‘The Great British Baking Show’ Recap: Cakes

Cakes are the order of the day in the "Great British Baking Show" premiere. (Photo: Love Productions)
Cakes are the order of the day in the "Great British Baking Show" premiere. (Photo: Love Productions)
Before I officially launch this of new string of recaps with Sue and Mel’s famous battle cry, “On your marks, get set, bake!” please let me clarify something about the sequencing of the series. Last year, PBS aired their first season of The Great British Baking Show; however, it was actually the fifth and most recent series of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off. This year one might assume that we would be seeing the current series which is a little less than halfway through its run in the UK at the present time. Instead, PBS is going backwards to the fourth series of this British cooking competition and calling it Season Two. Got that?

Regardless of the particulars, this program is beloved here and in its homeland for several reasons. It’s addictive, entertaining and a civilized reality competition show. So no matter the order in which the seasons are broadcast, it’s going to be a delicious and occasionally tension-filled ride.

Now let’s get down to the business at hand for this season. Thirteen bakers have been selected out of over 10,000 applicants to take on the challenges set forth by our formidable judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. (Despite the unlikely nature of the monikers, both go by their given names.) Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are back in their capacity as comic relief, cheerleaders and comfort counselors.

I don’t have the time or space to introduce each contestant since for the first couple of weeks of the competition there will be a few standouts and a small number who will barely be around long enough for us to get their names straight. For now we’ll have to let this new crowd’s bakes speak for them.

I can, however, provide some basic statistics. This first episode begins with seven women and six men. Their ages range from 20 to 66 and every baker in this group hails from England proper. Injuries run rampant from the very first challenge and I doubt there was a baker without at least one finger wrapped up in a blue plaster. Thumbs were particularly endangered and one baker was seen holding his arm above his head to stem the flow of blood from a butchered opposable digit.

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The theme of this season debut is cakes. Our flock of new bakers embarks on the first signature challenge to make a sandwich cake. This deceptively difficult task is followed by an attempt to replicate Mary Berry’s angel food cake with lemon and passionfruit curd in the technical. In day two of the contest we find our participants baking to impress the judges with their first showstopper, a chocolate cake decorated with at least two different varieties of chocolate. 

Highlights: Most of the competitors got an encouraging word, if not out and out praise, from Mary and Paul for their signature bakes. Children’s clothing designer Frances’ whimsical giant jam sandwich complete with sugar paste paper bag was particularly clever.

Robert won the technical challenge with all the precision of the space satellite engineer that he is.

Outstanding showstopper cakes were constructed by those who had already proven their superior baking skills in earlier challenges. Frances’ quirky secret squirrel creation and Robert’s sophisticated raspberry chocolate cake adorned with chocolate bowls and cigars were joined by council worker Howard’s Black Forest revisited cake topped with a modeling chocolate bear. Not bad for a guy who avoids chocolate because it gives him migraines!

Missteps: Due to a preheating snafu, kitchen fitter Mark’s lemon and poppy seed sandwich cake was raw-ish and couldn’t be trimmed to the shape of a lemon as planned.

Art history student Ruby’s crème patisserie curdled making her rhubarb and custard cake’s appearance, in Paul’s words, “awful.” Comfort from Sue did little to ease her traumatizing day as Ruby’s angel food cake didn’t fare much better coming in second worst.

Only Toby performed worse and was the first asked to leave the tent. The self-employed web designer sustained multiple debilitating baking injuries, mixed up salt for sugar in this angel food cake and produced a dry and uninspired two tiered chocolate cake. Oh dear, indeed Toby!

As the competition progresses in the weeks ahead, I’m sure we’ll become better acquainted with many of the other bakers currently in the middle of the pack. I look forward seeing what trials Mary and Paul have in store and hope that Sue and Mel up their proportion of puns. For now, I just have to say it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a soggy bottom in the bunch this week.

Take a leap and tell us who you believe has what it takes to be the winner of the Great British Baking Show this time around. All comments are welcome so let’s talk annoyingly good grapefruit cake, tempered chocolate and rice flour.

Carmen Croghan

Carmen Croghan often looks at the state of her British addiction and wonders how it got so out of hand.  Was it the re-runs of Monty Python on PBS, that second British Invasion in the 80’s or the royal pomp and pageantry of Charles and Diana’s wedding? Whatever the culprit, it led her to a college semester abroad in London and over 25 years of wishing she could get back to the UK again.  Until she is able, she fills the void with British telly, some of her favorites being comedies such as The Office, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, Alan Partridge, Miranda and Green Wing. Her all-time favorite series, however, is Life On Mars. A part-time reference library staffer, she spends an inordinate amount of time watching just about any British series she can track down which she then writes about for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK, I Learned from the BBC.  She is excited to be contributing to Telly Visions and endeavors to share her Anglo-zeal with its readers.

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