Thursday, August 25, 2016

Great British Bake off Series 7, Episode 1 (Recap with Spoilers)

Thanks to someone lively and enterprising, I got to watch the first episode of series 7 of the Great British Bake off on YouTube today.

I love this show, and waiting a year or longer for episodes to come to the States (some series have never aired here) is difficult. I don't know if I'll get to catch every week as it airs, but I plan to watch it as often as I can. This is the first time I've managed to catch a new series right as it starts, so for fun I thought I would blog my thoughts about the contestants and the baking. If you're a fan of a show, but not watching this series yet, be warned....spoilers ahead. Each week I manage to watch, I'll post who the star baker was and who left the show, as well as my thoughts about who's looking like a likely winner.

So let's get right to it, shall we?

What a delight it was to see the beautiful white tent in the distance, the green countryside, and our loopy but lovable emcees Mel and Sue, not to mention our eminent and respected judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

As usual, we start off with twelve brand new contestants, all of whom have a bad case of nerves. The first show of each series always seems to give us insight into how each one handles stress, because there's always some to be had the first time they try a technical bake or face the judges.

Getting to know the different personalities of the bakers is at least half my fascination with this show, but the first hour there are really too many of them for all of them to make a strong impression. As usual, a few stood out more than others.

First, the women and how they came across: Jane Beedle, a 61 year old who designs gardens, radiates humility and unflappability. Val Stones, a 66 year old retired primary school teacher, is charmingly ditzy but her smiling vagueness sometimes translates into baking mistakes. Kate, a 37 year old mum, likes to bring fresh ingredients from her own farm, a little reminiscent of Ian and his wild ingredients in series 6. Candice Brown, a 31 year old physical education teacher, is slender and striking looking, partly because of the way her brown lipstick (a nod to her name?) defines her expressive mouth. Benjamina Ebeuhi has my favorite name and my favorite eyes, which tend to look anxious a lot. The anxious bakers are often the best ones. Louise Williams, a 46 year old blonde hairdresser, somehow looks as though she has more strength and warmth than her initial nervousness let us see.

Then there are my first impressions of the series 7 men: Rav Bansall, a 28 year old who works with university students and wears a nice smile and a handsome turban (exotic headgear reminiscent of Nadiya's headscarves last year). Tom Gilliford, a 26 year old who works as a "project engagement manager" (not fully sure what that is) for the Royal Society of Arts, and who likes to add booze to his bakes -- there's always one of those every series, it seems! Then there's Lee Banfield, a gray-haired 67 year old pastor whose gentleness is evident. He's the oldest contestant this year. The youngest is Michael Georgiou, a 19 or 20 year old university student, who has a nervous grin and ears that stick out sort of sweetly. Selasi Gbormittah is a muscular 30 year old financier, whose laid back attitude allowed him to take things in stride even when they didn't seem to be going his way. Andrew Smyth, a 25 year old aerospace engineer, has flaming red hair and sometimes flaming cheeks to match. He seems mild and easily embarrassed; you get the sense that he was probably an awkward boy genius in his not too distant adolescence.

I'm always interested to see how the contestants connect with each other early on. The main connection I noticed was the kind give and take between Selasi and Candice. Candice helped him out with winning advice when he forgot an ingredient in his signature bake (she suggested he put the cinnamon in his syrup, instead of remaking his whole cake, something Paul Hollywood later lauded him for). When Candice fell apart in the next day's showstopper, her face looking tragic and teary, we heard Selasi whisper words of encouragement to her.

Tears this week? Yes, at least two bakers out and out cried -- the aforementioned Candice and Benjamina, also in her showstopper -- and two more seemed glinty with near tears: Jane when she got a good word from the judges and Louise when she didn't.

Paul seemed unusually harsh this week, even for Paul. He says that they're going back to "basics" this series, but that it means judging will be even harder since they're keeping the challenges simpler. I'm pretty sure I heard him use the words "awful," "terrible," and one more pronouncement I can't remember exactly but which made me wince. Mary was her usual gentle self, saving most of her kinder come-downs for a green-tea cake that she said tasted like grass and a shiny blue icing that was just...well...too blue.

The bakes this week included a drizzle cake in the signature (cake made moist with a drizzle of usually fruit flavored syrup), odd little chocolate iced cakes called jaffa cakes in the technical, and a genoise sponge cake iced with mirror glazed icing -- any flavor, any decoration you wanted, but Paul was hoping for simplicity. Any GBBO fan is bound to remember that the genoise sponge was the downfall of terrific baker Paul in series 6, and it was almost the downfall of several bakers this week, who couldn't seem to get the consistency right. If I didn't lose track, five of the twelve had to start over and bake cakes from scratch when their first batches came out rubbery or like pancakes. Paul actually encouraged Candice to toss one of her first cakes against the tent siding, and she actually did it (it crumbled into a mess, but plucky Sue said she'd eat it anyway).

Star baker this week went to unflappable Jane, with Selassi coming in what I guess was a close second -- they don't award second, but they do show us Mel and Sue conversing with Paul and Mary about who's in the top tier. Selassi made a gorgeous raspberry mirror cake, but I guess it couldn't top the loveliness of Jane's chocolate orange one, and she seemed more consistent overall. Quiet Pastor Lee made the first exit, having fallen significantly short in every bake. His genoise especially seemed to offend -- it was too dry, and he tried way too many layers, adding in fresh fruits instead of the cream that Mary thought it needed. Sunny Val, who likes to exercise while she bakes and says she listens to her cakes, was also in the bottom tier (Mary actually said she would need to "pull up her socks" next week, a Briticism that made me laugh).

I enjoyed watching the skills of Jane and Selassi this week and think they definitely bear watching in weeks to come, but there are some other bakers I think showed great promise even though they didn't have a perfect start. Benjamina reminded me a little of both Flora (series 6) and Ruby (series 4) in that she was terribly worried that she'd messed up royally in the showstopper and then turned out this gorgeous shiny white chocolate cake that apparently tasted delicious. Also watch out for redhaired Andrew, boy genius, who came in dead last in the technical but wowed them with a gorgeously simple but beautiful chocolate cake with lovely caramel work in the showstopper. Remember that eventual winner Nadiya, in series 6, came in last during her first technical too.

And thank goodness it rained at least once. I always love it when it rains outside the tent, giving the show's cinematographer a chance to show off a distant misty shot followed by a close up of some trailing raindrops. 

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