The sun is shining, the birds are tweeting, and the tent has been put up once more: that’s right, it’s the first day of Bake Off! It’s also impressive how they managed to pick the one day of summer we had this year on which to start filming – what are the odds?
Speaking of which: here we are with twelve brand new contestants, primed and ready to go. Noel kicks things off with some rather boring jokes – “Things look a little bit different this year. That’s right. Paul’s had his beard reshaped.”
Also, a few more exciting things: Alison Hammond, for one, who gets a round of applause from the contestants and immediately brings a warm maternal energy to proceedings.
It is she who announces the first Signature challenge – a vertical layer cake. Essentially, it’s a Swiss roll turned on its side and frosted to within an inch of its life. Paul and Prue are duly wheeled on to make all sorts of ominous threats about the disasters that will befall the bakers should they dare to underbake, overbake or just take it out of the oven a touch too late.
Fortunately, the bakers are too giddy to care. “I am baking for my life!” announces Amos (a deli and grocery manager) as things swing into gear. And when everybody swings by university student Rowan’s bench to chat things over with him, he lets out a shrill squeal of, “Oh my gosh! It’s real.” To be fair, he’s only 21: Bake Off has been going since he was seven.
In quick succession, we then meet retired cabin crew member Nicky (who’s making a blood-orange sponge), resource planner Dan (who’s making a rhubarb and custard cake) and intelligence analyst Saku, whose lemon and blueberry cake is received with excitement by Paul. “Are you a little bit nervous?” he asks her. “A lot nervous!” she replies, then – what’s this? Paul goes in for the hug! Alison must be rubbing off on him already.
That’s nothing on participation officer Tasha, though, who’s making a black sesame and yuzu cake with (gasp) delicate Genoese sponge. “It’s just a Swiss roll on its end,” Tasha says, “And I can’t help but think: why?” Speaking truth to power… but half an hour later, it looks like those sponges are looking awfully underbaked. Plus, Matty’s buttercream has split, twice: nothing like a bit of chaos to kick things off in style.
Unfortunately, this goes for the final product, too. Chemist Josh has overbaked; Amos’ chocolate drip has split and Tasha is brutally called out by Paul for her flat layers: “did you sit on it?” But Rowan gets marks for his flavours; teacher Matty’s tiramisu cake is called both “powerful” and “muscular” (me neither) and Abbi (a delivery driver from Cumbria who moonlights as a forager) manages not to poison the judges with the wild-foraged poppy seeds in hers.
That’s a win – but no time to sit around gloating, it’s time for the technical. “This is the most iconic Bake Off cake,” Paul tells them. And indeed it is: the remit is to create the raspberry-topped gateau from the Bake Off opening credits. Apparently, it’s actually a chocolate fudge cake; is the year that Bake Off finally jumps the shark?
Either way, the pressure is getting to the bakers: first off, Dana (who, we are told, works as a database administrator) confesses that she may have doubled the amount of chocolate that is supposed to go in the cake by accident (yeah right), then comes a scramble to cool the cakes down enough to put the ganache on top. “It wouldn’t be Bake Off without somebody wafting one of these!” Dan says cheerily, wielding a massive metal fan.
Suddenly, a dilemma: do the bakers include the missing raspberry off the top of the cake, or not? Dana, Abbi and Dan all opt to leave it off, Tasha refuses. Rowan has even popped his on the side. “You can put it on if you want. I’m not going to do it for you,” he states. We like a man with strong morals.
Either way, they’re going to have an answer presently. Saku’s cake is lambasted for leaving the wrong raspberry out – “the raspberry’s at the edge,” Prue proclaims. Somebody’s not watched enough Bake Off, but many of the bakers have bigger problems: most of the ganaches are at least half-melted. And pity poor Dana, whose cake is crushingly pronounced “too fudgey.”
She is relegated to last place, with Dan scooping first prize. “I’m pretty much on cloud nine, to be honest,” he says, before adding: “I don’t want to compare having babies to baking a good cake.” You said it, Dan, don’t blame us.
With his eyes on the prize, all Dan needs to do now is deliver a cracking showstopper. But he has his work cut out (as does everybody else): the remit is to create a cake shaped and decorated like an animal. “If I was going to do an animal cake?” Paul muses as the frantic music kicks in. “Silverback gorilla.”
Needless to say, the designs are grand, if not quite gorilla-level: Keith is making “a thirteen-year-old poodle that I’m a stepfather to”. “She’s not a rare beauty,” he adds. Dana is making her dog Gracie, Dan is sculpting a memorial to his dead dog Bruno, Amos is doing a killer whale, and mum-of-four Cristy a duck. Even better, Nicky is making a beaver because she dressed up as one once, which (of course) leads to a lot of sniggering at the table. “I don’t even know what a beaver looks like,” Prue says, while Paul cracks up in the corner.
But it’s not all fun and games: as the clock ticks on, Amos’ killer whale starts slipping all over the place and ultimately collapses on a wave of its own melted buttercream. And, oh no – Matty’s attempt to make black icing for his dog cake has ended up looking resolutely grey. “We’ll pretend he’s not black,” he says.
When all is said and done, it’s Tasha’s robin cake that steals the prize: immaculately designed, with a gorgeous tahini flavour, it’s probably what saves her from being relegated. But the dogs don’t come off so well: Matty’s looks like it’s been run over, proclaims Paul, while Keith’s poodle looks like it has buttercream mange and Dana’s dog is suspiciously pancake-shaped. And when the time comes to taste Amos’ collapsed killer whale, it’s swiftly deemed to be “tough as old boots.”
Ouch – so when the end of the episode rolls around, is it any surprise that he’s the first to go? Dan scoops the prize of Star Baker for the late Bruno. Congrats, Dan: every dog has his day and all that. But he’s only safe for one week: tune in next time for more sticky moments.
The Great British Bake Off airs on Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 4