Gosh, it doesn't feel a year since we last saw Mary eating like a pirate and Paul glowering at everyone, does it? Have Mel and Sue been stuck in a room thinking up new anatomical euphemisms for a year? (Judging on the wordplay this week... no.) And why have no former Bake Off contestants yet appeared on Strictly Come Dancing? I'd watch if Scottish James, Cathryn, and Sarah-Jane were there. I can imagine Cathryn does a mean rumba. And surely The Brend, a.k.a. The Bridge Between the 70s And Today, loves a sequin or two?
Alternatively, I suggest a show where he teaches underprivileged boys to play football. It'll be called Brend It Like Beckham. Thankyouverymuchgoodnight.
It's going to be tricky, recapping the first episode before we know who everybody is, and while there are so many of them about - so I'm going to be selective rather than thorough, and try to keep an eye out for those who might become the much-loved heroes and villains of Series 4. And this year there are a mammoth 13 bakers in the tent (which, incidentally, looks like a pretty good diagram of when you know that egg whites are stiff enough for meringue.)
They fail to mention that thirteen is a baker's dozen, which would have been rather apt. I am, of course, lying. They mention it so often that I'm starting think the numbers run 11, 12, baker's dozen, 14... Indeed, this is the punniest episode I've ever seen - it even starts with a wait/weight gag, and I'll fill you in when we get to more. Maybe even a pun klaxon.
We see a quick overview of tears, joy, cakes, and timers - and the judges get an 'aren't they scary?' edit, with people saying how frightened they are of Paul and Mary in turn. I'm thinking the war on terror needs to turn its attention to these two, since apparently they're terrorising this baker's dozen of bakers. (Geddit? Oh, sorry, we did that one.)
Are you ready for the laughter, the agony, and the ever-revolving cakes? (Seriously, why do they revolve so much in these preview clips? We never see them revolve again.) Well, sorry - first we have to indulge Mel and Sue in a bit of light banter about surgical hoists and lacing. They've strayed so far beyond the line of 'taking things seriously' that it now feels as though the Bake Off is a wonderful, state-sponsored crèche for them.
|I've really grown to love that bridge.|
The first challenge is a sandwich cake. Things are pretty simple to start with, you'd have thought, but Mary Berry starkly informs us that "It is easy to make a basic sandwich cake. We want them to go much further than that." At this point we cross over to Una Stubbs sighing over her mixture, as though hearing Mary's words through the wall. It's all very moving.
|Ok, it's not Una Stubbs. But I don't know her real name.|
And, of course, we head over to a baker named Glenn saying that he's going to make a simple Victoria sandwich, because he thinks Mary will like the traditional. Oh, Glenn. Never underestimate Bezza. She has the spirit of adventure in every pore.
Because this is the first episode, we get all those curious videos of the contestants at home, not interacting with the camera at all, and rather giving the impression that they're being stalked against their knowledge. They also pick the most curious things. This family portrait is rather understandable, even if it does show a violent side to the youth of today...
|Maybe a pacifist protest?|
...but along the way we also sit in on a dentist operation, a psychologist's session (professional!), and one poor student who can't afford a desk... but I couldn't find the screenshot of that. Instead, here's Una Stubbs laughing. And turns out she's called Deborah.
I suppose we're intended to get to know the bakers better, but I feel like I've learnt more about the voyeuristic (borderline illegal) tendencies of the cameramen, more than anything.
I've already mentioned The Brend from last year - I assume you remember him? He sounded like the talking clock, considered himself a ten-out-of-ten all round, and made Abigail's Party look like a model of elegant taste and restraint. Well, I had high hopes of this gentlemen being the new Brend when he said that he was making his cake out of rice flour rather than flour. To make his cake, he asserted, more cakey. Or perhaps less cakey. I forget. We'll come back to Brend 2.0 to see whether he deserves the title...
|The Brend as reimagined by Woody Allen?|
While looking out for my favourites, I settled (but of course) on the older lady Christine who - hurrah! - lives in Oxfordshire, and looks like a cross between Felicity Kendal and Anne Reid. Her home story seems to be having grandchildren (who don't turn up for the videoshoot) and an apron (which does).
But, while Christine is explaining her cake, Mary seems to sense that her title for Most Adorable Older Lady is up for grabs, and pulls a most uncharacteristically aggressive face...
|"I've got a CBE. Have you?"|
You'll have spotted that I've barely mentioned the cake they're making. There's just too many of them, and you can probably guess what's happened. A couple of people are playing it too safe, somebody is adding inedible ingredients to give it an "exotic flavour", and an early show-off is doing something unduly over-the-top. The Holly of the group. This time it's actually rather sweet - a sandwich cake in the shape of a sandwich, paper bag (icing) and all.
There have been a fair number of crises so far. Three casualties, in fact - I bet the producers were sharpening the knives backstage (backtent?) to make sure that accidents happened. In mid-series, any one of these would have got four "coming up later" previews and a good ten minutes of screentime, but this time the tent is knee-deep in bakers so we only have time for a quick bandage and resilient "I'm all right" from Christine, and we're onto the next thing. Which is Ruby crying... but we do see how lovely this show is compared to others when Sue goes over to give her a calming hug. (I even read that Mel and Sue sometimes go and swear by people if they're really upset, so that the BBC can't use the footage.)
|"I'm not being insensitive, but I've lost a contact lens."|
The judging is pretty much the norm too. Paul's "The creme patissiere is awful" is the equivalent of Mary's "It's not quite thick enough"; the person who used rose has used too much; cakes are underbaked, underdecorated, or (alternatively) very good. But there are just too many of them to work out what's going on for long. Except for the fact that Brend 2.0 turns out to be rather a sweetie, so I'm going to have to learn his real name one day.
Oh, lovely, we're off for the Historical Information bit. Obviously anything of any interest was covered years ago, and today we're left with a description of 'promenading', which seems not only to have nothing to do with baking, but also to be a fanciful tale of sexual assault. "They would grab the girls' hair," says Melanie Tebbutt, Historian cheerfully.
That's that for another week. Shall we get back to the tent? We're onto our first technical challenge - an Angel Food Cake. Things have moved on rather from series one, when their technical challenge was a simple Victoria Sponge, haven't they?
Let's have a few highlights, shall we?
|Excellent anxious face.|
"The easiest task becomes a minefield of difficulties in the technical challenge" says Teary Ruby, obviously vying for a chance to do Anxious Voiceovers, should Mel's career ever head off in another direction.
To grease or not to grease becomes the big question of the tent. I love that that's on primetime television.
"Rise, my baby, rise!" It's not often enough that the Wizard of Oz is misquoted in baking. No, strike that, it is often enough. Maybe too often.
Oh, and PUN KLAXON. Somebody says "Cracking - physically cracking, not cracking as in it's good!" An ambiguity for Wallace and Gromit and nobody else.
PUN KLAXON AGAIN - Una Stubbs makes a flip-the-tin/I've-flipped pun. Not excellent wordsmithery, but points for effort.
And a gentleman is oddly surprised that his boiling lemon curd is hot, after sticking his finger in it.
I've got to say, the array is pretty impressive. Series Four looks like it's following the upward trend of all previous series. They just keep impressing me. Well, except for one man, who used salt instead of sugar...
|He seems oddly delighted by this. |
Spoilers: he comes last in the technical challenge.
Still, all round Mary and Paul seem pretty impressed. My favourite moment comes when Paul says that a cake looks like it's straight from the 1970s (The Brend? When did you come back?) and Mary says "I can't remember." Lor' bless her. Unless the 1970s was when she started to forget things...
And who doesn't love it when Paul has to spit out a cake? Turns out salty cake isn't his cup of tea. But, like a gentleman, he stops Mary trying any. It's like Raleigh throwing his coat down for Queen Elizabeth I (only entirely different.)
|Sue genuinely references "Salt rum baba, John, 2012"|
We whip (BAKING PUN) through the pecking order of the Angel Cakes, and my girl Christine comes third. A blonde woman I don't recognise at all comes second, and Rob comes first. He's thrilled to the very core of his being.
And finally, we have the Showstopper Challenge. It's chocolate cake (have I mentioned that it's cake week? I reckon you've worked it out), with decorations and tiers and the like. This is certainly the most interesting of the challenges but, again, time is not on our side, and it's probably best to head straight for the end results...
But I will pause for my favourite moment of Fatuous Baking Warning from any series so far: "the darker colour of chocolate cake makes it harder to see when it's baked." Oh, Mel. Never change. I wish you were in my kitchen, saying things like "Sugar makes things sweeter!" or "Lemons are yellow!"
Oh, and let's give the music director a special star for effects initiative, as somewhere along the way he or she had a bit of a breakdown and decided that what the Great British Bake Off really needed was a heavy drum beat. You know when drums signal that something significant and dangerous is happening? They do that - for Mary standing by a desk, a spatula, and somebody putting something in the fridge.
And GBBO gets heavily self-referential about That Squirrel.
Here are some of my favourites from the end:
|In which I learn that Brend 2.0 is called Howard!|
Will this be Howard's End? Ahahahaha... no.
As with the rest of this episode, there are some we barely see at all, and not for the first time I think thirteen is too many cooks. And not enough Mary.
Right, ready for the winner and loser? Look away if not...
Congratulations to... Rob!
|He nods a bit. Calm DOWN, Rob.|
And commisserations to... well, of course it is the man who put salt in the cake. I've already forgotten his name. What I do remember is that Mary ruffles his hair. STOP BEING SO ADORABLE MARY, MY WEE HEART CAN'T TAKE IT.
I hope you've enjoyed the first recap of the series, I've enjoyed writing it - and I'm looking forward to getting to know these bakers better. It's far too soon to pick any winners, but I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say Frances, because she has lots of exciting ideas (which, looking at past series, will actually mean she comes second.)
Be bold - pick a name! Who do you think will be crowned victorious?