Well there we have it: series 14, week one of The Great British Bake Off 2023. Done. And (at least for me, in any case), it didn’t disappoint. All the elements of the GBBO we have come to love so dearly were there: laughter, jeopardy, joyfulness, nervousness and plenty of baking innuendo. Boom!
**** SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of the outcomes of each of the challenges, this week’s star baker and the first of The Class of 2023 to go home. Please don’t read on if you have yet to watch the cake week episode and don’t want to know the outcome! ****
THE SIGNATURE BAKE
Here we go then. Straight in to the first bake of the new series with a vertical layer cake. A what? Unlike the more conventional way of stacking/layering cakes on top of each other (horizontally), vertical layer cakes are created so that the layers are seen facing upwards when you cut into the cake. This is achieved with an approach similar to that of baking a Swiss roll. Which you basically layer up then turn on its side 🤣
The bakers were asked to make a cake with ‘rolled lines and a gorgeous filling’, with the judges being very clear that they wanted to be able to taste the full flavours that the bakers choose to go with for their vertical cakes. And we had everything from chocolate orange to lemon, and from blueberry infused buttercream to rhubarb and custard (oh my 😍)!
No real dramas for the bakers in this challenge (if we gloss over Matty curdling his buttercream. Twice).
While Nicky’s vertical layer cake came under the scrutiny of Paul’s not-altogether-all-that-favourable gaze, she suggested to him: “Maybe it’s one of those things that will grow on you?” Paul’s response? “Like a fungus?” Rude!
During the signature challenge, we witnessed the transformation of The Hollywood Handshake into The Hollywood Hug as the cameras panned to a nervous Saku and Paul giving her a hug of encouragement. Shortly after, Noel was heard to ask her: “Where can you go from a hug?” to which she promptly replied: “Home”.🤣🤣
And that, right there, was the moment we all fell in love with Saku 🥰🥰
THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
For the technical challenge on this year’s cake week, we were promised a timeless classic that many of us would have enjoyed at some point in our lives. My first thought was of the chocolate hedgehog cake that most of us have surely blown out the candles on at some point during our childhood?
But no. Out came *that* chocolate and raspberry cake. You know, the one from the opening credits. With the missing raspberry. And for those of us with symmetry OCD, we began to twitch once more.
Cake Week 2023’s technical challenge was a two-layer chocolate fudge cake with chocolate ganache (both filled and coated), topped with raspberries. Equipped with the ingredients and minimal instructions, the bakers were told that the judges expected their ganache to be neat and shiny. Some took more notice of this instruction than others.
Chocolate ganache is made by melting chocolate together with warm cream. It needs to have cooled significantly before it is in a workable state for spreading over a cake. You can speed this up by chilling the ganache. BUT this will reduce the shine. As some of the bakers discovered…
So anyway, back to those raspberries… As Alison toured the benches while the Class of 2023 assembled their cakes, she asked: “…missing raspberry…on or off?”. I surely can’t be the only person who was yelling back at the television: “For the love of all that is holy, PUT THE MISSING RASPBERRY ON THE CAKE.” 🙃
Cakes baked, filled, stacked and decorated, it was off to The Gingham Altar for judging…
Again, no real problems for the bakers with their first technical challenge. Some of the cakes were criticised for having a bulge / definition between the layers visible despite the cake being coated with ganache on the outside. (This can happen if you don’t fill you cake right to the edges of the layers).
Congratulations to Dan on winning cake week’s technical challenge!
TOP TIPS FOR WORKING WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE
Chocolate ganache is a combination of chocolate and cream. It can be made with dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate.
But a note of caution for you…White chocolate ganache is a trickier beast to make than either milk or dark chocolate ganache! And so if you are thinking of making chocolate ganache for the first time, my advice would be to start with dark chocolate.
You can alter the consistency of chocolate ganache by changing the quantities of chocolate and cream used. For example, a dark chocolate ganache with a 2:1 ratio of chocolate to cream will set firm once cold. Up the quantity of cream and lower the chocolate content and you’ll have a more viscous ganache that won’t set firm.
If you are going to be using chocolate ganache to fill and coat a cake, it ideally needs to be the consistency of room temperature peanut butter before you work with it.
If the shine of the ganache is important to you, prepare it well in advance to give it the time needed at room temperature to set enough to work with. If the shine doesn’t matter to you, you can chill it to speed up the process.
But please, please, please don’t be putting hot things into a fridge with all your other perishable ingredients. They do this on Bake Off because they don’t have anything else in the fridge!
And now to the final baking challenge of cake week. And the one that those ranked near the bottom in the technical challenge (Dana, Tasha and Nicky) were undoubtedly feeling most nervous about.
The challenge set for the bakers for the cake week showstopper was to make an animal from cake. They were permitted to use edible things other than cake (such as rice crispy treats) for some of the structural elements, but the main part of the animal had to be cake.
Some of the bakers decided to recreate their dogs in cake. (Cue a funny little anecdote from Dan about baking a practice cake, hiding it from his family in the fridge and his daughter then discovering it and thinking she’d found the dog in the fridge! And kudos to Dan for making such a realistic cake of his dog!) Among the other animal cake creations, Tasha went for a robin, Rowan a lobster and Josh a Highland cow. Or Moo Coo as they’re called in our house.
Of course I couldn’t let the Bake Off animal cake challenge go by without a mention of Nicky’s beautiful looking but very dry beaver. There you go, I went there. 🙊 But I’ll leave you to explore social media for more on that particularly prolific bit of Bake Off Innuendo Bingo!
Anyhoo, back to the animal cakes taking shape in the Bake Off tent… I have a bit of form in making animal cakes, so really enjoyed watching this challenge.
DIESEL THE BLACK LABRADOR CAKE
A dog cake was one of the first novelty cakes I ever made. I recreated my friend Cathy’s beautiful black Labrador ‘Diesel’ in chocolate cake for her daughter’s 18th birthday. Mine was similar to Dana’s dog cake, which was in a lying pose. You’ve still got to get the carving right when you make an animal cake in this way, but you need to be less concerned with the structural integrity of the cake.
If you are tackling an animal cake in a standing pose or balanced on something, you really need to use cake dowels to stop the cake toppling over under the sheer weight of itself (oh, Amos 😭).
During the chats to camera, Dana informed us that she was baking her dog, Gracie. Erm…🙈
And while judging Gracie, Paul commented: “She’s quite flat here…” (gesturing at the Gracie the dog’s back) “…what happened?” Quick as a flash, Dana replied: “She’s quite a flat dog.” Genius!
There were some really stunning looking animal cakes presented to the judges at the end of the challenge and it is clear that this year’s bakers are a talented bunch. My favourites (going on visuals alone) were Cristy’s Mallard duck, Josh’s Highland cow, Nicky’s beaver, Saku’s turtle and Tasha’s robin. So lots of them, basically. 🙃
There was a cautionary tale to emerge from the cake week showstopper challenge this year. And that is that you should never lose sight of the *actual* cake and that it is going to be eaten – not just looked at – when making a novelty cake. It absolutely has to taste delicious as well as having the ‘wow’ factor in terms of presentation. Otherwise you may as well model your animal from clay. As nobody will want to eat that, either!
And so there it was. Our first taste of series 14 of The Great British Bake Off with a class of 12 new bakers. Our introduction to GBBO’s new presenter, Alison Hammond. Our first deaf contestant in the shape of Tasha with her British Sign Language interpreter Daryl introduced as an integral part of the show. Our first star baker in Dan. And our first departee in Amos.
Overall, it felt like the Bake Off of old (if we gloss over the change of judges and presenters and the all-too-frequent ad breaks!) …Cakes that we recognised, that weren’t ridiculously complicated to make and that [hopefully] left a lot of viewers inspired to give them a go at home.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
NEXT WEEK: BISCUIT WEEK. And I get to find out which baker goes home ahead of it airing as I’ve been lucky enough to get tickets for the recording of Extra Slice this Sunday. Excited, much?