The Great British Back Off is back. Sophie Cullinane gives you the lowdown on everything you might have missed in season six, episode one of the best TV show on earth
Unless you’ve been living under a rock cake for the past week, you may have noticed that The Great British Bake Off has returned for its sixth series in the most famous marquee in Welford Park, Berkshire.
And in line with true Bake Off tradition, this first week saw the wide-eyed amateurs tackling cakes: the abysmally dry and boring Madeira cake; grandma’s favourite walnut cake, and that icon of German retro campiness, the black forest gâteau.
If you were worried that Bake Off was going to be making strides towards modernity for 2015 by getting contestants to do things like live vlog their cakes while a angry hoard of Twitter users vie for their blood, then this pleasingly tired list of bakes should go some way into easing your concerns.
True to form, Mary Berry kicked off proceedings with a fuchsia jacket so bright it threatened to burn our retinas with fabulousness while Paul seemed to be wearing even more hair gel than he has done in previous years. And we don’t need to tell you that this is all absolutely excellent news. So, with that in mind, let the baking battle commence!
Say yes to the crack
The thing with Madeira cakes is that they’re so universally unappealing – all that dry, cloying denseness – that only a true baking fanatic would ever bother cooking it themselves, making it the perfect way to separate the wheat from the chaff (that’s two baking puns and counting).
The key with this bake, Mary informed us, is for the bakers to try and deal with Madeira’s signature dry texture. The cakes need to have a distinctive crack on the top on the sponge and, while contestants might want to experiment with new flavours, Mary makes it clear that the traditional lemon and orange zests can’t really be beaten. You’ve been warned, amateurs!
In a exercise in stating the bloomin' obvious, cheeky London firefighter Mat kicked off proceedings by letting us know that his oven was, indeed, on. Unfortunately, 19-year-old cherubim Flora didn’t quite get the memo on that one and failed to ignite hers because she’s used to cooking "with an aga, at home" (we’re saying nothing, so stop looking at us like that).
It wasn’t long (less than a minute, in fact) before the innuendos started rolling in: this time from bodybuilder Unge who blurted out "hopefully the taste will be good, and my crack will show." Cue the buzzing noise of a thousand memes being uploaded to Facebook pages all over the country. But by far our favourite quote of the round came from welfare officer Sandy – who's shown early promise for being the comic relief of the series – when she declared there was a "powerhouse of self-confidence going on here." You go, Sandy! You are woman, hear you roar.
The judges introduced a Bake Off first with the candied peel drop test (drop yours on a plate, not the floor because that is unsanitary). Come judging time, Ian, Paul and Stu’s offerings were in the stew while Nadiya, Flora, Marie and Tamal took an early lead by, against all accepted wisdom, finally saying ‘yes’ to crack.
Nuttin' to see here
The first technical challenge of the series was Mary’s frosted walnut cake: an enormous, frosted, caramelised nut-adorned nod to post-war Britain. The key with this bake, we learned early on, is the size of one’s nuts (too big and they’ll sick to the bottom, too small and they risk ruining the cake’s texture). The first half of the challenge was dedicated to more nut chat than seemed proper in a pre-watershed, family show.
Aided by drums more dramatic than any heard in Jurassic World, we learned that making caramel is ‘quite difficult’ as Stu struggled to make enough to coat one nut, which prompted him to say our second favourite catchphrase of the series: "holy shenanigans."
But the real stumbling block came with the complicated marshmallow meringue recipe, which should be glossy, smooth, light and fluffy, with the vast majority of contestants failing to resolve the sugar adequately giving it an unpleasant, grainy texture.
Ugne, however, came out on top of the challenge, a feat particularly pleasing when you recollect her whisking technique: hand outstretched, looking nonchalantly elsewhere like some kind of baller. Nadiya, on the other hand, failed to impress the judges by forgetting to ice her sides and Stu continued his less-than-perfect performance by coming in second last. It’s no wonder he felt hot under the collar – he appeared to be wearing a corduroy trilby and coat in 25-degree heat.
Foresting around for the prize (puns are harder than they look)
Once much maligned as the ultimate in twee baking, this oozingly rich dessert – the black forest gâteau – has been granted a much-needed revival by having the prestigious honour of being this series’ first technical challenge.
Flora started proceedings off by letting everyone know she "wasn’t even there" when the dessert first became popular, but for some of this year’s contestants the task was a welcome return to form, allowing them to show off some tried-and tested flavour combinations and complicated chocolate work.
Complicated, in the theoretical sense at least, was the Dalai Lama’s personal photographer’s inclusion of a chocolate elephant into his black forest gâteau. Presumably he reached the black forest by way of the Sahara, but for the most part the contestants stuck to decorating their cakes with tempered chocolate trees ad infinitum.
Stu steadfastly stuck to his hipster guns and made a ‘purple forest gâteau' with beetroot in the sponge. This prompted a livid-looking Paul to quip, "What, you don’t think the original sponge is moist enough?" Be afraid, Stu, be very afraid …
Sandy was at her resplendent best, larking about and slipping extra liquor into her cake – is this the booziest first episode yet? – whereas reliably brilliant Marie kept things interesting by using her fan-assisted oven to blow her hair about in the manner of a Rod Stewart video.
Poor, sweet Dorret had an absolute nightmare getting her chocolate mousse to set, which made her final cake look more like a mudslide than anything else (more apt for the black forest than an elephant, we must point out). Inconsolable with grief, Sue tried to make her feel better by reminding her that it was "only cake", thereby nullifying the point of the entire series in one cheerful chirp.
But, right she was: Dorret survived to bake another day while poor Stu fell at the first hurdle. We blame the hat.