The blog branches ever further outwards.
1. So, The Great British Bake Off then. The search to find Britain’s Master Baker (hurr hurr). So long as they’re a home baker. Whatever that means. I envision a violent and bloody disqualification one day when Mary Berry finds out someone once turned out 500 cupcakes from an industrial oven for a Big Art Attack once. Personally I’ve never really watched a whole series (or indeed any bit of any series that didn’t involve staring at Rob and drowning in a puddle of my own dribble), so for this series I will be ably assisted on alternating weeks by GBBO expert and blog veteran, Mr Steven Perkins. I’m sure his jaded eyes will provide a more knowledgable and cynical view of this year’s affair, proclaiming the whole thing rigged by the producers, poorly cast, and generally less pure than the good old days when people competed because they genuinely loved scones and it was a social baking experiment, rather than the tacky affair it is nowadays, full of famehunters looking for an “in” to a 3 episode guest run on Desperate Scousewives. Me? I’m fresh and new and ready to feast my eyes on exotic quiches, glistening Danishes and exquisite tarts.
2. And of course, I would start with cakes. I don’t like cakes. They’ve always kind of reminded me of loft insulation, a substance I find unsettling at the best of times. And then of course my distaste for cakes has been magnified over the years, as cakes have been used as a social weapon against me. OH! YOU DON’T LIKE CAKES! WHAT A SHAME I BAKED THIS BIG CAKE FOR MY BIRTHDAY TO SHARE WITH EVERYONE BUT I GUESS IF YOU DON’T LIKE CAKE THEN YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO BE LEFT OUT HOW ODD HAVE SOME FLAPJACKS IF YOU EVEN EAT FLAPJACKS DO YOU EAT FOOD AT ALL I BET YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY CAN JUST LIVE ON LIGHT AND SIT NAKED IN A FIELD FOR 8 HOURS A DAY BREATHING IN MOONBEAMS UNTIL YOU DIE WHEN ALL YOUR BOWELS FALL OUT IF YOU DON’T EAT CAKE. Or something like that. Anyway, I am very proud that my disgust at all things cakey only led to be dry-heaving three times during this episode. Once when someone cut into a cake and there was blue inside (WHY?). Once when they tried to cut that “blackbirds baked in a pie” themed cake and it…jiggled. And then finally when someone decided to combine cake with my one other True Food Nemesis – Tomatoes. Which…we’ll get to…
3. And we’ll get to it right now. TOMATO CAKE? WITH TOMATO JAM?! (And ginger apparently, because…heaven forbid a cake go without it). Yes, the first challenge was to make an Upside Down Cake or, as any normal person pronounces it : Upsigh Down Cake. In the world of non-bakers, turning things upside down isn’t really that much of a challenge, but add a baking element and EVERYTHING GOES CRAZY and people start saying things like “James’ Parsnip Sponge Experiment is on the verge of going horribly wrong”. (Horribly wrong apparently meaning “not really tasting that much of parsnip”, which I’m being told is a bad thing no for some reason.). My bonus points in this round automatically go to Ryan, the British-Chinese photographer who LITERALLY (/did not literally) grew up in a kitchen, for binning off cakes entirely, and making his Upsigh Down cake out of polenta instead. HOORAY FOR RYAN. I also grant points to Manisha, a cheery woman whose main other contribution to the episode was desperately trying to stop her other half shouting “YEAH, FUCKING ‘AV IT!” down the phone when told she’d advanced to the next episode. I grant these bonus points because her experience of the Upsigh Down Cake was exactly the same as mine in Home Ec aged 12 – picking PROPER FRUIT (not PARSNIP or stupid fake fruit like tomatoes) and then watching in despair as it all stuck to the roof of the baking tin. These things are sent to try us bakers.
4. I think my favourite bit of the first episode I ever really watched of the Great British Bake Off was the random history bit that lasted about 5 minutes and existed solely to remind us that this particular reality show could only exist on BBC 2. Seriously, can you imagine a brief 10 minute interlude on X Factor where Dermot went and discussed Muddy Waters with Paul Gambaccini? No, no you cannot. Even on the supposedly classy BBC 1 there’s no pretense that Strictly even bares a passing resemblance to a show about ballroom dancing, let alone that it might try to EDUCATE the viewer about it. Anyway this week Sue went BACK IN TIME to uncover a scandalous tale of unscrupulous bakers cutting their loaves with ILLICIT SALT and then getting their ovens smashed in by member of the Pastry Guild or something. If the member of the Pastry Guild (or something) shown on the show had turned out to be remotely fit, I’d be making one of those jokes about how he can smash my oven in any day, but he wasn’t, so let’s move right along to…
5. Last year it was decided fairly on that Rob was the fit one on the Great British Bake Off. He even managed to get on the front of the Official Spin-Off Book despite being…well…a bit shit at baking. But this year I think there’s a wider field to choose from, and we, as a viewing audience, need to make a conscientious decision to come together as a unit and decide who we want to imagine baking us imaginary gingerbread men to wake us up in the morning. (If you’re straight and reading this, accidentally, erm…Cathryn right? So vulnerable, so sweet, so Young Mum, also the only lady there under 35 I’m guessing). There seem to be three obvious runners and riders at this point. Firstly, Stuart The Blokey One (in that he teaches PE. WHAT? It’s a show about competitive BAKING, that’s practically butch) who invented the aforementioned Tomato Upsigh Down Cake and who narrowly avoid elimination this week after a treasonous Bake-Off cake that covered the Queen in smeary zits. Then there’s John who is The Vulnerable One – he quit Oxford Law to be nearer his family ; he’s good to his mother ; he whimpered “it feels like you’re cutting into MY HEART” when Paul Hollywood took a cleaver to his heart-shaped cake; and he may have talked about clubbing, but frankly you can imagine him cornered up in a corner crying his rave-paint off his face about how he’s GOING TO DIE after someone gave him a Smint and told him it was an E. Finally there’s James who is The Experimental One, and a fluffy haired medical student from the Shetlands. Experimental because he does WRONG things like put parsnip into cakes. He’s personally my favourite, although there’s a lot of baking between now and the imaginary proposal I’ll be making around episode 7 with my imaginary doughy ring.
6. On the other hand, if you’re into guys who challenge Paul Hollywood’s authority by wrapping his Rum Babas in a sugary cage, and you got really upset when Charlie Brooker cut his hair and lost some weight and started doing Konnie Huq, then you’re probably really into Peter. Well done, I’ve got a feeling that you’re backing the winning horse. As much as I can say these things, never having watched the show before.
7. The second challenge on the week was to make Rum Babas. You know how they occasionally have tasks on reality shows that exist solely to provoke innuendo? This came pretty close. There were people talking about preparing their babas, unveiling their babas, greasing their babas. James did a massive baba last weekend, but he did it with whiskey, because he’s Scottish. Brendan talked about how he once made a massive baba in the 70s, and then did some disco dips to Gloria Gaynor (I think Brendan might be…of the persuasion). Fortunately, John, in his capacity as The Vulnerable One pulled us away from the land of the groin for a moment by performing what I can only imagine is the NE PLUS ALPHA of Great British Bake-Off cock-ups : getting salt confused for sugar. And if there’s anything that’ll ruin a good baba it’s getting salt in it. The winner of Battle Rum Baba was Sarah-Jane who is an honest to God Vicar’s Wife, and therefore may well coast to the final on that alone, if she doesn’t collapse into the seething mess of nerves that clearly lurks under the surface, like an Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.
8. The final challenge this week was to produce a SURPRISE CAKE, which is like a normal cake, but when you cut it open it had a picture of something funny inside, like a Union Jack, or a Union Jack, or a Union Jack, or a Union Jack, or half a yellow semi-circle that you’re claiming is the sun. Clearly best was Ryan again, who mashed up colourful swiss rolls and made some very artistic looking flowers. Or at least his was the prettiest. It might well have tasted of tomato and parsnip cake (seriously, I’d rather lick John’s salty babas…). All very tasteful and whimsical and sadly nobody’s Surprise Cake had a willy or some boobs or a picture of Mary Berry flashing her knickers inside it or anything. Ah well, wasted opportunities and that…
9. This week’s Star Baker? (Which I will never not sing to the tune of “Ma Baker” by Boney M, no I will not) Victoria – for her decent babas, for her whimsical “Four And Twenty Blackbirds” Cake that made me want to vomit, and for her stylish Upside Down Cake that…probably had ginger in it. Most of them did. Victoria is our High-Powered Ruthless Professional Woman contestant. Which, on The Great Big British Bake-Off, means she’s the CEO of a charity devoted to saving British Wildflowers and minces around in lilac knits looking like she runs the tombola for the WA and it smells so strongly of pot pourri that nobody can stand getting near enough to it to even TRY to win the bottle of moderately expensive champagne and signed photo of Richard Madeley. She’ll go far.
10. This week’s eliminee? Natasha the midwife, representing MIDLANDS PRIDE, and as a result messing up more or less everything until she went home in floods of tears. Baking. It’s emotional.
Next week : Steve takes you through the marvellous mysterious world of breads. It’s going to be FIERCE.