The Bake Off is back in all its soggy bottomed glory.
Apparently Mary’s been sharpening her knives whilst Hollywood’s been perfecting his hairdo. (He’s been doing a lot more than that since we last saw him in the Bake Off tent but – ahem – the less said about that the better…)
This year the Bake Off is going to a “whole new level” said Mel. It all felt a bit like The Apprentice… Were the bakers going to give 110%? Would they never let an undercooked sponge get in their way? Might they stop at nothing – not even sabotaging the other bakes or lying through their chocolately teeth – to get to the final?
Well, no. These homely bakers (13 fresh faced egg-beaters and cream-whippers who have fought off 10,000 competitors, presumably with cocktail sticks and spatulas, for their spot in the tent) are a softer bunch than Alan Sugar’s wannabes. Just friendly folk who want nothing more than to be crowned star baker and avoid Mary’s pursed lips and Hollywood’s disapproval. There were tears, panic, clichés and soggy bottom references all before we’d even got past the opening credits.
Sue and Mel eased us back into the fold with a discussion on how they keep their growing cake-bellies under wraps. Apparently Sue sellotapes her “back boobs” down, which is just delightful. Then – shock horror – they told us that any week Mary and Paul might decide to cull two of the bakers. ANY week. TWO bakers. Oh, the uncertainty. It’s just like that X Factor.
Before we’d had time to unwrap our Kit-Kats (you’re a fool if you don’t snack during the Bake Off) we were onto our first signature bake: a sandwich cake. And as the bakers got to work on their first, seemingly straightforward, challenge, Hollywood hung around outside the marquee chuckling about how it’s actually really difficult. "I want to see something special – not just a Victoria sponge," chipped in Mary, just as the camera panned back to baker Glenn who was set on making just that because he was sure Mary would like it. It’s a cruel world.
Things started heating up in the tent as we almost had our first Bake Off innuendo. “It’s bigger than I imagined,” said one contestant. “Where’s my thingy?” said another. Two below-par contenders which we’ve taken hugely out of context – but we can’t have been the only ones straining our ears for the sound of sexually suggestive baking.
Then we had icing sugar explosions, shaking hands and… our first injury. Before we knew it the bakers were covered in blue plasters. Everyone was bleeding and the contestants learned the hard way that you can’t cook properly with one arm raised above your head. The camera didn’t show it, but there were probably fingertips floating in the jam. Think that’s a strawberry coulis splattered on top of your sponge, Mary? Think again.
The finished cakes were a mixed bag… Kitchen-fitter Mark opted for a lemon and poppy seed creation carved into the shape of a lemon. But sadly his cake just wouldn’t bake and he failed to carve anything at all. Frances attempted a novel shape too – a strawberry sandwich in an icing paper bag – but executed it much better. Uni student Ruby made a rhubarb and custard cake, but her filling curdled (probably with the help of her salty, salty tears). Apparently Glenn’s cake was “too big” – though when it comes to cake, we’re not sure that’s possible…
Military wife Beca achieved a nice even bake (cross that off your bingo card, people) and a good icing to cake ratio with her grapefruit gamble. Hollywood smouldered and then admitted that “annoyingly, I really like it.” Icy Paul then went one step further and said he loved Ali’s cake, before he praised Howard for ticking all the boxes. What was wrong with him, we cried. Has Hollywood gone all soft?
The second bake – our technical challenge – was a “devilishly difficult” angel food cake. Cripes! They may have had the same “basic” ingredients and “basic” recipe but that didn’t mean this was a simple task. “Oh, you’re cruel Mary…” growled Hollywood.
The bakers whipped their egg whites with perplexed expressions. The question on everyone’s lips was… should they be soft or stiff? (Snigger.) With the stiffness of their peaks decided on, the bakers pressed their faces against their oven doors before easing the cakes out of the oven. The instructions said to leave them upside down to cool, so naturally Mark decided to leave his upright…
After the cakes were freed from their tins, Toby and Mel almost reenacted a Ghost moment with his strangely shaped sponge. Sadly they decided against it – or the BBC declined to show it. Either way, things for Toby were about to get a whole lot worse as he pondered the question “Why does it taste salty?” before giddily declaring that he’d used salt in his cake. It wasn’t looking good.
When it came to the tasting, Hollywood took one for the team, before telling Mary not to risk putting Toby’s in her mouth. Robert took first place with a cake that was “technically” very good – just what you want from a technical baking challenge, apparently.
Next up, it was chocolate cake. Go “cocoa loco” said Sue.
The word "moist" was bandied around the kitchen like it was going out of fashion, though sadly we weren’t treated to any classic GBBO puns. The show’s well endowed squirrel happily made an appearance on top of Frances’ cake, though. “You might need to add a little bit in certain areas,” Mel suggested, helpfully positioning a couple of hazelnuts.
The bakers set about their ambitious creations. There was mention of selotape, someone used a party balloon, Sue licked a wooden spoon.
“I don’t do gender clichés, but I’d suspect I’m not terribly good at multi-tasking,” said Toby. Before the man who put salt into his technical bake forgot to start his timer and sliced off a bit of his hand. Ouch.
Mary looked on as the chaos ensued. “They really have been too ambitious” she said, as Howard tried to stop his hand-crafted grizzly bear’s chocolatey noggin from falling off.
Glenn made an almond and espresso chocolate cake inspired by Gaudi architecture – “I’ve seen uglier things” he said. Beca and Paul gazed at each other over her well-tempered cake; Hollywood “absolutely adored” Kimberley’s creation; Howard made the snap decision to name his little bear Paul (no one likes a suck-up, Howwie); and Ruby finally got a compliment on one of her bakes.
But it was Rob with his chocolate baskets that went out on top and took the coveted title of Star Baker. And poor old Toby with his bandaged up hands who got the chop.
“I’m going to give up baking and become some sort of anti-baking monk” he said. Before adding: “Or not…”
Phew. Paul and Mary might be harsh, but they are not in the business of crushing a clumsy young baker’s dreams.
So there we have it. Things are heating up already. It’s bread week next time and the remaining bakers have it all to prove. (Prove, geddit.)