The Great New Year's Bake Off review: A surprisingly competitive hangover remedy to kick off 2019
Four bakers ring in the new year in this holiday special with a competitive edge
This year, it seems Channel 4 went into the holiday season with one goal: give the fans what they want. To that end, the network has gifted viewers with not one, but two Great British Bake Off specials: one for Christmas and one for New Year’s Day.
The Great New Year’s Bake Off is one of the final stops of the network’s busy festive period, airing right before the Inbetweeners reunion (hosted, of course, by Jimmy Carr) and less than a week after Channel 4 decided to pair Noel Fielding with Richard Ayoade for its Big Fat Quiz of the Year, reviving one of the most popular teams from previous editions.
The Great New Year’s Bake Off is in line with this approach, in that it relies in a tried-and-tested formula that has made Bake Off a global phenomenon over the course of nine series. It’s a great episode to transition from the cosy festive period into the new year (and recover from New Year’s Eve celebrations). Yes, it’s a holiday special, with carols and decorated trees in the background. But unlike this year’s Christmas episode (which was filled with the bonhomie expected at that time of the year), it is propelled by a competitive edge reminiscent of a semi-final, where four bakers are left vying for the final prize.
Perhaps a contributing factor is the presence of Candice Brown, which marks the first time a winner has returned to the Bake Off tent. Brown, who claimed her trophy in 2016, is joined by 2015 runner-up Tamal Ray, Kate Henry – who appeared on series five in 2014 – and 2017 runner-up Steven Carter-Bailey (the only one of the four to have appeared on the show following its move from BBC to Channel 4, which was announced in 2016). Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith return, naturally, as judges, while Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig are back as presenters.
Those yearning for more Bake Off now that the ninth series has wrapped up will have plenty to chew on. The signature challenge, a stollen wreath, is a chance to get reacquainted with the four bakers. Hollywood and Leith’s feedback seems at times tough, but mostly fair, reinforcing the impression that this is a normal instalment of Bake Off and not merely a holiday episode.
For their technical challenge, the bakers are asked to produce four “snow eggs” each. (This admittedly untrained baker would be tempted to refer to them as floating islands, since they consist of domes of French meringue on top of a pool of custard, decorated with spun sugar.) The instructions are, of course, laconic at best, and in the presence of added difficulties (such as a lack of corn flour with which to thicken their milk), Brown, Ray, Henry and Carter-Bailey are left to rely on their expertise to make educated guesses.
The showstopper challenge requires all four bakers to whip up cakes inspired by their respective New Year’s resolutions. As is often the case in Bake Off, this is the most enjoyable segment of the episode, during which participants let their personalities shine with an endearing earnestness.
This is Bake Off, so any competitiveness is cordial and regularly overpowered by the bakers’ readiness to cheer one another on. Speaking of signature GBBO touches, the innuendos are out of control. During the signature challenge, Candice is making a “sausage marzipan” that is “going inside” her bake – a plan met with emphatic chuckles. There are “tiny golden balls”, “nuts” rolled in dust, and Candice’s lipstick-themed showstopper cake, shaped like a “massive pair of lips”, which elicits so many giggles that it’s practically elevated to the rank of running gag.
Two seasons into the new Bake Off, each episode still presents itself as an opportunity to gauge how well the show is managing its transition from one network to another. This New Year’s Day special cements its new identity. Toksvig and Fielding (who is, by the way, sporting the short haircut he unveiled in March 2018) have settled in and built up an undeniable comic chemistry. Fielding’s jokes are reminiscent of his solo standup circa 2015, with a dash of his signature surrealism – a bejewelled stollen wreath, in his eye, becomes a “Bollywood octopus”, and did you know he got an inflatable clownfish named Pennywise for Christmas?
Those used to Bake Off’s brand of storytelling (how each episode is shaped to make sense of the victories and the losses) are likely to have fun trying to guess who the winner is until the announcement at the very end (congratulations, Steven!). But whoever you were rooting for, all are treated to a drink, music by the London Gay Men’s Chorus, and an explosion of confetti to ring in the new year.