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‘Great British Bake Off’ Cake Week Was a Spongy Affair

Caught somewhere between its roots and the discourse generation of last season, the start was solid, but unspectacular

A cake made to resemble a country farmhouse / cottage, complete with piped icing garden. It is a bit wonky.
A wonky house sponge from Great British Bake Off Cake Week.
Love Productions

Welcome to the Eater round-up of Great British Bake Off 2022, as Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, and Noel Fielding return to Channel 4 with the 13th series of cakes, puddings, breads, and inevitable recourse to terrible baking puns. No longer filmed 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 1 was, as ever, Cake Week. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged a mini sandwich cake signature, a red velvet technical, and a house ... cake ... showstopper, as the first episode of GBBO kicked off. Contestant introductions were many, cutaways were rife, and things got very spongy. Here, now, is a recap of Great British Bake Off 2021’s debut.

These are not the bakes you’re looking for

Great British Bake Off has plenty of form for kooky intros — particularly since Noel Fielding and then Matt Lucas joined as presenters. This Star Wars riff was perhaps more forgivable than last year’s Billy Ray Cyrus abomination, with “Pruebacca” the most natural rhyming casting in the world, but it was nevertheless agonising.

Is Great British Bake Off running out of bakes to cake?

Great British Bake Off’s first signature challenge of 2022 was “mini sandwich cakes,” which were small. Sadly, they were not cakes designed to resemble or mimic the flavours of savoury sandwiches, which would have reinforced the theory that GBBO is becoming more and more conversant with generating discourse and is gearing challenges towards doing so.

The results were promising for the quality of the series to come, after last year’s procession between Jurgen and Giuseppe was halted by the show’s uniquely clapped approach to expecting bakers to display broad technical mastery over multiple episodes without actually rewarding them for doing so. Delicious sponges abounded, as well as interesting flavour combinations (strike to Noel for asking Kevin if he had “been to Persia.”) And thank you to Will for bringing back one of the show’s best features: a contestant announcing a plan that is evidently a really bad idea, before proceeding to absolutely bungle said plan.

Sitting awkwardly between British sponging and French patisserie’s entremets, it wasn’t really clear where this challenge came from or why it came to be. “Make a small cake” isn’t much of an angle.

Props to Helena, one of the best bakers of recent times, for trying to capitalise.

A bloody controversial technical to kick off a new series

Red velvet cake is a good candidate for a blind challenge: the history of the recipe, in which vinegar and baking soda reacted with cocoa powder to produce the maroon colour; the reality today, that cocoa powder is no longer acidic enough for that to work and precipitous amounts of food colouring are required. The height, the balance of sweetness and richness from the cream cheese. And the fact that there is an almost perfect split between people who think it is the greatest cake on earth, and those that think its red hue merely signifies its close relationship with hell.

The showstopper finally decided to calm down

The Great British Bake Off 2020 and 2021 Cake Weeks were two of the most memorable in the show’s history. The first provided the hallowed cake busts of celebrities; the second took the success of that a little too far and embraced meme culture in an artificial way.

2022 was always going to find it tough to compare, and the directive to make cake versions of their childhood homes felt like a safe, steady, but ultimately promising retreat to challenges that don’t ask ludicrous things of the contestants. There was the opportunity to do architecture, to add biscuits for stability, and for elaborate piping, but the essence of the challenge wasn’t really over-engineered spectacle and the house didn’t need to have functioning lights or plumbing. With a fairly even field, and some quality already on show, it’s a promising — if gentle — start, even if Abdul successfully marked his bingo card by forgetting to turn the oven on for a full 40 minutes.

But the show really needs to rise up

Matt and Noel’s repartee feels turgid; Prue is still obsessed with (or directed to be obsessed with) booze; and Paul Hollywood’s eyes got mentioned four too many times, so four in total. It’s obviously okay to lean on former pillars of the show’s success, but the lingering sense of flatness that pervaded the last two seasons has not cleared at all.

And one more thing

Credit to Rebs for calling Paul Hollywood a whitewalker.

Star baker: Janusz
Going home: Will
Running theme: Safe and steady