The Great British Baking Show is back on American shores and televisions and we’re ready to get our bake on: It’s Cake Week. Here’s a competition show that doesn’t involve late night hormonal-fueled outrages, backstabbing, scandal, or unnecessary screaming, and in spite of (and because of) all of that, it’s an absolute delight to watch. Take a tent in the charming British countryside. Fold in pastel mixers and rustic tables covered with gingham. Add twelve amateur bakers, three challenges, two judges with fairytale names (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), and two cheeky hosts (Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins). Mix well, and you have a great bake(ing) show.
Season 3’s premiere (Series 6 in the UK; don’t ask how that math works), kicked off with everyone’s favorite dessert, Cake.
Signature Challenge: Madeira Cake
The first challenge gives the bakers a chance to show off their skills using a recipe they have been able to plan and practice. The challenge is Madeira cake, named after the liquor that it was traditionally served with. It’s a lemon flavored pound cake with a crack on top, finished with a light glaze and candied fruit.
But first, we meet the bakers:
Ugne: Lithuanian office administrator and bodybuilder
Nadiya: Full-time mom
Ian: Travel photographer and stay-at-home-dad
Mat: London firefighter
Marie: Grandmother that loves to bake
Dorret: Project accountant
Flora: The young one, 19-year-old
Sandy: Child welfare officer
Stu: Lead singer in a band
Paul: Prisoner governor (warden for Americans…we think)
Tamal: Trainee anesthetist
A few of the bakers go the classic route, while the others put their own spin on it. Ugne adds thyme, Ian adds coconut, Alvin adds figs, Tamal adds pistachio and a rosewater injection, and Sandy adds chopped apricots. Stu’s Marley Madeira Cake has lime and chocolate and is called a Marley cake because…the colors resemble a Jamaican flag? Mat makes his version a gin and tonic cake and adds seven shots of gin.
At the end of the challenge, Mary and Paul taste the cakes with comments ranging from “well done” to “like chewing on wallpaper paste.” (Sorry, Ian.)
Technical Challenge: Walnut Cake
The second challenge is introduced as “Quintessentially British. More British than Morris Men, Beefeaters, and chicken tikka masala.” That loosely translates into English folk dancers, ceremonial Tower of London guards (or gin), and an orangey British national dish by way of Indian origins.
The walnut cake is a three layered sponge cake with buttercream filling and a smooth meringue frosting, with 10 caramel coated walnuts on top.
The bakers get a stripped down version of Mary’s recipe with all the ingredients listed but major details redacted, such as baking time, consistency of frosting, and size of the walnut pieces. Baking really is an art, not a science.
The final cakes look more or less like Mary’s picture perfect cake, only Stu’s has just 10% of the walnut toppings, Nadiya ran out of meringue and leaves her cake half naked, and most everyone’s frosting is grainy. After a blind taste, Ugne is crowned the winner.
Showstopper Challenge: Black Forest Gateau
We’re not really sure why the French word for cake was thrown into the English name for a German dessert, but we’ll go with it, because “Black Forest Gateau” is easier to say than the traditional name, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.
The Black Forest Gateau is made of chocolate, cherries, fresh cream, and kirsh liqueur (a fruit brandy made from cherries). Mary wants to see “good chocolate work.” Don’t we all, Mary.
Once again, the bakers personalize their cakes. Ugne creates chocolate shells from balloons, Flora uses cherry powder to create pink sponge layers. Ian and Sandy decide to double down on dessert and build their cakes on a macaron and shortbread base, respectively. Alvin’s chocolate decoration looks like something out of MOMA. Ian decorates his cake with the elephants that are so commonly found in forests. Stu decides to include beetroot and meringue frosting (aka NOT chocolate). Marie’s cake is absolutely wonderful. Mat’s tastes exceedingly good. Ugne’s is theatrical but unfortunately not tasty.
Poor Dorret has to redo one of her sponges, which doesn’t leave enough time for her cake to set, and she ends up with a giant mousse-y mess. As she looks sadly on her puddle of a cake, Sue comes over and comforts her, telling her there’s no reason to get upset, it’s just a cake, and it doesn’t mean she’s going home. So Dorret pulls herself together and attempts to make her cake look slightly better than an ice cream cake that’s been sitting out on a hot summer day. Even Mary, the grandmother we all want, takes one look at the cake and sweetly says, “I’ve got a sort of feeling it’s gonna taste rather good.” Well, it doesn’t taste good, and Paul compares it to chewing on a rubber tire, but in the end, it’s not enough to send Dorret home.
That fate unfortunately befalls upon Stu, who was too clever for his own good, and is likely better at making music than cakes. On the other end of the spectrum, the title of Star Baker is given to Marie, who is genuinely surprised at her win and another grandmother we all wish we had.
Part of the charm of The Great British Baking Show is that there are no egos, everyone hugs each other like they really mean it, and the bakers are simultaneously confident and humble about their extraordinary culinary talent. And of course, they all truly love to bake really, really, ridiculously good looking and delicious things.
Sue: “Right, bakers, time to reveal your cracks!”
Mel (to Ian): “I can’t wait to romp in your forest.”
Also Sue. “It’s. Just. A. Cake.”
Still need a reason to watch this show? Here’s eight. Plus, next week, it’s Biscuit week (but think English cookies, not Pillsbury Grands).