Guys… it’s back!
In case you don’t know, for the past few years I’ve been writing recaps of the annual BBC reality show The Great British Bake Off, and people seem to enjoy them – if the (delightful) inundation with requests to recap this year’s episodes is anything to go by. I can’t promise recaps will be prompt this year BUT they will definitely happen. I’m not even going on holiday in the middle of the series this time. And it’s now with enormous pictures, because WordPress.
Things start precisely as you’d expect them to: with a pun. PUN KLAXON. And, guys, it’s a weak one. It’s based on ‘warrior’ and ‘worrier’ sounding alike. Things are off to a solid start.
As usual, at this stage there are literally dozens of bakers. There doesn’t seem to be any real way of keeping track of them, although some have cottoned onto the fact that an impactful first impression can be made by signature outfits (Hat McGee has nose rings and a hat, at all times – can his scalp have suffered from some industrial burning at some point? Can it?) or being very similar to previous contestants. More on those anon; you should know that I am cheering on Marie, because I drew her name in the office sweepstake.
Tamal – a ‘trainee anaethetist’, which sounds lethal – says it didn’t feel real until they saw the tent. At which point, this building looms into view. Since they haven’t for a moment explained where they are, this seems like an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money on a jolly in a helicopter.
Oh, no, wait – there the tent is. I take it all back.
Flora (her nickname will come later in this recap) wins my love by showing proper respect for Mary – albeit adding that she wants to “make Mary swallow a piece of my cake”, which couldn’t sound more menacing. But she is so like Martha from last series that I can’t help feel fond of her already.
Alvin says simply “Nervous. Really nervous.” which, judging by the promotional images of him that have been released, is simply his nickname. He looks constantly terrified. Sandy, on the other hand – who I’m pretty sure is simply Nancy from last series putting on a slightly different Northern accent – claims that she often inadvertently makes meat pies when trying to make cakes. Well, this bodes well.
The opening credits haven’t changed. The little girl in them must be in her late forties by now.
More panning. More helicopters. Apparently we’re in Berkshire; Mel and Sue are in hoodies. Have they eschewed blazers for this series?! Will Boden go bankrupt?
For the first challenge of the series, they’re making – Madeira cake. Call me foolish, but I didn’t think you could add lots of other flavours to this without making something completely different. I’m with those bakers who make a ‘classic’ Madeira. I.e. a Madeira.
Sandy informs us that her sister’s ‘last words’ were something convoluted and meandering about greasing tins. Well, I guess we may as well fill the moments before passing to a Better Place with sound kitchen advice.
There is something rather alarming about a trainee anaesthetist not being able to use scissors.
YAY! Home videos! The first to get this treatment is Ugne, who lives in Essex with (by happy coincidence) her partner and children. Sadly they couldn’t be in the same shot together, so these have been cobbled together clumsily in Photoshop.
Ian also has children; they bounce on trampolines. I was wearing the same jumper that Ian has on, while watching this episode. He waffles on about the rare, exotic ingredients he’s found while travelling in foreign climes – which turn out to be ginger and lime. But anybody who puts ginger, lime, and coconut together is a friend of mine. Oh, and let’s take a moment to welcome back the BBC Colouring Pencils Man.
Mat – in what I think might be the only ten seconds of screentime he gets this episode – says he’s making a gin and tonic Madeira cake. Mary’s eyes light up, as does the alarm bell in the producer’s office. Mary’s on the alcs.
My girl Marie bakes almost every day, we are told, ‘much to the delight of her five grandchildren’. Why doesn’t Voiceover Mel ever make any effort to do rudimentary counting?
Marie seems like a treasure, and I wholeheartedly applaud Marie, Dorret, and Flora for making classic Madeiras without bells, whistles, or – indeed – any metal at all. Speaking of metal (THIS IS WHAT WE IN THE BUSINESS CALL A SEGUE) Flora’s sister is inexplicably riding a unicycle in her home-life-shot. Which is taken by somebody leaning out of the attic, apparently.
Back in the tent: “My chunks are well-dispersed,” says Sandy, trying perhaps a little too hard to be the Nancy of Series 6. Sandy walks through deserted corridors for a living.
Her Madeira has apricots and almond liquor, which does sound rather nice. Maybe I was too hasty with my purist judgements about Madeira.
Flora forgot to set her oven, because (wait for it) ‘at home we have an Aga’. Congrats, m’lady, you have earned yourself a nickname for the WHOLE SERIES. (Couldn’t you have made it something quicker to type out, srsly?)
Paul (the baker) is apparently a prison governor in Swansea who likes making sugar flowers. This is all an elaborate cover-up for the fact that he’s a seldom-employed professional Paul Hollywood impersonator. If he is connected with prisons, he should probably have a word with Ugne, who turns menacingly to the camera and says “looking for crack”. Send in the sniffer dogs, pronto. (But, really, apparently having a single crack along the top of a Madeira cake is Essential, and this episode’s Probably Arbitrary But Somehow Crucial decider. And it’s not even the technical challenge, where these things usually emerge.)
“Famous in Leeds is the three-crack Madeira” confides Sandra, with an accent calculated to be incomprehensible to anybody not from the UK.
Tamal. Now, Tamal, I think you might be my favourite so far. Your showstopper (more on that anon) was fantastic; you seem charming; you don’t freeze rigid with fear whenever Mel or Sue hove into view. But… are you sure you’re allowed to steal medical equipment from work?
The aforementioned syringe (obj. 1 in an impending trial, no doubt) is for putting in a rosewater syrup. I am heartily anti rose as a flavour. I’ve got nothing against it as either a flower or a name. Or a past tense.
Confusing the Signature Challenge with the Showstopper Challenge (where prolonged staring at your bake is not only accepted but encouraged), Paul fixes his gaze on his Madeira. Which pretty much underlines how non-showstoppery this challenge is. I’m sure his bake is fabs, but it looks like he’s ogling a lump of clay.
We interrupt a montage of people spreading, rolling, and candying and (in the case of At Home We Have An Aga, apparently adding tomatoes) with a shot of Marie drying pans.
Since you’ve seen so few images of actual food so far in this recap – knock yourself out:
Mary does a candied fruit drop test. It’s glorious. She’s trolling the show now.
Faaaaar too many people to tell you what Mary and Paul said about them all, but Nadiya, Tamal, Marie, and At Home We Have An Aga do well, Ian and Stu do badly (‘wallpaper paste’ / ‘everything’s wrong’), everyone else fall somewhere in between. Marie, fyi, has a wonderful line in anxious shifty-eyes, which are impossible to show aptly here. Take my word for it. She also seems a complete sweetie.
No History of Cake, guys. Have we… have we learned everything there is to know about cake?
Straight onto the technical challenge – which is one from Mary’s mind. It’s a walnut cake. I’m liking the simplicity of today’s challenges; things that people might actually want to make at home. No fondant fancies here. I mean, yes, they’ve picked something entirely to say ‘nuts’ as often as possible, but swings and roundabouts.
“Where could they go wrong?” Paul queries. “They have to make a sponge mix,” starts Mary, somewhat underestimating the ability housed in the tent. She also sounds quite croaky in this scene, and I find myself wishing she were wearing a scarf and/or downing Strepsils by the packet. Then I remember: she’ll doubtless have a hipflask of whiskey within arm’s reach.
Have YOU ever wondered the correct size for a chopped walnut? Have you? No? Well, prepare yourself to fast-forward through a few minutes of in-depth discussion on the topic. Or pause on this shot, which Mat (or Ian?) proudly and unquestioning labels the perfect size.
The downside to a simple challenge is that there isn’t very much to say. We all know how to make a sponge cake. Even Mel’s breathless prognostications about the dangers of not knowing precisely how long to leave them in the oven leave this particular viewer in no state of distress. Crystallising sugar is the pinnacle of the difficulties. We pan from pan to pan (*bows* thank you – no, thank you) until we land on Alvin’s.
Stu goes off-piste with measurements for water, ignoring the fist-clenching alarums and discords from Mel, hovering over his shoulder. Has he seen the show before?
Alvin’s cake has slid to one side, for the prosaic reason that his shelf was at an angle. “Could you prop it up on some walnuts?” offers Mel, appearing from nowhere. Has she seen the show before? Alvin, being a nice man, simply pretends he hasn’t heard her. To her credit, she quickly acknowledges that the idea was ridiculous.
At Home We Have An Aga manages to concertina one of her layers, but the lack of attention paid to this by the cameraman is forewarning of greater disasters to befall the tent… in some episodes this would be given a ten minute montage from all angles, complete with interviews from all and sundry afterwards.
The oompah oompah Big Band are playing to their hearts’ content, and that must mean that the challenge is OVER. It’s a pretty impressive spread (though Stu’s caramelised walnuts became something more like brittle, and he was only able to dig one out). As always, the anonymity of the bakers is made a mockery of by their gurning and wincing while the judging takes place. Paul and Mary keep calling something ‘granular’, and I can’t work out whether they mean the icing or the sponge.
Anyway, some fairly uninspiring judging later, Nadiya and Stu are the bottom two – Marie, Alvin, and Ugne are our top three. Alvin looks very anxious about this. In the interview afterwards, he says “I’m pleased” in the tones of one undertaking a lie detector test with a penalty of death.
Back into the tent for the final challenge, and the establishing shot shows… this filthy sieve!
Paul and Mary talk about the fortunes of the bakers so far, while we see the bakers put on their aprons, seemingly over and over again. Paul – for avoidance of doubt – lets us know that walnuts should be cut in eighths, and no larger. He also entirely ignores everything Mel and Sue say to him, as per.
The Showstopper Challenge is a Black Forest Gateaux. Marie thinks wistfully of her youth, while At Home We Have An Aga says she hasn’t heard of it, but when she’ll ask for one when she turns 14 next birthday.
Tamal – and this is where he becomes my favourite – is planning to make this beauty. It also strikes me that the BBC Colouring Pencils Man’s approach feels a bit like that of a child who, worrying that people may not be able to identify his horse and cowboy from artistic merit alone, adds explanatory arrows to the side.
Hat McGee is making a Purple Forest Gateaux which, if anything, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Black Forest is.
Dorret – watch this space – is making two types of sponge, and a mousse. “It makes a very dense, rich sponge,” she says – dense being, of course, what everyone wants from a sponge.
Everything that everyone is making sounds delish. Nobody is trying a cardamom-based spin on it, nobody feels inspired to see what would happen if they used pineapple instead of cherry. The experimenting is minor, and I approve of it. Sandy talks of having recently made one that was “powerful”, whatever she might mean by that, and describes herself as “a bit random with a trendy twist”.
“I’m happy with the overall appearance,” says Alvin mournfully. Hat McGee has burnt his cakes a bit. And Marie staunchly ignores Mel comparing her with Rod Stewart. Who wants to be compared with Rod Stewart in this day and age? Not even Rod Stewart. Wisely, Marie is more concerned with Paul’s lack of enthusiasm for her envisaged cascading ganache.
One of my highlights is Paul (the Baker) and his complete lack of humour about security at the prison where he works. Sue reverses out of her joke so quickly that… if I knew more about cars I’d make a decent joke here.
Things aren’t going swimmingly over with Nadiya, whose cake looks like she accidentally baked a hamster into it.
And then we get to our annual explanation of what tempering chocolate is. I’d quite like to compare each year’s explanation, and see if they’re the same wording each time.
Lots of people are making trees. Ian is making… elephants. Sue’s quizzing on the topic doesn’t bring anything that could be considered a reason.
Alcohol is poured copiously, buttercream is piped, layers are… layered. And we linger for some time on Dorret putting her mousse in the fridge. Mel resiliently makes references to forests that are intended to be innuendos, but don’t quite mean anything at all, on any level. And then…
Guys – it’s genuinely heartbreaking. The camera lingers on Dorret’s face as she whispers “no”, and I want to reach into my TV and give her a hug. Luckily Sue is there in my stead, and comforts her. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to go home,” she says – which should be a barefaced lie, but… well, spoilers. I love that Sue is so nice to Dorret, rather than waving a bin towards her with HEADLINES gleaming in her eyes.
Judgement time! So many wonderful looking cakes; I will restrict myself to showing only three that I loved the look of. And… Dorret’s.
A mixed bag of critiques, as you might expect. Despite Mary’s assurances that Dorret’s will doubtless taste lovely, she is quickly overruled by Paul’s declaration that it is like rubber. Marie, Tamal, and At Home We Have An Aga do well. And so on and so forth. It’s getting late. The bakers wander around outside in the cold while Mary and Paul repeat the whole show in brief.
So! The winner is….
And going home is…
Somehow Dorret lives to fight another day, and Hat McGee takes his hat back to Hatshire.
It’s nice to be back, guys! Hope you enjoyed the recap, and I’ll see you next week.