Great British Bake Off 2016 (week one)

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‘Karma’s been restored,’ says contestant Jane at one point, and it’s difficult to disagree. This week, The Great British Bake Off returns, and an exhausted nation falls hungrily on their screens, clutching their iplayers to their chests, whispering to themselves ‘we’re alright, aren’t we? It’s all going to be alright’. In savvy recognition of exactly what the country is likely to be chomping on as they settle down to watch the first episode, Mary Berry’s first challenge to the newbies is to make a stack of Jaffa Cakes, which wasn’t as easy as anyone expected. Before any of that, however, the bakers have to get their drizzle kicks in on a fairly traditional cake. It’s back to basics, Paul says, before warning that the judging is going to be tougher.

There’s an essential, but not essentially obvious difference between Bake Off and something like, say, The Apprentice, which claims to be about team work, before reducing everyone to backstabbing villains. With the Bake Off (and its sister show, The Great British Sewing Bee), it’s a very different story: sure, it’s supposed to be every baker for themselves, but once everybody is in the tent, there’s a great feel of camaraderie, whispers of comfort for anyone who thinks they’re not rising to the challenge. No wonder there’s tears of solidarity before teatime.

Instead of backstabbing, it’s eleven skewers (and a toothpick) attacking twelve cakes with the speed and mania of a robot dancing a blade between a scared marine’s fingers in an Alien sequel. The bakers look just as nervous. As the ovens hot up, we have time to warm to the contestants, and as ever the programme editors do a magnificent job of drawing a gingham veil over who will end up as Star Baker, and who will end up going home.

‘I like the flavour of a Cox,’ farmer’s wife Kate informs us, before telling us she is also mad about swallows, talking like someone who’s never seen the programme before. Selasi – who is likely to go far – is sanguine about his methods. ‘I don’t understand it, I’m just bakin’ it.’

Mel is subject to some magnificent trolling when a contestant tells her she’s mixed some orange juice in her Jaffa cake. Is that allowed? Where did she get the orange juice from? ‘The orange’, comes the deadpan response. Meanwhile, Andrew has made a basic mistake with the presentation of his Jaffa cakes, meaning he’s as sacred by the words ‘upside down’ as someone on a Stranger Things binge.

Before long, the bakers are asked to look deep into themselves to produce a cake with a mirror glaze, which has somewhat mixed results, especially for the ones who singularly fail to create a mirror glaze.

‘It smells a little like grass,’ Mary says suspiciously of Michael’s offering, before leaning in for a longer, deeper sniff. Maybe the grass she’s thinking of isn’t the grass we’re thinking of.

‘What do you do relieve stress?’ Sue asks a panicking Val. With perfectly timed predictability, comes the response: ‘I usually bake.’ Sue winces: ‘That’s difficult then, isn’t it.’ Val tends to dance – normally to Ed Sheeran tracks, but more importantly she’s a cake whisperer. Yes, let’s say that again: she’s a cake whisperer – she listens to her cakes singing when they’re baked enough, which is mildly terrifying when you think about it for too long.

Selasi and Candice are already a dream team, supporting each other, having each other’s back when the going gets tough. Maybe they’ll be the last two left in the final episode, refusing to do any more of Mary’s challenges while threatening to eat the last of the berries, like a particularly fluffy instalment of the Hunger Games.  Candice incidentally has an endearing habit of talking to herself – literally, talking to herself, addressing herself by name each time, while her pouts (yes, plural – we’re pretty sure we counted at least nine different ones) are likely to spawn a thousand memes. Plus, ‘Mother Hubbard’ is a pretty good swear to have in stock if you have the vicar round for tea.

Speaking of which, Lee was the first to be sent home this year (making 30 year old Selasi the oldest male baker in the tent), and Jane was this week’s Star Baker. Lee’s departure appeared to surprise nobody, while Jane looked suitably terrified. The aforementioned Selasi and Candice are ones to watch, but Benjamina has a quiet, steely determination that should see her through at least a month.

Welcome back, Bake Off. It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK.

This recap also appears at Cultbox.co.uk

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