Great British Bake Off Blogged: Week 1

  (Photo: Photograph: Mark Bourdillon/BBC/Love Productions )

The fifth series of the Great British Bake Off has begun. The amateur bakers have been armed with their hand mixers, wooden spoons and guillotines (we’ll come to that one later…). Paul Hollywood’s knowing smile was back, along with Mary Berry’s subtle critique and outbursts of the word “splendid!”. The battle for star baker begins. 

This year the hobby baker’s first move was the humble Swiss roll. Each contestant was aiming for the ever desired “perfect swirl” and numerous techniques were practised to avoid the dreaded cracking. Bearded baker Iain, from Belfast, opted for to score along the cake in order to create a tighter swirl, right in front of the Hawkeye’s of Paul and Mary! You’re the experts, but even I could see ‘disaster’ piped all over that one.

What struck me in the Swiss roll challenge was the array of flavours the contestants had chosen. Cardamom, aniseeds, pistachio, tiramisu, I would never even think of adding these to a Swiss roll. ‘Innovation’ seems to be the buzz word in the baking industry at the moment. The ‘Cronut’ trend is just one example of how traditional is not always enough for people. But it makes me wonder- for how long can people really want these fusion flavours?

In the show stopper challenge, 17-year-old Martha’s classic lemon drizzle cakes were even praised by Paul Hollywood, despite a forewarning that the bake could be too simple. Just this week I asked Greggs the bakers about their top selling products. Their answer? The sausage roll, by a clear mile. Innovation seems to be exciting, head turning and often successful, but I can’t help but think the long lasting key to success lies nailing those bakery classics.

The first technical challenge was Mary Berry’s Classic Cherry cake. Puns and innuendoes were thrown left right and centre about this one, in true bake off style. The trick was of course getting the right distribution of cherries, along with an even bake, gently trickled icing and toasted almonds. Each baker took to a different decoration style- the meticulously placed patterned icing V the effortless drippy look. Personally I like a cake to look a bit more rustic, so the drippy look was a winner for me, I think there is a line between getting a cake to look professionally decorated and made by a machine.

Finally, the showstopper. The challenge was to produce 36 individual cakes, something that required flawless timing and planning to pull off. And actually, the challenge seems to be very much on trend at the moment. Minis are something bakeries are producing at the moment to appeal to the consumer who wants something a little naughty, with the knowledge that it has less calories than its full size counter partner. Mini Victoria sponges, mini donuts, mini pastries- a fairy tea party sized selection.

Some bakers up-scaled their mini-cakes- like Chetna, the ‘bombay mixer’, who went for 36 four-tiered Victoria sponges. Does ambition trump ease when it comes to show-stopping bakes? It seems sometimes you do have to take a risk to create those eyecatching sales. This challenge prompted Nancy, winner of this week’s star baker title, to bring out her guillotine and ensure each cake was sliced in half equally.

So it seems the weapons really are out this series! Cake week is over, but there’s more to come from the bake off tent. As for Iain’s beard, I will be waiting for the day Mary pull’s a beard-like hair from her teeth after biting into one of his creations… maybe a hair net wouldn’t go a miss?

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