It’s back! From the very first beat of the opening music, it’s so good to see that old, familiar tent on the box again. The Great Comic Relief Bake Off has assembled a great bunch for the first episode – Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders (with her eye on the prize from the off), Lulu and the magnificent Dame Edna Everage. Believe me, it’s a good one!
As Sue Perkins puts it, four ‘grande dames’ of entertainment in the tent, ready to get stuck in to the first challenge – making a giant biscuit.
Dame Edna’s won me over already with her recipe as I’m a sucker for a macadamia nut, though her oven-to-freezer technique for her biscuit is one I’ve not tried before. Definitely unconventional. After my time on the show last year, I’m now conditioned to watch Bake Off thinking, “What would I have made for this challenge?” and for this one, I’d have probably gone with a peanut butter and chocolate sandwich biscuit. Mmmm.
During the ‘royal tour’ (what we used to call Paul and Mary’s walkabout) my heart went out to Jennifer Saunders when Mary innocently asked, “Are you expecting it to rise?” It’s perfectly ordinary comments like that from Mary that have the power to stop you in your tracks. Then the nerves creep in and you immediately second-guess yourself, even though you’ve practised it a hundred times before!
(For what it’s worth, I use baking powder in most of my biscuits recipes so I reckon Jennifer Saunders’ one will be ok.)
I was dead impressed with Lulu’s use of a scalpel on her Scotty Dog biscuit: that’s the sort of baking precision I like to see. And Dame Edna looks like she could have raided my tool box taking a pair of tin snips to her biscuit! I find there’s quite a bit of crossover between my builder tools and baking tools. I have been known to use a cake slice as an icing trowel…
I think for the signature round, Lulu won it for me – I can’t resist a buttery shortbread and her design was well executed. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you get a compliment on your cooking from Paul or Mary, it’s the best feeling in the world and it was lovely to see the contestants so relieved to be through the first bake.
The butterflies in your stomach before a technical challenge is announced are hard to explain: standing trying to see the contours of ingredients under the tea towel to guess what it could be, like when you’re sitting an exam and try and read the first question backwards through the paper before you start.
I was expecting something a bit easier than 12 fruit tarts – no mean feat under pressure, and pastry’s twice as difficult to make in a warm tent. It’s sometimes worse when the technical challenge is one you’ve heard of, as you’ve got some sense of what it’s supposed to look like. I preferred it when it was totally baffling like Kouign Amanns or Prinsesstårta – at least then you could cede all responsibility for how it was meant to turn out.
Jennifer Saunders handled her dough like a woman with experience: I’m impressed already. I’d love to go round to Joanna Lumley’s for apricot glazed scrambled eggs too. I reckon Dame Edna must have had a faulty rolling pin – it can’t have been her pastry that was the problem! I have to admit to an involuntary “AARGH” when I saw Joanna Lumley throw rice into her tart cases without lining them though.
One really liberating thing about being on Bake Off is the amount of mess you can make without worrying about cleaning it all up after. A bit of a shout-out is due to all the amazing Bake Off crew who, no matter how much you trash your work station, buzz around you like amazing cleaning ninjas.
I would have loved to have been in the tent with Dame Edna. She had the right attitude from start to finish: giving it a good go and not taking it too seriously. That’s the best attitude to have with baking and I hope this Comic Relief series encourages people to just have a try and raise some money at bake sales up and down the country. If Mary describes anything you’ve made as looking “informal”, you kind of know you’re in trouble, but even the most informally decorated bakes can still taste pretty good.
When you stroll up to the ‘altar’ with your technical bakes, if you’ve done a lousy bake, there’s always the thought “Would anyone notice if I put it in front of someone else’s picture?” A worthy win for Jennifer Saunders on this challenge though.