Well my lovelies, that’s episode one of The Great British Bake Off under our belts, and all my fears were completely unfounded.
If you missed it, you can watch it here.
It was, as my children say, epic.
I do not approve of exclamation marks in general, but as Nicki and I texted each other over the last hour, they were flying thick and fast. In fact, at one point I think my eyebrows actually turned into a pair of exclamation marks. It was a veritable roller coaster of emotionalness and flour. I am spent. Wrung out, like a slightly wrinkled, out of date macaron.
Goodness it was exciting. Wasn’t it? It wasn’t just me, and my children, and all the friends who texted me was it? I really don’t know why they bother with things like The Commonwealth Games. We should have world wide Bake Offs every four years for a fortnight instead, with heats running through the year to keep us all happy before the big event. A kind of baking Jeux sans Frontieres. I swear it would bring about world peace within a decade and we’d all be taking a lot less valium.
Plus, the McDougall flour men would be excellent world leaders.
Someone needs to keep Hollywood away from sniffing around any thrones mind you. He has a power crazed look in his eye. Thrones are reserved for Mary. Hollywood will have to be content with being Berry’s kingmaker.
For those of you who are Bake Off virgins, here’s the low down. Put twelve novice bakers in a large circus tent with the Hitler of bread based products, Paul Hollywood, and the grand dame of the lemon drizzle cake, Mary Berry. Add floral bomber jackets, random shots of wildlife, Mel and Sue and three fiendishly difficult baking projects to be completed over two days and citron est ton tarte. Or something.
This year the contestants are shaping up to be very splendid indeed. I got hugely over excited at points, and the children had to tell me to stop making ‘squee’ noises, because it was putting them off. Because there are twelve of them I shall try to sum them up fairly pithily for you:
Claire – Brownie points because she has a dog called Trevor. Looks rather like my friend Caroline, who also makes cakes. Slightly confusing and I kept referring to her as Clairoline.
Luis – Brownie points because he keeps bees. In this house we are a friend to bees, and by association, a friend to Luis. He’s a bit of a Heston. His show stopper challenge involved thirty six individual pipettes. Need I say more?
Chetna – Brownie points for her splendid Converse, which she had themed in nicely with the rest of her outfit. Funky, yet sophisticated. She also had cool earrings (I know it’s about baking – sorry).
Richard – Brownie points for embracing pink floral activities despite being a builder. Small obsession with pistachios. Sticks pencil behind ear whilst baking, which is endearing.
Jordan – Brownie points for riding a Raleigh Chopper to work. The wild haired man of baking. Co-ordinates his hair clips with his shirt. This does not help with his baking. He needs to worry less about accessorising and more about not making his bakes look like severed fingers.
Enwezor – Brownie points for embracing the miniaturisation of the Battenburg cake.
Kate – Brownie points for having pink hair and looking rather like a pixie.
Martha – Brownie points for being young and yet competent. Also for not being like Ruby last year, which I was a bit worried about when they showed footage of Martha cross legged amongst her books a la Ruby. So far there seems to have not been time to develop a chronic addiction to over sized cardigans and sticking her lip out. I am monitoring the situation closely.
Iain – Brownie points for being mostly made of ginger hair. His hair is massive. His beard is massive. He’s the hairy hipster. When things went a bit wrong I kept thinking: ‘Just pull the one you made earlier out from under your beard hair. Nobody will know.’
Norman – Brownie points for explaining all about how Black Forest Swiss Rolls might have an identity crisis because the Black Forest is in Germany ‘Like where my dog comes from’, but the roll is Swiss. Norman. I love you.
Nancy – Brownie points for keeping her cool when all about were losing theirs. She does a good line in eyebrow raising.
Diane – Brownie points for being very matter of fact. You have a feeling she’d be excellent in a crisis and a dab hand at rolling bandages whilst simultaneously making everyone twelve gallons of tea.
To the challenges. The first challenge is always the signature bake. This week it was the signature Swiss roll. My signature swiss roll comes in a box from Tesco. I tried to make a Swiss roll once. It did roll, but then it pinged back into its basic mattress formation. It was, it has to be said, quite chewy. Again with the mattress metaphor. Sometimes when I get into bed, and sink down into my Tempur, memory foam mattress, I have flash backs to that Swiss roll.
The contestants did better than me, which is good, because otherwise it would be a significantly shorter programme with a lot more weeping. Iain, it has to be said, did not shine. He had clearly been to the Katyboo school of Swiss roll making. I shall be sending him his money back. He tried to convince Mary that if he scored along his roll, many, many times, that it would fold more easily. Mary was not convinced. Sue was not convinced: ‘It’s not a squid, Iain’. If I’m honest, I was not convinced either. In fact, even the camera man was shaking his head (you can detect a slight wobble in the filming right there). Mary stayed to watch as Iain demonstrated his method. Sadly, what Iain demonstrated was that he was utterly wrong. He basically invented a Swiss triangle, which Toblerone have already done much more effectively. Iain climbed into his beard in shame, and Paul had to escort Mary from the premises as she shook her head most emphatically. The Boo sofa let out a collective: ‘Noooooo! Iain! Nooooo!’
Claire also had a disastrous round. She made a chocolate orange roll which basically turned into an ORANGE roll which had so much ORANGE in it you felt like you’d been Tangoed. The resulting critique from Mary and Paul led to the first tears of the season. They were not the ORANGE tears of joy.
Richard had an excellent bake, filling his roll with pistachio, and triumphing despite Paul’s initial misgivings. Luis squeezed his bees into his Spanish honey and orange cake and impressed everyone and Nancy triumphed despite having issues with her hazelnuts.
The technical challenge was Mary’s classic cherry cake, baked in a ring shaped tin and decorated with water icing. It looked very simple, which as we all know means that it probably takes fourteen years of intensive training to even get close to making something approximate.
There was a lot of debate about the cherries. Jordan in particular was rather vociferous about whether the cherries needed washing and chopping and what the deceptively simple phrase ‘prepare the cherries’ actually meant. Nancy washed hers and put flour on them to stop them sinking. How does this stop them sinking? How? I need to know. And how do you wash a glace cherry? They’re sticky all the way through. As all Jordan’s cherries disappeared in his bake and he forgot to put any on the top of his cake, maybe he just washed them all away to nothing. I was very alarmed by how seriously the cherry issue was being debated. Martha said you have to dry them too. I will never look at a glace cherry in the same way again.
Norman continued to intrigue and delight. He is, it transpired in the Swiss roll round, an enthusiastic potter as well as a baker, and had made a special cake plate that looked like a skate board powered by mini, ceramic Swiss rolls to display his Swiss Roll on. I kept hoping he had made a different, themed plate for each subsequent round, but it was not to be. Maybe next week. I hope so. I want pagodas, and the Taj Mahal of cake plates, or my money back. In the technical round we were treated to him hand mixing his cake mix as it didn’t seem ‘worth the effort to plug the machine in’. We were also privy to his misgivings about platform shoes, and the correct method to fan a cake cool. Mel’s being; ‘The best fanning I’ve seen all week.’
In the mean time, Iain’s Swiss roll debacle was not making him more confident with the cherry situation and there was quite a lot of beard tugging going on in hipster’s corner. Nancy came first with her dried and dusted cherries, and Jordan came last due to the fact that he had no cherries at all. My other theory is that he ate them all out of nervousness. I do that sometimes. It would also explain his hyperactivity. He needs a glass of hot milk and a sit down.
The show stopper this week was rather fiendish. The brief was an English, classic cake, which seemed simple until you realised that they had to be miniaturised and they had to make thirty six identical cakes. Thirty six. THIRTY SIX.
I can’t even make the two halves of an ordinary sized Victoria sponge look the same. Holy bicarb Batman. That’s a tough gig.
In this round I was delighted to find that Norman was mixing his batter with his lucky spoon. I think he takes it everywhere with him. Even in non baking situations. He has a spoon case, like the ones the wizard’s use at Hogwarts for their wands. He got his spoon from Spoonivanders magical spoon emporium. It’s called Bertha. It’s made of sapient pear wood and when Norman’s in bed it cleans the kitchen and feeds the cat for him.
Nancy had a lucky guillotine, which her husband had made for her, which when she wasn’t cutting cakes into perfect bite sized morsels of delight, she uses to decapitate mosquitos in the tent to relieve the others of the anguish of a nasty bite on the ankle. She charges fifty pence per time, but she gives all the money to the anti malaria charity Mozzulike.
In this round Chetna followed Baking James from two years ago in making gigantocakes. I have never seen anything wrong with this, but then I am a pig. Paul is a great critic of the gigantocake, preferring weeny, mouse fart size portions. Bah!
Jordan made cakes that were supposed to be lemon drizzle and blueberry, but which just looked like a tiered cake plate full of severed fingers. It was not his finest hour. Iain’s lemon drizzle cakes were not lemony, or drizzly, or even really cakey, but at least they were not triangular, so that was good. Luis made lemon drizzle cakes where you had to drizzle your own lemon with a pipette, which was a bit Holby City for me, but Paul liked it (and I am not going to make any medical jokes there, but I know you’re thinking about them. Me too). Martha made lemon drizzle cakes of perfection. Nancy subdued her Jaffa cakes into sublimity with her chopper, and Richard wowed everyone with his coffee and walnut cakes.
Poor Claire had a terrible round, where her chocolate cakes exploded in the oven in a welter of chocolate gore. By this time she was beyond tears and had just reached that resigned ‘buggerit’ stage of things where she gamely soldiered on, knowing her card was marked, and it was. Nancy was carried round shoulder high, by people afraid she might chop their finger off if they didn’t rejoice sufficiently, while Claire packed her bags. Jordan and Iain could not believe their luck in getting through to the next round. Jordan’s jaw dropped to such a degree when they announced Claire was going home, a baby lamb trotted out of his mouth and out into the fields to play. Iain’s beard curled up like a sultan’s shoe he was so amazed.
It was electric.
Next week it’s biscuits. Hooray!