For those who have been watching The Great British Baking Show since it debuted on PBS in 2014, this has been the conform TV show for the last decade of upheaval, there for us after Brexit, the 2016 elections, and all through the pandemic. This week's premiere should be celebratory, as it's the first time since 2019 that the show has filmed on its regular ten-weekend schedule and not in a compressed five-week Bake Off Bubble timeframe as it has since 2020. The premiere's Star Wars scroll opening and pun-tastic sketch suggest the production planned for it to be one. But events have overtaken them, and now GBBO's return comes at a time when the nation needs comfort again.
The series' opening ran 90 minutes (with commercials) in the U.K., making it 67 minutes on streaming, and those extra moments, despite Noel Fielding's terrible Star Wars costuming, are worth it. (Prue's tiny pink glasses are at least cute.) With a dozen bakers to get to know, ensuring everyone has time in front of the camera to present their bakes is crucial. Whether they're faking it until they make it like Syabira, wailing over crumbs like Maisam, or just being themselves (like Paul Hollywood), this is everything we need ahead of the weekend. So let's head to Welford Park, where the show has finally returned after two years, and see what comes out of the oven.
As it has been since time immemorable (save one hiccup in Series 9/Collection 6), it is Cake Week for the show's premiere. For the first challenge, the bakers make mini-sandwich cakes. Miniature cakes are pretty standard for the Signature and/or Technical challenge in the first week, usually either a half dozen or a dozen, depending on the intricate nature of the cake in question. "Sandwich cake" is just the Britishism for a layer cake (because there's icing and/or jam sandwiched between the layers of cake), so the show is going pretty easy on them for this first outing, despite Matt Lucas' joking threat they would only have an hour. (An hour sandwiched between two half-hours. Ha ha ha, etc.)
Let's run down who lovingly named each individual cake and who was convinced they were rubbish. As always, the Signature is judged on a Pass/Fail metric.
- Maxy Mango Magic Mess (Pass): They're huge mini cakes and sadly a bit dry, but the flavor combo is solid.
- James Sticky Toffee Apple Candles (Pass): The piping and detail work is a disaster, but the flavor is superb.
- Carole To Bee or Not To Bee (Pass): The little bees are so cute! And the flavors are well-balanced.
- Kevin Mini Persian Love Cakes (Fail): They look gorgeous, and the icing's lovely, but the cake is dry and stodgy.
- Maisam Pistachio Cakes with Raspberry Buttercream (Fail): They're falling apart, but the components are all tasty.
- Sandro A Bitesize of Love (Pass): They are bakery window ready, they look gorgeous when you slice into them, and the flavors are superb.
- Dawn Lime, Coconut & Tamarind Spring Cakes (Pass): They're not perfect but tasty with a clever flavor combo.
- Abdul Cake-y Cacti (Pass): They're not quite illusion cakes, but they're close, and the flavors are impressive.
- Syabira Coconut, Pandan & Caramel Mousse Cake (Pass): They're messy but taste great, and her little sugar bombs are the tops.
- Rebs Hazelnut Mocha Latte Mini Cakes (Fail): Despite runny caramel, they're nice looking, but it's too much coffee flavor.
- Will Ginger & Caramel Squares (Fail): His buttercream failed, and the cakes are bland.
- Janusz Pistachio & Cherry Vodka Liqueur Wuzetka (Pass): They look perfect and are fantastically boozy.
Sandro, Abdul, Carole, and Janusz are looking sharp out of the gate, while Maisam, Kevin, Rebs, and Will are all at varying levels of disaster. Of those, Will is definitely at the very bottom, but he knew that, as he even said his cakes were rubbish. Rebs can be a bit forgiven; as a barista, she probably needs a lot of coffee to get the kick. Too bad Paul didn't love the booze of Janusz cake; if Prue gave handshakes, I think he would have gotten one.
Paul sets this first Technical Challenge. It's something never before done in the tent: Red Velvet Cake. (A few contestants have done red velvet within a larger challenge as a flavor, but it's never been the actual brief.) This is only the second time in GBBO history where the bake is openly defined as an American-based creation. The last time GBBO did that was Season 3's (PBS's Season 5) American Pies (listed on Netflix under GBBO: The Beginnings), one of the show's most infamous bakes for being as close to a genuine failure as the series gets.
At least everyone has heard of this bake, even if the last one Dawn made was 30 years ago. Let's see whose cakes were to dye for and which were as bad as Matt's American accent.
12. James: He used the cream cheese to decorate instead of layer
11. Rebs: Stodgy and short
10. Maxy: Pretty on the outside, but underbaked and over-dyed.
9. Will: Too much cream cheese and crumb coating on the outside
8. Carole: Nice flavor, but the decor is a bit melted
7. Janusz: He chose to make a naked cake instead of following the brief.
6. Abdul: The decor melted, but the cake is perfect
5. Maisam: It's listing but tasty.
4. Kevin: The crumb coat is too thick, but otherwise, it's fine
3. Dawn: Not tall enough, but tasty
2. Sandro: Neatly decorated though a bit too much crumb on the outside, otherwise tasty.
1. Syabira: It's practically perfect in every way.
Sandro is officially on the "One to Watch" list. Syabira got lucky: She made a red velvet cake just before coming to the tent, but it's never bad when Paul says someone's Technical is better than the sample he made. As for Will and Rebs, they have fails and low Technical marks and need to step up in the Showstopper.
The Showstopper is rather clever. After going too hard with Celebrity Busts and Floating Illusion Cakes the last two seasons, this year, the challenge is "Home Bakes," making their homes out of cake. Though one wishes this could be a gingerbread challenge, at least we're looking at basic square cakes for the actual bake, putting all the difficulty in the decor.
Rebs "Piña Colada Cottage" In a cute touch, she sprays coconut rum rain on her Irish cottage since it's always raining. The cake is slightly overbaked, but the decor and flavors are spot-on.
Kevin "Ba-Na-Na That's My Hame" The roof is gingerbread, and the windows are jam cookies, which is slightly cheating. However, the banana cake is delicious.
Carole "Little House In The Country" The dome roof is so cute, and her plants and vines are delightful. The coffee cake is way too strong, but they let it slide.
James "Last House On The Loch" He showed off his piping skills here, with tile roof and stonework, but it's a lot of buttercream, and the cake is claggy despite being tasty.
Maxy "At My Mama's" One of the few "block of flat" cakes, she ran out of time because it was so large, but the flavors are fantastic. She admits she was worried about dropping it, and Paul yells, "BOO!" as she walks away to see if she'll jump.
Abdul "Summer In Pakistan" It was a lovely idea, but he ran out of time to do his detail work. His sheep are adorable, and his cake is delicious.
Dawn "Nan's House" The shape's a little wonky, which Dawn blames on the house settling. But the inside is perfect.
Syabira "Happiest Childhood Memory" Her childhood home is cute as a button with a palm tree for good measure. The cake is tasty, but Paul notes there's no one overarching flavor.
Will "First London Family Home" He used gingerbread on his block of flats to make balconies. The building is apparently around the corner from Noel's, and he can't stop laughing at how spot-on Will got it. Sadly, every layer of the cake is overbaked inside.
Maisam "My Childhood Home" The decor is super clumsy, and the cake is not square. The flavor is good enough to outweigh that and the denseness of the cake.
Sandro "Best Time Ever Cake" Again, this could be in a bakery window, and the Christmas theme assures someone would buy it, though Paul complains it needs more detail and there's too much alcohol.
Janusz "Home Is Where The Flowers Grow" The best of the block of flats. The blue drips and the flower decor are gorgeous. The flavor is declared faultless.
I thought Sandro was a shoo-in for Star Baker, but they went with Janusz instead. (Not complaining! Just a bit surprised, and love that he calls him "Star Caker" by accident.) To no one's surprise, Will is heading home.