It arrived about a month later than usual, but even a pandemic could not keep The Great British Baking Show from bringing us the comforts of Cake Week.
But instead of bakers going home every week to practice and returning over the course of ten weekends to film, everyone moved, American-reality show style, into the "Bake Off Villiage," a.k.a. "The Baking Bubble." But it may have unintended effects, as it's not evident if contestants are getting enough practice bakes ahead of their Signatures and Showstoppers. (Considering the opening trainwreck in this hour, they very well may not.)
But even if this season winds up wobblier than usual with more soggy bottoms all around, there's new host Matt Lucas. His quiet, friendly energy has brought back a much needed "contestant friend" element to the Tent. And his surrealist silliness (randomly appearing on camera with things balanced on his head, playing with the announcement timings) has the effect of making Noel Fielding work harder too.
But it's notable that the actual opening of this season on Channel 4, where Lucas announced the season's arrival as Boris Johnson, was cut from the Netflix version. It's understandable, as Lucas' Boris jokes were referencing press conferences from Number 10 that Americans have not seen. But I missed the "Stay Alert >> Protect Cakes >> Save Loaves" signs. And, of all countries, Americans are the most primed to recognize a Saturday Night Live political skit when they see one. Live from the Tent, it's Baking Show Night.
But the show still began with Cake Week and a Signature challenge of The Battenberg. It's not the first time the show's done Battenbergs; it was the Technical way back in GBBO Series 2 (a season that's not made it to America on PBS or on Netflix). Let's run through the newbies and see how they did. As always, the Signature is judged on a pass/fail metric.
- Peter Gluten-Free Chocolate & Orange Battenberg (Pass): Our youngest contestant has made a super neat cake with crisp inner squares that are moist and polka-dot marzipan.
- Mak East India Battenberg (Pass): The inner squares are not even, but that's quibbling. Paul doesn't love the ginger and orange combo with pistachio marzipan, but that's just British tastebuds.
- Hermine Chocolate & Orange Battenberg (Pass): Beautifully decorated, her orange marmalade marzipan blends the two cake flavors nicely.
- Laura Celebration of Summer Battenberg (Fail): The flowers on top are better than the cake inside, which is messy, flavorless, and all four squares are the same color
- Dave Chocolate Espresso Martini Battenberg (Pass): Very clean and neat, though it's all a bit beige.
- Linda Ambulance Battenberg (Pass): It's tribute to pandemic first responders like her cousin, but the ambulance isn't finished, so it just looks like a bus. The inside is recognizable as the St. George's Flag though
- Loriea Hot Summer's Day Treats Battenberg (Fail): It's supposed to be cream soda and bubblegum. But the flavors are turned up to 11, and it's bone dry.
- Mark Turkish Bazaar Inspired Battenberg (Fail): It looks like Christmas with the green and red, the pomegranate and pistachio flavors are at war, and the marzipan is almost an inch thick.
- Marc Bittersweet Battenberg (Fail): It's a dramatic looking cake, but the judges think all the icing work is too busy, and there's too much rosewater.
- Lottie Rhubarb & Custard Battenberg (Pass): She wrapped it to look like a sweet, and has real sweets that match her design on top.
- Rowan The Magic Flute Battenberg (Fail): He'd promised a temple design inside the cake but ran out of time, so it's just random stacks. Also, the cake is too dense and underbaked.
- Sura Lemon & Orange Battenberg (Pass): Lovely looking squares, nice glazed topping of candied fruit; Prue calls it a lovely piece of cake.
Peter, Sura, Lottie, and Hermine are ones to watch. As for our weaker links, Laura, Linda, Marc, and Rowan all look like they could have used more practice and time management. Now it's on to the Technical Challenge, and the second time the show has cut a Matt Lucas joke. It's not a good cut either; you can hear the blip in the dialogue where they took out his singing "Hooray Paul Hollllywooood."
It's another bake viewers have seen before, Pineapple Upside Down Cakes. Six miniature ones, all identical. Several bakers have made them before. According to Paul and Prue, the biggest issue will be unmolding them.
But what Paul and Prue do not foresee or warn about is watching one's elbows. As Sura puts down her cakes, she sees a fly and swats at it, knocking her elbow directly into Dave's tray, upending four cakes straight to the floor. She is mortified, though Dave is not worried, as accidents happen. Matt and Noel promise Prue and Paul will be told and judge on the two that survived.
12. Linda: Her cakes didn't even rise, and the rest was a disaster.
11. Marc: Very bitter caramel, overbaked, badly unmolded
10. Loriea: Underbaked, too pale, and the cream topping melted
9. Dave: His two survivors were well-flavored but too dark
8. Mak: Collapsed cream, doughy and way too dark
7. Mark: Cream melted, and it's dark
6. Laura: Dark caramel but a lovely cake
5. Hermine: Cream melted, but otherwise not bad
4. Lottie: Uniform and nice color
3. Rowan: Consistent good sponge
2. Peter: Prue: "Pretty well faultless, but a smidge below the winner."
1. Sura: Practically perfect in every way.
Poor Sura can barely enjoy her win; she's still red-eyed over smashing into Dave. With one cake challenge left, Linda, Marc, and Loriea are the bottom three, and even a complete collapse by someone else will probably not be enough to dislodge. But there may well be a total collapse. Much like last season, the first showstopper is a ludicrously complex concept that borders on unfair to amateurs. They're making Cake Busts of their celebrity heroes. (And it must have a head and mostly be made of cake.)
Even if the bakers bake their cakes well (not assured), sculpting human faces is formidable. Asking these guys to make sculptures out of cake and fondant, especially when they aren't carvers or artists, just bakers, demands a train wreck, even if they did have time to practice. As Laura tells it to Matt Lucas, her practices have been disastrous: "The head exploded, and it went in the bin."
As Sura desperately attempts to prop her bust's head up last minute as the other contestants suggest ideas for proper propping, let's roll through who survived this bust-up.
Rowan's "A Tribute To Marie Antoinette" Like his earlier temple, his promised choux bun hairpieces failed to rise. Paul grumbles that the man needs to stop overpromising and under-delivering, but it's recognizable and tasty.
Lottie's "Coconut & Lime Louis Theroux" It's not a flattering rendition of Theroux, but it is cartoonishly recognizable. Unfortunately, it's bone dry.
Mak's "Tribute to Bill Bryson" The nose and ears are Picasso-esque, but the hair and beard are correct. The cake is too dry,
Linda's "Lemon & Orange Bob Marley" She attempted to make it psychedelic-colored and used a skull mold, but she failed to finish anything, so it looks like a swirly Medusa. At least it's delicious.
Peter's "In honour of Sir Chris" The "Sir Chris" is Chris Hoy, an Olympic medal-winning cyclist, which means the face is covered with a helmet and mask. It's a super-smart way to sidestep the challenge, which Paul notes in a tone that suggests he's impressed. And the cake is delicious.
Dave's "Three Flavours of Tom DeLonge" If you're going to make a cake for the lead singer of Blink-182, and it looks like an aging punk, you've probably nailed it. The cake tastes like toothpaste. Sura should have elbowed this one off the table.
Marc's "Chocolate & Vanilla Ziggy" That's not David Bowie; it's the Staypuff Marshmallow Man with his face punched in and clumsy lighting bolts stuck to it.
Hermine's "Ode to Lupita" The entirety of Wakanda would like to stage a protest at this godawful sculpt. But the fondant fabric is remarkable, and the cake is blessedly tasty.
Mark's "Origin-ger of the Species' by Charles Darwin" He made his bust clay-colored, so the unfinished look (and skull-shaped from the baking pan) are passable, even though the only reason anyone knows it's Darwin is the label.
Loriea's "Flavours of Jamaica' – A Tribute to Miss Lou" Another disaster face, it looks like Maz Kanata from Star Wars. But she put scotch bonnet powder in her cake, and Prue and Paul look like they are desperately in need of glasses of milk after tasting it.
Sura's "Ode to Attenborough" If poor David Attenborough were narrating this moment, he would say, "The baker approaches the bench in trepidation, as the Alpha Paul figure stands arms akimbo. The poor cake has fallen over, propped up only by pastry bags, a dismal sign of its survival indeed." The cake is at least moist.
Laura's "Lemon & Elderflower Freddie" The head exploded again, but at least this time she didn't chuck it in the bin. The jacket is a beauty, though. The cake is moist, though, which Prue says is probably why the head didn't hold up.
Sura's Attenborough collapse took her out of the Star Baker running, defaulting it to Peter. As for who's leaving the Bubble, there's no getting around bubblegum and chili fails back-to-back. Sorry, Loriea.
What did you think of the first episode of this year's Baking Show? Let's discuss in the comments.