piralling gas prices. A war in Ukraine. Sky-high food costs. This winter is set to be a miserable one. But when the masses can’t afford bread, let them eat cake, and the Great British Bake-Off will be serving up a mountain of it in the next few weeks.
This year, our loveable tribe of amateurs will be taking on the mammoth task of cheering up the exhausted country from a tent in the British countryside. We kicked off last night with Cake Week, which means convoluted flavour combinations (anybody for Hazelnut Mocha Latte mini cakes?) and the dreaded spectre of soggy bottoms.
Even thirteen seasons in, the formula hasn’t curdled; indeed, there’s something comforting in its consistency. Bake-Off remains as wholesome as a wholegrain loaf, and as defiantly cheesy as a cheddar scone.
Of course, one of the great strengths of the show is the sheer range (and battiness) of the people taking part, and so it proves here.
There’s overly enthusiastic Polish baker Janusz, who uses enough cherry liqueur in his bakes to sink a battleship (delightfully, he applies it with a plant mister; for the love of god, no-one light a match near that man), and Carole, the ageing West Country motor-mouth with a vibrant shock of pink hair – apparently, her nickname among friends is “Compost Carole”.
There’s also Sandro, the tattooed fitness fanatic who, it transpires, is a full-time nanny. Reader, I melted.
As ever, the demented energy of the bakers rises in direct proportion to the time left until deadline. Were there disasters last night? You bet. The buttercream split; bakers lost their cool and started swearing; bakes were undercooked and competitors ran out of time. It’s all part of the fun, as is Paul Hollywood’s icy stare as he watches it all unfold.
That said, those looking for a shake-up of the original formula will be disappointed. Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas still crack childish jokes like over-caffeinated toddlers, Hollywood still lurks and glares like a grumpy toddler – “What I’m not looking forward to is trying twelve red velvet cakes,” he sniffs. Cry us a river, Paul – and Prue Leith does her best to rise above it all.
With the presenters working overtime, you’d expect some jokes to miss, and so it proves here: the laugh to cringe ratio is about 50-50. And who thought it was a good idea to start the show with a Star Wars bake-themed intro where Prue dressed up as Chewbacca?
Still, for all Bake-Off’s flaws, it’s hard to deny its innate sweetness. This might just be the only show on television with such cheerful, positive judges (the worst Prue gets is “a bit disappointing”; nevertheless, you can see the unfortunate baker in question wither) and contestants who are so supportive of each other.
As the tension mounted last night, the competition’s youngest entrant, Maisam, comforted fellow baker Rebs. “It’s going to be okay,” she told her, as Rebs rested her head on Maisam’s shoulder. And who could deny stifling an “aww” as the Star Baker of the week tearfully called their family to celebrate? Of course, on the flipside, somebody always has to leave after only one week. This time it was Will, and watching him be surrounded by his fellow contestants for hugs in the final five minutes brought a lump to the throat (as it always does).
Yes, that’ll do quite nicely – so sit back and let the heat from the ovens warm the cockles of your heart (and your living rooms) this winter.
The Great British Bake Off will be streaming on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 8pm