At the end of a fraught day/week/year you sometimes (always if you’re me) need something to soothe your soul. You need something simple, friendly, joyous, uplifting and sweet. You know what I’m going to say now.
You need The Great British Bake Off.
I am possibly, with the exception of my middle child, the most cynical woman alive, but when that music starts, and the tent flaps ripple in the breeze, and I spot the camera man’s wildlife of choice (pheasants this year) tarting about at the back of the shot, all my cynicism melts away and I find myself in my happy place, which happens to be in a large canvas tent with twelve amateur bakers, up to my eyebrows in icing sugar.
This year I was rather panic stricken before it began. I started to wonder if they were going to change it, tweak the formula, replace Paul with a robot and Mary with Craig Revel Horwood in drag. I wondered if they’d try to make it more competitive with, I don’t know really, the addition of obstacle courses created out of giant baking equipment or something. I just feared. The fear was real for me, because let’s face it 2016 has been an absolutely shit year up to now (with a few notable exceptions), and television networks are known for fiddling with perfectly acceptable shows when they’ve been running for a long time.
And the tension got to me rather, leading me to shout rude words at Angela Rippon and Gloria Hunniford as they wittered on about mosquito repellent on the consumer advice programme that was on before Bake Off. I wasn’t the only one. My Bake Off partner, Nicki, texted me to say: ‘OH BOB OFF ANGELA!”
But as soon as Mel and Sue paraded up the grassy knoll, my heart filled with gladness and a bit of SQUEE.
It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. In the first thirty seconds one of the contestants said: ‘I have shouted at a pie.’ My heart then burst.
I have to confess to a moistened eye when I realised that all was well, and all manner of things would be well, because Bake Off is just Bake Off.
Let’s get down to it shall we?
Firstly it was cake week. One of my favourites. In fact I like cake week so much I secretly think they should do it twice. Once at the beginning when things are a bit dicey because everyone is under pressure, and once at the end when things are a bit tense because everyone is baking for victory. If it weren’t for the fact that they seem to end up cooking cakes 90% of the time anyway I’d probably write to the BBC about this.
The technical challenge was a drizzle cake. Regular readers will know that using the power of technology (text messages) my friend Nicki and I collaborate in our Bake Off watching. We agreed that Nicki could do this round if we ever entered. We might enter as one, really tall woman called Kanicky (Nickaty?) wearing a huge raincoat. Between us we stand a chance. Drizzle cake is Nicki’s signature bake.
In terms of cake based efforts, Tom’s attempt to get Mary leathered before the technical by pouring seventeen litres of gin into a mould and baking it, did not go as planned. Mary likes a drink, as we all know, but even her eyebrows actually lifted up, flew around the tent and got trapped by one of the cameramen in the mistaken belief they were a really rare moth. It was fierce. Tom, it appeared, wisely learned from his mistakes, and only used fourteen litres of kirsch later in his show stopper black forest Genoise, at which point the Hollywoodinator said sternly : ‘You could have done with more alcohol in this’, and thus Tom learned the the third rule of Bake Off.
It’s more of a pet theory of mine actually, which is that the tent is actually parked in a parallel dimension in which normal baking rules don’t apply. Or possibly it’s pitched on ley lines. Whatever you did at home won’t work here, sums it up nicely.
In other drizzles, mournful vicar, Lee, stared dolefully into his mix as it split into seventeen consecutive parts just as Mary hoved into view to point it out. It didn’t so much drizzle as pour for him. Candice of the startlingly precise lipstick bailed out the unflappable Selasi, who simply shrugged when he realised he hadn’t put his cinnamon in his cake. She suggested he put it in his drizzle syrup and Mary was wowed. Candice made rhubarb stodge, which although not drizzly enough for Paul, looked lovely to me, arch rhubarb fancier.
Special mention must be given to Louise’s orange drizzle cake. Opinion on our sofa differed as to whether the finished result, which was supposed to look like an orange, looked like Zippy’s head, a slightly porous Pac Man or the Death Star with a stalk. Basically, it was quite frightening, as cakes go.
Let us pause for a moment to talk about Val. Val is one of those contestants who is either going to soar to dizzying heights of previously unimagined baking prowess, or crash into a heap of icing sugar in round two. Here are some things you need to know about her. She cuts her own hair with her baking instruments in a style previously made popular by Alfred the Great. She chats casually to her cakes to see when they’re done, and what’s even better, listens to their answers. She also does aerobics whilst baking. Not, I hasten to add, in a Green Goddess, lycra clad way. More of a Victoria Wood, village hall sort of way. I am watching her career in the tent with interest.
The technical this week was Jaffa Cakes. Fiendishly difficult, unspeakably British. Who but us would dream of eating slightly stale cake/biscuits with orange jelly and chocolate on them? Who but us would use them in a ground breaking legal case to ascertain whether they are in fact cakes or biscuits and thus figure out if VAT has to be paid on them? Who but us still argues about it, even though the case has been over for years?
I think, given that they were included in the cake round, that should this thorny issue ever raise its head again, all the lawyer would have to do would be to produce a large, glossy picture of Mary Berry tucking into a Jaffa Cake while Paul glowers in the background. Job’s a good un.
What surprised me in this round was how few of the contestants knew anything about Jaffa Cakes. I don’t even really like Jaffa Cakes and I’ve polished off thousands in my time (they are very moreish). Yet still, contestants (Jane I am looking at you here) managed to put them together upside down. UPSIDE DOWN? No wonder this country is going to the dogs.
Let us move on to the show stopper. This was to create a mirror glaze cake with Genoise sponge.
Regular readers will know that I attempted Genoise earlier in the year, and after making four that all looked like Candice’s frisbee’d offerings, I gave up. There is a knack for creating a Genoise. I do not have that knack. It appears that quite a few of the contestants didn’t either. Although they probably did before they went into the tent (see rule three, above). At one point, so many were going wrong it looked like a production line for those little carpets you get in car footwells.
Special mention goes to Michael in this round, a bit of a flavour maverick, who completely horrified Mary by using Matcha green tea powder in his sponge, and creating something that tasted like a slice of Glastonbury field after the second day of the festival. Also Kate, whose attempt to create a beautifully elegant, sky blue mirror glazed cake with chocolate swallows swooping across it, looked more like two flattened pegs holding together an alien’s skin just before it exploded.
In summary. Lee the sad vicar did not have his prayers heeded this week, and ended up being the first to leave the tent. Jane, despite creating the world’s first upside down Jaffa Cake, got star baker.
In terms of my contestant choices, I am loving Benjamina and am in awe of Selasi, who is so laid back he actually has to be picked up off the tent floor by a team of runners every time the camera pans off him. I have great hopes that either Tom or Andrew, or ideally both, will go a bit Heston on us as the series progresses. It is all marvellous as far as I’m concerned.
You can catch up with episode one, here.
Next week is biscuit week and I have already spotted Viennese Whirls. Be still my beating heart.