Great British Bake Off: Series 4: Episode 1

It’s baaaaaaack!  And I’m back recapping – this time from the beginning of the series, which is rather daunting.  I can’t promise it’ll be every week, but we’ll see how it goes.

Gosh, it doesn’t feel a year since we last saw Mary eating like a pirate and Paul glowering at everyone, does it?  Have Mel and Sue been stuck in a room thinking up new anatomical euphemisms for a year?  (Judging on the wordplay this week… no.)  And why have no former Bake Off contestants yet appeared on Strictly Come Dancing?  I’d watch if Scottish James, Cathryn, and Sarah-Jane were there.  I can imagine Cathryn does a mean rumba.  And surely The Brend, a.k.a. The Bridge Between the 70s And Today, loves a sequin or two?

Alternatively, I suggest a show where he teaches underprivileged boys to play football.  It’ll be called Brend It Like Beckham.  Thankyouverymuchgoodnight.

In preparation for the show tonight, Twitter had a hashtag #BakeOffSongs going around.  I contributed I Just Don’t Know What To Do With My Self-Raising Flour – let me know if you think of anything.

It’s going to be tricky, recapping the first episode before we know who everybody is, and while there are so many of them about – so I’m going to be selective rather than thorough, and try to keep an eye out for those who might become the much-loved heroes and villains of Series 4.  And this year there are a mammoth 13 bakers in the tent (which, incidentally, looks like a pretty good diagram of when you know that egg whites are stiff enough for meringue.)

They fail to mention that thirteen is a baker’s dozen, which would have been rather apt.  I am, of course, lying.  They mention it so often that I’m starting think the numbers run 11, 12, baker’s dozen, 14…  Indeed, this is the punniest episode I’ve ever seen – it even starts with a wait/weight gag, and I’ll fill you in when we get to more.  Maybe even a pun klaxon.

We see a quick overview of tears, joy, cakes, and timers – and the judges get an ‘aren’t they scary?’ edit, with people saying how frightened they are of Paul and Mary in turn.  I’m thinking the war on terror needs to turn its attention to these two, since apparently they’re terrorising this baker’s dozen of bakers.  (Geddit? Oh, sorry, we did that one.)

Are you ready for the laughter, the agony, and the ever-revolving cakes?  (Seriously, why do they revolve so much in these preview clips?  We never see them revolve again.)  Well, sorry – first we have to indulge Mel and Sue in a bit of light banter about surgical hoists and lacing.  They’ve strayed so far beyond the line of ‘taking things seriously’ that it now feels as though the Bake Off is a wonderful, state-sponsored crèche for them.

I’ve really grown to love that bridge.
The first challenge is a sandwich cake.  Things are pretty simple to start with, you’d have thought, but Mary Berry starkly informs us that “It is easy to make a basic sandwich cake.  We want them to go much further than that.”  At this point we cross over to Una Stubbs sighing over her mixture, as though hearing Mary’s words through the wall.  It’s all very moving. 
Ok, it’s not Una Stubbs. But I don’t know her real name.
And, of course, we head over to a baker named Glenn saying that he’s going to make a simple Victoria sandwich, because he thinks Mary will like the traditional.  Oh, Glenn.  Never underestimate Bezza.  She has the spirit of adventure in every pore.
Because this is the first episode, we get all those curious videos of the contestants at home, not interacting with the camera at all, and rather giving the impression that they’re being stalked against their knowledge.  They also pick the most curious things.  This family portrait is rather understandable, even if it does show a violent side to the youth of today…
Maybe a pacifist protest?
…but along the way we also sit in on a dentist operation, a psychologist’s session (professional!), and one poor student who can’t afford a desk… but I couldn’t find the screenshot of that.  Instead, here’s Una Stubbs laughing.  And turns out she’s called Deborah.
I suppose we’re intended to get to know the bakers better, but I feel like I’ve learnt more about the voyeuristic (borderline illegal) tendencies of the cameramen, more than anything.  
I’ve already mentioned The Brend from last year – I assume you remember him?  He sounded like the talking clock, considered himself a ten-out-of-ten all round, and made Abigail’s Party look like a model of elegant taste and restraint.  Well, I had high hopes of this gentlemen being the new Brend when he said that he was making his cake out of rice flour rather than flour.  To make his cake, he asserted, more cakey.  Or perhaps less cakey.  I forget.  We’ll come back to Brend 2.0 to see whether he deserves the title…
The Brend as reimagined by Woody Allen?
While looking out for my favourites, I settled (but of course) on the older lady Christine who – hurrah! – lives in Oxfordshire, and looks like a cross between Felicity Kendal and Anne Reid.  Her home story seems to be having grandchildren (who don’t turn up for the videoshoot) and an apron (which does).
But, while Christine is explaining her cake, Mary seems to sense that her title for Most Adorable Older Lady is up for grabs, and pulls a most uncharacteristically aggressive face…
“I’ve got a CBE. Have you?”
You’ll have spotted that I’ve barely mentioned the cake they’re making.  There’s just too many of them, and you can probably guess what’s happened. A couple of people are playing it too safe, somebody is adding inedible ingredients to give it an “exotic flavour”, and an early show-off is doing something unduly over-the-top.  The Holly of the group.  This time it’s actually rather sweet – a sandwich cake in the shape of a sandwich, paper bag (icing) and all.
There have been a fair number of crises so far.  Three casualties, in fact – I bet the producers were sharpening the knives backstage (backtent?) to make sure that accidents happened.  In mid-series, any one of these would have got four “coming up later” previews and a good ten minutes of screentime, but this time the tent is knee-deep in bakers so we only have time for a quick bandage and resilient “I’m all right” from Christine, and we’re onto the next thing.  Which is Ruby crying… but we do see how lovely this show is compared to others when Sue goes over to give her a calming hug.  (I even read that Mel and Sue sometimes go and swear by people if they’re really upset, so that the BBC can’t use the footage.)
“I’m not being insensitive, but I’ve lost a contact lens.”
The judging is pretty much the norm too.  Paul’s “The creme patissiere is awful” is the equivalent of Mary’s “It’s not quite thick enough”; the person who used rose has used too much; cakes are underbaked, underdecorated, or (alternatively) very good.  But there are just too many of them to work out what’s going on for long.  Except for the fact that Brend 2.0 turns out to be rather a sweetie, so I’m going to have to learn his real name one day.
Oh, lovely, we’re off for the Historical Information bit.  Obviously anything of any interest was covered years ago, and today we’re left with a description of ‘promenading’, which seems not only to have nothing to do with baking, but also to be a fanciful tale of sexual assault.  “They would grab the girls’ hair,” says Melanie Tebbutt, Historian cheerfully.
That’s that for another week.  Shall we get back to the tent?  We’re onto our first technical challenge – an Angel Food Cake.  Things have moved on rather from series one, when their technical challenge was a simple Victoria Sponge, haven’t they?
Let’s have a few highlights, shall we?  
Excellent anxious face. 
“The easiest task becomes a minefield of difficulties in the technical challenge” says Teary Ruby, obviously vying for a chance to do Anxious Voiceovers, should Mel’s career ever head off in another direction.
To grease or not to grease becomes the big question of the tent.  I love that that’s on primetime television.
“Rise, my baby, rise!” It’s not often enough that the Wizard of Oz is misquoted in baking.  No, strike that, it is often enough.  Maybe too often.
Oh, and PUN KLAXON.  Somebody says “Cracking – physically cracking, not cracking as in it’s good!”  An ambiguity for Wallace and Gromit and nobody else.
PUN KLAXON AGAIN – Una Stubbs makes a flip-the-tin/I’ve-flipped pun.  Not excellent wordsmithery, but points for effort.
And a gentleman is oddly surprised that his boiling lemon curd is hot, after sticking his finger in it.
I’ve got to say, the array is pretty impressive.  Series Four looks like it’s following the upward trend of all previous series.  They just keep impressing me.  Well, except for one man, who used salt instead of sugar…
He seems oddly delighted by this.
Spoilers: he comes last in the technical challenge.
Still, all round Mary and Paul seem pretty impressed.  My favourite moment comes when Paul says that a cake looks like it’s straight from the 1970s (The Brend? When did you come back?) and Mary says “I can’t remember.”  Lor’ bless her.  Unless the 1970s was when she started to forget things…
And who doesn’t love it when Paul has to spit out a cake?  Turns out salty cake isn’t his cup of tea.  But, like a gentleman, he stops Mary trying any.  It’s like Raleigh throwing his coat down for Queen Elizabeth I (only entirely different.)
Sue genuinely references “Salt rum baba, John, 2012”
We whip (BAKING PUN) through the pecking order of the Angel Cakes, and my girl Christine comes third.  A blonde woman I don’t recognise at all comes second, and Rob comes first.  He’s thrilled to the very core of his being.
And finally, we have the Showstopper Challenge. It’s chocolate cake (have I mentioned that it’s cake week?  I reckon you’ve worked it out), with decorations and tiers and the like.  This is certainly the most interesting of the challenges but, again, time is not on our side, and it’s probably best to head straight for the end results…
But I will pause for my favourite moment of Fatuous Baking Warning from any series so far: “the darker colour of chocolate cake makes it harder to see when it’s baked.”  Oh, Mel.  Never change.  I wish you were in my kitchen, saying things like “Sugar makes things sweeter!” or “Lemons are yellow!”
Oh, and let’s give the music director a special star for effects initiative, as somewhere along the way he or she had a bit of a breakdown and decided that what the Great British Bake Off really needed was a heavy drum beat.  You know when drums signal that something significant and dangerous is happening?  They do that – for Mary standing by a desk, a spatula, and somebody putting something in the fridge.
DUH-DUH-DUUUUH
And GBBO gets heavily self-referential about That Squirrel.
Here are some of my favourites from the end:
In which I learn that Brend 2.0 is called Howard!
Will this be Howard’s End? Ahahahaha… no.
As with the rest of this episode, there are some we barely see at all, and not for the first time I think thirteen is too many cooks.  And not enough Mary.
Right, ready for the winner and loser?  Look away if not…
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Congratulations to… Rob!
He nods a bit. Calm DOWN, Rob.
And commisserations to… well, of course it is the man who put salt in the cake.  I’ve already forgotten his name.  What I do remember is that Mary ruffles his hair.  STOP BEING SO ADORABLE MARY, MY WEE HEART CAN’T TAKE IT.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first recap of the series, I’ve enjoyed writing it – and I’m looking forward to getting to know these bakers better.  It’s far too soon to pick any winners, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say Frances, because she has lots of exciting ideas (which, looking at past series, will actually mean she comes second.)  
Be bold – pick a name!  Who do you think will be crowned victorious?

43 thoughts on “Great British Bake Off: Series 4: Episode 1

  • August 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm
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    Simon, I love that I no longer regret missing GBBO – your recaps make me laugh more than the programme itself would!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 12:39 am
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    Wonderful! Brightened up being awake in the middle of the night. Look forward to next week.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm
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      I'm so glad you enjoyed the recap! Hope your sleep patterns get sorted out, though.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm
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      Thanks Claire! Hope you enjoy the episode – it was a bit frenetic, but as good as ever.

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  • August 21, 2013 at 5:56 am
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    When I watced this yesterday, I hoped you would do a recap like this, and here it is! Thank you so much!
    (I loved that little chocolate bear, by the way)

    Kind regards,

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    • August 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm
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      I aim to please!
      Wasn't the bear fab? And I loved that he was called Paul :)

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  • August 21, 2013 at 6:04 am
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    So glad you're doing this again, Simon!! At the very beginning – even before they started baking – I picked my favourite contestant. And it was dear Toby; it's the messy hair and cardigan that did it for me. But, sadly, he put salt in his cake and that was the end.

    Oh, and you missed my favourite pun of the night! Mel's 'Tinie Tempah' line! Pure genius.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 9:58 pm
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      Oh no! I did! I loved the pleased-with-herself look on Mel's face afterwards, and how the contestant completely ignored it. BELATED PUN KLAXON.

      Bad luck with picking a non-winner :( but thanks for reminding me that his name is Toby!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 6:53 am
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    I too will be watching and will post but not every week. Simply loved last night and loved the way Toby said cheerily Oh I hve used salt!!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 7:41 am
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    Oh Simon I do so love your write up of last nights show : ) you have cheered me right up this morning.

    Shall I make a terrible admission? I haven't really watched GBBO before- I don't bae and I don't allow my self to eat cake – the fat/calories factor – so it is food porn for me, when the programme first started I watched one or two episodes and it made me hungry. However as it is a programme so beloved of almost everyone I decided to give it a go again. It did mae me feel hungry – I had to have some porridge. Loved the creations they made though. I liked Christine : )

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    • August 21, 2013 at 9:59 pm
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      Thanks Ali, I'm really glad you enjoyed the recap :)

      I can understand that watching without being able to make and eat a cake afterwards must be VERY frustrating!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 8:01 am
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    I turned it on thinking it couldn't be as much fun as the first three series – surely running out of gas by now? – but by no means! It was corking entertainment from start to finish. Thank you so much for the recap – you allowed me to enjoy it all over again.

    I pick Frances for winner!

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm
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      True! I do wonder how long they'll be able to keep it going,but it certainly shows no signs of flagging yet.

      I feel increasingly sure that Frances will come second, because the innovative person always does. A plucky improver always wins.

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  • August 21, 2013 at 9:15 am
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    This write-up must have taken you ages. It's brilliant!

    I had to check on the homepage for the bakers … Frances is this year's Kathryn, so she'll come second. I haven't watched it all yet, but was impressed with the Brend2 aka Howard's gluten free cake.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm
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      It took a fair while, I'll admit! Especially since I watched it live and then again online, because last year recapping while watching for the first time meant I didn't enjoy it so much.

      Thanks for the link! There are some who barely spoke in this ep… what happened to Beca?

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  • August 21, 2013 at 9:30 am
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    I'd have forgiven Toby the salt man (why on earth do they keep salt in jars, asking for trouble! what's wrong with a pinch straight from the packet?) but I'd have dumped Ruby for her sulky face.
    My money's on spaceman Rob … precision-baking never lets a bloke down.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:02 pm
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      Excellent point! I bet they're hoping someone will get the salt and sugar mixed up…

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  • August 21, 2013 at 11:21 am
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    Great write up Simon, I love your highlights! I guess salt-man had to go for such a fundamental error – I personally found it very painful because as a teenager I once put salt rather than sugar into the coffee of one of my older brother's friends I really liked. The shame!Funny how I can still feel the sense of crippling embarrassment all these years later!

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm
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      Thanks Claire! It wasn't much of a climax, was it? Toby was always going to go. And oh dear, what an awkward story! Poor you!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm
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    How many hours did it take you to write that post, Simon? Very impressive!
    Our Bake Off got off to a 'good' start as we were settling down to watch with a GBBO picnic of various baked goods to hand when Mollie the dog saw her opportunity and pounced on the carrot cake. That was that, and like poor Toby, she was banished.
    So glad the series is back, and I'm looking forward to your posts as before.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm
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      Thanks Karen! It took a couple of hours – but I remember some recaps last series taking about four hours, with rather more pictures! I scaled things down a bit this year ;)

      Mollie! Shocking behaviour! But went for a carrot cake, which shows some attempt to temper unhealthiness with vegetables.

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  • August 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm
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    I admit being disappointed when I saw that you were going to be writing about a TV program rather than a book, especially since it's a program that I most likely will never watch here in Buffalo, NY. But…your commentary is so very funny that I found myself as happily engaged as if I were reading about a novel. Actually, are you the blogger who recommended "Diary of a Provincial Lady?" I ask because some of your comments reminded me of her style. So, thanks for a most entertaining entry!
    Sister Anna

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm
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      Hello Sister Anna – I'm so glad that you enjoyed the post! It is a bit of a departure from my usual book reviews, but they're great fun to write.

      And it probably was me who mentioned the Provincial Lady – it's one of my very favourite books, and I'm flattered if you see any similarities!

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  • August 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm
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    Great writeup Simon! Earlier this summer we "yanks" got to see Paul Hollywood in action for the first time as CBS did "The Great American Bakeoff" which was a poor copy of the original. Paul and Narcella had zero chemistry, and both of them belittled Jeff Foxworthy, the American host. And our contestants were home bakers, who knew 0 to nothing about presentation.

    All in all, NOT a good show but it did garner ratings as one of the few new shows at the beginning if rerun season

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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      Thanks Andrea!
      I meant to watch some of the US version (although I hope Mary turned it down rather than them not asking her) but the reviews have all been awful. I think it needs the combination of judges and presenters that GBBO has.

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  • August 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm
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    Oh I'm so glad you are going to write about the GBBO again this year. Where did the year go? I don't know what's better, the Bake Off or your comical highlights! Keep us tittering!

    Jeano

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    • August 21, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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      Thanks Jeano! I can't believe it's been a year either, crazy…

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  • August 22, 2013 at 10:36 am
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    Oh glory! It's back – bliss! My 2 favourite quotes from Episode One :-
    "Ruby is distraught. Her Creme Patissiere has curdled" and "It's weird, it's deformed & I've used *salt* by mistake". Love, love, love it :) :)

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  • August 22, 2013 at 11:37 am
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    Even before I watched I was hoping that you would do your recap again. Thank you.

    I loved it – though I haven't yet sorted out who is who, and who I want to win (however that is usually kiss of death to their chances, so the contestants should probably be grateful).

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    • August 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm
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      Thanks, Rhian!
      And, yes, my favourites last time I recapped just kept disappearing one after another…

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  • August 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm
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    Thank you for the morning chortle! You make me want to get hold of a television. Oh, and access to BBC. ;-) (No TV since, umm, let me think… 1988 or maybe '89. And I live in Canada's rural fringes, far out of reach of cable service. Though I guess we do have satellite service now, hence my very presence on the internet… just so long out of the habit of watching television, that I've not been tempted. Until I read things like this!)

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    • August 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm
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      I'm glad my parents have recently updated their internet, as it makes watching BBC iPlayer rather easier down in Somerset – so I can't imagine how tricky and hazardous it is where you are!

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  • August 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm
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    So pleased to see that your roundups/hilarious commentary of GBBO are back! After all, they are the reason I found your log in the first place (searching for Sarah Jane and Cathryn's blog last year!). No pressure, but I will be looking forward to reading your posts as much as watching the programme itself :) Becki x ps the loud, obnoxious guy who felt the need to proclaim to the whole tent about his regular mishaps (I forget his name) needs to be the next to leave and Howard had won me over by the end

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    • August 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm
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      Thanks Becki! How nice that you stumbled across SIAB on a bake off hunt. And no pressure at all (oh no!) – imagine if I suddenly started doing uber-serious recaps?

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  • August 23, 2013 at 4:35 pm
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    Oh Simon, I did enjoy reading this. I held off looking at it until I was confident enough on the new laptop to type my own thoughts (on my original blog rather than the book one). I haven't read any reviews or blogs on GBBO until now! I liked Frances too – that sandwich was brilliant. And I loved Howard, and Spaceman Rob (Mary and I obviously think alike). And Ali obviously has more willpower than me, because, despite the diet, I was seduced into baking (and eating) a Victoria sandwich cake on Wednesday, and there is now one piece left – but I didn't eat it all on my own, honestly, the Man of the House helped!

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    • August 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm
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      Thanks Christine! I shall keep recapping the series while I have time, and what fun it is :) I also baked a Viccie sponge this week, and delighted in the fact that I get to use my parents' excellent oven, rather than the somewhat dodgy ones I've used in Oxford over the past year and a bit.

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  • August 29, 2013 at 1:14 pm
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    I love this series and I usually don't like competitions on TV or baking shows. But here, everyone is so much into it, and they create lovely edible goods that gives me some good ideas. And, most of all, everyone is so funny and sophisticated. Thanks for the recap, it's almost as seeing it again.

    Marianne from Let's Read

    Reply

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