Mel and Sue, clad in their signature blazers, are getting ready, poking around in a basket, listing various necessary items—whiskey, skewery things, sievey, a thing from Sue’s home that Mel mustn’t touch—but even with all that, something is clearly missing. “What are we missing?” And with a cough, the answer is revealed: twelve new bakers for a new season of The Great British Bake Off Baking Show.
The bakers tell us how in awe they feel, how they are not worthy; it is this very humbleness that sets GBBO apart from all other reality shows in existence. They are not only here to make delicious baked goods, they are here to make friends, make their families proud, and make Mary Berry into their Nana (Candice of the impeccable lip color admits this, saying out loud what so many Brits have only dared think).
“My goodness! It’s real! It’s there!” Val says, like Dorothy seeing Oz for the first time, or Charlie Bucket marveling at Wonka’s chocolate factory, or Lucy first emerging from the wardrobe into Narnia. (Val is the best and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise; she’s the Maude Chardin of the baking tent.)
Michael and Lee are on the opposite end of the spectrum, feeling like school boys walking into an exam. And they’re not far off—the baking tent really is like the Hogwarts of science for hungry people. It’s GenoISE, not GENoise.
Then there’s Louise’s nightmares of being chased by cake. Which, honestly, how scary can cakes be? Although Tamal’s sticky toffee shipwreck cake from the previous season was pretty terrifying, so maybe a cake-mare is scarier than one might think. Carry on, Louise.
Andrew, a bright eyed ginger, wants the coveted “Hollywood Handshake”, which is where Paul is so impressed with your bake that he offers his big meaty paw and shakes yours with admiration and vigor. I mean, have you seen the masterclasses wherein Paul goes to town kneading bread?
Can these bakers master thirty brand new challenges, Mel intones, while Rav, in the most competitive tone we’ve heard yet, says no one goes in wanting to be third or fourth. Everyone wants to be first.
Benjamina has cried over cake; Michael has shouted at pie; Selasi thinks he’s too laidback (and dreamy); and Kate hasn’t been this nervous since she was about to give birth.
All that and we’ve only just now reached the credits!
Looking at the tent from above, I wonder if it’s available on Airbnb for delightful weekend getaways filled with ganache, pheasants, and laugher. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Mel starts listing off Kates: Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, Kate Bush. She’s misheard Sue. It’s cake week, not Kate week (I assume Mel had to run off then to unlock the cage of K/Cates she’d amassed).
But no, it’s cake week, and we’re starting off with a signature challenge. This series they’re going back to basics with a British classic--the drizzle cake (drizzle cake, spotted dick, Eton mess--why do British desserts so often sound slightly dirty and/or sexual?). What makes a drizzle-fo-shizzle cake is a sugar fruit syrup that is poured onto and into the cake after baking, leading to a very moist cake (Mel’s delivery of the word moist here reminds me of Miranda Hart in the best way. What a good word, moist, but only when referring to cake; in every other context it can die in a fire). Sumptuous drizzling, please! Also, it’s one of Paul’s favorites, so don’t cock it up, bakers!
Two hours to achieve ultimate moistness, and with the traditional ready, set, bake, the bakers begin.
Emotions are all over the place: Jane still can’t believe she’s here, which she might want to get under control because I’m pretty sure baking is twice as difficult when you’re having an out of body experience; Michael is this season’s baby baker, only nineteen, and he’s very excited; Louise is shaking; and Selasi is steady and good to go.
Paul delivers the judges’ rationale for this signature—they’re taking the challenges back to basics a bit, but the judging will not be easier, it will be harder. Mary Berry tells us the classic drizzle is lemon, but she’s expecting the unexpected from these twelve new bakers.
Val can’t open a container and I just want to be her assistant baker for the whole series. She’s making an orange and lemon drizzle cake, which adds a slight twist, and she’s using margarine, which Paul’s Nan used to use. Val is, among other things, a keep fit fanatic and Ed Sheeran fan. She promises to get her drizzle in both layers-- “Double double drizzle! Nice rich flavor all the way through the cake.” A cake which her mother taught her to bake fifty years ago, which is a sweet memory.
Andrew is also making a lemon drizzle variation, having fell in love with it as the first cake he baked at university (is that a British hazing ritual? As soon as you get to Uni you’re required to bake a classic British cake?), while Louise, a hair stylist from Cardiff, is making an orange cake that’s shaped like an orange and full of orange liqueur and lemonade, her mother’s favorite Christmas tipple. There’s so much to unpack there I just need to walk away.
Mary again asks if there will be double drizzle. Louise’s answer—I was going to put the drizzle in the middle and then pour it all round the cake—doesn’t make sense to me, and Paul prods, asking if it’s a drizzle or an icing, and Louise basically admits it’s an icing, and I think, girl, when Paul asks you a probing question about what you’re doing, most times you should rethink what you’re doing because you’re probably doing it wrong.
Lee is a man of God who is having trouble with clumping butter. His cake is inspired by the bells of St Clement’s and the nursery rhyme that references them (“Oranges and lemons,/ Say the bells of St. Clement's” which immediately makes me think of 1984) because his grandparents used to live near there. Literary references and familial connections are great, Lee, but it don’t mean nothing if your cake isn’t moist. Mary throws some serious shade at his batter full of unmixed flour, and thank goodness Mel encourages him because Lee looks seriously nervous.
Rav has already cut himself, which bodes well. I can’t even imagine what he could have been cutting, but that’s between Rav and his cake.
Kate has probably never cried at cake. Cake is apparently her best friend, and she’s greatly comforted to have a bowl of friendship on her bench now. She, like the other bakers, needs to make sure her batter is the right consistency. It needs to hold up to the drizzle (fo shizzle I’m sorry I can’t stop) but it can’t be tough, it needs to melt in the mouth, and the drizzle is just there to help. It can’t fix a tough cake.
Michael is an economics student studying three hundred miles away from his family, and he has what appears to be a pot full of poo on the burner. He says it’s black treacle (that’s a real thing?), golden syrup, honey, brown sugar and butter. He’s making a spiced lime ginger cake, which Michael admits is like a lot of things to put into one cake, and it’s something his family would make at the holidays as an alternative Christmas cake.
Selasi is putting cardamom in his citrus cake, because of course he is. He’s balancing the potent flavor of the cardamom in his cake with cinnamon (this is important!). He was born in Ghana and now spends his time riding a motorbike around London and unzipping his biking jacket in a very James Bond kind of way, while also doing some high powered banking stuff? I didn’t pay attention, I was mesmerized by his chill. He says he’s pretty good with drizzle cakes and sure he won’t mess it up, and he and Sue have a nice exchange about calm he seems compared to the frenetic action in the rest of the tent. He’s just puttering around with a towel artfully draped around his neck, and even at the mention of a potential global financial collapse, he just becomes a human embodiment of the shrug emoji, sending Sue into a fit of giggles.
Kate and Candice are going to try putting fresh fruit in their cakes for “maximum moistness” and I think this could be a huge risk. How much moist is too moist? This might be it. Kate is putting fresh Cox apple slices (she likes the flavor of the Cox) in the dimples in the bottom of her tin (heh, dimpled bottom). Her drizzle is a blackberry drizzle, and both the apples and blackberries were harvested by her adorable daughters on the family farm.
Candice the PE teacher is making a lime rhubarb cake, because she likes tart things (demonstrated by an adorable pucker face), and her cake is also gluten free, making use of polenta and pistachios, and she’s going to insert some custard, which she says with a giggle, because she clearly recognizes how filthy the word insert can be, even when coupled with a seemingly innocent word like custard.
Mary asks, clearly aware of the charged nature of this exchange, “How’s the custard getting in there, then?”
“I’m gonna poke it in there, Mary,” Candice replies, making a very un-subtle poking motion. CLEARLY. Mary smiles in delight as Candice giggles. Is this how you talk to your real Nana, Candice? Because if you do, I clearly want to hang out with your entire family.
Benjamina also has pistachios happening in her cardamom and lemon drizzle cake, a family favorite. Her pistachios are blitzed, which seems like a needlessly violent descriptor, but that’s just me. (Side note: who does the amazing bake drawings for the show? Aren’t they just lovely? I’d hang framed ones in my kitchen for sure.)
The bakers have now reached the point where their cakes go into the oven, and they must be careful—even if their batter is the perfect consistency, any error in the baking time or temperature can lead to disaster. (PSA: get an oven thermometer. Most ovens don’t run accurately to the temperature gauges, and if your oven is thirty degrees off like mine is, then you’re going to have a lot of underdone cakes in your life.)
After sliding his cake in the oven, Selasi says, almost prophetically, “Can’t change it now!” While garden designer Louise says, at the same post-oven-insertion moment, “I’ve left my ground almonds out.” They’re part of her flour amount, so she really needs to fix this. She’s decided to start over, which is always a bold and dangerous choice.
We’ve reached one hour to make “your drizz the shizz” (thanks, Sue, I knew you got me). Selasi leans into Candice to admit he’s forgotten the cinnamon in his cake. (I really want them to kiss. Is that just me?). Candice is aghast. Selasi, like Louise, is sure he has to remake his entire cake. “Can you not just add it to the syrup?” Candice asks.
The other bakers are wishing, hoping, praying, and doing sassy aerobic moves (Val) while they wait for their cakes to bake and work on their drizzles and fillings. (I don’t believe a drizzle cake should have fillings but that’s just me. Too much going on there.)
Tom, the conventionally handsome dreamboat who likes managing projects and climbing rock walls, is making a gin and tonic drizzle cake with a tonic curd filling, and as soon as Mary hears the word “gin” her eyes light up and she gasps in delight. Yeah, I really want to go to a drinks party with Mary and Candice now. Gin and tonics and double entendres, it’ll be swell. Tom’s putting three shots of gin in his cake, which, good luck with that; gin tastes like pine cleaner, in the best way, and I’m just not sure how that will translate into a cake. If it were me I’d lean heavier on the lime flavor, but we’ll see how it works out for Tom.
Poor Andrew’s cake has gone really “domey” while Louise has just gotten her second attempt at her cakes in the oven, which she celebrates by sassily eating a bit of batter? Frosting? I don’t know, whatever it is, she slurped it into her mouth with her tongue like a boss lizard and it was amazing.
Selasi has decided to take Candice’s suggestion to put the cinnamon in the syrup, because baking is about improvising, and I will interject here that life is ALSO about listening to smart women. Good luck, Selasi. You owe Candice a long lingering hug if this cinnamon syrup improvisation works out.
The cakes are nearing the end of their bake time and the bakers need to make sure they’re not underbaked, because what could be worse than a bite of uncooked batter soaked in sugar drizzle? Remember, drizzle cakes are the Male Judge’s favorite. You also don’t want them overbaked because then the drizzle won’t “penetrate deep enough.”
Val listens to her cakes, because of course she does. Her cakes say—no, they SING that they’re not ready, and back in the oven they go. Which isn’t there a fairy tale about singing cakes that beg to be put back in the oven? If there’s not there should be.
Now we start talking drizzle. Rav is using Yuzu for his drizzle, which is a fruit that’s neither lime nor lemon nor good red herring. Paul wrinkles his forehead like a Sharpei and I feel a sense of dread for Rav’s Yuzu experiment.
Andrew the aerospace engineer is infusing his drizzle with rosemary, which also seems to fussy for a drizzle cake. He’s very precise with his pokery, hoping that this method will ensure even drizzle distribution. Good luck, Andrew.
Now the tense strings make their appearance-- we’re nearing the end of their first signature bake. Most other bakers aren’t as careful as Andrew when it comes to poking---Selasi is fast and furious, and Tom chants “Lots of holes” as he pokes. The temperature of the cake is an issue--you don’t want it too warm, or the drizzle will go right through, like iced tea through your grandmother at a Sizzler’s, or if it is too cool it might not penetrate deeply enough, and we know from Sue’s voice-over that deep penetration is of the highest importance.
The bakers apply their finishing touches—edible primroses for Val (the tray of which she knocks over, but carries on), lots of drizzled white icings, and Louise with her bright orange tipple filled icing, that is rather thinner than she’d hoped and mostly is absorbed by her cake.
Now they are getting judged for the first time—getting judged for the very first time!
Benjamina’s cake is well done, despite some initial concern from Mary about underbaking.
Lee’s flour issues come back to haunt him: “Flavor’s good, texture’s awful” according to Paul.
Michael made a great ginger cake lacking in drizzle, and seeing as drizzle was the brief, it’s a miss for our youngest baker.
Kate’s apple and blackberry jamboree is lacking blackberry flavor, so all of that blackberry murder seems like it was for naught.
Tom didn’t double drizzle, which is a disappointment, but his sponge feels good, which Paul likes. No one likes the cake, however, because it’s just too much alcohol. Sorry, Tom; at least you’re still dreamy.
Candice’s gluten free cake is more like a pudding, but it is delicious.
Rav’s Yuzu experiment flops, and so do his spices, so an overall flavor fail for him.
Andrew needed more lemon in his rosemary lemon cake.
Louise’s orange cake was too dense and needed more orange, ironically.
Dear sweet Val’s cake was very dry, prompting Paul to ejaculate, “Where’s the drizzle?!?”
Selasi waits patiently to see if the cinnamon syrup experiment was a success. Paul does his “uncomfortably long silence while chewing” routine, but eventually looks up and smiles, and Selasi smiles back, and the world explodes with the adorableness of it. “The flavors are fantastic.” Mary notes his mistake and how he fixed it, and Selasi and Candice share a little smile and a nose wrinkle of acknowledgment and now I am dead.
Jane’s cake, which took two tries, looks tempting, and is a beautiful flavor and great syrup penetration. A win for Jane. “That was a drizzle cake!” says Mary.
The bakers reflect briefly on their first judging before we quickly move to the technical. It’s a technical from Mary, and when asked to impart advice, she says, “It’s suggested you do things in an order. Keep to that order.”
The judges are dismissed—“Paul, off to the soft play area—don’t injure yourself on the balls.”—and Mel and Sue reveal the challenge: Two hours to make twelve Jaffa Cakes. Whipped fatless sponges, orange jelly (that’s Jello for us Americans), and slathered in chocolate.
I love the technicals because almost all the bakers suddenly become these insecure, trembling baby deer, so confused and untethered from reality: WHAT DOES A JAFFA CAKE EVEN LOOK LIKE? HAVE I EVER EATEN A JAFFA CAKE? WHO AM I? DOES TOM BAKER EVEN EXIST? The instructions are basic at best and vague at worst—directives such as “make a jelly” are the order of the day.
While the bakers review their scant recipes, we cut to Paul and Mary to hear about why the challenge was chosen, and to see what the technical should actually come out looking like. Mary chose Jaffa Cakes because they’re a great British classic, and surprisingly precise for a treat that most Brits consume without really thinking about how they’re put together. Paul bites into one-- “That’s a Jaffa Cake right there” he says, with his mouth full—while Mary further comments that we definitely don’t want chocolate running down the side, it’s got to be absolutely perfect-—and then Paul ruins that perfect moment by dunking his Jaffa Cake into his mug of tea.
“We don’t do that in the south, you know,” Mary says, clearly disgusted, but also resigned to the fact that Paul is a giant school boy who will never conform to her genteel ideals. You can’t tame the silverback baker, Mary, so don’t even try. She loves him anyway.
The jelly is fairly straightforward, praise be Jaffa, so the bakers all move pretty quickly to their sponges, the directions being: Make a sponge. Thanks. Why not just have the entire recipe read “Make Jaffa Cakes”?
Lee outlines his process, as though he’s trying to convince himself that that’s the right way to do. There’s some discussion of whether or not the sponge should be whipped over heat or not, which apparently adds volume to the eggs, according to Louise? I’d think that would just scramble the eggs, but what do I know. Benjamina also says that heat makes the eggs whip up thicker. There’s the careful folding of the flour so as to not knock out all of that carefully whipped in air.
Then the batter is added to the bun tins, with the bakers guessing at how full to fill them. They guess at the baking time—Selasi assumes 8-10 minutes. Again Andrew is having domey problems. Val’s are sticking to the tin.
Then there’s dithering over the size of the jelly. How big is too big? The bakers probe their memories, trying to recollect eating a Jaffa Cake and what is was like. Benjamina goes back and forth over smaller versus bigger several times. Tom leaves a centimeter around the edge for a “bump” (illustrated helpfully with a bounce) that he calls “classic” Jaffa Cake. Benjamina decides to go big to hopefully not go home. Val can’t decide which side the jelly should go on--flying saucer or fried egg, as Mel helpfully describes. If only someone in the room actually knew what a Jaffa Cake should look like. Jane is team flying saucer for one cake, then switches over to team fried egg for the rest, which throws off copy-cat Andrew slightly. Selasi is certain that team fried egg is the winning team.
At the five minute mark the tent is alive with the sound of bakers desperately trying to figure out what a criss cross pattern is and how to make one. Fork? Skewer? Tiny squirrel paw? WHAT? Andrew gets so flustered he starts putting his cakes chocolate side down, and it takes both Louise and Benjamina hissing at him to get him to turn them back over. Poor Andrew.
Time is up, and the bakers take their offerings to the gingham altar.
Mary and Paul are expecting perfection, and are going to be sorely disappointed for the most part. Paul judges Louise’s cakes with one of his signature Shatnerian jerk pauses: “These are pretty uniform………...ly bad.”
In end, we have Andrew, Lee, Val, Louise, Rav, Jane, Benjamina, Candice, and Kate in the bottom nine, with Michael and Tom coming in second and third, and Selasi taking the top place for this technical. Selasi has no idea how this happened, and Andrew is close to tearing his ginger hair out.
That’s the end of day one, and now we’re moving on to the showstopper. This is the chance for struggling bakers like Lee and Andrew to pull it back up, and for bakers like Selasi and Benjamina to prove they’re deserving of the first star baker.
Today Mary and Paul would like the bakers to make a mirror glaze cake. “It should be so shiny, that Paul can look into it and say, ‘You’re looking gorgeous.’” Mel tells us. Paul’s expression is unreadable, but Mary is smiling at him because she knows it’s true.
The sponge must be GenoISE (not GENoise), a light, fatless sponge that needs air in it, which is always tricky; and the mirror glaze needs to cover the whole top. Oh, and you have three hours. On your mark, get set, BAKE.
Bakers, the brief is a MIRROR GLAZE CAKE. Mary wants it shiny like a polished posh car. Sheer perfection. Maybe focus on the mirror glaze? Maybe? No? Okay. Paul gives the bakers a hint they’ll never hear, suggesting small and beautiful is the way to go, since the important part is the mirror glaze. It’s their first showstopper, so this is their chance to create something amazing that they can coast on for the rest of the competition.
Side bar: Selasi cutting out his parchment paper circle is the cutest thing ever.
Louise is attempting a trifle themed cake with a white chocolate glaze; and every time Paul talks to Louise about her bakes he seems confused about what she’s doing, which makes her unsure, and then I get nervous. Just let her bake, Paul! Benjamina is also doing white chocolate.
Candice talks about Genoise sponge like it killed her father, which maybe it did; we haven’t seen all her B-roll yet.
Selasi knows to whip his mixture over slightly steaming water; he knows this helps the rise, but doesn’t know why. “I don’t understand it, I’m just baking it.”
Michael’s making a matcha green tea sponge, and it smells like grass according to Mary. Does she like grass as much as she likes gin? It doesn’t seem to be so.
Two hours left, and everyone’s fretting about their sponges. Candice hates hers and she also plans on making coconut balls and chocolate balls and all other kinds of stuff, and I just want to shake her and say, focus on the glaze!
Val, Benjamina, Candice, and Tom are all making their sponges a second time. Which worked for Louise in the first challenge, so let’s see how it works here.
Tom’s also trying to use booze again, and this time he’s lessening the amount of kirsch he’s using, which is probably a mistake. Paul asks Lee if he’s putting any cream in his cake, and Lee says no, which is probably going to be a mistake. Val was talking to the judges while trying to find the right sugar she needed; I sense this will probably go wrong.
Lee’s made a gross looking ganache, which is unfortunate. Every cake needs either a ganache or buttercream crumb coat so the mirror glaze has something to cling to, and it needs to be applied flawlessly, because the mirror glaze will show every imperfection. Benjamina struggles with her buttercream--she’s done everything twice so far for this challenge, and let’s hope that she can get it all done and that it pays off.
The bakers have moved into assembly mode, and Val’s cake resembles a concertina, while Lee’s cake needs to chill and Candice is trying to apply one of her many layers of jelly. The crumb coat needs to be cool so the glaze doesn’t melt into it, RUININg their showstopper, so everyone is desperate to find fridge and freezer space in those tiny European refrigerators.
Benjamina is still struggling with her buttercream and she starts crying. Sue gives her a stern but loving talking to, and Benjamina pulls it (herself and the buttercream) together. Louise is STARTING her glaze with only 29 minutes left, which, wow, that’s pretty late, Louise.
Kate is making a blue mirror glaze as a sky with her swallow motif, which is a bold choice. The glazes start flowing and someone utters a bleeped out curse word. Then it’s over, and thunder cracks as the showstopper judging commences.
Jane is up first, with her shiny giant Jaffa Cake cake. “Less is more,” Paul says approvingly, and Mary concurs; the glaze is shiny and the taste is delicious, with a good Genoise. Well done.
Rav’s got a “smashing shine” but his Genoise is dry.
Tom’s black forest broken mirror has no flavor, and needed MORE booze this time.
Mary does NOT like Michael’s grass as much as she likes gin.
Kate’s blue glaze is not a hit, and Paul cracks a penguin joke. The sponge is good, though.
Selasi’s raspberry mirror glaze didn’t quite get the shine the judges wanted, but he gets marks for bravery, and the cake is “beautifully set” and “a joy to eat.” Andrew is hella impressed.
Val got a good shine on her cake, but her buttercream/cream cheese frosting tastes like it was creamed with caster sugar.
Poor Lee. His cake is too simple, and the lack of cream inside is a failing. His sponge is dry and the ganache is drier and the plain fruit is not good.
Louise’s glaze is not up to snuff but it’s really delicious, “Great inside, terrible outside.”
Benjamina has a smashing shine, and Paul bestows her with a Hollywood grin. Well done, Benjamina.
Candice has a good shine on the top, but the sides need some work. Her Genoise is trash and Candice barely keeps it together, even with Selasi assuring her that she’s not going.
Andrew’s cake looks lovely, and Paul calls it “Absolutely stunning.” A well done for Andrew.
Now the judges retire to choose a star baker and the first person to leave the tent. They discuss the highs and lows (“When it comes to down the bottom, Lee’s was so dry” Mary says, having no idea how that sounds), and quickly come to an agreement.
Mel announces Jane as the star baker, and Sue ruefully says they must say goodbye to Lee, who is quickly engulfed in a Mel and Sue sandwidge.
Join us next week to see who breaks down over biscuits. Until then, may your bottom never be soggy and may all your bakes bring all the boys to the yard.