Bake Off finalist Richard Burr’s verdict on week one and the new batch

The 2014 finalist explains where this year's bakers went right – and wrong – in week one's challenges, featuring Madeira cake, Mary's walnut technical challenge and Black Forest gateau

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And we’re back! Hope you had your cakes ready to much along with the first episode. It felt pretty surreal watching a new batch of bakers in the tent – 12 new people to get to know. I’m already following them on Twitter and Instagram to get an idea of what they like making.

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Signature bake: Madeira cake

Madeira is a great signature bake to start the series with. The bakers all looked pretty nervous (understandably) but like a Victoria sponge, a Madeira is a great early test of skill and grace under pressure.

In the first few episodes of my series, I aimed to make a good job of something simple, particularly with the signature bakes. It’s early days so the bakers are setting their stalls out and getting a feel for each other – who’s using unusual flavour combinations, who’s brought loads of extra kit, who finishes first.

As Paul Hollywood says, it’s only he and Mary who get to judge on smell and taste. The rest of us have to make do with our eyes and ears, so I kept mine open for their first comments; that’s a good indicator of the ones to watch.

No one wants to hear “that tastes like wallpaper paste” early doors like Ian did. Tamal nailed it, getting an “I love that, it tastes amazing” as did Marie when she was told “that’s a perfect Madeira”.

Technical challenge: Mary’s walnut cake

A recipe with caramel on the first week is pretty mean. The induction hobs in the tent take some getting used to, so it’s no wonder so many of them ran into trouble with Mary’s walnut cake. When I did caramel week I managed to burn six pans of caramel in a row (sorry, washer-uppers!).

The meringue frosting on the cake looks great – I’m definitely going to give it a go at home myself. Nadiya made the mistake of concentrating on her own cake at the expense of looking up and seeing how everyone else had finished the icing on their cakes. It’s so easily done, but if you’re near the back, make the most of taking a butcher’s at what everyone else is getting up to – I did! Good work from Ugne – not just making a great cake but also finding time for sugar work on top.

Showstopper challenge: Black Forest gateau

I love Black Forest gateau; so much that I have my version of it on the front cover of my new recipe book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself – out 27th August!

With a cake this big, the balance of flavour and textures are really critical. Also, when you cook with alcohol you really need to practice, practice, practice, as it often changes the consistencies of sponges or fillings.

I bet Tom Hovey, who draws the pictures for Bake Off, had a fantastic week doing all of these gateaux as they look spectacular.

Flora's @sheddenflora amazing 4 layered gateau was my fave Showstopper #GBBO for the sheer scale of it! #cake

A post shared by Tom Hovey (@tomhoveyart) on


Alvin’s almond and chocolate sponge really got my tastebuds working – I’ve got high hopes for him.

I liked Ugne’s balloon chocolate cups too. The first time I used balloons in my baking I tried to make a spun sugar basket, forgetting that the hot sugar would burst the balloon. I ended up with a caramel explosion all over the kitchen – whoops!

Poor Dorret did really well to keep it together under the circumstances. There’s such a weight of expectation on the first episode that it can be overwhelming. 

I was listening hard to the judging, and while some cakes looked amazing, they still got some disappointing comments from Paul and Mary. Visually, I think I liked Nadiya’s cake the best; great technical skills on show from her with a lovely shine on her cake – she’s my early ‘one to watch’.

While Dorret had a pretty bad second day in the tent, the writing looked on the wall for Stu when Paul said his cake had the texture of raw sponge.

At the top end, I couldn’t call the Star Baker this week – there were some great comments for Mat, Tamal and Marie in the showstopper challenge. But Marie’s consistency and confidence across the three challenges edged it for her and she was a worthy winner this week. Bring on next week – I’ll have my biscotti at the ready!

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Paul Hollywood will be at the Radio Times Festival this September. Tickets are available here.