The latest crop of bakers make some flaky pastry tarts as the world’s comfort-food show starts another season.
Picture it: The idyllic British countryside. Birds tweeting, squirrels running … and a Billy Ray Cyrus-esque lip sync? That’s right; judges Paul and Prue are back, with hosts Matt and Noel, for season 9 of The Great British Baking Show!
Episode 1 kicks off with Cake Week. There are rolls, loaves, and gravity-defying showstoppers! With an opening inspired by “Achy Breaky Heart” (GBBS swapped in lyrics “Don’t break my tart / my flaky, pastry tart”) and featuring mullet wigs and line dancing, I’d say we’re off to a strong start.
The twelve bakers load into the tent and start on their signature bake: twelve decorative mini rolls. Paul and Prue and looking for elegant, delicious rolls with a perfect swirl. As the bakers get to the task, we get cast introductions as they prep their bakes. There’s Crystelle, infusing her roll with jaggery sugar, sent directly from her grandmother from Goa. There’s German-born (and trombonist) Jürgen, who creates a Black Forest-inspired roll.
However, Jürgen’s not the only one with a Black Forest roll – there’s railway model fan Tom and Detective Amanda, also looking to Germany with their rolls. HR worker Rochica’s making a carrot cake roll, using a Spelt flour for her cinnamon rolls inspired by her dad. Maggie, a retired midwife with a slight resemblance to Prue, opts for a meringue sponge for her chocolate and orange roll.
Freya, at 19, is the youngest baker this year, and she works on her vegan lemon and raspberry rolls. George, a father of three with Greek Cypriot roots, cracks on with his chocolate and hazelnut roll. Lizzie, a Liverpudlian luxury car builder, works on her giraffe print coffee sponge.
Chigs, an avid rock climber and guitarist, admits he only started baking during the pandemic and hopes his strawberry and cream rolls will wow the judges. Giuseppe, an Italian-born, Bristol-based engineer, hopes to craft an almond and orange sponge reminiscent of his home country. Jairzeno infuses his roll with passionfruit and chile, inspired by his home country of Trinidad.
There are some issues with breakage and runny fillings amongst the bakers, as some have to fill and roll their sponges whilst hot. Upon judgment, Maggie’s up first, with a nice swirl, but the cocoa is a bit much. Jairzeno’s rolls are deemed “worth the calories” by Prue. Amanda’s rolls are uneven, but Prue likes the “booze” in the filling. Tom’s rolls have “a bit of a swirl,” but there’s not enough cherry to give it that Black Forest kick.
Crystelle’s rolls are neatly designed, but there’s perhaps too much jaggery sweetness. George’s rolls were too warm and thus fell flat. Rochica’s Spelt sponge was overmixed, leading to a stodgy texture.
There’s a tense moment with Jürgen, as Paul forces him to taste his own roll and deliver judgment (it’s well balanced between cream and chocolate and sour cherries). Freya’s vegan rolls are nice, full of tart flavors, even if using aquafaba is “a bit of a faff.” Chigs’s roll has a nice swirl, and the fresh strawberries lend to a delicious flavor. Lizzie’s rolls were too warm, leading to runny fillings. Giuseppe’s rolls are perfect and neat as a pin, with well-balanced flavors of almond and orange.
Season 9’s first technical challenge is an old-fashioned recipe set by Prue, who says that bakers under 35 have probably never heard of it: It’s a classic malt loaf, a sticky, rich loaf cake made with raisins, prunes, and malt extract. Some of the bakers love a malt loaf (Maggie, Amanda). Some have never heard of it (Giuseppe). Some hate it (Lizzie).
It’s a tricky recipe — if they overmix, the loaf will be too chewy, and if they undermix, there will be flour pockets. Their loaves also need to be topped with candied ginger and orange peel, requiring the bakers to cook the peels until “translucent” (or “transulent and see-throughy” if you’re Chigs.). There seemed to be some minor struggles, the bakers not knowing how long to bake, as the malt extract darkens the batter, so it’s hard to tell when the loaf is finished.
Judgment on the technical is done blind, each baker bringing their loaves and placing behind a photo of themselves. Rochica’s loaf is too bready. Giuseppe’s has too much fruit. George’s has a nice chew. Lizzie’s has great texture. Crystelle’s is overbaked. Tom’s loaf is a bit pale. Maggie’s has a nice amount of candied peels and excellent taste. Jairzeno’s is a bit bready. Chigs’s loaf was raw and underdone. Jürgen’s loaf was a bit underdone. Amanda’s loaf was undermixed, with lots of flour pockets.
The bakers’ rankings: Amanda (12th), Chigs (11th), Giuseppe (10th), Jairzeno (9th), Crystelle (8th), Rochica (7th), Jürgen (6th), Tom (5th), Lizzie (4th), George (3rd), Freya (2nd), and Maggie (1st). It was probably no one’s surprise that Maggie came out on top, but Freya did show she may be 19, but she knows her way around a technical challenge.
Last up is the showstopper, where the bakers have to create anti-gravity illusion cakes that involve an element of suspension; the judges are looking for style and substance here. As the showstopper moves on, some of the bakers have issues with gravity. Jairzeno attempts to create a rolled cake, similar to the mini rolls, but his sponges start to fall and he ultimately fails to suspend part of his cake. The others work with various technical structures, like Jürgen’s nuts and bolts, Amanda’s tower of rice Krispies to build a wave, and Tom’s use of dowels to make his layers lean. There are some tense moments, like the bakers testing their suspended cakes. Surprisingly, there are no big cake falls, and everyone has a bake to present to the judges.
First up for judgment is Chigs: his mug falls at the table, but his cake is full of flavor. George’s cake could be neater in design, but he has nice flavors. Maggie’s Victoria sponge is delicious, but her cornet looks more like a flower pot. Jairzeno’s may have lacked the anti-gravity cake, but his flavors were perfect. Amanda’s cake was impressive, but Paul questioned if just building a wave of rice Krispies was really anti-gravity. Lizzie’s design was simplistic, but the flavors led Prue to exclaim “I could happily eat a bowl of that.”
Freya’s cake, again all-vegan, was beautiful in taste and texture. Crystelle’s flower “bouq-cake” was also beautifully designed with remarkable flavors. Rochica’s apple defied gravity and had lovely flavors, but the cake could have used more details. Tom’s cake didn’t defy gravity, rather just leaned, and the cake didn’t have any flavors that wowed the judges. Giuseppe’s cake was impressively structured, yet the sponge was a bit dry. Jürgen’s cake was elegant in design, clean in structure, and had layers of flavor. Paul even suggests Jürgen “could become the flavor king.”
At the end of the episode, its future flavor king himself Jürgen who’s awarded Star Baker. He wowed in both his signature and showstopper bakes, and placed solidly in the technical. The baker leaving the tent is Tom; it all seemed to come down to his lackluster showstopper, which failed to defy gravity. His caboose is let loose from the tent, but he’s proud of the work he did on the show.
Achy Breaky Thoughts:
- I was slightly shocked that Jürgen was Star Baker this week. I thought Maggie had all the makings to clutch the title this week. That being said, I think we’ll see her get this title sooner rather than later. I also think Freya’s one to watch, as she continually wows the judges with her vegan bakes. Also, as a former trombonist myself, I gotta stick with my man Jürgen.
- I wasn’t surprised to see Tom depart. Paul and Prue seemed very disappointed in his leaning cake. I think Jairzeno and George were saved by their flavors, and while Amanda was also close to leaving, I think her showstopper did have more impressive elements than Tom’s.
- Still no Hollywood Handshake, but Paul forcing Jurgen to eat and judge his cake in the signature felt like a psychological mind game. Just give him the handshake already, Hollywood!