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 8 was Free From Week. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged a dairy-free ice cream sandwich signature; a vegan sausage roll technical, and a gluten-free showstopper, as the eighth episode of GBBO kicked off. There was plenty of free-from gurning, collapsed sausages, and more.
This episode could have been free from clichés, but, no
Great British Bake Off has mercifully stayed away from things it doesn’t really understand for most of this season. There has been no repeat of last year’s abysmal, Orientalist mess of a Japan Week, which is both an overall plus and also a sad indication of how little the show is willing to evolve.
Free From Week is of course an invitation to a more inclusive, curious view of baking — until the opening credits reveal Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding discussing how they’ve just told Paul Hollywood that’s the theme and he comes barrelling out pretending to be the Hulk, adding a dose of nightmare fuel ten days after Halloween.
Throughout, sideways smirks at tofu and soy milk and plant-based bakes abounded; the sense less of a celebration of this baking (and its being rooted in plenty of global baking contexts) and more of a look at what these plucky bakers can do with such odd or different ingredients. None of it was egregious or even offensive; it was just a little tedious.
(No) boar on the floor! (No) boar on the floor!
Great British Bake Off disasters come in many different stripes. There was the Great Baked Alaska incident, which married melting with purported sabotage. There are disasters where everything looks fine, but then a fatal error is revealed upon unveiling: Mary’s flourless sticky toffee puddings this season; John’s salty rum babas of 2012. Then, there’s the last and best category: the final hurdle stumble. The fatal unmould, the fallen precarious cake. And, in Jürgen’s case this week, dropping his vegan sausage rolls as he swiped them from the oven. Beautiful.
Great British Bake Off is still approaching its annual tipping point
As this writer wrote last year and last week:
If that’s what Great British Bake Off wants to be, that’s cool, but it plainly is not. The judges regularly discuss previous weeks in deliberations; previous Star Bakers are constantly brought up; themes are revisited. It’s a series! Of course they are!
So if GBBO does want to go by week by week, it needs to do it properly, and also ask who that actually serves. One of the show’s strengths has always been its investment in the bakers’ journeys — they tell everyone how it’s going, people find their favourites, and they care about how well they do. If everyone knew that those previous weeks didn’t matter, then maybe the fandom would change; the problem with Hermine’s elimination, and Sura’s earlier in the series, was that it felt like the judges were telling the audience to care about every episode and then telling them that they had been fools to do so, because they didn’t matter at all.
This mode of judging also doesn’t serve the contestants: broad technical mastery should guarantee success in a show that is called The Great British Bake Off.
So far, things are tending towards the expected: Lizzie was favourite to leave this week and Crystelle is probably marginally favourite to go next. Still, the show couldn’t help but throw in some odd judging, with Lizzie delivering exactly what the judges had said been lacking for the whole series on her incredible showstopper and then being sent home for it. Predictability isn’t great, but it’s better than last year’s massive final gulf between Peter and the rest. All four could still take it home.
Addendum: please stop making them cook extraneous things
Making Crystelle taste her chutney with too much chilli was admittedly fairly funny, but chutney is not baked, stop making them cook, that isn’t the competition thank you.
Star baker: Chigs
Going home: Lizzie
Running theme: Running away from Paul the Hulk