The premiere of the sixth season (by Netflix’s math) of The Great British Bake Off begins with a cake-themed rendition of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart,” with mullets and every person singing lead. It is an abomination that was probably Paul Hollywood’s idea, but thankfully, it is brief. Things get far less disturbing once we get into the beloved tent, complete with iconic pastel bakeware and Union Jack bunting. It is lovely to be back, and all 12 contestants can’t seem to believe their luck. First we meet Maggie, a retired midwife who lives in a perpetual state of euphoria; Crystelle, who is finding it all a bit stressful; and Giuseppe an Italian engineer who feels he has just stepped into the Sistine Chapel.
As always, we start with cake week, and the first signature challenge is mini Swiss rolls, tiny little coils of sponge around filling that are as difficult to make as they are delicious. The trick with these, as Paul informs us, is timing, the sponge has to be the exact right texture to be rollable; too long out of the oven and it will get dry and crack, too short, and the filling will melt into a puddle of goo. (Technical term there, did I mention I went to culinary school?) As well as watching some truly delicious things being made, now is the time where we get to learn some trivia about our 12 bakers. Tom sells model railways; Amanda is a detective and a mother of two who enjoys swimming; Chigs has only been baking for 12 months; Freya is a 19-year-old vegan; Lizzie has a Paul Hollywood themed kitchenaid and builds luxury cars; and best of all, Jürgen’s family likes to play their trombones by sea while a bemused family rabbit looks on. The show has barely begun and I would already lay down my life for Jürgen.
The first bakes indicate a wide range of ability. Right at the top we have Maggie with rich dark chocolate meringue mini rolls, even if the lone surviving angel decoration makes the assortment look a little spooky. Then Jürgen, who’s family is actually from the black forest, impresses with some seriously classy looking black forest gateau treats. Crystelle’s chai mini rolls are beautifully spiced and topped with delicately piped flourishes while Chigs’ chocolate and strawberry mini rolls have textbook perfect spirals. But best of all is Giuseppe who used his engineering skills to create Easter mini rolls that Paul labels a “triumph”. Being told his cakes are “perfect!” Giuseppe clutches his heart with joy and I am reminded why I love this show.
Not so lucky are Tom, Lizzie and George who make a terrible first impression by serving up sloppy messes that look barely edible. At least Lizzie manages to be so charmingly self-deprecating the judges may keep her around a while just for fun.
Next up the technical! I am 35 years old; I know what a malt loaf is, so I can say that when Prue claims “Nobody doesn’t like a malt loaf,” that is a bald-faced lie. A malt loaf is a dense, yeasty, heavy abomination that British people eat for the sake of tradition and one of the many reasons the French pity us. Aside from 12 awful prune-filled loaves served with candied peel and salty butter (its somehow even worse than it sounds) we do get an exceptional story from Lizzie about being attacked by an ostrich. Please keep this woman on television.
Amanda and Chigs are right at the bottom for the technical with Freya coming 2nd and Maggie 1st. More reasons for Maggie to be cheerful! She’s also pleased as punch with the constant comments on her resemblance to Prue Leith, which are slightly more convincing than Matt Lucas insisting Chigs looks like Robert Deniro.
Now it is time for the signature challenge, gravity defying cakes. They’re the sort of thing that gets you lots of likes on Instagram, but Prue warns they will not be accepting style over substance. As an engineer, this seems like Giuseppe’s challenge to lose, and his Jack and the Beanstalk design is suitably ambitious. Crystelle is attempting a tribute to her flower-loving aunt with a bouquet cake. Rochica is planning to make an apple cake dangling from a branch and Jürgen is baking a tribute to the first book he ever read in English, which is of course the 16th-century sociopolitical satire Utopia by Thomas More.
Chigs goes full meta by planning to bake a cake of a cake being baked while George rather sweetly wants to recreate his memories of Cyprus with a cup of coffee being poured over a backgammon set. There are also some slightly more puzzling design choices: Freya is going with a plant pot on top of a bed of flowers, Amanda is making a wave that is mostly rice crispy treats, and Tom attempting a two-tier cake that in no way defies gravity.
Most puzzling of all is Jairzeno, whose cake is a tribute to bright colors and he decides to make this by stacking sideways giant Swiss rolls on top of one another. As an almost graduate of the Leith School of Food and Wine talking, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Swiss rolls are barely stable lengthways; stacking them sideways and then attempting to defy gravity is like trying to climb a mountain while wearing rollerblades. Giuseppe needs to teach this man some basic engineering skills.
Speaking of Giuseppe, his Jack and the Beanstalk cake is absolutely stunning. The result is so polished, he seems to have had a full extra day to everyone else. But unfortunately, the cake itself isn’t as easy on the palette as it is on the eye. The two masterpieces come from Crystelle’s unbelievable bouquet of flowers, with some of the most stunning Italian meringue buttercream piping the show has ever seen. Less ornate but no less impressive is Jürgen’s lamp and book made from a honey chiffon sponge with a hint of rose that the judges label “perfect”. Jürgen can barely believe the response and delightfully describes himself as “a very happy Jürgen indeed.”
Chigs, Lizzie, Freya, Lizzie, George, Maggie, and Rochica all deliver decent efforts, with suitably gravity defying elements. But Jairzeno and Tom serve up disasters—Jaizerno’s tribute to colour isn’t even colourful and Tom’s wonky classical music cake looks like he gave up halfway through.
Going into the elimination, George, Jairzeno, Tom, and Amanda all have good reasons to feel nervous. Star baker goes to a well-deserved Jürgen, but Crystelle, Maggie, and Giuseppe have already distinguished themselves as ones to watch. First eliminated is Tom, who isn’t surprised by the news. He remains proud of himself, but is still disappointed that his time in the tent and with the other 11 bakers has come to an end. Everyone seems genuinely sad to see him go. It’s not a terribly dramatic conclusion to the episode but there seems to be some big characters and impressive skills that bode well for the rest of the season.
Next week, biscuits!
- Hello and welcome to a brand-new season of the most wholesome low stakes on television, The Great British Baking Show! I’m Leila Latif and I have taken over from the wonderful Kate Kulzick and hope to keep up to the lofty standards she set. The good news is that I am extremely well qualified for the role, I’m a film & television critic, I’m British, I’m obsessed with baking, and I spent a year at Prue Leith’s culinary school where I failed my final exam because my puff pastry didn’t rise and I over-salted a chicken ballotine. True story. Excited to bring my expertise and work through that trauma with you all.
- Freya is doing all vegan bakes, aside from in the technical challenges, it’ll be interesting to see the way she handles that additional layer of difficulty. It’s likely to be particularly tricky with biscuit and pastry challenges
- Judging by the clothes all three challenges took place on a single day, makes Giuseppe’s immaculate results all the more impressive.
- No handshakes given out yet, I’m hoping that mean’s Paul’s retired the tired gimmick but we’ll see.
- Jürgen’s family didn’t pick up when he called to tell them he was star baker and I’d like to think it’s because they were busy practicing trombone.