and they are of equal brownness to mine. We did our best, I guess. 

CT: Show splits?

KM: I would like everyone to know that I think had we been provided with proofing drawers our buns would have turned out perfectly. I am choosing to blame everything that is not me for how these buns turned out. 

Here are my splits. I put them on a cheese plate like on the bake off: 

eight buns filled with cool whip and topped with strawberries on a slate tray
My buns!

CT: Yes. In addition to proofing drawers, we would’ve benefited psychically from just knowing how the hell Devonshire splits are actually supposed to look. Like, how much anguish and torment did we self-deal during and after this bake, simply from not really knowing what these damned buns are supposed to look like?

Kelsey, your buns look great! They’re so evenly baked and spherical!

KM: I think yours look great! Mine make me crave death! God, I really feel like seeing an image beforehand would make this so much easier. But perhaps that is why they do not show you an image. To force you to live in hell. 

one bun on a blue plate
My best bun

CT: I think that’s exactly right! They want us to endure the torments of hell, as a cruel test of our fortitude. I spent the final 30 minutes of this bake in a state of rattled panic to rival just about any other technical challenge we’ve undertaken. And for what, I ASK YOU? My splits are fine!

KM: One good thing about this bake is that everyone liked it. Trey liked it. Alex, who was at my house last night, was very impressed with me that I had made the bun and the jam and the Cool Whip. This made me feel good, so unfortunately the panic I experienced during the bake has disappeared and my confident foundation has returned. I feel no fear! 

CT: Yeah, I’ve gotta hand it to the disgusting villain Paul Hollywood. These splits are delicious. They even held up well in the fridge, which is information I possess because I ate a second split approximately 24 hours after completing the bake. It was wonderful. The cream filling is great. In my case it’s even improved by refrigeration, because the cold halts the melting of the cream caused by the terrible heat of my post-bake buns.

KM: Yeah! This is at least a fun snack. In that, I do have to hand it to Paul Hollywood. Everything this season has been edible, which is a huge improvement over last season. 

CT: Do we know anything about next week? 

KM: According to the Great British Bake-Off Twitter account, next week is ... Chocolate week. 

CT: Chocolate! My oldest and best friend. 

We are going to absolutely kill this challenge. 

KM: We sure are.

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