Wednesday 26 September 2012

Great British Bake Off: Episode 7

Rather late in the day, I've decided to post blog reviews of The Great British Bake Off.  This might be the only one I ever do, because it's taken forever, and it won't be relevant to many of you - and it sure as sweet bippy ain't relevant to books, unless you count my Great British Bake Off cookbook - but I thought it'd be fun.  Feel free to twiddle your thumbs til tomorrow if it's of no interest to you, and forgive the way in which my caustic sense of humour (brought on by any reality programme) might emerge, and actual details may be sidelined!

In case you don't know, the Great British Bake Off is a gentle baking show, where contestants are sent home week by week, having failed to make the most impressive meringue tower or (horror of horrors) produced bread without enough crumb, or an inadequate bake.  (Parts of speech fall by the wayside in the furore of the kitchen/big white tent.)

The judges are Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  Paul Hollywood tries to be the baking world's Simon Cowell, and knows no greater compliment than 'that's not bad', but he has a twinkle in his eye which softens any disapproval.  Mary Berry is everyone's favourite grandmother, without a bad word to say to anybody, but can do more with a disappointed glance than Cowell could with his whole arsenal of insults.  And she's come dressed in Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat, bless her.

This week, two people are going home, and the challenge is - buns.  Sue Perkins (presenter/comedienne/dowdier version of Victoria Beckham) is quick to spot the potential for puns, but I shan't sully my blog with her innuendo - which is about as shocking as a sunken sponge, of course.  They have to make 24 sweet buns, of any variety, in three hours.  Scottish James seems inspired to launch into an Eric Morecambe impersonation, but decides better of it halfway through.

Brendan (brilliantly described on some blog I read as 'tiny bald oddity Brendan') kicks off proceedings by proclaiming his love for fresh yeast.  He's unnervingly good in all the challenges, but that's never welcome in reality programmes.  We love the plucky underdog, not somebody who can produce a pastry lattice seemingly out of nowhere (see also: Holly from last year who, for no obvious reason, decided to hide a gingerbread house under her croquembouche.  She ended up coming second to lovely Jo.  TAKE NOTE, BRENDAN.)

He's making Chelsea Buns for the Signature Challenge (i.e. 'make something you're good at') - or, as he has termed them, Chelsea Bunskis, because they're going to be a bit Russian.  Mel (the other presenter) apparently knows her Russian (her surname is Giedroyc, so perhaps that has something to do with it?) and gives him a long name in Russian which I can't now remember. [EDIT: It was Polish, not Russian!]

James is making 'Easter Buns' (also, apparently, a variant on Chelsea Buns - which I keep giving caps, for some reason).  Mel says, in the voiceover, that he is 'never afraid of trying something different'.  White-water rafting, perhaps?  Staging the first all-lion Broadway production of Cats?  No, it turns out his daredevilry begins and ends with wrapping puddings in muslin.  I'm mostly disappointed that he's swapped his jazzy knits for a plain blue jumper.

Luckily John has taken on his mantle.  Last week he had to leave the strudel competition because a food processor left him some pints of blood lighter (or so we were led to believe) but he's back, and he's inspiring Sue to throw in some jazz hands.

He opines that he is nervous, but "that's the way of life."  Later he adds "What's done is done, and can't be undone."  Profound, John, profound.  That near-death injury has clearly made you quite the sage.

Don't worry, I won't recap absolutely everybody.  But I can't ignore Kathryn (played, it seems, by Jane Horrocks.)  She's a rather ditzy, self-deprecating young mother, who seemed in the first week as though she was there simply for comic relief, soon to be sent home, but she's proved herself rather adept at everything -even while certain that all her offerings are awful.  I'm amused by the brief 'contestant home life' clip she gets.  All the contestants get these, and they last about two seconds (which hardly makes up for the hours the cameramen presumably spent on the motorway to film these segments.)  Most people are offering cake to their friends, family, or colleagues (last week poor Brendan was shown handing some to a neighbour, who appeared to shut the door in his face without saying a word.)  Kathryn, inexplicably, is shown with tent and campfire in tow.  Is she homeless?

She looks about 12 in this picture, but she's at least... 22?

Ryan (our next contestant) unnerves me because he looks and acts very like a (female) colleague of mine - so let's ignore him.  Onto Sarah-Jane instead.  She's my favourite, and not just because she's a vicar's wife.  She's probably the worst baker left, but Sarah-Jane is able to laugh at the whole process - even while crying in a field under an umbrella.  She's also offers the highest likelihood of dropping everything on the floor (oh, Rob from Series Two, gone but never forgotten.)

I should have noted down what people were actually making, but they all seem to be Chelsea Buns or things that are close enough for non-experts like me.

In the first couple of series The Great British Bake Off would divide time between the competition, and lengthy histories of the fruit cake or currant bun.  Thankfully these segments have grown shorter this series (perhaps the biography of the Victoria Sponge hasn't changed much in the past twelve months?) but we're still made to sit through experts waffling on about cakes and bakers past, while Mel does nothing to disguise her boredom.  Rev. Steven Wild is very animated and rather likeable, but there isn't really any sense that he knows anything worth mentioning about Cornish Saffron Buns.

Back to the kitchen/tent, and Sue's best pun yet - "You bun-loving criminals!" - and John (or was it James?) quite genuinely says "Good luck, little buns, good luck" as he puts his trays in the oven.  Brendan does his best to pretend the whole challenge is a down-to-the-wire angst-fest, but his heart isn't really in it.  It's not a high-octane show, despite Mel popping up occasionally and saying "One minute left, one minute" in excerpts probably filmed at the end of the day.  But we do have our first accident!  Kathryn spills some of her buns, but... they're fine.  Alfred Hitchcock it ain't.

Hollywood and Berry (crime-fighters extraordinaire!) step forward for some judging.  Always astute ("Did you use almond extract as well as almonds?") and straightforward ("Burnt"; "Bland") they eat extraordinary quantities of buns.  Occasionally Paul picks one up and pulls it apart, but it's not quite clear what he's trying to prove.  He pokes a hole in one of Sarah-Jane's ("it holes" - Paul, please put some effort into correct use of verbs!) and her critique isn't great - leading to this rather heart-breaking face.

Poor Sarah-Jane!  Don't go!

A mixture of gibberish and Mary Berry's mischievous grins, and we're back to establishing shots of sheep and ducks.  Sarah-Jane and John seemed to get the worst critiques - Brendan and Danny do well.

Onto the technical challenge!  Everyone has to make the same thing, and Hollywood and Berry will judge them 'blind' (only it's always entirely obvious which contestants made what, as they squirm and wince their way through their assessment, in front of the judges.)  This week - jam doughnuts!  If Our Vicar's Wife comes by, she'll tell you about the jamless jam doughtnut she ate on honeymoon.  The news that it's jam doughnuts seems to fill Sarah-Jane with glee, Danny with consternation, and Brendan with a vague melancholy.  Only Scottish James has made them before, many times... could pride come before a fall?  Usually Kathryn claims not to have a clue what is happening from beginning to end (this week: "It's just like kneading a big ball of chewing gum") and yet produces one of the best results.  We'll see.

For some reason, we're now off to see Tori Bottomley, WWII Re-enactor.

Thanks, Tori.

We're back to the tent, and Scottish James claims that the 'most satisfying thing in the world - no exaggeration' is when bread dough on the scales weighs exactly what you want it to.  His seems to, so life is all downhill from here, eh?

Nobody else really seems to know what they're doing.  Kathryn toys with 'taking the oily plunge', whatever that means, Danny is next ("I wonder how much you can disguise with a whole heap of caster sugar?")  Although Danny is very talented, she doesn't have the right ingredients for a great reality TV contestant.  She's somehow very forgettable, and exactly as good as she looks.  Ideal contestants should either be much better or much worse than you'd expect, and (if possible) have a strong regional accent and/or comic facial expressions.  Never mind, Danny, at least you've got competence on your side.

Jam is haemorrhaging everywhere, 'doughnut doom' is mentioned, but eventually everyone's trays of ten doughnuts must be brought to the front and laid before the critical eyes of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  Paul announces that he's looking for "Light colour, cooked inside, and a good amount of jam."  Quantities of jam have now taken on moral significance.  Paul's talent is being able to tell, simply from holding a baked good, exactly where the contestant went wrong - whether they were proved a minute too long, or have an ounce too much flour - while Mary witters a little, smiles at the contestants, and shows just as much expertise in far fewer words.

Well, in seventh and last place is lovely Sarah-Jane, followed by Ryan, Kathryn (that's a surprise!), Brendan (who looks incredulous), John, Danny, and in first place is Scottish James.  He feels that he has cheated the other contestants, because he's made doughnuts before... Ryan, on the other hand, considers coming second-last as 'a sort of victory'.  Hmm.  It's also a sort of failure, isn't it, Ryan?

Finally we have the Showstopper Challenge, which is basically the Signature Challenge but with fancier toppings.  They're making celebration loaves - from Christmas loaves to Stollen to  'Kugelhopf-Brioche Baba', whatever that may be.  James is making that, and apparently it includes half a bottle of whiskey.  At this stage in the game, and having presumably seen the programme before, the bakers know what Mary and Paul especially like and dislike ("Mary loves a lemon.")  James concedes that Paul isn't a big fan of lots of alcohol in a baked good, but he's going right ahead anyway...

This post is getting absurdly long, so I'll just give you a quotation or two:

"I'm the bridge between the 70s and today."

"I'm trying to fight for my place in the competition - that's why I'm shoving a piece of marzipan full with cherries and chocolate."

"It can look like a drunken seaman."

"Paul's frightened me a little bit about the amount of cinnamon that's in the dough."

It's getting pretty exciting!  Sarah-Jane - who really is fighting for her place now - has decided to make a plaited loaf, despite being appalling at that during Bread Week.  Well, good luck to you, love.  At this point, unless her loaf turns out to be a sentient being, she's heading back to Crawley.

Oh.  Sarah-Jane, did you know you can save money on train tickets if you buy them early?  I'd get on the internet now, love.  Brendan, who was worried that people might think he's too dated in his decoration, has opted for this...

And the judging begins!

Brendan gets "good bake".
Sarah-Jane's is "raw", but has good flavours (always a death knell.)
Ryan's "doesn't have that sort of wow", and his pork brioche (*shudder*) is also raw.
Danny's cake has "a nice strong colour" and Mary can taste all the separate flavours
John's strikes Mary as too flat and "a little bit on the stodgy side" - which, in Paul's less gentle lexicon, becomes "it's beginning to weld my mouth together."
Kathryn presents hers with a sparkler on top, and the cinnamon levels turn out to be acceptable.
Finally, James's whiskey is over the top - he needs to concentrate more on his 'core flavours'.  So we finish off with yet another of Paul's incomprehensible criticisms.

Two people are going, who will they be?  Presumably Sarah-Jane and Ryan, no?  Paul and Mary make an effort to pretend that it could be various of the other bakers, but unless they're picking names out of a hat arbitrarily, then surely these two will be on their way home...

This week's star baker is... Danny!  She smiles a bit, but seems to have forgotten all about it before the camera pans away from her.

And, going home...

Sarah-Jane and...

... Ryan.

So, no surprises there.  They both seem fairly cheery about it.  I'll miss lovely Sarah-Jane... and now I'm Team Kathryn.

Next week - biscuits!  But possibly not another review from me, as I've discovered how very long this sort of blog post takes to write.  Hope you can forgive a step away from the usual - we'll be back to books tomorrow.


  1. But we must have further posts if only for those of us in the Antipodes who have yet to see this series.

  2. I'm still catching up (the last episode I watched was pies) but this was wonderful! I laughed out loud at "Kathryn (played, it seems, by Jane Horrocks)". I adore her rich array of panicked facial expressions but I think she'd drive me mad if we were in the same kitchen together. I too loved Sarah-Jane but I've been rooting for Scottish James all along and will continue doing so (as well as hoping for the return of his spiffy knitwear).

    1. Thanks :) The Jane Horrocks comparison struck me suddenly - they have the same range of shocked and panicked looks!

      I think Scottish James is in with a good chance...

  3. Really liked this post, Simon! I am a fan of the Grat British Bake Off, ever since the first episode of the first series.
    This year, I love Brendan, just because he is so good and I did not expect him to be. Katheryn is cute, but she would indeed drive me crazy within five minutes, I think. I am sorry to see Ryan go (who also looks like a colleague of mine, perhaps he looks like everybody's colleague, how weird is that?) I really did not like Sarah-Jane and I cannot understand how she managed to make to through to week seven, her baking was often awfull!! But now she is gone and John is the one to go next, I think.
    (One little thing, wasn't it Polish poppyseed cakes that Mel mentioned, and not Russian?)

    My prediction: Brendan is going to win, or come second to an underdog, either Katrhryn of Jane. I think...
    But we will see!


    1. I started watching right at the beginning, and get more addicted every series and every episode!

      Thanks for the tip on Polish - I wasn't sure if I'd been listening properly there.

      I think Brendan will come second to an underdog...

  4. I don't watch this series, but appreciate your review and I very much like to see "non-book" items on your weblog (how about some physics?). Regarding Mel Giedroyc, her immediate background is very English but I think that her father comes from the Polish diaspora in Lithuania. Given that this country was part of the USSR empire I would think that Russian might well be part of her skill set.

    1. There's lots of physics in a kitchen Dark Puss!

    2. I doubt there will ever be a physics post here, Peter, I would have nothing at all to day, except f=ma (which it probably doesn't, I daresay.)

  5. More telly recaps, please! This was great!

    My favourite phrase from last night's episode? Jam Distribution. JAM. DISTRIBUTION.

    I love The Great British Bake Off more than most things in life. I thought you should know that. Danny and James are my favourites, but I do like Kathryn as well. Brendan annoys me - not just because of that hideous castle celebration object he made, but because he's just like an old lady. An annoying old lady. He has no FLAIR, no PIZZAZZ (Is that how you spell it? It's looking too much like PIZZA ... will they have a pizza challenge??). I was sorry to see Sarah-Jane go, though. She was lovely.

    I adore Sue and Mel - they live not far from me and they ought to know their saffron buns. The Rev. Steven Wild, however, with that shockingly non-Cornish accent, was a poor choice as expert! (I make a splendid saffron bun, by the way.)

    1. Aww, thanks Helen! I'm tempted now...
      How did I miss 'jam distribution' - amazing! I love the calm way they butcher the English language.

      Do Sue and Mel live together?? Like Eric and Ernie? (They're not a couple, are they?)

      I'm heading down your way for a saffron bun, kay?

    2. Ooops, my mistake. Mel does not live down here and she is not a lesbian. I think I accidentally outed a straight woman!

    3. But please do come down for a saffron bun!

  6. I think Cathryn (C, not K, according to the captions for their recipes on screen) will have her own spin-off series soon: she's a natural on TV. Brendan is a spanking good baker but so smug! But I hope he makes Paul eat a 70s fruit cake with gratitude or something. I think John might surprise us all and take on Danny for the final. James might also continue to flop, puir loon, he's getting a bit cocky and it's showing.

    Is there really a cookbook to go with this? Last night's episode was the first one I've watched where I actually wanted to pull the buns out of the screen and devour. Biccies next! Kate

    1. Oh, thanks for that - I did wonder halfway through whether it ought to be Cathryn, but my journalistic integrity didn't go as far as actually bothering to find out.

      I thought John would definitely go next time, but now you're making me think otherwise...

      The cookbook I have is for series 2 - I imagine one will emerge for series 3 once it's all over.

  7. Ah, the 'jamless jam doughnut....'
    Hear these wise words:
    "As you journey through life, dear brother,
    Whatever may befall,
    Keep your eyes fixed on the doughnout
    And not upon the hole."

    ('ring' doughnut one presumes - not a smear of jam in sight!)

    Thank you Simon - I missed the programme this week and haven't really the time to catch up with it - now I don't need to :)

  8. I was so hungry last night watching TGBBO! I got confused with them calling donoughts to what for me are berliners (or Bolas de Berlin in Portuguese). I guess I've been successfully brain-washed into thinking of donought as something with a whole in the middle...

    Do you have the book? I'd love to read a review of it.

    1. I have series 2 cookbook - but I never seem to use any of my cookbooks except a tiny, ancient Be-Ro one!

  9. I haven't been watching, but have seen enough in the past to giggle all the way through your review, though I'm still wincing at the very idea of a food processor accident - glad I missed that!

    1. I kept my eyes tightly closed for that segment!

  10. Loved it when Ryan cried because Paul liked his buns (sorry!)
    I thought the WWII bit was *fascinating*. As Simon hasn't revealed what it was about I will. The Doughnut Dollies were set up to boost the spirits of American GIs as they joined the war in Europe. They were uber glam girls who baked doughnuts & chatted to the troops to keep their spirits up. The best bit about all of this was that they actually followed the soldiers into action & were shipped over in their doughnut baking vans as the troops invaded France!That's the stuff of which great bakers are made! I would love to know if any of these wonderful ladies are still alive. Anybody know?

    1. Ali, how interesting! My father was in WWII, stationed in England. He went into France on D-Day plus 3. He is no longer with us, but I'll ask my mom if he ever mentioned the Doughnut Dollies. I did find some photos of the dollies and the doughnuts here:

    2. Well, I'm glad you got something out of that, Alison :)

  11. I came late to TGBBO (last year's celebrity version) but I'm now hooked. Your review is brilliant - we need more!

    I was sorry (though not surprised) to see Sarah Jane go, so I am now firmly behind Cathryn.

    You never know I might try baking some time! (Actually I think we have an office cake sale planned next week).

    1. Aw, thanks Rhian! Maybe I'll persevere...

      It does spark up my love of baking to a greater extent - but at the mo I have a horrendous oven. :(

  12. I love Brendan! He's adorable! I wish he were my next door neighbour - I want someone to bring me cake!

    1. I don't think I could hold more than a minute's conversation with him!

  13. How can you hate Danny? I was literally rooting for her. Literally.

    1. I didn't say hate! I just said I was bored of her... I'm sure your literal rooting will help [/certify you]

    2. I can't stand her, she smugly stands there every week, thinking she is a cross between Delia Smith and Fanny Craddock dishing out advice, she is not an expert just a mere amatour cook who thinks she knows it all. Stop giving out advice, get the qualifications first before you start lecturing the rest of us on how to bake!!!!! At least all the others describe what they are doing and don't speak down to the great unwashed. I cheered around the house when she left. Hip hip hurray. Good riddance to that gooby mare!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. This was grand! No TV here, plus I'm in Canada so it probably isn't even an option if I *did* have "the box", but I didn't need to see it to get the whole picture. Loved it. Thank you! (Oh - edited to say I see Claire has commented, so it obviously *is* airing here in the colonies.)

    Reminds me of my mom's (now mine)vintage collection of (USA) Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbooks from the 1950s & 60s - much fun to read, and to examine at the pictures of anxious cooks in the Waldorf-Astoria Ballroom (or something posh like that) transformed for the event into a massive test kitchen, "all appliances supplied by our sponsor General Electric!"...

    I'm totally digressing. Loved your post. (Think I said that already.) It must have taken your HOURS. Good job. :-)

    1. Aw, thanks so much!

      How wonderful those 50s and 60s cookbooks sound! They are sadly absent of anxious cooks nowadays... although my Be-Ro one is pleasingly dated in its table decorations.

  15. Oh Simon, how you made me laugh! I love the GBBO - while always wondering why it is so compelling. Perhaps because it is so gentle, and in that a splendid repost to the likes of X Factor?

    1. Thanks Erica!
      It is lovely to have a gentle, friendly reality programme. Even compared to Masterchef, it is much lovelier.

    2. Far, far lovelier than Masterchef. That has shouting and thumping music intended to indicate extreme PERIL! ('Cooking doesn't get much tougher than this!', etc.)

  16. I feel gentle and friendly to them all, but for a violent urge to do something truly awful to Sue Perkins. I long for the day when somebody gives her a swipe with the rolling pin and tells her to get out of the ***@!** way. And slaps her hands for picking at things.


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