The Great British Bake Off series 10, episode one, review: A perfectly fine start that lacks a certain zest
For their signature challenge, the contestants are asked to bake a fruitcake, which, I’m sorry to point out, just isn’t the most exciting bake
It’s that time of year again: time for the Bake Off tent to rise in Berkshire, time to remember everything you’ve been taught about cake physics and bread chemistry, and time to feel your heart racing at the very thought of unbaked dough. The Great British Bake Off is back for a 10th series – and it’s all off to a perfectly fine, if slightly underwhelming, start.
Series premieres on Bake Off have a tough job. They must introduce the show’s new crop of bakers while taking us through the tried and tested formula that has followed the competition from its early glory on the BBC to its 2017 move to Channel 4: the signature challenge, the technical challenge, and the showstopper. One notable change this year is that showrunners have created a “bakers’ dozen”, recruiting 13 contestants instead of 12. But this doesn’t mean we’re getting an extra episode – instead, judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith will at one point eliminate two bakers instead of one. Noted, but because Hollywood and Leith are unlikely to use their wild card on the first episode of this series, this development doesn’t make for much immediate drama.
Like series eight, this new chapter in Bake Off history begins with Cake Week. For their signature challenge, the contestants are asked to bake a fruitcake, which, I’m sorry to point out, just isn’t the most exciting bake. Sure, Hollywood and Leith try to infuse more drama into the formula by pointing out the potential pitfalls lurking around the mixing bowl: a good fruitcake, as any regular Bake Off viewer will know, will have fruit baked throughout, not just at the bottom or at the top. It must have icing, too, meaning the cakes must cool on time. This is all fine, but we’ve seen it before, and at this point, things feel more repetitive than nostalgic.
This isn’t an indictment on the candidates, who have the baking skills and sparking personalities expected under the tent. Michael, a theatre manager and fitness instructor from Stratford-upon-Avon, slices three of his fingers open but keeps his spirits up. Helena, an online project manager from Leeds, is a Halloween fiend who shares some of co-host Noel Fielding’s gothy quirkiness. Jamie, a 20-year-old part-time waiter and student from Surrey, is impossible not to like.
The signature bake doesn’t go great for Phil from Rainham (his flavours are “slightly out of balance”, says Hollywood), who at 56 is this year’s oldest competitor. The same goes for Dan, a 32-year-old support worker from Rotherham whose cake is, according to Hollywood, still partially raw – a Bake Off cardinal sin. Nevertheless, we move on to the technical challenge, angel cake slices topped with icing and feathered. Naturally, the recipe doesn’t specify baking times, exact quantities, or anything useful, really. Bakers panic, their Genoise sponges fall flat; Jamie comes last, Henry, a 20-year-old student, comes first, and we move on to the showstopper.
Things get more interesting for this last third of the show, namely because the participants are asked to bake their dream childhood birthday cakes. It’s an opportunity for them to show off their creativity, a chance for us to get to know them better, and – perhaps unfortunately – an opportunity for everyone to start giggling when a candidate mentions the “fairy garden” that will decorate her cake. (Hollywood thought she had said “furry garden”, one thing led to another, and the joke spiralled out of control.) Moments like this one are peppered throughout the episode, from Leith debuting her new catchphrase, “I’m dripping”, to long shots of a candidate manufacturing a phallic top for his space-rocket-shaped cake. Bake Off seems sort of stuck, right now, between the bonhomie of its BBC days and the rowdier style of Channel 4 shows. As of now, it’s trying to play both sides, but the result doesn’t quite come together.
Michelle, a 35-year-old print job administrator from Tenby, Wales, wins over the judges with her showstopper – a carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting, shaped like a fairy house, which earns her the title of Star Baker. Jamie struggles throughout the showstopper challenge, but it’s Dan, whose pirate island cake is visually appealing but lacking in flavour, who gets the boot.
This first episode is all classic fare that lacks a certain zest. What is missing is a hint of spice to lift the overall flavour, a touch of je ne sais quoi to truly pull us in. Here’s hoping things heat up throughout the rest of the series.