Is ‘freefrom’ week a first for Great British Bake Off? I think it might be. What’s not new is Sue and Mel talking nonsensically before the opening titles. A strange joke about rubbing someone down in silver foil, and we’re ready to go.
And what else is not new? The cameraman is still finding ever more inexplicable ways to obscure the contestants as they walk in.
Ian, apparently in the belief that pride comes before GOOD stuff, talks about how brilliant he is and, lols, the other bakers hate him.
All in good fun, we think, until, one-by-one, the other bakers confirm that they want Ian dead. Tamal starts off his day trip to the 1990s by saying he thinks Ian is making the other bakers ‘look a bit pants’ – the first time any of us have heard the word ‘pants’ used in this way since about 1998. And Nadiya turns her ever-exaggerated facial expressions to menacing.
Easily the least convincing is Alvin, who laughs nervously at the very thought of being menacing.
#BlazerWatch (yes I hashtagged it, what of it?) is a riot of springtime colours. I’m pretty sure Sue is recycling a jacket here, and Mel has gone eye-shriekingly yellow. Mary, as per usjz, comes out on top.
They’re making ‘sugarfree cakes’. I give that inverted commas because THESE ARE NOT SUGARFREE CAKES. I don’t understand whose dietary requirements these cakes could possibly suit. Loads of them are adding honey or syrup ‘instead’ of sugar. BUT HONEY AND SYRUP ARE MOSTLY SUGAR. There’s something about refined or unrefined sugar, which rather goes over my head, but what these cakes are NOT is sugarfree. ARGH.
Mary (in a lovely little garden – her giardino segreto, perhaps) tells us that sugar is an important ingredient in a cake. Whip out your notebooks, boys and girls, we’re doing some learnings.
Over with Paul, he’s saying that some of the bakers will use fruit – but that apples and pears should be avoided because (a) Cockneys will get confused, and (b) they don’t carry enough flavour. Instead, he suggests, they should use ‘something more robust, like an orange, like a lemon’. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he suggests sweetening their cakes with a lemon.
As though to spite him, our first baker – Ian – is using pear. He’s also throwing in carrots and honey. Mat, meanwhile, who looks ever increasingly like Postman Pat, is making a fairly traditional carrot cake, and doesn’t even seem to be adding any form of melted sugar as his sugarfree ingredient. Good on you, Mat.
I love me a carrot cake, and Paul’s sounds delish too – pecans and sultanas are also being added. More importantly – is Paul-the-baker the ghost of Paul-Hollywood-past? He seems to get paler every week.
“A good polenta cake is worth having,” says Mary to Tamal. Interestingly, WordPress thinks ‘polenta’ is a typo, and offers ‘tadpole’ as the only correction.
Alvin is making a pineapple upside-down cake. “It’s simple; classic,” he says, clearly already wracked with anxiety lest it be too boring. “It’s my go-too!” he confides to the camera, then laughs in a moment of unnerving hysteria.
Ugne has decided (possibly realising that these cakes aren’t free from anything at all) to make hers gluten free as well. We get a bizarre moment of Sue saying ‘hello?!’ in astonishment, practically waggling her glasses up and down Eric Morecambe-style. How does Mary Berry feel about it?
Ugne threatens to use purple icing.
At Home We Have An Aga (and, let me be clear, I’m very fond of her – the nickname is only in jest, but is too far gone now to be changed) has made at least four tiers to her cake, and joins the putting-in-oven montage that we’ve come to expect. If my oven had three shelves, it wouldn’t have taken five hours to make the Windtorte.
Nadiya is making no-cook blueberry jam for the centre of her cake, which doesn’t only seem to be no-cook but also no-blueberry. It apparently consists entirely of basil seeds (c.f. fig.1) and water.
Her sweetener is molasses. WHICH IS BASICALLY SUGAR.
At Home We Have An Aga is making madeleines to go around the outside of her cake. The takes me back. BA-DOOM-TISH. But, seriously, she always seems to go the extra mile, but still hasn’t made it to Star Baker contention territory.
It only feels like a moment since cakes-in montage, and we’re ready for cakes-out montage. Despite the tension-building drums, nothing of note happens here. Nothing, that is, except for the case for dismissal growing against medical larcenist Tamal.
He says it’s 50% one thing, 50% some other thing, and a bit of something else – sweetly corrects his 50%/50% statement, and sighs “Ahhh… maths”. Somewhere, Mr Simpson is eyebrows-raised, hoping for a mention. I’ve got your back, Mr S.
Most of the tent are making mascarpone icing (‘mascarpone’ being another word WordPress can’t cope with; ‘mascara’ this time). I do have a question about Tamal’s (and probably most people’s). Why do they insist on using a food mixer thingummy for EVERYTHING.
I said this last year, but I don’t own one of these. I can see where it would sometimes be useful, but bakers should be quite capable of making icing or a sponge mix by hand. Is there some sort of covert sponsorship deal going on? Am I going to bring down the BBC? Can I get a refund on the licence fee I paid last week?
Meanwhile, Alvin is spreading honey on his (to me) rather underwhelming-looking upside-down cake. And he’s done. He nervously asks Ian if his cake is too simple, a question which Ian wisely pretends not to hear.
I don’t think there’s any connection with Ugne saying “If we play it safe, it would be boring. We can do boring every day.” But the editing is undoubtedly unfortunate, pitting the tent’s scariest (though also lovely) baker against its most anxious. At least Alv is spending his time well:
And – OH NOOOS – Ugne’s cake starts to collapse. She blames it on the top layer breaking, but that doesn’t seem to explain why the whole thing is subsiding, oozing whatever bizarre purple concoction she has smothered it in, as well as the top layer of chocolate. She decides the best course of action is to stand in front of an open fridge, prodding it with a spatula.
The editor cruelly goes between the wonderful looking cakes (Ian’s with flowers embedded all around looks particularly impressive) to Ugne’s mess. She’s raided the garden for some decoration that she has decided (in a moment, we must sympathetically assume, of insanity) might distract from the apocakelypse.
Here are some prettier ones:
Tamal does well, as does Paul. Bizarrely, they think Ian’s might look too simple (?!) and ‘pear’s not going to bring anything to a party in a sugarfree cake’. Paul says Mat’s doesn’t look baked, but it turns out it is, and thus ends the shortest emotional rollercoaster in history.
Ugne’s checkerboard doesn’t come out quite as she’d hoped, and I hope this also serves as a warning to anybody who was considering browny-purple as an icing colour choice in future:
Brilliantly, Mel starts chomping on the accompanying flowers – only to be told that they’re not edible. She subtly spits them out.
They don’t seem to mind too much that Alvin’s cake is super dull; instead, he gets tidal waves of compliments from M & P. These are the same people who thought that Ian’s was too simple. Paul-the-baker nods appreciatively. And, in the aftermath-interviews, Ian is NOT CHUFFED.
Technical challenge time! And it might be the least appetising one to date. Gluten-free pittas. Nadiya is all of us:
Pittas join the pantheon of GBBO technical bakes that in no way reward the effort required. Just buy them from a shop, people. Even Paul’s array of pre-made pittas look soporifically dull.
It’s the first of many times we’ll see Mary make a pocket in a pitta. If you thought her fixation on violets was ridiculous, wait til you discover how obsessed she is with wearing pittas as gloves.
They’ve all got packets of brown powder but, fear not, this isn’t more of Tamal stealing from work. It’s something that, mixed with water, takes the place of gluten, or something. When I’ve made gluten-free things, I’ve just used gluten-free flour. May I recommend it as a preferred method? Oh, and Tamal, not content with the patois of 1998, rewinds a few years more to describe the mixture as ‘rank’.
They all seem to be doing surprisingly well with the dough, though. It’s very soggy, but they’ve made admirable-looking doughs – as this shot, taken from under Ugne’s arm, demonstrates:
Oh, Tamal’s isn’t going so well. Poor old Alv has had pitta once in his life, and recalls it looking like ‘a triangle’. Sue blanches, but womanfully says nothing. Is he thinking of a samosa? Is he saying words at random?
This panning shot, rushing through the flowers, literally made me feel dizzy.
The bakers and voiceovers are mercifully brief on the topic of proving, and Alvin runs through every conceivable shape for his pitta, before openly copying those around him.
“Grey and dense” says Mat, popping his head up from behind the desk, and making my jokes too obvious. Also, where is his accent from? He sounds like somebody pretending to be Northern, while chewing toffee. And Ockham’s Razor suggests that that’s what he must be.
There is nothing interesting about these pittas, visually at least. We see them wrapped in tea towels (why?), plonked on boards, and eventually lined up on the gingham altar. A last minute blow on hers renders Ugne’s entirely unhygienic.
The judging? Well, friends, AT NO POINT TO MARY OR PAUL EAT ANY OF THEM. It’s so strange. Do they note their colour and shape? Yes. Do they wave them up and down? Yes. Do they shove their hands in them? Hell, yes. But they never taste them. Why? (Also: repetitive mentions of ‘envelope’ spark interest from Postman Mat.) My favourite moment is Mary saying “These are round, aren’t they?” in wonderment, and apparently needing confirmation from Paul’s expertise on this point.
The world’s dullest technical over, and Alvin comes last, followed by Tamal and Ugne. The top three are At Home We Have An Aga, Paul, and Nadiya. I think Nadiya is pleased.
You know what *I* miss, folks? Home videos. We haven’t had one in weeks. They’re really wasting having a fire fighter and an anaesthetist on the squad, not to mention a student. At Home We Have An Aga probably writes on the floor, or something, like Ruby. Ugne is a body-builder, for Heaven’s sake. What do you need, GBBO producers, before you’ll show us awkward three-second clips, filmed in the rain, of people presenting Victoria sponges to their assembled family and colleagues?
Back in the tent, it’s the showstopper challenge: dairy-free ice cream rolls. The very notion. Let’s be honest, they know that ice cream gave them their best ratings last year, and they’re hoping to recapture the magic. To do judges and presenters justice, #bingate is not mentioned, even covertly. Unless it was SO covert that I didn’t spot it.
The bakers are mostly using coconut milk, which comes in BBC-friendly non-brand tins.
It always seems like anything they’re thinking of making might turn out to be scrambled eggs if things go wrong. Every recipe is one false step away from being scrambled eggs. It’s a humbling thought.
Alvin is using a Filipino ingredient that Paul compares to suncream – and Mary, getting her own back for the hair-dye comment of last week, suggests it’s what he’s been using for years. That man does love a tan. Alvin’s looks unappealingly luminous in the BBC Colouring Pencils evocation of it.
Mel gets the green stuff on her tongue because of course she does. Bless her. Paul-the-baker is making a dessert island – geddit? Dessert/desert? Geddit? [wipes eyes]. A few people are going tropical, indeed, with pineapples and mangoes all over the place.
Oh, hark, they’ve found a xylophone.
Ugne is making a peanut butter ice cream *gag* with grape jam *gag* and the whole thing sounds revolting. Her ‘I need this to work today’ is followed by a laugh, but I think we can all still agree that it’s the horse’s-head-in-bed of comments.
Ian’s doing a… dessert island. It’s the joke that just keeps on giving.
Nadiya says of her mousse that she’s putting it in the freezer, because leaving it out will make it too runny. Could THIS be the #bingate reference I’ve been waiting for?
Apparently forgetting his – now, how to put this nicely – horrendous piping on the biscuit box, Paul-the-baker is making wobbly palm trees and… shuttlecocks?… to decorate his sponge roll.
My friend Adam plays a GBBO drinking game which includes drinking when bakers stare into ovens. He was in my house when this episode was on, and we didn’t happen to have any alcohol in, otherwise this montage would have left him unconscious.
Alvin is a bit fraught, and we get a shot of Paul-the-baker staring in consternation at him, in silence, before reluctantly saying “D’you want a hand, Alvin?” He looks and sounds precisely like Phil Mitchell at this point.
I’ve also skimmed (or at least semi-skimmed #hahaha #ohnohedidnt) over the final section of the challenge, as it’s mostly people taking things in and out of ovens, or in and out of freezers. It does include Sue pointing out the flaws in Ugne’s jam placement, suggesting that she’s picked up quite a bit in her years on the show.
The less said about Paul-the-baker’s fondant sunbather, the better. Let’s not sully ourselves, people.
Ian has a mini breakdown, and can’t remember the word ‘marzipan’. In this strange tent of savoury and sweet being entirely interchangeable, his suggestion of ‘parmesan’ wouldn’t actually be that scandalous. (And, oh, WordPress spellchecker, I do mean parmesan, and not partisan.)
And, just like that, we’re finished. Here are a couple of the beauties:
- Mary says she’d be proud if she’d managed to make Tamal’s.
- Mat didn’t realise that a Swiss roll and an ice cream roll were different things.
- Nadiya’s is undeniably wonderful, but it’s curious that Mary congratulated her chocolate ice cream for ‘masking’ the coconut.
- Alvin continues to call Paul ‘sir’. I don’t really like it.
- Ugne’s is a mess, but tastes good, and (bless her) she has a little cry.
Mary, Paul, Mel, and Sue debrief while the bakers loll about in deck chairs, each and every one of them looking grumpy – I know I would be after a day like that. Then we’re ready for them to unveil Star Baker…
Hearty cheers all round! Fans of the adorable will enjoy Nadiya talking about how her kids will be proud of her.
And going home…
She whispers something to Sue – could it be “I won’t forget this”? – and definitely looks like she’s strangling her… but, I jest, she was a sweetie really.
See you next week!