Mel and Sue, Mary and Paul, a big tent in a country estate plus those lovely Kitchen Aid mixers and sliding door ovens. The Great British Bake Off is back on our tellies, just in time to relieve our Olympics withdrawal symptoms. Here at By Book or By Cook we have two GBBO traditions – the office sweepstake, and our day-after-the-episode-before round ups. So without further ado, here are the team’s thoughts on last night’s series opener.
Jemima: Welcome back, GBBO, my old friend! Even though you herald the end of summer, I can’t help but embrace you with open arms and a desire to consume vast quantities of complex carbohydrates while sitting on the sofa in my pants. (This is exactly what I did, btw – way too hot for PJ bottoms last night.)
As my husband and I tucked into over-stuffed chicken fajitas, twelve hopeful new bakers were ushered in to the Bake Off tent by a perky-as-ever Mel and Sue. The formula doesn’t get old: three baking challenges, lashings of sexual innuendos, a constant lack of freezer space and snazzy National Treasure™ Mary Berry in trademark pastel attire.
From the off it was clear Selasi was going to be my favourite. He’s got the kind of natural chill that is completely absent in my own DNA. As the other contestants fretted, wept and threw their rubbery sponges on the floor, Selasi hummed, snacked on his ingredients and took time out to just enjoy the moment (it appeared). He’s a big, tough biking banker who can bake pretty cakes – by the end I had developed a mega-crush. I told my husband. He looked unimpressed.
When Jane (perfectly nice lady, decent cakesmith) was crowned star baker I’ll admit I was horrified. ‘No way! It was clearly Selasi! He’s been robbed! What is this mad conspiracy?!’ I yelled at the TV. My husband looked even more unimpressed, but I let him have the last fajita so he soon stopped. Selasi himself just seemed pleased to have made it through (as if that was ever in doubt). I fired off a couple of disgruntled Tweets – #JusticeforSelasi – and then went to raid the biscuit tin.
Anna:When the first series of GBBO aired I was living abroad. Returning to the UK I was confused to say the least by the widespread devotion this new show had inspired: “So you just…watch ordinary people bake cakes?!” 7 years later and I am a die-hard fan whose enthusiasm only grows with each new intake of bakers.
So, Wednesdays are BACK. I’m already in love with slightly dippy Ed Sheeran fan Val. Star Baker for me was Selasi, who took the crown in the technical challenge while remaining horizontally laid back. I also learned that Paul Hollywood and I have two things in common: a love of both lemon drizzle cake and dunking jaffa cakes in tea.
The only disappointment was that no one addressed one of the great questions of our time: jaffa cakes – cake or biscuit?
Julia: What a brilliant welcome back to Bake Off. There were laughs, innuendos, bakers giving up and starting again and even cakes thrown at the tent wall. A perfect GBBO episode.
The signature bake turned out to be surprisingly tricky, with most bakers struggling with their flavours, but hats off to Candice for a beautifully presented (and gluten-free!) cake. The tension rose as the bakers faced their first ever technical, the Jaffa Cakes. Last series I complained quite a lot about the technical challenges involving baking something nobody had ever heard of (flaounes anyone?). So this was great. Everyone has eaten a Jaffa Cake, we all know what they look like, right? Right? Apparently not. Andrew, the lovely red-haired, Eddie Redmayne lookalike with engineering qualifications coming out of his ears, who works as an aerospace engineer for Rolls-Royce, AND more importantly, is my draw in the office sweepstake, did not know which way up a Jaffa Cake should go. Seriously. How is that possible? Hopefully it was just the pressure of The Tent. But there was the opportunity of the showstopper to redeem himself, and redeem himself he did, with an incredible mirror-glazed cake.
And Val! Possibly this year’s Norman, whose cakes talk to her and tell her when they are ready. A piece of information supplied in all seriousness and with no explanation.
But let’s talk about Selasi. The man is a baking hero, he makes everything look easy. That is a level of cool that most of us can only dream of, especially when faced with the steely glares of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. I do think he was robbed of Star Baker, and my shock at Jane’s award was so thorough I had to press rewind and see all her bakes again (it’s very confusing at this point when there are so many of them) and did begrudgingly conclude she’d done quite well, but with a bit less screen time.
And of course, I can’t complete this round-up without a mention of the fabulousness which is Mel and Sue, they were both on brilliant form as always, but this week, my proper, howl-out-loud moment came with Paul’s Jaffa Cake Dunk and The Look from Bezza. Just brilliant.
Alex: For all of us armchair sporting enthusiasts who are bereft now the Olympics have finished, fear not! For the annual Baking Olympics is here to cheer us all up and usher in the autumn. Bake Off’s return means that everyone’s Wednesday night is sorted for the next couple of months, and I, for one, can’t wait for the passionate discussions as to who was robbed of Star Baker status and whether the week’s outgoing baker really deserved to be ushered from the tent.
Happily, given that this whole year has been full of upsets and upheavals, nothing has changed in Bake Off World. Mary is still rocking bright pink nail varnish and a twinkle that could light up the surrounding countryside for miles. Paul is still using way too much product in his hair. Mel and Sue continue to play Innuendo Bingo, assuming that we’re all playing a drinking game at home, and they want to destroy our livers. They stop only to comfort contestants when it all gets A Bit Much, and assure them that the world isn’t going to end because their Genoese has turned into a Frisbee.
True to form, there were tears and triumph snatched from the jaws of disaster (well done, Benjamina). There was an ill-advised foray into coloured icing (blue icing is nobody’s friend). And the customary, ‘why would you bother making that, when you can buy a packet of them for 99p?’ technical bake. Seriously, would anyone be arsed to make jaffa cakes? It may have been Cake Week, but the main theme this week, seemingly, was Everyone Starting Again From Scratch. I’ve never seen so much stuff lobbed into bins! It was like a tribute to Baked Alaskagate. Someone even uttered the immortal phrase, ‘I need a freezer!’ which gave me ‘Nam-style flashbacks. No wonder Tom was trying to get booze into every possible bake (too much in the first, too little in the second; Tom is the Goldilocks of booze baking).
The highlight of the first episode was playing ‘middle class bingo’ with the ingredients. First up was a yuzu drizzle – blank looks all round. Then Michael hit Peak Middle Class by making a matcha cake. Seriously, given he’s the youngest in the competition and a student, I suspect that Michael lives with his (very wealthy) parents. How else to explain the entire field’s worth of matcha that he used – pound for pound, that stuff costs more than gold. Also loving the fact Paul had no idea what it was, and kept repeating, ‘Matchatee?’ all as one word.
First episodes faves: obviously Selasi, the one-man antidote to a nation’s suspicion of bankers. Selasi is so laid back, he makes a point of leaving out something quite crucial in each bake. I’m not sure how brilliant an approach ‘being lax on detail’ is when it comes to banking – perhaps that’s why we’re all still in a giant mess *politics klaxon* Ginger Andrew’s mirror glaze was a thing of wonder. ‘Well done, Andrew, well done’, said Paul, in the manner of a dad who was anticipating having to eat something made by his small child. A child with no sense of taste or smell. Ha! Go, Andrew, you jet engine genius. Paul being really very curt about a Genoese is, however, upsettingly British.
Selasi was robbed of Star Baker status by Jane (Coronation Street’s Hayley, moonlighting on the BBC). Lee was, obviously, the first to go. Why do they insist on having an older gent who always gets booted early for being just, not very good? There must have been tons of people who applied who were better bakers. I know they try for a good spread of ages, race representation and an even ratio of gender, which is as it should be, but I don’t feel it’s necessary to be PC at the expense of someone being really up there, quality-wise.
So, Biscuit Week beckons – will Andrew make a gingerbread jet? Can Selasi fashion a working replica of the Bank of England, incorporating chocolate coins? Will ‘Cake Whisperer’ Val’s biscuits sing or singe? Will it be Mel or Sue who gets to use the phrase, ‘Bakers, we want you to erect a large structure made entirely of biscuit; careful it’s not too hard, though’? *Drink* Can’t wait.
And if all the drizzling has inspired you, try out Dhruv Baker’s Lemon and Coriander Drizzle Cake