In case you don't know, the Great British Bake Off is a gentle baking show, where contestants are sent home week by week, having failed to make the most impressive meringue tower or (horror of horrors) produced bread without enough crumb, or an inadequate bake. (Parts of speech fall by the wayside in the furore of the kitchen/big white tent.)
The judges are Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Paul Hollywood tries to be the baking world's Simon Cowell, and knows no greater compliment than 'that's not bad', but he has a twinkle in his eye which softens any disapproval. Mary Berry is everyone's favourite grandmother, without a bad word to say to anybody, but can do more with a disappointed glance than Cowell could with his whole arsenal of insults. And she's come dressed in Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat, bless her.
This week, two people are going home, and the challenge is - buns. Sue Perkins (presenter/comedienne/dowdier version of Victoria Beckham) is quick to spot the potential for puns, but I shan't sully my blog with her innuendo - which is about as shocking as a sunken sponge, of course. They have to make 24 sweet buns, of any variety, in three hours. Scottish James seems inspired to launch into an Eric Morecambe impersonation, but decides better of it halfway through.
Brendan (brilliantly described on some blog I read as 'tiny bald oddity Brendan') kicks off proceedings by proclaiming his love for fresh yeast. He's unnervingly good in all the challenges, but that's never welcome in reality programmes. We love the plucky underdog, not somebody who can produce a pastry lattice seemingly out of nowhere (see also: Holly from last year who, for no obvious reason, decided to hide a gingerbread house under her croquembouche. She ended up coming second to lovely Jo. TAKE NOTE, BRENDAN.)
He's making Chelsea Buns for the Signature Challenge (i.e. 'make something you're good at') - or, as he has termed them, Chelsea Bunskis, because they're going to be a bit Russian. Mel (the other presenter) apparently knows her Russian (her surname is Giedroyc, so perhaps that has something to do with it?) and gives him a long name in Russian which I can't now remember. [EDIT: It was Polish, not Russian!]
James is making 'Easter Buns' (also, apparently, a variant on Chelsea Buns - which I keep giving caps, for some reason). Mel says, in the voiceover, that he is 'never afraid of trying something different'. White-water rafting, perhaps? Staging the first all-lion Broadway production of Cats? No, it turns out his daredevilry begins and ends with wrapping puddings in muslin. I'm mostly disappointed that he's swapped his jazzy knits for a plain blue jumper.
Luckily John has taken on his mantle. Last week he had to leave the strudel competition because a food processor left him some pints of blood lighter (or so we were led to believe) but he's back, and he's inspiring Sue to throw in some jazz hands.
He opines that he is nervous, but "that's the way of life." Later he adds "What's done is done, and can't be undone." Profound, John, profound. That near-death injury has clearly made you quite the sage.
Don't worry, I won't recap absolutely everybody. But I can't ignore Kathryn (played, it seems, by Jane Horrocks.) She's a rather ditzy, self-deprecating young mother, who seemed in the first week as though she was there simply for comic relief, soon to be sent home, but she's proved herself rather adept at everything -even while certain that all her offerings are awful. I'm amused by the brief 'contestant home life' clip she gets. All the contestants get these, and they last about two seconds (which hardly makes up for the hours the cameramen presumably spent on the motorway to film these segments.) Most people are offering cake to their friends, family, or colleagues (last week poor Brendan was shown handing some to a neighbour, who appeared to shut the door in his face without saying a word.) Kathryn, inexplicably, is shown with tent and campfire in tow. Is she homeless?
|She looks about 12 in this picture, but she's at least... 22?|
Ryan (our next contestant) unnerves me because he looks and acts very like a (female) colleague of mine - so let's ignore him. Onto Sarah-Jane instead. She's my favourite, and not just because she's a vicar's wife. She's probably the worst baker left, but Sarah-Jane is able to laugh at the whole process - even while crying in a field under an umbrella. She's also offers the highest likelihood of dropping everything on the floor (oh, Rob from Series Two, gone but never forgotten.)
I should have noted down what people were actually making, but they all seem to be Chelsea Buns or things that are close enough for non-experts like me.
In the first couple of series The Great British Bake Off would divide time between the competition, and lengthy histories of the fruit cake or currant bun. Thankfully these segments have grown shorter this series (perhaps the biography of the Victoria Sponge hasn't changed much in the past twelve months?) but we're still made to sit through experts waffling on about cakes and bakers past, while Mel does nothing to disguise her boredom. Rev. Steven Wild is very animated and rather likeable, but there isn't really any sense that he knows anything worth mentioning about Cornish Saffron Buns.
Back to the kitchen/tent, and Sue's best pun yet - "You bun-loving criminals!" - and John (or was it James?) quite genuinely says "Good luck, little buns, good luck" as he puts his trays in the oven. Brendan does his best to pretend the whole challenge is a down-to-the-wire angst-fest, but his heart isn't really in it. It's not a high-octane show, despite Mel popping up occasionally and saying "One minute left, one minute" in excerpts probably filmed at the end of the day. But we do have our first accident! Kathryn spills some of her buns, but... they're fine. Alfred Hitchcock it ain't.
Hollywood and Berry (crime-fighters extraordinaire!) step forward for some judging. Always astute ("Did you use almond extract as well as almonds?") and straightforward ("Burnt"; "Bland") they eat extraordinary quantities of buns. Occasionally Paul picks one up and pulls it apart, but it's not quite clear what he's trying to prove. He pokes a hole in one of Sarah-Jane's ("it holes" - Paul, please put some effort into correct use of verbs!) and her critique isn't great - leading to this rather heart-breaking face.
Poor Sarah-Jane! Don't go!
A mixture of gibberish and Mary Berry's mischievous grins, and we're back to establishing shots of sheep and ducks. Sarah-Jane and John seemed to get the worst critiques - Brendan and Danny do well.
Onto the technical challenge! Everyone has to make the same thing, and Hollywood and Berry will judge them 'blind' (only it's always entirely obvious which contestants made what, as they squirm and wince their way through their assessment, in front of the judges.) This week - jam doughnuts! If Our Vicar's Wife comes by, she'll tell you about the jamless jam doughtnut she ate on honeymoon. The news that it's jam doughnuts seems to fill Sarah-Jane with glee, Danny with consternation, and Brendan with a vague melancholy. Only Scottish James has made them before, many times... could pride come before a fall? Usually Kathryn claims not to have a clue what is happening from beginning to end (this week: "It's just like kneading a big ball of chewing gum") and yet produces one of the best results. We'll see.
For some reason, we're now off to see Tori Bottomley, WWII Re-enactor.
We're back to the tent, and Scottish James claims that the 'most satisfying thing in the world - no exaggeration' is when bread dough on the scales weighs exactly what you want it to. His seems to, so life is all downhill from here, eh?
Nobody else really seems to know what they're doing. Kathryn toys with 'taking the oily plunge', whatever that means, Danny is next ("I wonder how much you can disguise with a whole heap of caster sugar?") Although Danny is very talented, she doesn't have the right ingredients for a great reality TV contestant. She's somehow very forgettable, and exactly as good as she looks. Ideal contestants should either be much better or much worse than you'd expect, and (if possible) have a strong regional accent and/or comic facial expressions. Never mind, Danny, at least you've got competence on your side.
Jam is haemorrhaging everywhere, 'doughnut doom' is mentioned, but eventually everyone's trays of ten doughnuts must be brought to the front and laid before the critical eyes of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Paul announces that he's looking for "Light colour, cooked inside, and a good amount of jam." Quantities of jam have now taken on moral significance. Paul's talent is being able to tell, simply from holding a baked good, exactly where the contestant went wrong - whether they were proved a minute too long, or have an ounce too much flour - while Mary witters a little, smiles at the contestants, and shows just as much expertise in far fewer words.
Well, in seventh and last place is lovely Sarah-Jane, followed by Ryan, Kathryn (that's a surprise!), Brendan (who looks incredulous), John, Danny, and in first place is Scottish James. He feels that he has cheated the other contestants, because he's made doughnuts before... Ryan, on the other hand, considers coming second-last as 'a sort of victory'. Hmm. It's also a sort of failure, isn't it, Ryan?
Finally we have the Showstopper Challenge, which is basically the Signature Challenge but with fancier toppings. They're making celebration loaves - from Christmas loaves to Stollen to 'Kugelhopf-Brioche Baba', whatever that may be. James is making that, and apparently it includes half a bottle of whiskey. At this stage in the game, and having presumably seen the programme before, the bakers know what Mary and Paul especially like and dislike ("Mary loves a lemon.") James concedes that Paul isn't a big fan of lots of alcohol in a baked good, but he's going right ahead anyway...
This post is getting absurdly long, so I'll just give you a quotation or two:
"I'm the bridge between the 70s and today."
"I'm trying to fight for my place in the competition - that's why I'm shoving a piece of marzipan full with cherries and chocolate."
"It can look like a drunken seaman."
"Paul's frightened me a little bit about the amount of cinnamon that's in the dough."
It's getting pretty exciting! Sarah-Jane - who really is fighting for her place now - has decided to make a plaited loaf, despite being appalling at that during Bread Week. Well, good luck to you, love. At this point, unless her loaf turns out to be a sentient being, she's heading back to Crawley.
Oh. Sarah-Jane, did you know you can save money on train tickets if you buy them early? I'd get on the internet now, love. Brendan, who was worried that people might think he's too dated in his decoration, has opted for this...
And the judging begins!
Brendan gets "good bake".
Sarah-Jane's is "raw", but has good flavours (always a death knell.)
Ryan's "doesn't have that sort of wow", and his pork brioche (*shudder*) is also raw.
Danny's cake has "a nice strong colour" and Mary can taste all the separate flavours
John's strikes Mary as too flat and "a little bit on the stodgy side" - which, in Paul's less gentle lexicon, becomes "it's beginning to weld my mouth together."
Kathryn presents hers with a sparkler on top, and the cinnamon levels turn out to be acceptable.
Finally, James's whiskey is over the top - he needs to concentrate more on his 'core flavours'. So we finish off with yet another of Paul's incomprehensible criticisms.
Two people are going, who will they be? Presumably Sarah-Jane and Ryan, no? Paul and Mary make an effort to pretend that it could be various of the other bakers, but unless they're picking names out of a hat arbitrarily, then surely these two will be on their way home...
This week's star baker is... Danny! She smiles a bit, but seems to have forgotten all about it before the camera pans away from her.
And, going home...
So, no surprises there. They both seem fairly cheery about it. I'll miss lovely Sarah-Jane... and now I'm Team Kathryn.
Next week - biscuits! But possibly not another review from me, as I've discovered how very long this sort of blog post takes to write. Hope you can forgive a step away from the usual - we'll be back to books tomorrow.