‘Twelve fresh bakers are preparing for battle like warriors of old,” declares Sue Perkins at the start of The Great British Bake Off (BBC1), series six.
“Warriors?” asks Mel Giedroyc.
“No, worriers. As in: they’re worried,” says Sue.
A Bake Off record maybe, for the earliest-ever pun? Not the best ever, but it’s important to lay down an early marker. Place your spread bets on the first light dusting of innuendo.
Actually, I like the idea of warriors; what would they bake? Achilles cakes, a bit like Eccles cake, only more heroic … Oh lord, it’s contagious. Alexander The Great British Bake Off … Stop it. Leave it to Mel’n’Sue, who are better.
So, no breast-plated legends among the new batch then, but instead a Lithuanian female bodybuilder, a firefighter, a trainee anaesthetist, a granny from Perthshire, Scotland, and a student also from Perthshire, among others. Sandy, a child welfare officer from Bradford, looks good value. “I’m quite random,” she says. “I can be making a cake and you can have a meat pie by the time I’ve finished.” It’ll be interesting to see what Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood make of that. Oh, and there’s a prison governor from Swansea called Paul, who sounds exactly like Paul H. Looks a bit like him, too, apparently. Can’t see it myself, but it’s giving M’n’S plenty of material.
First task, then: a Madeira cake. “Right, M’dearas,” says Mel, inevitably. “Time to reveal your cracks,” says Sue, ditto. (On 14 minutes and 55 seconds, for the spread-betters.) Ian the travel photographer’s effort is like “chewing wallpaper paste”, says Hollywood, harshly. Nurse Alvin’s figs have sunk to the bottom. He didn’t chop them up. Random Sandy’s chunk dispersal is better. In fact, the cake is excellent, though not a meat pie, which is disappointing. Was she exaggerating her randomness? I’ve gone off her.
Stu, a musician, is putting a lime-and-chocolate glaze on his Caribbean-style “Marley Madeira cake”. With jam in? I hope you like jammin’, too … They missed that one. Anyway, the flavours are all wrong. It’s quite bitter, says Paul, who’s pulling no punches, even at this early stage.
There’s more poor chunk dispersal in the technical challenge, in which contestants have to recreate Mary Berry’s walnut cake (quintessentially English, frosted, pre-war – much like Mary). An elementary error; have these people never even seen GBBO before? If they had, surely they’d know – as even I do (through television rather than practical experience, obviously) – that nuts and fruit need to be chopped sufficiently finely to stop them sinking to the bottom.
“If you cut a walnut into four pieces, that’s too big,” says Paul (H, not the screw). “I would say half of that.”
“An eighth,” snap Mel and Sue, in unison, sharp as anything and as each other. Yeah, but is Paul really starting with a walnut, or half a walnut? (In which case we should be talking a 16th.) That’s what I want to know.
To the 1970s, then, for the final challenge: a black forest gateau. With cherries and cream and lots and lots of chocolate – mmm, a showstopper and possibly a heartstopper, too. It’s a task that is open to plenty of interpretation. For Flora, it means a pink cake. For Tamal the anaesthetist, it means a tempered chocolate collar. For Ian, it means an elephant. Would that be a chocolate Ganesha? Another one missed, ladies. Hey, maybe I should be on this show.
Preston project accountant Dorret has an “Alhambra sponge”, mousse, and … a disaster. More of a mudslide, as Paul says, than a forest. Dorret’s tears probably aren’t helping the consistency. “There’s no need to get upset,” says Sue, comfortingly. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to go home.”
Sue’s right, it doesn’t, Dorret survives. Do they ban Marie (ouch!)? Of course not, she’s brilliant. Instead it’s Stu the musician, unforgiven for the bitterness in his Marley Madeira, who goes home.
And the star baker? “I think Flora has to be mentioned,” says Paul. Actually Paul did mention Flora – 19 – before, and probably will again. Mary mentions Nadiya, a full-time mum from Leeds. But this week’s winner is Marie – the opposite of banned: star baker.
There’s nothing very different about this year’s Bake Off, and I suspect that’s the way Mary Berry wants it. “I’m happy that there will be different flavours, but I don’t want it too far from the classic, because you can’t beat it,” she says – actually about Madeira cake, but surely about GBBO, too. I’ve come round to it, reluctantly, slowly, eventually. Yes, I’m groaning, a lot. But also salivating, and marvelling at some of the craft. The real joy of it is seeing a grey-haired prison governor next to a young mum in a hijab, both of them doing intricate and beautiful things with tempered chocolate. There is something both British and great about that.