Our plan, last Wednesday, was to take full advantage of the impending tube strike, come back to our London bolt hole early and get ready for an evening of indulgence in the name of the Great British Bake Off. It seemed foolproof, until such time as our friends invited us out for dinner on that very evening somewhere a convenient bus ride away.
I realise it is sacrilege to say this, but I must confess that the thought of a dinner out with friends trumps a night in with Paul Hollywood any day of the week. I know I have disappointed you all, but I am also woman enough to confess that I just don’t care. The lure of authentically cooked Greek food shared with good company is always going to win over Hollywood’s chiselled jaw line and steely eyes. Unless he turns up at the front door bearing buns and a signed picture of Mary Berry.
Having said that, it was an utter joy to be back in Bake Off mode the following morning. The children and I voluntarily got up early to experience full viewing pleasure, and I note that I was entirely happy to set aside my Shreddies for Paul. He’s not as appealing as kleftiko, but more dazzling than Shreddies. It’s important to have a system.
The first week is always a nightmare to blog about, given that there are twelve contestants competing. In previous years I have always done my best to provide the skinny on all twelve. This year you are getting a potted history. I blame the cuts.
Firstly, let us discuss the challenges.
It was cake week. I love cake week because, as we all know, I love cake. I was however slightly disappointed with the signature challenge, which turned out to be Madeira cake. Now I have a very soft spot for Madeira cake. I love them enough to say, leave Paul Hollywood in the lurch for half an hour if someone offered me a quick coffee and a slab of the old Madeira. I don’t love it enough to leave Bezza hanging, and I’d chuck one out the window to the birds for a snog with Sue Perkins. That’s the Madeira scale in this house.
No matter how much you love them though, you have to admit that they are a bit boring. There are some cakes in the world that are meant to be plain and yet entirely satisfying, and that is the role of the Madeira cake. You won’t see it rouging its cheeks, dabbing a bit of butter cream behind its ears and going all out to win hearts and minds with a flash of naked ankle. It’s a stalwart trencher woman of a cake. It’s got a no nonsense take on the world and is none the worse for that.
Unfortunately this practical, no nonsense, cake is cake, take it or bloody leave it thing doesn’t make for brilliant telly, and anyone who tries to ponce about tarting up a Madeira cake deserves a kick up the warse as Tallulah used to say in one of her more unfortunate, splenetic phases of toddlerhood. Mary and Paul seemed as confused by the Madeira conundrum as I was to be honest. One minute we’re cutting to a picture of Paul lurking furtively in a hedge saying he wanted to see something interesting in the Madeira line. The next, there’s Dame Mary of Berry giving it all about the purity of the integrity of the lineage of the grand old Madeira cake and how sometimes simple is best. Basically the bakers were screwed. It was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t round.
Round one, and they’re already on the ropes. Eek.
The only thing everyone could agree on was that the main ingredient of an excellent Madeira cake was a fine crack. Everyone was also agreed that this word had to be repeated as often as possible with as much Finbar Saunders wiggling of the suggestive eyebrows as possible. I am saying nothing. Let us move along.
The technical challenge involved making a walnut cake, sans coffee, which I totally don’t approve of as the two things go together like a horse and carriage. I think it is enough to say that coffee and walnut cake is Alan Bennett’s favourite cake, and what’s good enough for Alan should suffice for Paul and Mary, because an Alan in the hand is worth a Paul and Mary in the bush any day of the week, and when Alan has spoken, we should all listen and obey.
Cake, it’s just one fucking bun after another…
The complexities of how finely one should chop walnuts and whether anyone should ever listen to Mary’s advice when she has written the recipe herself and told you exactly what to do, occupied the bakers for several hours, and us for about twenty minutes. The answers, it turns out, were very finely indeed, and always bloody listen to the woman, it’sMaryBerryyouidiot!
I did feel smug that I have made meringue butter cream frosting thanks to Liberty London Girl, and that I would have redeemed myself in the technical round utterly, even if I’d totally blown the Madeira round. It’s not often I get to feel capable during GBBO, so I think I will allow myself this small moment of glory, amidst what would otherwise be shambolic cursing, blood letting and a great deal of black smoke, were I to be let loose in the tent.
The final challenge was to make Black Forest Gateau as a show stopper cake. I quailed dear readers, I quailed.
As a small child, growing up in the Seventies, and only really appreciating the finer points of chocolate cake, I was presented with a never ending stream of slabs of Black Forest Gateau, because it was ‘the’ cake of the Seventies, with the possible inclusion of Arctic Roll, but with Arctic Roll as the poor cousin. If someone wanted to impress you, the Black Forest Gateau was inevitably trundled out on a trolley, and dolloped onto your plate.
I hate cherry and chocolate together. I hate the pretend cream, and the chocolate sprinkles, and the layers of booby trapped jam that looked like chocolate but turned out to be more bloody cherries. I was however, forced to eat what I was given due to having a strict mother who took no prisoners and who would not accept your dislike of something as a reason not to eat it. I positively fear Black Forest Gateau as a result.
Having said that, some of the bakers did go some way towards redeeming it in my eyes, although there was still quite a lost of cherry action going on, which caused anxiety. I must say that I thought Stu’s beetroot chocolate cake with meringue looked quite good, despite the fact that it wasn’t actually Black Forest Gateau and was therefore instrumental in him being booted off in round one. Stu, you would have had special dispensation from me my dear, and lived to fight another day, despite never doing what you were told at any point during the entire episode.
p.s. I really liked your hat, too.
Other stand out contestants for me this week were: Sandy, who is basically the Madeira cake of contestants. Alan Bennett would approve. I loved Alvin who had issues with his figs but rose above it, and who every time the voice over person went ‘Alvin is putting x in his bake’ made me want to substitute ‘x’ with the word chipmunks. This became a kind of weird Tourettish tic for me, and yet amused me greatly. Props to Dorrett, who managed not to do an Ian and throw her gateau in the bin when her mousse didn’t set and Paul described her experimental sponge as tasting like old tyre re-treads. The woman has nerves of steel. Marie, who won Star Baker seemed lovely, and there was nobody I wanted to jab in the eye this year, although I am watching prison break Paul very closely in the hope that a smile might crack his grim visage in the weeks to come.
It’s all shaping up nicely. You can catch the first episode here if you missed it.
See you next week for the biscuit round.