1. After just over two weeks of watching British people excel at all sorts of highly aerobic events like jumping off wobbly planks into water, doing handstands in midair and riding round and round a cylindrical track until one of you somehow wins for reasons no layperson is entirely sure about, it’s time to return to that other very British pastime of watching people of varying ability throwing flour around and shoving it into the oven. And not that I’m trying to draw any conclusions here about which one defines us more, but this week’s episode of the Bake Off peaked at 11.2 million viewers which is, I’m told, a higher peak than anything got at the Olympics, and also a new record for a launch episode. (Not quite as many of these people stuck around to watch the lead-out programme, The Chronicles Of Nadiya, which follows last year’s winner Nadiya Hussein going to meet her relatives in Bangladesh, and which – I am reliably informed by people on Twitter who absolutely have no agenda of any kind – is totally racist, because none of the other winners got their own show. I mean I can’t speak for everyone, but I can’t see any public service value in using the licence fee to send John off to visit Granny Whaite in Chorley, but maybe I’m just a leftie PC thug like that.)
2. The show’s opening gambit was for all of the bakers to serve up their best drizzle cake, which Mel and Sue warned us all was Paul’s favourite cake. That Paul’s favourite cake is something that basically requires no embellishment beyond slopping something over the top doesn’t surprise me considering what he does with his hair day in, day out. Val (retired headmistress, keep fit enthusiast, Ed Sheeran fan but that’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone) quickly emerged as A Character, giggling that she couldn’t get the lid off one of her jars, ooh help, going to need a big strong man to help me, tee hee hee, can’t believe it’s come to this already. She seems nice enough, but I hope this is just first-week adrenaline because if she’s going to be this hyper all the time I may need to have a nice cup of herbal tea on standby for recapping. Several contestants went straight for the Mary Berry vote by plugging their cakes full of booze, like Louise (hairdresser, from Wales, brought moulds that made her cakes look like boobs so she clearly wanted Mel and Sue on side from the beginning as well) who was dressing hers with Cointreau, but dismayed Paul who didn’t think she understood the difference between ICING and DRIZZLE, and Tom (project manager, free climber, probably the closest thing to a conventionally attractive male in this cast) who entirely shamelessly went for gin and tonic drizzle, which is basically the same as writing “LOVE U MARY B” on your cake in fondant. Also he kept referring to it as “tonic curd” which is frankly a spoonerism waiting to happen. There was also a theme of false starts, like for Jane (garden designer, from Kent, this year’s designated WI-esque Capable Sort) who forgot to include her ground almonds in the mix, and Selasi (biker, does something vague but important-sounding in the financial sector, literally the chillest person you will ever meet see below) who forgot to add cinnamon to his. Jane decided to start from scratch even though everyone else was just putting their cakes in the oven at this point, while Selasi – after a brief confab with Candice (black cherry lipstick, sounds like Essex but lives in Bedford, would quite like Mary Berry to nan-adopt her) – decided that actually he was just going to add the cinnamon to the drizzle instead because it would have the same effect, and baking’s all about improvising anyway. All hail Selasi, and I hope he sticks around for a long time, casually just throwing whatever he feels like at the time into his recipes. Anchovy peanut brittle. Turnip bakewells. A tower of profiteroles where one has a rock inside and whoever bites that one has to do a forfeit. The possibilities are ENDLESS.
3. The keyword for this challenge was “moist”, despite that being one of the most hateful words in the entire English language, so Mary and Paul were looking for maximum moistness at judging. Scoring highly were Benjamina (from south London, has a twin sister, seems quiet but competent), Selasi, whose improvised cinnamon drizzle went down a treat with Paul and Mary, and Jane, whose decision to make a second batch of batter appears to have been entirely validated. Performing less well were Lee (pastor from Bolton, looks like the nervous neighbour in a sitcom, older than all of the other men in the competition by almost 40 years) who had the taste but not the texture, Michael (this year’s youngest baker, studying economics at Durham, formidable eyebrows) whose cake was nice but had no discernible drizzle, Kate (nurse from Norfolk who lives on a farm, softly spoken, probably lives on her nerves) who didn’t bring through the promised fruit flavour, Rav (support worker, lives in Kent with his family, fairly excitable-looking) whose flavours also got lost, and Tom whose cake tasted of literally nothing but gin, to the point where Paul and Sue had to hand over their car keys to the producers and arrange for an Uber to get them home. Mary, on the other hand, didn’t seem quite so badly affected by it, WHICH IS INTERESTING.
You know, Pac-Man never was quite the same after he developed that meth problem.
5. This week’s technical challenge was Jaffa Cakes. While there is no history bit in this episode, presumably because we need to cram in 12 bakers’ intros and there wasn’t really room, I did find this challenge educational on a number of levels:
– I thought the BBC would have to call them “chocolate covered orange jelly sponge treats” or something of that ilk, but then I googled and discovered that McVitie’s never actually trademarked the name, so anyone can use it. So there’s one for you.
– The nation is apparently UP IN ARMS about Paul Hollywood dunking his Jaffa Cakes in his tea, because apparently now we’re a country that polices how people eat their snacks. Fully expecting a dawn raid on my flat any moment now because they’ve discovered I take a big swig of milk with each mouthful of Monster Munch.
– Some people literally do not know what a Jaffa Cake is supposed to look like. Most of the bakers managed to bake the cake bases and get their orange jelly sorted without much fuss, but when it came to putting one on top of the other, some of them were BAFFLED. Val thought she might have to turn her cake upside down and put the jelly on the bottom (WHY? WHY? WHO WOULD EVER DO THIS?) and Jane did the same, commenting “who knows what’s the right way round?” EVERYONE. EVERYONE KNOWS, JANE. Thank God for Selasi, who refused to rise to the bait of Mel telling him that there was an air of confusion over this, and informed her that he was 100 per cent certain the jelly disc goes on top. Thank you Selasi, you beacon of sanity in this increasingly surreal baking world. In the end, Val had an epiphany that the chocolate would flow better if she put the jelly on the top, and Jane started doing hers the wrong way round only to realise that everyone else was doing them the other way, so she just left one upside down because it was too late to salvage it and did the rest of them properly. Unfortunately just when it looked like normal service had been restored, it turned out that Andrew (aerospace engineer from Norn Iron, redhead, looks like he should have his own YouTube channel) had done all of his the wrong way up. ANDREW. YOU ARE AN *ENGINEER*, SIR, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING. At judging, Paul declared Louise’s effort “kind of uniform…ly bad”.
Wooden spoons went to Andrew, Lee and Val at the bottom of the pack while top honours went to Michael in third place, Tom in second place (I’m really having trouble remembering which one is Michael and which one is Tom because they’re both kind of dark haired and thick-eyebrowed, but I’m sure this will come with time) and Selasi ruled over all, as is only right and just.
6. For the Showstopper, the bakers were asked to knock up a genoese sponge with a mirror glaze, the idea being that this is the sort of thing you see in a fancy French patissier’s window. This round was mostly notable for the sheer number of people who had to start again, as failed first attempts led Candice, Tom, Michael, Val and Benjamina all to briskly dispose of their original effort and hope that it would all come together the second time around. As Benjamina pointed out though, the fact that there were so many of them fucking it up at the same time was, in its own strange way, reassuring. Meanwhile, Tom attempted to prove he’d learned from his errors in the first round by only adding a few tablespoons of kirsch to his recipe rather than “the whole bottle”, which was apparently his original plan for back when his strategy was to get Mary and Paul so bladdered they’d forget to send anyone home. There was a bit of a scramble to find enough room in the freezers for everyone’s cakes so that they could get them cold enough to sustain a mirror glaze (apparently seven series in, the idea of “have enough freezer space for everyone” hasn’t yet occurred to the producers, clearly they’re going for another Baked Alaskagate however they can get it), and we got our first glimpse at how this year’s bakers cope with true stress. Benjamina was the first contestant of the series to be reduced to tears when, having already had to remake her sponges, she also had to re-do her crème pat and the second batch still came out too runny, while Candice did a nice line in pre-watershed profanity when she almost dropped her cake at the last second: “Oh, you…Mother Hubbard”. I guess being a PE teacher probably does encourage you to come up with some inventive G-rated expletives. Jane’s chocolate orange cake was simple and elegant and won rave reviews from Paul and Mary, Tom apparently second-guessed himself too far because his black forest cake could’ve done with more kirsch, Michael’s green tea cake tasted of grass, Mary blanched at Kate’s sky-blue icing, Selasi’s raspberry glaze didn’t have the required shine but his cake was delicious, poor doomed Lee’s cake was too dry and not dramatic enough, meanwhile Candice served hers on an actual mirror which was arguably too far in the opposite direction, and her genoises were rubbery to boot.
7. Is Selasi The Chillest Contestant In The History Of Bake Off: Steve’s Photo Casebook
“I think I’m too laid-back.”
“My hands are fairly steady, so yeah, all good to go, I think.”
“Do you know how long we’ve had?” “NOPE.” (♥)
(*talking to Sue about his job in the City and how he might have to deal with a global financial collapse at some point*)
“I forgot cinnamon, I’m going to have to make it again.” (Just LOOK at how much more worried about this Candice is than Selasi. LOOK.)
“How can you be so calm?” “I think I have a problem.”
“I don’t understand it, I’m just baking it.”
He is a precious jewel and we must treasure him.
8. There was a decent opening gambit in terms of innuendo this week, particularly from Kate who stated early on that “I like the flavour of a Cox” and later went on to call her showstopper “Kate’s One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make Cake” while mentioning that there were swallows at her wedding. Yeah, I’ve been to a few weddings like that myself. Then there was that exchange that Candice and Mary had about custard (Mary: “How’s the custard getting in there, then?” Candice: “I’m going to poke it in, Mary.”) but for sheer end-of-the-pier bawdiness, I don’t think you can beat this work-in-progress shot of Louise’s drizzle cake.
9. The first Star Baker award of the series seemed to be a fairly open field, as despite his disastrous showing in the technical challenge, even Andrew was in contention after his near-flawless mirror glaze cake. Mary and Paul were also big fans of Jane, Benjamina and Selasi for generally being consistent across the rounds (Jane’s moment of madness with the Jaffa Cakes notwithstanding), and ultimately decided that
Jane had impressed them the most this week. Jane actually gasped “no!” when she found out, bless her. Selasi, then, will just have to settle for the less prestigious but equally valid Clear Monkseal Favourite Award.
10. Who was going home, however, seemed far more of a foregone conclusion as, despite Mary and Paul’s attempts to divert attention to Val and Candice (the latter of which had done well in the first two ronds but pretty much tanked the showstopper), Lee didn’t really succeed at any of the three rounds and was therefore the obvious first boot.
Somehow it wasn’t quite as satisfying as when That Guy In The Hat went out first last year, as Lee cut a slightly more sympathetic figure, but it’s clear this competition wasn’t meant for him. Still, he plans to continue doing baking demonstrations at his church if anyone’s interested?
Next week: Chris takes the biscuit(s).