And so the show’s ascent up the channels continues. By Series 10, it will ascend to BBC CAKE, a new channel created that consists solely of Paul Hollywood being stern whilst Mel prances round up giggling at blancmanges.
1. When we last left the marquee of yeast-based dreams, we were all worrying (or at least I was) about how the show might come out the other side of its transition over the channel Channel to BBC 1. Would there be less innuendo? Would there be more “professionalism”? Would Mary Berry end up stuck behind an LCD video wall, reading out our tweets? Would any of the contestant end up releasing a charity single? (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) Well obviously it’s early days but beyond a proliferation of awful “parody” twitter accounts (tweeting swear words and calling people fat from behind a grainy avatar of Deborah from s4 is not a “parody” of anything other than the emptiness in your soul bizzotch) and an awfully-scheduled pointless spin-off show (when it’s on again? 3am next October?) everything’s still the same. Mel & Sue are the same, Paul and Mary are the same, the adorable frolicking wildlife are the same, the floorcake is the same, the innuendo is the same (PERFECT NUTS! SUSPENDED CHERRIES! TIGHT SATISFYING ROLLS!) and most importantly of all, the show still feels so Waitrose I instinctively reached out for a little green token to donate to an after-school theatre group for the deaf at the end. Paul Hollywood may have done the usual BBC 1 duty of claiming these are the BEST CONTESTANTS EVER AND WE’LL SWEAR THEY’RE PROFESSIONALS! but look at the website and you’ll see the same terrified rictus grins and profiles that half these people started baking three months ago for a bit of a laugh in-between their regular beekeeping, wicker-basket making and voting Liberal Democrat. BRING IT ON.
2. The first challenge of the new series was to solve the eternal question of how to make a Swiss Roll. And if you didn’t immediately know that Sue wasn’t going to answer that question with “push him down a hill” then…you must be joining us for the first time here on BBC One. Welcome. If people try and tell you about some well-endowed squirrel don’t worry, he wasn’t all that. It was in this challenge that Jordan made his first impression, wearing a Timmy Mallet jumper and yellow & pink hair-grips, singing a song of his own composition and making a “kawaii” strawberry themed swiss roll. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “kawaii”, then it’s Japanese for “…Oh Grow Up And Take That Kitten Mask Off”. To Jordan’s credit, the finished product looked like it had lept directly out of a Bento Box. To his discredit, it looked a bit like it had lept directly out of a Bento Box onto the floor, with Mary sniffly declaring it to be a bit “trifly”. Regardless, I’ve got a feeling Jordan will prove to be a…character. As the round wore on, two distinct themes emerged – firstly the elaborate decoration of the tops of swiss rolls with biscuits, swirls, lattices and generally whatever contestants could find at the bottom of their handbags, although this appeared to be done primarily not for artistic reasons but because they were falling to bits (CHETNA!). Secondly, contestants getting their family inspirations out the bag far too early. WI stalwart Diana did a lemon swiss roll inspired by her mother’s own recipe. Builder and token rough(ish) heterosexual Richard decorated his swiss roll with flowers in tribute to his adorable daughters. Manic speech-therapist Claire did a chocolate-orange themed swiss log-roll in tribute to her father’s love of the Terry’s. Luis did an aniseed and orange flavoured roll in honour of his Spanish heritage (sadly it’s being pronounced “LOO-EEE”, not “LOO-EETH” – frankly if Mel and Sue AREN’T going to do vaguely racist Spanish accents and spray spit everywhere whilst clutching a straw donkey and swigging Manzana Verde I’m not sure why he was cast). Calm down people. Ease down on your brakes. You’ve got 9 weeks of inspirational back-stories to come. Still, Richard and Luis’ muses served them well as they, along with Chetna (despite her cheating), GP Practice Manager Nancy and charmingly gruff old Scotsman Norman were the ones who emerged from the round with A* credit. Sure Norman’s Black Forest Swiss Roll (“Not Swiss, German really…LIKE MAH DAWG!”) was a little squat and fat but as he pointed out…IT’S FOR MEN. (And Mary Berry) (And Mel) (And Sue) (Norman may have to think his defences out a little better in future).
3. The key to the perfect Swiss Roll it turned out was, as ever on this show, a matter of timing. Bake it for too long, and it dried, cracked and split, like Kate (a purple-rinsed single-mother actress turned furniture restorer living in Brighton? ON THIS SHOW?)’s. Don’t bake it for long enough and it ends up rolling easily…into a sloppy mush like Enwezor (Japano-Nigerian business consultant and father of…I dunno, fifty)’s. Iain (Irish, beardy, twinkly, more doomed than the Lusitania and the Titanic playing bumper-boats) thought he’d found a clever way around this rolling dilemma – scoring the flattened roll as it came out of the oven, so it would fold easily. As ever when people on this show try to be clever, he ran straight into the following well-worn exchange
Contestant : HEY MARY, I’VE GOT THIS EXCITING NEW TECHNIQUE!
Mary : *rolls eyes*
Contestant : NO REALLY, CHECK IT OUT!
Mary : *glares at Contestant as they try out technique*
*something catches fire*
Mary : *walks off*
They try to promote Mary and Paul as Good Cop : Bad Cop, but really it’s more like Cop Who’ll Bash You With His Truncheon (calm down ladies) : Cop Who’ll Insert Bamboo Under Your Fingernails.
4. The Technical Challenge this week was a classic Cherry Cake. The key to the challenge? Not losing your cherry. I would imagine some of the contestants had quite a bit of experience in managing this, naming no names. (*cough*JORDAN*cough*). Yes, apparently Mary Berry had produced in this recipe the Bermuda Triangle of cherries as, no matter how much fruit you put in to begin with, when the cake was ultimately sliced open, they all appear to have vanished. Yet another sign that Mary is in fact a member of the Illuminati. Best placed to tell people how to manage their cherry was Nancy, which makes sense as Nancy’s whole vibe to me reads “sardonic fag-smoking school nurse who keeps a supply of condoms under her desk because if the girls can’t be good then they can at least be careful”. Apparently the best way to go about the experience is to make sure your cherry is nice and wet beforehand, and then dust it with flour. I’m not a woman, so I’ll take her word for it. She ALSO managed to come up with my Innuendo Of The Week – “It’s easier by machine…but I just like to feel it”. Although Chetna and Martha both ran her close, she took the round with ease. Less succesful were Norman and Richard, both of whom had runny icing although Norman got extra demerits for catching his nuts (which you’d think he’d be sore about enough as it is without them pointing it out) and Jordan, who somehow managed to produce a cherry cake without any cherries either in or on it. He protested that he hadn’t lost his cherry – it had just evaporated. Yes, I remember my first time went a bit like that as well.
5. Whilst we’re talking SEX, I do feel a bit verklempt that it’s an entirely heterosexual bunch of men on the show this year. Previously the show has run the gamut of the full range of (white, male, middle-class) homosexuality and it felt a bit sad as the parade of family clips showed girlfriend after girlfriend after girlfriend and it became clear we weren’t getting another preening John or cheerful Glen or embittered psycho Brendan (<3). Hopefully this isn’t some symptom of the move to BBC 1 and has just happened organically. It DOES however up the Cute Child quotient, which I’m always in favour of. So far Kate’s daughter is in the lead, but I’m not awarding the prize until every single child of every single contestant has been paraded before me like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
6. Oh and as well as no homos there was also no History Bit. I hope one is coming next week, because frankly, just because the economy is now officially in recovery, it doesn’t mean we can just throw all of those many many food anthropologists into the dustbin. We need to learn more about the cultural uses of waffle-cone now MORE THAN EVER. It has been brought to my attention that the dark forces of food ignorance have been praying to their demonic lord Gregg Wallace, praying that the transfer to the mainstream means that the esoteric edges of the show will have been buffed off and I WILL NOT HAVE IT. GIVE ME HISTORY BIT OR GIVE ME DEATH (or 3 more minutes of Mel doing funny voices and making wisecracks about her bon-bons, I’m not fussed either way)
7. The Showstopper challenge this week seemed simple to begin with. Just make whatever classic British sponge cake you wanted. In miniature. 36 times. Drunk. (Oh no, wait, that was just me). Chetna, riding high on a strong first two rounds, decided she wanted to up the danger factor even higher, deciding to make a four-tiered Victoria Sponge. 36 times. For the maths averse, that means 144 individual tiny little cakes. Needless to say, this went slightly tits-up, as her cakes came out tasting fine but looking a bit like the Leaning Tower Of Pisa after an earthquake. Kate, doing the same thing but with only two-tiers (slacker) fared if anything slightly worse BUT did manage to win Sue’s heart for the series by flirting with her deliciously about the hypnotic flavours of her spongey off-cuts. It took Ruby a good half-series to entice Sue with her feminine wiles to the same degree as Kate managed in 5 seconds with her cast-offs. Good job. More impressive were Richard’s miniature Coffee & Walnut cakes (“absolutely scrumptious”), Norman’s Almond & Raspberry Mini-Cakes (also “absolutely scrumptious”) and Luis’ Raspberry and Lemon Genoese Slices (“puts you in a boozy fug”). The latter came with a pipette to administer your own lemon drizzle. Thankfully this was to be applied orally. Less exciting were Jordan and Iain, both of whom conspired to produce flavourless mushes where everything bled into everything else. Jordan’s failure was probably the more piquant because he approached the whole thing with such over-ebulliant excitement, talking nineteen-to-the-dozen about how he was going to solve every individual mishap. And then…blob-cake resulted.
8. The major selling point of this series before the start has been the fact that it contains both the YOUNGEST CONTESTANT EVAH (Martha) and the OLDEST CONTESTANT EVAH (Diana). Admittedly Martha has received slightly more press, because The Daily Mail is what it is. They’ve probably got some awful countdown going to something awful let’s not think about it. Regardless it’s nice to see that both of them did so well this week, and that both of them represented their demographic so nicely. Martha all nerves and shaky hands and novel techniques, profiled sat cross-legged on the floor of her teenage girl bedroom revising for her AS levels. Diana all sage wisdom and recipes from her mother and pronouncements that she’s been baking so long now that she doesn’t even need to use a timer. May the judges always be ever so slightly nicer and more understanding to them than everyone else, just to piss everyone on the Internet off. Overall Martha currently has the edge in terms of the judges, but it’s Diana who has the hearts of Mel & Sue, having won them over with a batch of chocolate mousse possibly laced with opiates, leaving them gambolling around the marquee like Rod & Todd fighting over Pixie Stix.
9. Of course, neither of them were this week’s Star Baker (Dream Breaker, Soul Taker) because Nancy went through this entire episode like a hot knife through butter. The final round saw her pièce de résistance – 36 perfect individual Jaffa Cakes, cut neatly and precisely with her home-made wooden table-top guillotine, perfect for slicing uniformly through thick wodges. (Presumably Paul Hollywood edited that bit out of his home-showing of the programme, lest his wife take inspiration). I’m glad that, after the last two series where the finalists were a collection of sexy happening young people and Brendan, that the older generation have started out strong. Especially in the form of a woman who, when asked if she was frightened of Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and the complicated techniques of baking, just shrugged and pouted as if to say “not really”.
10. Leaving us this week though was Claire which was no surprise, as she spent the whole episode resembling nothing so much as the human equivalent of a fresh two litre bottle of Coke that’s just been hurled down three flights of stairs. Whilst Jordan arguably had a worse episode in terms of baking, within 20 minutes of the episode starting Claire had already fizzingly spoken back to both Mary AND Paul over her flavourless cream and then retreated to the side of the lake to have a weepy meltdown whilst picking frantically at wildflowers. By the time she was hurling edible glitter-balls at sloppy chocolately pillars of dough it felt settled. Mediocre baking is one thing, but, like Toby last year, sometimes first boots on this show come mostly for the sake of the chosen contestants equilibrium. Giggling can only cover so many cracks for so long, especially when it’s that frantic.
EXTRA SLICE : Gregg Wallace likes brown food.
Next Week : Steve talks biscuits.