Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 1 - Cake Week

Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 1 - Cake Week

by Howard Middleton 06 August 2015

It's back! Series four custardgate legend Howard Middleton guides us through the thrills and spills of episode one of the Great British Bake Off, including jazzy Madeira cakes, a Mary Berry classic and a collapsing Black Forest gateau.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Crisp canvas creaks and flaps in the gentle Berkshire breeze and an airy mist of sifted flour takes flight. Amid the scent of lemon zest and cardamom, we behold a pristine batch of one dozen perfect, oven-fresh little bakers . . . yes, Bake Off is back!

First up it’s the signature challenge of a Madeira cake – that plainest of plain cakes. Now it’s not unknown to pop a cherry or two in the mix to liven things up, but this cake is hardly renowned for its creative potential. So how did our virgin bakers fare?

Mary, zipped up in a quilted jacket against said gentle Berkshire breeze, says that she doesn’t want things to go too far. She’s looking for a classic with a crack, ‘Because you can’t beat it’. Marie, Dorret and Flora heed Mary’s chilling advice. Mel and Sue receive a written warning from the double entendre police.

Then a group of would be rebels decides to spice things up a little – Nadiya opts for cardamom, it’s ginger for Ian, lemon thyme for Ugne and caraway for Paul, who we are told looks like Mr Hollywood . . . and has the same name . . . he’s called Paul.

Alvin and Sandy take the fruity route – the former has some very chunky figs, the latter claims her apricots are ‘seriously well dispersed’. Paul does not look convinced. Sandy scatters her fruit but her confidence is shaken. I want to hug Sandy.

Tamal injects a little flavour into his pistachio Madeira with a rosewater syrup. Yes, the trainee anaesthetist is literally injecting his cake with a syringe.

Mat adds gin to his glaze – Mary is beaming. Mary tastes the cake but can’t taste the gin. Mary is scowling.

Mary Berry unimpressed
Mary Berry is unimpressed at the lack of gin in Mat's gin and tonic Madeira cake
Tamal Madeira cake
Tamal's beautiful creation

But it’s left to seriously cool Stu to play the wild card with a rum, lime and chocolate cake. Mary says it’s not a Madeira – Paul looks like he needs emergency dental treatment.

In the end, Nadiya and Tamal win praise for their flavours, and Flora and Marie for their mastery of the classic. Mel eyes up Marie’s crisp candied peel and asks if she can take the pith.

On to the technical challenge, which is revealed to be a frosted walnut cake. It’s one of Mary’s recipes. Sandy thinks she may have made it years ago but says it didn’t work. I want to go for a drink with Sandy.

The recipe calls for a white frosting, whisked over hot water. A flushed Stu misinterprets ‘hot water’ and uses ‘wooden bench’ instead. As most bakers struggle to caramelise their walnuts, super fit Ugne does it with such ease that she even has time to make a spun sugar decoration.

At the judging, there are lots of complaints about the granular texture of the frosting, which Paul illustrates through the medium of his face. Perhaps not surprisingly, a delighted Ugne wins the challenge.

Walnut cake
Paul prods the lone walnut atop Stu's walnut cake
Piping elephants
Elephants . . . notorious inhabitants of the Black Forest

This week’s showstopper is that 1970s dinner party throwback, the Black Forest gateau. Extensive research tells me this was last revisited on the Bake Off in week 1 of series 4, with a cake topped with tempered trees and a chocolate bear. Sadly, the baker is long forgotten.

This time there are forests of tempered trees but no bears. Only Ian goes with the animal theme, colonising his cake with squirrels, rabbits . . . and an elephant.

Mat cheerfully admits that he doesn’t know what temperature he should be aiming for, but his thermometer ‘looks good’. I like his honesty.

Flora introduces a daring dash of crimson cherry powder. Stu is blushing almost as much as his beetroot infused sponge.

Sandy isn’t bothering to measure her kirsch. I really really want to go for a drink with Sandy.

Dorret's cake disaster
Going . . .
Dorret's cake disaster
. . . Going . . .
Dorret cake disaster
. . . Gone
Sad Dorret
Poor Dorret

But it’s left to poor Dorret to feel the full force of the tent’s fickle cruelty. Her sponge doesn’t go as planned and she has to start again. Even Paul has kind words for this baker in distress. But when it comes to the final assembly and her mousse filling weeps, Dorret can only sob.

At the final countdown, there are some seriously impressive cakes, but it’s a modestly shocked Marie who is awarded star baker and it’s Stu who has to admit he was ‘out-baked’.

So as the sun sets on the first episode, we bid a fond farewell to the lovely inky pinky Stu, off to bask in the bittersweet glow of belonging to that elite group of bakers past who took one for the team and pioneered the series exit. To the ranks of Lea, Mark, Keith, Natasha, Toby and Claire, with spatulas aloft we salute you.