Great British Bake Off episode 2 review: A Willy Wonka-worthy showstopper made biscuit week a winner
With Noel Fielding off the leash and an original new challenge in the mix, this episode had all the right ingredients
After a strong opener to Bake Off 2.0, biscuit week proved that Channel 4’s incarnation is an ever-so-slightly cheekier star in its own right. If we think of last week’s episode as the awkward ice breaker at the party, in this one everyone started to loosen up. While it wasn’t quite a case of keys in the middle, puns and double-entendre gave way to some more direct approaches and some seriously good bakes – and it was a lot of fun to watch.
The success was down to the growing chemistry between the new line-up and a Willy Wonka-worthy showstopper involving an edible (and playable) board game, of which more later. Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig’s presenting double-act already seemed much less stilted. While still Mel and Sue-level silly, their shtick works: her cheerful teacher to his thespy, shaggy-haired pupil with an anarchic streak.
After last week’s demure start in a bird-patterned shirt (sedate for The Mighty Boosh star), Fielding rocked up in a trippy sweatshirt and charmed and flirted his way around the benches. “I’m known as the Powerful Piper,” he joked when former Army officer Sophie enquired about his decorating skills. There were quips about Scottish independence over a British Isles biscuit and he suggested giving Hollywood a David Bowie make-over when the judge was dubious about a glitter-covered biscuit sandwich in the signature challenge. As last week, Toksvig didn’t say a huge amount but she bustled it all along (this job is a cake walk for her, really) and she too displayed a welcome naughty streak.
“Sex, isn’t it?“ said sailing-loving contestant Chris to Toksvig as she tasted his chocolatey creation. “Maybe for that filling, I’d be on the turn for you, you never know.” They’re going straight to the point here, no messing. Or no cautious BBC editing.
The challenges seemed a little bit more playful too, well at least the latter two rounds did.
The technical task called for tricky fortune cookies, with contestants having to make write their own aphorisms. “I’m sure you’ve got the mad skills,” said Noel. They didn’t, mostly, though Prue had a giggle over one of the prophetic notes: “Today you will mostly poo candyfloss.”
Paul is still Paul, though is it just me or does he look like he’s gone a bit more showbiz silver for this series? As the elder statesman of the show, we saw him take on an unexpected paternal role with 19-year-old student Liam. The two played an enthusiastic game of noughts and crosses in the showstopper. Ol' blues eyes is going soft.
Prue Leith provides the promised “firm but fair” judging with the Berry-style understatement of the properly posh – “raw batter’s not much fun” – but there was also a hint of rebellion in the mix. “Aaaah, clever girl, a bit of booze where we know we can taste it,” she said to Flo about her gin jam butties in the signature challenge, like a conspiratorial godmother who has let her charge do something the parents wouldn’t approve of.
Leith also fills the void left by Berry's colourful blazers with aplomb. I predict an upsurge in sales of statement necklaces and suits in her “bang in your face” primary colours. Are you ready for the Prue effect, M&S?
There are still so many contestants that they have to whizz through the bakes and it’s hard to remember everyone’s names so you tend to recall the winners, losers and the extremities of the tent. This episode I learnt that if I want a perfectly formed sparkly biscuit then ex-teacher Stacey should be my go-to, while Yan is the master of the fortune cookie, Julia is the resident Russian teacher and Tom the architect is the bloke with the pencil behind his ear (there’s always one).
The tent continues to be a real leveller. The contestants range in age from teenage student Liam to Flo, 71. And accents run from broad Scouse to pure Home Counties. I sincerely hope the clip of Flo quaffing cocktails and dancing with her girlfriends to Meghan Trainor was not just for the Bake Off cameras (I think Grannies Behaving Badly is more Channel 5 fare).
Liam declared Flo’s gin jam butties “sick” – that’s good, FYI - Flo just had another sip of tea. True to Bake Off form, they are all very kind to each other. They piled in to help Steven get his biscuits finished and likewise when poor Liam sunk to the floor in despair thinking his dodgy fortune cookies would signal his exit, Tom was quick to reassure the younger man. The joy they take in each other’s success feels very genuine and I’m very glad the competition hasn’t been made more cut-throat with the channel move.
As for the much-maligned ad breaks, I’m finding that I don’t mind them. They fit neatly at the end of the challenges and allow just enough time to make your own cuppa and grab your own biscuit from the tin.
The bakers have also lost none of their ingenuity either. This episode we had a biscuit cutter made out of a corned beef tin and some real creativity when it came to their board game showstoppers. Steven’s intricate gingerbread chess set made him a worthy winner of the star baker crown. At the other end of the spectrum, sailor Chris was packed off home by Sandi. Steven then revealed he suffered from low self esteem and was overwhelmed by the praise coming his way.
It's emotional this baking lark, I hope Noel gave them both a powerful hug.