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Please, ‘Great British Bake Off,’ Just Judge the Baking, Not the Rocking Horse Made of Food

The first two challenges melded technical difficulty with childhood nostalgia, before jumping the biscuit shark come showstopper

Noel, Prue, and Paul examine Jürgen’s brandy snaps.
Noel, Prue, and Paul examine Jürgen’s brandy snaps.
Immediate Media

Welcome to the Eater round-up of Great British Bake Off 2021, as Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, and Noel Fielding return to Channel 4 with the 12th series of cakes, puddings, breads, and inevitable recourse to terrible baking puns. Filmed again in a bio-secure coronavirus bubble, Paul Hollywood’s terrible handshake is here, sweaty as ever, and the tent stands on.

Great British Bake Off 2021 Episode 2 was, as ever, Biscuit Week. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged a brandy snap signature, a [redacted biscuit name] technical, and yet another overdone showstopper, as the second episode of GBBO kicked off. Contestant introductions were many, one-liners were rife, and biscuit toys, yes, biscuit toys, toppled to the floor. Here, now, is a recap of Great British Bake Off 2021’s debut.


All hail the brandy snap, the tricky biscuit that will never die

After Great British Bake Off continued its line in kooky intros — with Paul Hollywood chowing down on Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding’s little biscuit heads — GBBO 2021 wheeled out a classic biscuit signature challenge, the brandy snap. It shows up on cooking shows in this country — this, every iteration of Masterchef — without fail, thanks to its favourable ratio of easy method to difficult execution, requirement for fast hands, and customisable plainness. Duly, there were burnt fingertips, tricky shapings, and lacy crumblings galore — a reminder that when Bake Off keeps things simple, it often does well. At least this episode’s conclusion didn’t forcibly prove this point by the reverse method of foisting unnecessary difficulty upon talented contestants, leading them to fail out of something close to spite! At least! At least! At —

Don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it JAMMY DODGERS

And so on to the technical, the jammy “biscuit.” While it was blessed relief that Matt Lucas didn’t make some joke about “dodging” a trademark suit, the avoidance was a little contrived. Thankfully, the jammy-sandwich-biscuit proved a difficult challenge, reliant on temperature control and fine detail, with its near-ubiquitous recognition giving viewers — as well as judges — more chance to identify where, and why, the contestants may have struggled.

Will GBBO have another procession to the title?

One of the only expected things about the judging in last year’s Great British Bake Off was its winner. Peter — the childlike, sparkly youth who would definitely have committed crimes to claim victory — never really looked challenged. Thus far, Jürgen has two “Star Bakers” out of two, has dominated each and every challenge, and looks a league ahead of the others — aside, perhaps, from Giuseppe, who is in the play-off places to his league title. Things can change, but thus far, it seems little can stop him.

And will it learn from last year’s mistakes?

One school of Great British Bake Off thought says that the increasingly difficult, elaborate showstoppers — some of which, particularly as series progress, hinge on things that aren’t about baking at all — provide drama and add colour to a competition that would otherwise get a bit staid. This perhaps rings truer than other weeks in something like Biscuit Week, when gravitas can only be created by a high quantity of baking and some construction; one large biscuit would not a showstopper make. But that a GBBO contestant’s future can hinge on whether or not they know how to engineer some dough, or how to use icing as glue, and not whether or not they can bake good biscuits feels as maddening as it did last year, and nothing seems to have changed. This series’ showstopper required toys with an “interactive” element, like turning wheels or another source of motion. Aside from Chigs — whose frankly ingenious snooker table is one of the greats of all time — bakers were left being judged on things that just don’t apply to the show they applied for.

Nowhere was this more obvious than with Amanda, whose rocking horse was made of inappropriately delicate biscuits and duly collapsed. But Paul declared said biscuits “some of the best thins I’ve ever eaten.” While Amanda could have used a thicker biscuit and made a better horse, it feels intrinsically wrong that she can be praised for doing exactly what the week’s theme demands, but still be overwhelmingly condemned and put at risk of elimination. Fortunately, she made it.

Star baker: Jürgen (whose phone call was picked up this time)
Going home: Jairzeno
Running theme: Just reward good baking, please.

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