The Great British Bakeoff: Let Them Eat Cake!

Awwww, yeah! It’s the Great British Bakeoff, everybody! I don’t know quite what it is about this particular cooking show, but I’m super hooked. Actually, I do think I know what it is. It’s just charming. People screw up, and they make some truly inspired stuff. The presenters aren’t too serious—they make lame jokes and laugh at their lameness, and we have Mary’s nice grandmotherly routine to balance out Paul’s tendency to sneer and be sarcastic. And you get the sense that there’s some actual support for the bakers, from each other and from Sue and Mel, which is a nice break from the cutthroat attitudes you see on most other cooking and baking shows. I can’t recall ever having seen a person on the show who was clearly cast to be the ‘villain’ character. It’s refreshing. Plus, I always learn something (actually, often several things) and get seriously inspired by the recipes. These people know their stuff. And the tent where they hold the thing is decorated rather adorably in a way that strikes me as so charmingly British. Not realistic British, British like out of a magazine, but still, cozy and a bit kitchy. Charming.

So, yeah, when I heard last week that GBBO was coming back on Tuesday? I definitely felt like this:

How are things shaping up this year? Let’s see, shall we?

Sue and Mel start off a little oddly chatting with each other about…gastric bands? Support garments? I have no idea, all I know is, the term ‘back boobs’ comes into play at some point. We finally move into the tent to meet our baker’s dozen (heh) of bakers. It’s cake week, folks, and what better way to start off GBBO? Sue does say that with 13 of them, at some point, two people might get kicked off, and one of the guys, Ali (token minority #1) looks like he’s about to crap himself. Their first task: a sandwich cake.

On your marks, get set, bake!

Time to meet the bakers. They’re all quite excited, and several of them are a bit flustered. Paul says that sandwich cakes show all their sins, so this is a good start. Mary adds that a basic sandwich cake is easy, but they want the bakers to take them one step further. She specifically says she doesn’t want a classic Victoria sponge. Guess what baker Glen’s making! You guessed it! Strawberries and cream Victoria sponge. For those interested, Glen’s a teacher who has a dog named Molly, just like me!

Lucy is a gardener who’s making a cardamom sandwich cake filled with her own rhubarb. Yum!

Beca is an army wife who sings in the choir and is making a grapefruit sandwich. Also yum!

Though most of the bakers are making a classic sponge, one of them, Howard, is using rice flour. He’s a council worker who apparently spends hours making intricate cakes. We get to see him painting a really exquisite portrait of a couple on pastillage. Damn, he’s good. He’s making a passion fruit and coconut cake. I’m sure it’s going to be delish, but I don’t care for coconut, so no big yum from me on this one. He’s hoping to win this one on taste.

Mark has forgotten what he’s doing. Seriously, that’s what he tells the camera. Not a good start. He’s a carpenter with three sons he’s already got baking. That’s some good parenting, Mark. See, it’s not just the girls who can be good in the kitchen! He’s making a lemon poppyseed cake that he plans to carve into a lemon shape. Aww. Paul seems skeptical, of course. Mel wishes him luck.

Frances is baking her cake in a mold shaped like a sandwich. A bit twee, but could be cute. She designs outfits for toddlers by day and is making a giant jam sandwich in a sugar paste paper bag. Heh. Sue warns her to make sure the cake is perfect, because no amount of cutseyness is going to save her from the wrath of Paul.

The bakers start obsessively weighing the cakes in their tins to make sure they come out the same size. VO tells us the sponges should really be baked on the same shelf, so they’re precisely the same. Naturally, we see some bakers stack theirs.

Cakes in the oven, time for fillings!

Ali’s trashed his section and tells us his mum hates him baking at home because he makes such a mess. Still, he does it, and apparently he’s the only man in his family who’s ever baked. He’s doing a pistachio cake with lychee and rose cream. Unusual. Could be quite delicious.

Our first casualty. And our second. Two of the bakers have hurt themselves.

Christine is a grandmother making a strawberry and vanilla cake with piped basketwork around the edge. Paul likes the idea but thinks she may run into a time issue.

Ruby, the youngest competitor, is doing a rhubarb and custard cake. She’s a university student. She’s doing crystallised rhubarb to decorate the cake, which impresses Mary.

Now Howard’s hurt. Geez, guys, take your time with those knives! We’ve got weeks to go!

Cakes are coming out of the oven, but Mark’s oven wasn’t properly preheated, so his cakes aren’t done. He starts to freak the heck out. 30 minutes to go.

Bakers start filling their sandwiches. Ali’s hands are shaking badly as he tries to pipe. Mark gives up trying to cut his cake into a lemon shape, since it’s so underbaked it’s a useless task. Also having a rough time is Ruby, whose crème patissiere has curdled, rendering it unspreadable. She promptly goes off to have a cry and is joined by Sue, who starts to comfort her, and I really like how she and Mel are like the bakers’ cheerleaders/helpmates/shoulder to cry on. It’s rather sweet. Sue tells her this is just the pressure and it’s all going to be ok. Ruby gets back to work. Ali wonders if he should top his with cream and decides against it. He goes for rose petals instead. Some of these sponges are looking seriously amazing. Frances has even put hers in a little picnic basket. Again, twee, but cute nonetheless.

Glenn’s strawberries and cream cake is first. Paul thinks it’s too big and Mary notes that the moisture from the cut strawberries has run into the cake itself. Taste-wise, Paul likes it, though Mary would have just had strawberry jam and cream, no fresh strawberries.

Beca and her grapefruit sandwich cake. Mary likes the even bake and the proportion of icing and topping. Paul: ‘annoyingly, I really like it.’ What a dickish comment.

Robert’s apple pecan cake. They all really like it. It looks amazing. They also like Deborah’s pineapple and Toby’s spiced carrot cake. Christine’s strawberry and vanilla cake, predictably, is only half piped. Kimberley’s blood orange cake tastes better than it looks, according to Mary. Really? Because I think it looks pretty nice, honestly. Frances directs them how to cut her sandwich cake (diagonally, of course!). Paul likes the idea but thinks the rose flavor is too strong. They like the rose in Ali’s cake, though. Mark’s lemon disaster does not get high marks on presentation. Lucy’s Timperley early cake (whatever that is) is praised. Ruby’s sponge is good, but Paul tells her the crème patissierre is awful. Mary reiterates that the sponge is very good. Howard’s buttercream filling didn’t really set up and seeped into the cake. Paul loves the cake and praises him for doing well with such an unusual flour. Sue warns him to stay away from the knives. Howard is amazed he managed to get a cake out at all. Ruby’s frustrated with herself for screwing up the custard. Ali’s shocked they didn’t hate it.

Time for our weekly history lesson. Back during the Industrial Revolution, it was hard for the kids to meet each other, so weekend promenading began. Young people would walk up and down the street on Sunday evenings and try to snatch at girls’ hair and things. This is what happens when kids don’t go to school and get this out of their systems at an appropriate age. Anyway, when a girl was interested, she’d make a courting cake, which was a shortbread base with double cream, fresh berries, and a sponge on top, to show how well she could bake various things. Sue tries her hand at one and thinks she’s just proving she’d make a good plasterer, as she slops double cream over the top. The historian leading the way says that the tradition of the courting cake (this is a Lancashire thing, by the way) has been revived recently, because William and Kate came up there on a prenuptial visit and were presented with a courting cake, and of course now everyone wants one. Sue observes that this puts her teen years to shame, as it beats a carpark and cider. Hee!

Technical challenge: Mary and Paul are kicked out and the bakers (they need some collective nickname, don’t they? Bakewells? I’m gonna use that until I or someone else comes up with something different. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments) are told they have to make angel food cake. Blech. Perhaps the only cake I hate more than red velvet. It seems such a pointless cake, that. They’re all given a basic recipe and the same ingredients, but the recipes are usually left fairly vague. Ali’s goal is not to come last. Second-to-last is fine, just not last.

Mary and Paul talk about how much they love angel food and Mary comments that there are one or two places this can go wrong.

Egg whites are the only leavening in the cake, but the recipe hasn’t specified hard or soft peaks. Tricky!

Rob builds satellites for his day job. Just FYI.

Sugar is added to the whites, and then flour is folded in. They all worry about losing all the air from the egg whites. Lucy keeps questioning herself and then somehow manages to completely screw it up.

The Bakewells all wonder if they should grease the tin. VO says no, because the cake needs to grip the sides of the tin to rise. Almost all of them seem to be buttering it up.

Toby’s a web designer who lives with his widowed father. He learned to bake from his mum, who died a few years ago.

Sue sips tea and tells the Bakewells they have 30 minutes. They start taking their cakes out of the oven and put them upside down to cool. Except Mark, who thinks upside-down means put the cake tin right side up. Sigh. Oh, Mark.

Deborah is a dentist for people with special needs. Wow, that’s specialized.

The bakers get started on lemon and passionfruit curd. Beca is the only one making hers in a double boiler.

Cakes are unmoulded.

Kim, our other token minority, started baking at school, where she sold cupcakes.

Toby’s cake looks like it’s melted. It’s like a cake by Picasso or something. Poor lad. Well, at least he can hope that Mark’s screwed up worse. Howard’s the only one, it seems, who didn’t grease his tin, and his cake looks perfect. Toby realizes he used salt instead of sugar. Eek!

The Bakewells start decorating their cakes with whipped cream and the curd. Time is called, and the cakes are brought up to the table for the blind judging. In come Paul and Mary. Cake 1 passes muster; so does 2. Ruby’s cake is a mess all around. She looks bummed. Beca’s curd is too thin. Paul says that one of the cakes looks like it came right out of the 70’s, with the piping decoration. They note that a couple of the cakes didn’t rise properly. Toby’s cake is unrisen, raw, and full of salt. Paul tells Mary not to even eat it. Good news, Ali, you’re not going to be last! He’s 11th. Toby’s last, followed by Ruby. Top three are Christine, Lucy, and Rob.

Back they come the next day for the showstopper challenge. Paul, Mary, Sue, and Mel discuss where everyone stands. I think it’s pretty clear where they fall, so let’s move on. They have to make a chocolate cake using at least two types of chocolate to decorate. And they’re looking for some elaborate decorations too, so no lame-o piping on this one! Also, this one has a special extra challenge, because chocolate has to be tempered so it doesn’t bloom, or get those odd swirls of white in it.

Lucy is making a thyme ‘wildwood’ cake decorated with chocolate trees. Mmmm. I think I would have gone with lemon thyme, personally, but I’m not the baker here. Ali’s doing a chocolate, raspberry, and passionfruit cake, which he made for a friend’s engagement. Ruby’s doing a chocolate and ginger ‘night sky’ cake. She’s just trying not to panic. VO notes that it’s tough to tell when a chocolate cake is baked. Meh, not really. Just stick a cake tester in it. Done and done.

Toby’s doing a 3-tiered cake. Ambitious. Paul looks pointedly at his watch and wishes him luck in that way that really means ‘dude, you’re screwed.’

Glen’s inspired by the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona for his massive-looking cake.

Ruby almost drops one of her cakes but manages to save it. Toby realizes he forgot to actually start the timer, so he’s not really sure if his cakes are done. Sigh. He’s a bit of a mess, isn’t he?

They start tempering their chocolate, some of them tempering multiple chocolates at once. Mel makes a joke about a ‘tiny temper’ and then practically groans at herself, which cracks me up. I do like someone who can make fun of themselves. Rob’s using little balloons to make chocolate cups, which is pretty cool. He’s also made beautiful striped chocolate cigars.

Howard’s sculpting a little bear to put on the top of his black forest cake and admits he doesn’t like chocolate, because it gives him a migraine.

Frances is hiding a little chocolate squirrel inside her cake and decorating the outside of the cake with more of them. Mel asks if this is the Bakeoff squirrel, which was apparently some squirrel that was filmed at the Bakeoff a couple of seasons ago that turned out to have enormous nuts, and I don’t mean the edible kind. Mel tells her she’s going to have to add a bit to them. Heh.

Mark’s making profiteroles to top his cake, which is not really cooperating. The outside wrapping isn’t sticking to the cake.

Ali’s ganache isn’t setting.

Toby’s the next hand casualty. I heard the medics on this episode actually ran out of plasters because so many of the bakers hurt themselves. Toby admits to Sue that he’s behind and stressed and she tells him these are optimal conditions for the Bakeoff. Heh.

Mary thinks some of the bakers have been a bit too ambitious, as some of them reach near meltdown point. Frances finishes her cake off and, under Mel’s instruction, adds a couple of hazelnut balls to one of the squirrels. Hee!

That profiterole cake is not working out. Too bad, it looked like a cool design. Mel admires one of the designs.

One minute to go. They rush, Ali breaks something and gets really pissed off. Glen laughs at his own effort. Ali says this is the worst thing he’s ever baked.

Robert presents first. It’s a chocolate raspberry cake, and they love the presentation. It’s really lovely, with raspberries all over the top and shards of white and dark chocolate around the sides. The taste gets high marks as well.

Toby’s 2-tiered chocolate cake is next. It doesn’t look great. It’s especially sad coming after Robert’s. Paul tells him it’s a mess and Toby knows. They give it a try and declare it overbaked and flavourless and dry. Mary does tell him the layers are all the same size, so well done there.

Lucy presents her thyme cake, which also looks great, with chocolate trees decorating the sides and a profusion of dark fruits and thyme leaves on the top. The icing’s a bit thin, though. Very thin in some places, actually. Mary loves the trees, but Paul says the cake looks rough on the outside. Paul’s not sure the thyme really adds much to the cake.

Mark’s chocolate monster, with the profiteroles. Mary observes that it looks volcanic.

Christine offers up a chocolate and orange cake that looks like a hat. Talk about twee. Mary thinks it looks fun. No observations on taste, though.

Beca’s chocolate cherry indulgence is very fancy, decorated with handmade truffles.  Paul praises her tempering and he and Mary both declare it a very good cake.

Deborah’s coffee chocolate cake is slightly overbaked.

Kimberley did a chocolate, raspberry, and basil layer cake. I’m having trouble seeing basil go well with chocolate. Raspberry, yes, but chocolate? Mary likes the taste of fresh raspberries and says the flavours go beautifully together, so what do I know? Paul loves it too.

Glen brings his Gaudi-inspired tower forward and Mary laughs over his propensity for enormous cakes. The layers are all too dry and flavourless. Too bad.

Mary declares Howard’s Black Forest cake a masterpiece. It really is beautiful. That sculpted bear is amazing; he even had time to shade it before standing it next to dark chocolate shards decorated with specks of gold. Mary asks if the bear has a name and Howard suggests Paul. HA! They love the flavor and say it’s very moist.

Frances’s squirrel nut cake (not its official name, but it’s what I’m calling it). Paul thinks it looks good. They dig in and praise her for her moist, well-flavoured cake.

Ali’s turn. He’s really disappointed in himself, and judging from Paul’s face, he is too. Mary gently says it looks a bit childish. Paul criticizes him for leaving the raspberry seeds in. The cake itself is good, though.

Ruby. Her chocolate and ginger cake looks ok. It looks a bit dense to me, and Mary seconds me, but she likes the flavor. Paul agrees. He does think the decoration’s too simple, though. I think Ruby’s just relieved not to have another disaster.

Decision time. Paul and Mary confab and Paul thinks Frances, Rob, and Howard all did exceptionally well. I’d agree. They already know who the star baker’s going to be, and are totally in agreement.

On the bottom: Ali, Toby, Ruby (mostly for the two earlier cakes).

The Bakewells are all lined up for their judgment. Star baker is…Rob! First to go home: Toby. No surprise there. He wasn’t even surprised, he was nodding his head before they even said it. Poor guy. Just not his weekend, I guess. He jokes about becoming some sort of anti-baking monk, and then laughs and says he couldn’t stop eating cake. Aww, go home and make some nice non-salty cake and feel better, Toby! Mark calls one of his kids and tells him he got through. That was pretty cute.

Next week, Glen realizes he’s become one of those lunatics kneeling in front of the oven. Heh. It’s only a matter of time. Bread week next week!