Go Sandy! Team Sandy! #SandyFTW! Our best beloved baking show has begun a sixth series and it’s already obvious who to back for the final.
The Mary Berry-approved gran Marie may have won star baker, but Sandy, a 49-year-old child welfare officer from Bradford, has the insouciance of series four’s Ruby, the playful wit of series fives’s Norman and the cool-headed competence of series two’s Joanne. Let’s get T-shirts made up, asap.
In the meantime, there’s still some baking to be getting on with, and this Cake Week episode eased us in gently with a classic madeira. What could be more delightfully simple, wondered presenters Mel and Sue. But of course, these GBBO grandstanders always know how to over-complicate matters.
Trainee anaesthetist Tamal injected his with a syringe of syrup; travel photographer Ian took the opportunity to show off his sophistication with Caribbean flavours, coconut, lime and ginger; and this year’s youngest contestant, Flora, 19, beat them all. She’s so posh, she forgot to preheat the oven for her blood orange madeira because – get this – they’ve got an Aga at home!
How big do you like your walnuts? That was the most pressing question of the Technical Challenge in which the dozen bakers were asked to recreate Mary’s Walnut Cake, a great feat of Victorian engineering which looked like it had been iced with bathroom tiling grout.
Deprived of a full recipe to consult, the contestants panicked over how small they should chop. (“If you cut a walnut into four pieces, that’s too big,” judge Paul Hollywood later gnomically revealed.)
It was, however, the unbearable wait for sugar to caramelise that really sorted the dab-hands from the dilettantes.
“Mary said one tablespoon. I’m gonna break the rules,” announced Stu, a tattooed rebel in a pork pie hat, as he recklessly added more water to the pan.
How did that work out for him? Let’s just say you could easily spot Stu’s cake in the judging line up. It was the one topped by a single, lonely-looking caramelised walnut.
Cockiness is the ultimate Bake Off faux pas, but an attack of nerves can also ruin a contestant’s chances, as 53-year-old accountant Dorret discovered during the Showstopper Challenge.
She was initially confident about making a Black Forest gateau – “I like working with chocolate, I like working with alcohol. This is the perfect bake for me” – but it all fell apart, literally, in the last five minutes. Repeat after Sue, Dorret: “It’s just a cake, it’s just a cake. It really is just a cake.”
First out the door: musician Stuart Henshall First out the door: musician Stuart Henshall Thanks to Stu’s egregiously trendy outfit and rubbish recipe instincts, Dorret escaped elimination this week; but only just.
Really, everyone should aim to be a lot more like our Sandy, who made cheeky eye-contact every time the camera pointed her way and had a winningly heavy hand when it came to pouring cherry kirsch. “You’re supposed to measure this out, aren’t you? But…”
With Sandy taking care of the show’s quota of gentle humour in this way, Mel and Sue were free to push their own banter into previously uncharted territory.
“I can’t wait to romp in your forest,” Mel told a terrified Ian at one point. That was perhaps too much sexual aggression, even for this show.
(© Independent News Service)
The first series of The Great British Bake Off averaged 3.5 million viewers. Last season, the fifth, that was up to 13.5 million, more than watched the World Cup final on the same channel. As the celebrity chef programmes - all melodramatic cursing and endless staring of ruin in the face - began to dwindle in popularity, perhaps because the action was always on one note, and the relentless dramatic curve of victory-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-defeat seemed manufactured, The Great British Bake Off has been slowly, irresistibly gaining ground.