ZOMG FLORA’S WACKY CAKE ADVENTURES BEGIN, DON’T FORGET TO LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!
1. And we’re back. The marquee has been re-erected, the squirrel nuts have been re-inflated, and Mary Berry has been removed from her mystic cryogenic youth-preserving pyramid once more, ready to pass judgment over 10 more rounds of crunchy tops, soggy bottoms, and also cakes. Sadly whilst we the people have been getting excited, opening our spreadsheets (just me?) and preparing to note down the recipes we see on the show in order to never ever even attempt to try them at home because the therapy bills we racked up last year after trying to recreate Nancy’s Moulin Rouge windmill alone meant we couldn’t afford light or heat for the entire month of February, the press have been less enthused. The Daily Mail have been wailing that the show has cast a SMILING MUSLIM, Forbes Magazine have printed an op-ed excoriating the show for daring to launch whilst people are on holiday, which is apparently somehow contra to the BBC charter, everyone under the Murdoch umbrella gleefully shared that report that the BBC should get rid of programmes like Bake Off because the commercial sector could do them just as well (no they can’t – watch BBQ Champ) (LOL just kidding, never watch BBQ Champ) and most hilariously of all the Daily Telegraph managed to somehow take 3000 words or so from last year’s winner talking about how rewarding the show was, how it was the best experience of her life, and how it’s propelled her to fame and fortune and more blog hits (ALL I EVER DREAM OF) and run it under the banner “NANCY SAYS THAT BAKE OFF HAS GONE TOO FAR WITH ITS TECHNICAL BAKES AND MAY THIS YEAR CLAIM ITS FIRST LIFE!”. Or similar. The reason for all this ridiculousness? Well the show’s ratings just came in, and it pulled in 9.2 million viewers. Congratulations baby, you’ve officially made it.
2. To ease the contestants into the swing of things, the first Signature Bake of the series featured cakes that already start off half made. That’s right…………MADEIRAS!!! MADE IRAS! MADEIRA CAKES! HALF MADE! Oh don’t look at me like that, the first words out of Mel & Sue’s mouths this year formed a particular rancid “warriors/worriers” pun, I’m still well behind them. Those of us who watch Bake Off primarily for the opportunity to make cheap sex jokes (ie…everyone reading this blog right?) would have been particularly excited to hear that the key to a good madeira cake is the wide moist crack in the very top. Sadly though, the contestants were perhaps a little overawed by the occasion with only Ugne (a Lithuanian bodybuilder who lives in Essex, and therefore a prime target for those complaining that this year’s contestants were picked for their QUIRKY PERSONALITIES rather than their baking talents) really seizing the opportunity to mouth “crack” at every opportunity. Looking for a crack, revealing her crack, disappointed when she only found a meagre crack in flat surroundings…Ugne was ready to go toe to toe with Mel & Sue, and possibly left them both over her head whilst whistling the Lithuanian national anthem “Iveta Forever (Lukosiute Nights)”. Sadly for Ugne, her willingness to giggle over crack couldn’t disguise the fact that her Lemon & Thyme Madeira Cake didn’t taste of thyme. This being a bad thing, apparently, personally I wouldn’t complain. A worse deprivation though came via Mat (fireman, ironically quite watery) who promised Mary a gin & tonic Madeira cake with 7 (SEVEN!) shots of gin, but from which Mary got about the same amount of alcoholic warmth that you get when you lick the table after your friend Carol put her lunchtime g&t down without a coaster whilst her back is turned. Not that Mary Berry’s ever done that you understand. Ever. Regardless, Mat’s card is now MARKED. Don’t deny Mary Berry her gin fix Mat, she’ll come in to your room at night and cut your uniform to shreds. Also performing poorly in this round were Paul (cast entirely because he has the name and face of Paul Hollywood, a fact they’re already burning through jokes about faster than they known what to do with, a prison warden and SUPER humourless about it) whose cake was overbaked, Ian (a stay-at-home dad who looks like every single Guardian Weekend Magazine columnist you don’t read merged into one wan awkward man with flyaway hair, and personal photographer to the Dalai Lama. I guess Nuts Magazine can’t afford to send a guy all the way out to Nepal every time so it makes sense…) whose Caribbean inspired cake turned into coconut infused wallpaper paste, and Stuart. We’ll get to Stuart (OBVIOUSLY we’ll get to Stuart) but suffice it to say he launched his Bake Off journey with a chocolate, lime and caramel Madeira cake served in a basket of seashells and named it after Bob Marley. Regardless, it looks like Series 3’s record of an all male final looks safe for the time being…
3. Speaking of Mary Berry, she has added a new weapon to her arsenal of terror – the CANDY DROP TEST. This involves removing a piece of candied peel from the top of your cake, staring you in the eye in an inappropriately sexually aggressive manner like the first 5 seconds of softcore office-based pornography, then absently dropping it onto a china plate. If it clinks, you survive. If not, she grabs you by the pigtails and hurls you over the school fence. Surviving the test were Nadiya (the aforementioned SMILING MUSLIM) who also successfully experimented with cardamom in her Madeira cake, and Marie (a cheerful Scottish woman to whom I can afford now greater honour than saying that she IS Mad Madam Mim from Disney’s Sword In The Stone) who breezed through with a classic orange Madeira with no unnecessary flim flams or accompanying box of sealife (STUART). Less fortunate was Dorret (WIRED) whose peel barely got off the cake before it fell to bits in Mary’s hands. Never mind Dorret – it can’t get more embarrassing than that right? Right? Outside of Nadiya and Marie, other standouts in this first round were Tamal (a dreamy curly haired trainee anaesthetist DON’T TRY AND CLAIM YOU SAW HIM FIRST, DEAR READERS, I WILL FIGHT FOR HIM, WITH KNIVES IF NECESSARY) who stood out by making his cake extra moist by giving a big wet injection with his doctor’s syringe, and Flora (this year’s YOUNG BAKER who is probably on YOUTUBE AND PINTEREST AND THE INSTACHAT (although she *is* 19, wasn’t Martha from last year, like, 6 years old, you’re slacking show)) who thankfully managed to avoid disaster with her Blood Orange Madeira despite forgetting to set the oven because “at home we use an Aga for everything” (PEAK BAKE-OFF ATTAINED). Flora also wins the prize for best accidental innuendo of the week, as she was introduced to us all with the announcement that she just wants to make Mary Berry swallow.
4. Her cake.
5. The first Technical Bake of the series, hopefully setting the minds of Nancy and The Daily Telegraph at ease, was to make a Walnut Cake. Not even a Coffee & Walnut Cake. Just a Walnut Cake. Still, despite the rather simple brief, there were hidden perils lurking beneath the surface. First there was the possibility of your nuts being simply too big, as happened with Ian (it’s alright Ian, I can relate), secondly there was the possibility that you’d somehow found your way onto the Great British Bake Off without being able to make caramel (STUART), thirdly there was the possibility that you got struck with a fit of existential ennui halfway through covering your cake with marshmallow frosting and buttercream and decided you couldn’t be bothered to finish, as happened with Nadiya, or fourthly, your cake could be “too granular” as happened to…well, pretty much everyone. Only a very select few got through the challenge without having to watch Paul and Mary try to swallow sugar-grit off their tongue – Mad Madam Marie, Alvin (a nurse from the Philippines who I’m sure will definitely make it through the series without Mel and/or Sue asking him where Simon and Theodore are) who also managed to make a very successful cover-up job of some terribly wonky layers (Mel suggested he just “prop them with walnuts”. Mel has been doing this show for over half a decade now…), and Ugne. Ugne in fact went turbo-smug and decided to add a spun sugar basket to the top of her Coffee & Walnut cake for no reason at all other than to show off. I kind of love Ugne.
6. As Sandy (blonde, frivolous, looks like she’s the sort of woman who was left temporarily in charge of Byker Grove whilst Geoff went off on a fact-finding mission to other youth clubs in the North East corridor) successfully rode the middle ground on most of the challenges this week, I’ll discuss her very briefly here. Two salient facts emerged about Sandy in this episode. Firstly her sisters last words were apparently “make sure all the tins are always well greased and lined and everything”, which I don’t think you’d fit on a tombstone, and secondly she thinks she’s a bit of a WACKY, RANDOM BAKER. Apparently she can start off baking a cake, but you might end up with a meat pie. I’m very similar, in that I can start off baking you a cake, but you might end up with a Double Decker and a packet of Monster Munch from the corner shop because I’ve set the kitchen on fire. (The acidity of sharp pickle of the Monster Munch sets off the gooey nougatine sweetness of the Double Decker, you should try it).
Nadiya gives good face, is what I’m saying, even in still frames. (Oh yeah, it was pissing it down for the entire episode. Paul and Mary both did most of their interviews wearing massive parkas and Mary in particular clearly caught a cold at some point. WELCOME TO THE BRITISH SUMMER!)
8. Our Showstopper Challenge this week was a tribute to the 70s, in the form of a Black Forest Gateau. Marie confidently called this “her era”, whilst Flora mewled that she wasn’t even around for the 1970s. Or the 1980s. Or most of the 1990s (*reaches for stiff drink*). As there’s not many ways you can really make a Black Forest gateau stand out (I mean it’s chocolate, cherry and a bit of booze, where do you go with that?) most of the focus went on decoration. And by decoration I mean “trees, lots of trees, on everything, made out of chocolate, trees”. So bonus points have to go to Ian for saying sod it to geography and plonking an elephant on his macaroon based cake because that’s pretty much the only animal he can draw, and Ugne, who decided to top her cake with an upended teacup (which she made out of a balloon) with cherries spilling out of it over the cake-precipice, which Mary Berry described as “very theatrical”. This focus on the visual gave the game away rather that most of the contestants were going to come out with decent cakes, with Flora (whose cake was massive and fuchsia pink and only contained a little hidden alcohol JUST LIKE HER BEDROOM SQUEEEEEEE) (*reaches for another stiff drink*), Alvin (BOOZY), Mat (a modified chocolate brownie based Black Forest Gateau just like you always dreamed of), Nadiya (SHINY, SO SHINY, BOOT POLISH BLACK), and Tamal (with its own collar!) coming in for particular praise. Really though only Sandy (too 70s, and the shortbread added nothing) and Ugne (awful sponge) came in for any serious criticism at all, outside of the round’s twin disasters…
9.First though, our Star Baker (you’ve got the best of me, but I keep on coming back incessantly…) , the marvellous Mad Madame Marie, whose Black Forest Gateau, whilst criticised for being presented very simplistically with only 20-30 chocolate trees perched atop it, was internally the most like black forest gateau as I know it – goo and chocolate and intimidating giant glossy cherry chunks. You do wonder though if the seeds of Marie’s downfall were being sewn throughout her rise to the crown in this episode, as both her orange madeira cake and her black forest gateau were very straightforward and traditional and uncreative. Does Marie have the WACKY RANDOM I’M MAD ME edge of a Sandy, enough to give her that extra push to the endgame? My money, amongst other things, at this stage is still on Tamal.
10. Whilst the traditional mid-episode rundown of candidates for the first boot was exclusively male, the story of the Showstopper Round was all about Dorret making a mad dash for contention as, despite two solid early rounds she produced an all-time Showstopping disaster which would make Floppy Rob from Series 2 proud. It all started when the first batch of special sponge she was making for her cake had to be abandoned and started again (and ended up tasting like burnt rubber in the end anyway), putting her 12 minutes behind, meaning her mousse didn’t set, meaning her entire cake spilled out of the fridge, over the edge of her plate and onto the floor, producing an epic “I’M ABOUT TO CRY” face that Pixar are no doubt in the process of tracing over to use in their latest tearjerker. Fortunately Sue was on hand to tell her that it was all fine, and it’s only a cake, and it doesn’t mean she’s going to go home because, well, Stuart’s still here for a start. To do things like “put beetroot in a cake for no reason”, “cover a black forest gateau in actual meringue for no reason” and “dot some truffles round the edge so he can pretend he’s done chocolate work, frankly insulting everyone present”. The show’s rejection of Stuart felt like, for all the Daily Mail’s fretting that there’s a MALE NURSE WHO IS ALSO BROWN on the show, things are forever changed there’s a still a reliable and warm and old-fashioned part of the show which will reject on sight hipsters with nose piercings with full-arm tattoos who sing in bands and don’t serve their food on plates. Mary solemnly told us that “Stu” was on to a loser from the off and ostensibly meant when he decided to put beetroot into his cake, but clearly actually meant “when he refused to take his hat off, even though we were indoors, when addressing me”. Who next will fall foul of Mary’s sartorial eye is anybody’s guess, but Ian turned up wearing a green hoodie despite being clear into his 40s so…
EXTRA SLICE : Arlene Phillips often puts a cake in the oven, goes off and has a bit of a salsa, then she gets a whiff of a horrible smell…
Next week : Steve talks about biscuits