It is the most appropriate time ever for the Great British Bake Off–Great British Baking Show Trademark War to start with a silly Star Wars–inspired skit. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the late Queen Elizabeth II traces her ancestry all the way back to the Skywalkers of Tatooine. For real. All that stuff with Darth Vader went down long, long ago. That was history, and that is why we are so captivated by George Lucas’s space opera: It is actually a retelling of how the British monarchy was formed.
And now, here we are with a newly svelte Matt Lucas as Luke Piemaster, the voice of the Tesco Express self-checkout; Noel Fielding as Princess Layer-Cake; Prue Leith as Prue-Bacca; and Paul Hollywood as the greatest villain of all, a megalomaniac who thinks he is the sole judge on this show because he gives out handshakes, but, really, he has to share the job with a posh old lady. Oh, wait, I mean Darth Vader. He’s Darth Vader.
Fielding tells us we are back at Welford Park, the traditional home of the Bake Off tent, which means there are no COVID restrictions this season. (I’m not sure if you’re aware, but here in Britain, the pandemic is effectively over. There are no masks, no restrictions, no vaccine cards, no testing before events. Thank you for playing Pandemic, but the game has ended.) Which also means the return of one of my favorite features of early-season GBBO episodes: visiting all the bakers at home as we get to know them.
For those who have watched GBBO before, there is a collection of familiar types. Want a bright-haired woman with an inscrutable regional accent? Meet Carole from Dorset. Playing the role of an attractive younger woman who will get to the final five though it looks like she’s going to be eliminated every week is Rebs from Northern Ireland. Who called for an eccentric older man whose ambition doesn’t quite stand up to his talent? Because we’ve got ourselves Will from North London. The prize for barely-graduated baker who is way over her head goes to Maisam. Congratulations on your win.
Quick, get us a cute retired grandma who can cook all the basics and is also a stealth Tory. Well, Dawn worked for Boris Johnson, so maybe not so stealth. We need someone from the Continent who stayed behind although Brexit was intended to drive his kind back home, and that would be Janusz. For the Americans who need someone whose accent is so thick you will have to turn on the subtitles, get ready to read everything that Glaswegian James says. Can’t tell him apart from Kevin, the other Scotsman? Don’t worry — Kevin is the one you can understand, and James is the one who sounds like Scrooge McDuck after bottomless brunch.
You know how there’s always someone who seems too cute and too haphazard to actually do well? This year, we have Syabira in the Kim-Joy slot. There has to be someone from another country who is here without their family and totally nerdy but also lovable. Everyone get ready to crush on Abdul. Maxy isn’t really a type — she just seems cool and way too young to be a mother of two. Oh, Maxy, you sweet, sweet enigma.
And let us not forget my favorite casting trope of all. The Chigs Trade of the Season trophy is taken by Sandro, a 30-year-old manny from East London. Those arms. That beard. The perfectly dangly George Michael–in–“Faith” earring. Oh yes, I am already in love. Why hasn’t anyone dug up his Instagram yet? The Daily Mail has only one job, and they couldn’t do that. I’m also waiting for that publication to find his OnlyFlans account, on which he makes desserts wearing just an apron. I’m not the only one who is hot for Sandro; he caused quite a lusty stir on Twitter when the show debuted in the U.K.
But he is not without controversy. Some are upset that he once sold a cake to Maya Jama for her to serve at Stormzy’s birthday party. Oh, sorry. I forgot I was talking to Americans. Stormzy is like the English Jay-Z, and Maya Jama is like Beyoncé, except she’s a radio DJ instead of a singer and they’re no longer together. Whatever. This cake sale means he could have been a professional baker, which means he should be ineligible for this here reality-television program. The show says he fits all the criteria, so we’re going to let him stay — so long as he promises to only wear very tight tops for the rest of the season.
Sandro makes an excellent showing in the Signature Challenge, in which all the bakers have to make a dozen mini–sandwich cakes. He makes tiny pots out of chocolate, fills them with cake, raspberries, and red-wine ganache and tops them with a rose because his partner used to give him roses all the time. Can we get a gender for this partner, please? Maybe a pronoun? Hmmm, Sandro? Let all of us at home know who may have a chance. The Stormzys? The Maya Jamas? Both separately? Both together?
Janusz, who makes very neat, professional-looking chocolate sponges with boozy cherries in them, also pulls ahead in the Signature. (He cut all the tops off his cakes so they would be flat and just threw the cake tops in a plastic bag. What is he going to do with them? Does he want to send them to East London to a gay who has starved himself for days looking for Sandro on Grindr?) Abdul has a hit with his cakes with little cacti on top, though they look more like gangrenous thumbs than some kind of succulent. But the judges think they tasted succulent, so that’s all that matters.
After hearing that his Italian meringue buttercream split twice, it is no surprise Will is in the bottom, serving up something that looks more like wooden alphabet blocks missing the letter than actual cakes. Rebs has to deal with some runny caramel oozing out of her sandwich hole, but the judges like the taste. No one’s worse in the first round than Maisam, whose pistachio-and-raspberry cakes look like red boils with other boils on top of them. It’s like if acne could get acne, but also kind of green. Awful.
In a voice-over, Fielding tells us what a Signature Challenge is — that the bakers get a pared-down recipe and all the ingredients. Girl. We already done been watching this show; you don’t need to explain it to us. But it’s all worth it for Matt Lucas’s Paul Hollywood impersonation, in which Hollywood says he made blueberry muffins and he’s such an egomaniac he gives himself a Paul Hollywood handshake. Oh no, wait. That’s his own self-own. Lucas’s impression is Hollywood just being really nice to everyone and then saying “All right” in an American accent. Excellent job, Matt. You might get Little Britain uncanceled eventually.
Speaking of the good ol’ U S of A, the challenge is an “American classic,” the red-velvet cake. Whatever. If we’re making American delicacies, I’d rather they have to make Ho Hos or the yellow Hostess cupcakes. Red velvet is gross. Also it seems a little outdated. It’s very Sex and the City season four, like Cosmos and Louboutins.
Because it had a cultural moment, however, there are at least two bakers who know what they’re doing. Sandro says he has made one many times before, and Syabira says that it was the cake she made for her friends when she moved away from Malaysia, so she makes it all the time to remember them. Those with familiarity tend to do well in the technical, so Syabira ends up in first, Sandro in second, not-so-stealth Tory Dawn in third. Big ups to Syabira, whose cake looked delicious and professional.
There aren’t any true disasters here, but James’s excitement with a piping bag lands him in last, Rebs one step above him with her “claggy” cake, and Maxy one step above her. That is the second time we’ve heard claggy this episode, which, if you haven’t figured it out, means dense and wet. We also hear Fielding talk twice about “baps,” which are what English people call rolls, especially a bacon, egg, and cheese bap, which is a breakfast sandwich. Also, Hollywood keeps banging on about a “hero flavor.” Sorry, Paul — hero flavour. I get what he’s saying — you want the cake to taste mostly like something — but this all seems a bit too foodie-centric for the down-home GBBO audience.
Now we’re on to the showstopper, and the contestants have to make a sculpture of their house out of cake. I am one of the many people who hates when this show forces bakers to build stupid things that no one would ever want. The ne plus ultra of this is when they had to make a mobile out of biscuits. Which one of RuPaul’s handbags are they pulling these stupid challenges out of? But I wasn’t so mad at this one since most houses are square, so they ended up being mostly square cakes covered to look like a house. (Just get ready for me to go off on the cookie masks they have to make next week.) Also, it gives us a little more insight into all the bakers, who we just met about 23 minutes prior.
We immediately know that some people are in trouble. Abdul forgets to put his oven on, which … jeekers. Dawn has to skip a layer of cake because she has so much filling. And Will, well, continues to be Will, and we just know that he is going to be on the 20:18 train to Paddington with his measuring scale and fruit-zester.
It’s a real fight for the bottom between Will’s “block of flats” (British for apartment building), which is a tiered building with some gingerbread holding it up, and Maisam’s depiction of her house back in Libya, which sort of looks like someone got a tattoo of a house and then decided to get rid of it but only had one appointment so far at the tattoo-removal place. It’s like the vague idea of a structure, but you have no idea what it’s supposed to be or why it’s there. At least Fielding, who lives in North London near Will, recognizes just which building he was trying to make. Too bad all the sponges are overcooked, the buttercream is split, and Will has the look on his face of a man who needs to be put out of his misery.
As for the best cakes of the week, Rebs saves herself from the bottom with a great piña-colada-inspired version of her parents’ house complete with a coconut-rum mist to mimic the Northern Irish rain. I was also in love with Dawn’s pebble-dashed house, on which the crumbs on the outside can cover a multitude of sins, which is why this is also a very popular finish in the U.K. for affordable housing. (That’s why they joke that the posh Leith will have no idea what pebble-dashing is.) With both Rebs’s and Dawn’s houses, it helps to make something a bit rustic because, well, if your cake looks like a nervous Chihuahua’s doody, then you can just blame it on the grubby house you grew up in.
Janusz, who clearly had the best week, is Star Baker, and he deserves it for his depiction of his mother’s apartment in Poland. He says he could tell which balcony was hers because it always had flowers. He builds a square structure that doesn’t look like the whole building but is more of a metaphor: Three sides are plain and awful, and one is dripping in buttercream roses and vines. This was the right approach: going for something a little bit more figurative (and easy to build) than literal, like everyone else chose to do.
Janusz also gets the biggest laugh of the night when he calls up his husband and says, “I’m the Star Caker of Bake Week,” instead of the Star Baker of Cake Week. I’m already in love with him. I’m in love with Sandro. I’m in love with Dawn though I hate Boris Johnson. I’m even in love with Carole and James, though they could be talking about Dracula and I have no idea what is coming out of their mouths. That’s what we love about GBBO: It’s like crawling into a comfy, warm oven, one full of lovely people where nothing too bad ever happens. After the past few years, I’m so glad to be right back in that oven, the same as it ever was.