In the middle of the grounds of Welford Park in Berkshire, 31-year-old speech therapist Claire starts to break down in tears, adding that she doesn’t know why she’s crying over cake. Claire’s tears come following criticism over her chocolate orange Swiss roll and in particular her arbitrary use of cream. This ludicrous situation means only one thing, The Great British Bake-Off is back for its fifth series.
As well as making the move from Somerset to Berkshire, the programme has now jumped from BBC Two to BBC One following a tremendously successful full run. But, despite these few changes, very little has changed since last time we checked in to the now-famous marquee. Mel and Sue are once again hosting proceedings and no effort has been made to tone down their fairly risqué humour for a prime time BBC One audience. From their opening comments about Paul Hollywood’s love dungeons to their comment about the baker’s attempting to pop Mary’s cherry it was clear that Mel and Sue’s brand of comedy was staying in tact throughout the series. As well as providing plenty of puns, the duo’s other job is to almost act as a proxy for the audience watching at home. Their genuine love of what the bakers produce is evident throughout as is there need to lick every spoon and scrape out every unwashed bowl. My particular Mel and Sue highlight in tonight’s episode came when the presenters chased each other round the tent in an attempt to try W.I. member Diana’s chocolate mousse. Meanwhile Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood proved to be the perfect judging combination once again as they play perfectly opposite one another. One of the elements that makes the Bake-Off so watchable is the fact that the judges always want to praise a dish and seem genuinely disappointed when there’s a colossal failure in the group. Whilst Paul has often been viewed as the more vicious of the two judges, I felt Mary held her own and was particularly critical of construction engineer Iain’s methods of cutting his Swiss roll.
This year’s dozen bakers are certainly a motley bunch with over fifty years separating the youngest and oldest contestants. At seventeen, college student Martha is the youngest ever Bake-Off contestant but at the same time is one of the strongest contestants in this year’s show. Martha was praised for her tirimisu Swiss roll, which looked absolutely delicious, and came second in the Cherry Cake technical challenge. As well as being talented, Martha is extremely likeable, fairly unassuming and never comes across as overly ambitious. The aforementioned Diana is the Bake-Off’s oldest ever participant and is also a lifelong W.I. member having first joined at the tender age of twelve. Diana’s bakes were predictably classic and looked tasty enough but it was clear that one of her main weaknesses was in the presentation of her food. Currently leading the crop of this year’s bakers is Lincolnshire grandmother Nancy who is an experienced baker who even used a guillotine to make sure her showstopper mini-bakes were completely uniform. As she won star baker in the first show, Nancy is definitely the one to watch but winning the accolade this early in the contest isn’t necessarily a good thing. This year’s dark horse candidate was North London-based builder Richard whose family has been in the same trade for generations. But this didn’t seem to bother Paul Hollywood from telling him he needed to change professions after tasting his pistachio and strawberry Swiss Roll. Although he garnered praise for both his signature challenge and his showstopper, Richard still stuck to his building roots by resting a pencil behind his ear.
At the other end of the baking spectrum we had the contestants who had evidently been cast due to their strong characters rather than their baking skills. Self-confessed ‘nerdy baker’ Jordan certainly fits into this category as he escaped elimination despite a disastrous showing in this first episode. Jordan was particularly poor in the technical challenge in which he failed to read the recipe for Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake and therefore forgot to save any cherries to decorate the top of his creation. But geeky Jordan is one of the tent’s most memorable characters and therefore I believe he’ll stay for a couple more weeks before finally being given the boot. Whilst his weekend was as disastrous as Jordan’s, the aforementioned Iain was certainly on Paul and Mary’s danger list come elimination time. However he was another of the episode’s memorable characters due mainly to his striking facial hair and Mary Berry’s shock over the way he scored his Swiss Roll. Furniture restorer Kate’s Swiss Roll was also criticised for being over-baked and dry but she was oddly never considered to be in one of the contestants who might leave. Another memorable character was Scottish Norman, a former Merchant Navy Member who reminisced about his time picking raspberries as a lad. To me Norman was one of the bakers who is currently somewhere in the middle of the pack having served cakes that impressed but didn’t wow either Mary or Paul.
One of The Great British Bake-Off’s best qualities is the way in which they introduce all of their contestants in a concise manner. Although I didn’t feel I knew all twelve of them instantly, the programme at least gave me a little bit of insight into their lives. So for example I knew that Luis had Spanish roots which he injected into his Swiss Roll which also featured honey that came from his own bees. Meanwhile Chetna, who moved from Mumbai to England just over ten years ago, also uses flavours from her childhood in India. Finally we come back to Claire, who brought a sense of fun to the marquee due to her bubbly personality and willingness to argue with Paul Hollywood over her use of cream. But poor Claire had a disaster in the showstopper round when her chocolate mini-cakes melted in the oven and she struggled to construct something that looked edible. Despite the fact that she seemed like a character that the producers would want to keep around for her entertainment value, Claire was the first baker to be eliminated.
I’m not quite sure what draws people to the Bake-Off every year but it’s a programme that I see growing even more successful as time goes by. I never thought watching twelve people perfecting the swirls on Swiss Rolls would be entertaining but I for one was hypnotised by the entire procedure. Unlike other reality competition shows, the contestants on Bake-Off are always likeable and willing to help one another. Meanwhile the judges’ comments are always constructive and the hosts provide both warmth and humour to the programme. Thankfully little has been changed during the Bake-Off’s move from BBC Two to BBC One with even the History of Food segments returning next week. It’s fair to say that I loved everything about tonight’s episode of The Great British Bake-Off and my only criticism is that it made me terribly hungry to the point that I had to gorge myself on cake after the closing credits rolled.
Leave Your Comments Below.