Well, this was unexpected.
I had no idea that the Great British Baking Show was even doing a season this year; I sort of figured that it would be all but impossible to cram a bunch of people in a tent safely. And, had the show conducted business as usual, with the bakers dropping by on weekends and then trotting off to whatever it is they do for a living, I suppose it would have been. But shame on me, both for sitting pat with my assumption that no season could possibly happen, and not realizing the potential for sealing all the bakers in an NBA/NHL style bubble. These Rankings exists specifically because I view GBBS as a sport; you’d think I could have figured this one out.
Point is, Great British Baking Show is back, thankfully with only a bare minimum of twinkly piano (or in this case, spare acoustic guitar) “In these unprecedented times” gobbledegook. Sandy Toksvig has apparently decided to sit this season out or something, so Noel’s co-host this year is a guy named, uh, uh…[opens phone]
Dang it, Netflix isn’t tell me the guy’s name. Crud bunnies. The internet tells me his name is Matt Lucas. Alright then.
While I suppose it’s good news they figured out a way to have a GBBS season, someone needs to have a serious talk with the producers about stress. Good God, this episode was so damn stressful, and it’s only Week 1! We had collapsing Show Stoppers and time management crises and people crying after the Technical, albeit due to an unfortunate accident and not because of the Technical itself. When time was up on the Show Stopper, Noel was clenched in the goddamn surrender cobra and he’s not even one of the actual bakers! It’s Week 1!! What the hell are they putting these poor people through!?
I seem to recall having this thought last year, but when the palpable stress of the main tent is contrasted with the judge’s tent, where Prue and Paul spend unspecified lengths of time chilling before heading back out to lord over the schmucks stuck losing their minds trying to impress them, I cannot help but view the Great British Baking Show not as the gentle, affirming competition of past years, but as yet another front of the class war. If the show continues down this path, I suspect we will all not only view the show as a management vs. labor struggle, we will do so completely and thoroughly; as with the crumbling institutions of this fading republic, it will seem as though this collapse into late capitalist entropy was the plan all along.
And I’ll still be here, ranking bakers, because it’s fun and people seem to like it.
Since this is the start of a new season, a refresher on this column’s methodology is in order. As promised at the end of last year, most of my ranking methods are unchanged, with one key difference.
-The biggest change to m y approach this year is how I will handle the judging itself. In last year’s column, I wrote: “Regarding the bakes themselves, only the judging matters. Whatever opinions I may have on each bake are irrelevant. If Paul or Prue express an opinion I do not agree with, my disagreement will be left unsaid.” I am reversing course entirely on this; if I think the judges were unfair, myopic, or otherwise found their comments or decisions baffling, I will make full note of it in this space. My original intent was that, since I’m not trying any of these bakes, the most important knowledge regarding their quality is unknown to me. While that remains true enough, it’s also true that I found a lot of Paul and Prue’s comments cranky, unfounded, and on multiple occasions, culturally chauvinistic as well. It is clear that the old method of hanging back and letting the judges do their thing uncontested is no longer viable, therefore, I will be calling the judges on their bullshit whenever I feel it’s warranted.
-Each week’s Power Rankings will begin with a breakdown of the parameters for each challenge in the episode, which baker was named Star Baker, and which baker was Eliminated. For the Signature Bake and Show Stopper, this will just be a brief description of the requirements. For the Technical Challenge, this will include not only what is being baked, but which judge assigned the challenge, a brief description of what skills the challenge is meant to evaluate, and whether or not any baker actually succeeded at baking the recipe in question. The time allotted for each challenge will not be noted, since every challenge is designed to be a time crunch.
-The fundamental purpose of these Power Rankings is to determine who has the best chance of making and winning the Finals. Therefore, whoever is eliminated each week will be ranked last by default, as that person’s chances to go the distance no longer exist.
-However, this does not mean the week’s Star Baker will be ranked first by default. The Star Baker award goes to whoever did best that week and that week only. It is not awarded to the baker who seems to be the best baker overall, although naturally some overlap is common. So if, say, one of the bakers goes on an unstoppable 3-week Star Baker run, he/she has a good chance of retaining the top spot after said run ends, unless he/she has such a bad week it calls his/her overall skill into question.
-Each baker’s Power Ranking will make note of his/her place in the Technical Challenge, since this is often the most concrete method of determining overall skill.
-In another change from last year, I am going to give greater weight to performance in the Signature Bake. The intent behind giving is less weight was based on my impression of previous seasons that the judges didn’t make any big decisions based on Signature performance. But last season, this impression was reversed.
-As the Tent is a high-pressure environment, each baker’s mental game is relevant to these Power Rankings. Every baker will struggle with mindset from time to time, but some bakers will overcome pressure and avoid mistakes, and others will not. While evaluating this is highly subjective exercise, it is also necessary.
-Finally, in the interest of time and my own sanity, descriptions of individual bakes will be kept to a minimum, and only included when deemed relevant (such as when a baker’s ambition exceeds his/her skills on a Show Stopper).
Time to rank! Note that, as always, the entire rest of the column is nothing but spoilers for last week’s episode. Also as always, I don’t see why I should have to point this out; if your refusal to make any sort of inference is so total that you got this far assuming this would be a spoiler-free breakdown of the episode, you’re simply too stupid to earn my good graces. But alas, time has shown again and again that all of y’all on the internet are entitled (and quite possibly illiterate) monsters, and while I don’t want to cater that demo per se, it beats getting doxxed by an army of vengeful 12 year olds.
Week 1 – Cake Week
Signature Bake: Battenberg
-Recipe: 6 Miniature Pineapple Upside Down Cakes
-Judging Parameters: Consistency between individual cakes. Caramel that is neither too light nor too dark
-Did Anyone Succeed? Yes; Sura, Peter, & Rowan
Show Stopper: Cake Bust of Celebrity Hero
Star Baker: Peter
Place In Technical: 10th
Right out of the gate, we have our first bullshit Elimination of the season. While it would be incorrect to say Loriea did anything particularly well, she showed a few more flashes than the next baker on this list, at least. Hell, Paul even implied that she showed some skill in his end of show interview clip. Her Battenberg looked pretty good, at least; I know that her marzipan got dinged for being too thick, but the colors were fun and appealing and evoked the sugar rush of bubblegum and cream soda. And while her bust of Louise Bennett-Coverley has some visual issues; they were pretty well isolated to the face. Everything else looked OK to pretty good. But what most concerns me about Loriea’s ouster is the criticisms of her flavors, which the judges described as too much in both the Signature and Show Stopper. Loreia made it clear she knew what she was doing in loading up her Show Stopper with spiciness, and also that it was how she wants it to taste. Paul in particular gave her a lot of guff for the spiciness of it, though, and that suggests to me that Loriea didn’t fail to make the actual cake to the best of her ability, and that her only crime was making something the judges weren’t into. That’s a rough pretense for kicking someone out of the Tent in Week 1, especially when at least one (and arguably two) bakers did worse.
Place In Technical: 11th
All of that said, it should come as no surprise that I found Marc’s first week in the Tent deeply unimpressive, to the point that I’m not sure why he’s still around. His bakes were a total mess, visually. His Battenberg was far too busy on the outside and his David Bowie bust collapsed into a puddle. He was second-to-last in the Technical to boot. While he received a few good marks for the flavor of his Show Stopper, he somehow thought it was a good idea to include rosewater in his Signature. C’mon man, haven’t you seen the show? Rosewater is a trap; there’s almost no way to include any without including too much.While he managed to survive the first week, Marc appears to have limited technical proficiency, and unless he shows immediate, dramatic improvement, he’ll be going home sooner rather than later.
Place In Technical: 12th
Here I was, watching this episode for the first time, and before the Show Stopper even got started, I was already writing Linda’s obituary in my head. Alas, poor Linda, whose tribute Battenberg to her late paramedic cousin was both unfinished visually and deemed too dry texturally, and who seemed completely out of her element in the Technical. And then, even without finishing Bob Marley’s face, she turned it around and saved her stint in the Tent in the Show Stopper, with high marks for her citrus flavors. Linda’s struggles seem to point to time management issues. Perhaps if she can clean those up, she can hang around for a while.
Place In Technical: 9th
Dave managed to get through Cake Week without any real disasters, but he didn’t have much in the way of real successes, either. The coffee and vanilla notes of his Signature were well received; it’s just too bad that the boozy notes he designed the cake around were missing. Prue seemed to enjoy the cartoonish look of his bust of Tom DeLonge (and like, good on Dave for being able to admit his love of blink-182 in public at his age, dude seems like he’s in his late 30s at the youngest), but while I picked up what he was doing, I though it was a bit too misshapen and grotesque. And one can’t discuss Dave’s Show Stopper without mentioning his use of artificial mint flavoring, which Paul took him to task for. I didn’t taste it myself, but that does sound pretty gross, and bakers who tend to lean on artificial flavorings tend to have pretty fixed ceilings.
Place In Technical: 6th
Laura mostly gained attention in the editing room for her problems in the Show Stopper, as her bust of Freddie Mercury didn’t quite work out (although on second watch, it also didn’t collapse as dramatically as I recalled). She got high marks for the lemon and elderflower flavoring, which pulled her out of the fire somewhat. Despite a middle of the road Technical placement, her Signature was a low-key disaster, with an indistinct sponge pattern and minimal flavor. I had Laura penciled in as a potential Elimination all the way up until both judges praised the flavor of her Show Stopper; she’s ranked above Dave solely because of her performance in the Technical, which suggests that Laura may be more skilled than she looks, and might have just had a bad week.
Place In Technical: 8th
Like Dave, Mak had an opening week of low-key struggles. He seems to have a good flair for design, as both his Signature and Show Stopper we praised for their looks. Both judges took umbrage with his decision to shroud his Battenberg in pistachio marzipan, which sucks for Mak but also raises my eyebrows a bit. Once again, I can’t help but sense the judges were being closed-minded when confronted with a baker who isn’t afraid to eschew tradition. Mak said he doesn’t like almond that much, and that’s valid as heck. I may not have had his cake, but I’ve eaten some food in my day, and I fail to see what could possibly be wrong with an orange/ginger/pistachio combination. That sounds pretty good, actually. He also got dinged in the Show Stopper for dry sponge which, ok, fair enough. In all, Mak didn’t have a great week, but he showed good technique and has the potential to make moves up the Rankings as the season progresses.
Place In Technical: 7th
First things first – shame on whoever decided to have a ‘Marc’ and a ‘Mark’ in the same season . That’s not going to confuse me at all (it has, of course, done so several times already). The show spent very little time with Mark , and he did almost nothing to distinguish himself, for good or for ill, in Cake Week. His placement here in the Rankings reflects a default placement, since I don’t really have a read on his skill. He received minimal judges’ comments (that we saw at least), and those that he did receive were positive, but also reserved. He could hang around until the Semi-Finals (or longer), or he could crash out in the next week or two, and neither would be a huge surprise. Hopefully next week clarifies his potential, if only somewhat.
Place In Technical: 3rd
Rowan is the first potential Finals contender in the Rankings, but whether or not he capitalizes on that potential may depend entirely on whether or not he can figure out how to bake within his means. His Signature was missing a promised temple cutout, and the alleged choux pastry Marie Antoinette hairdo was replaced entirely with…was that rolled up parchment paper? Sometimes unfinished bake designs are a sign of poor time management, but the sheer amount of stuff Rowan attempted is outrageous. His high mark in the Technical suggests that he has the skills, so he needs to reign in his excessive ambition to avoid disappointment. Stranger things have happened, but history suggests that bakers with a tendency to try to much often continue to do so until it’s too late.
Place In Technical: 4th
Lottie did well enough for herself in Cake Week, but no small part of her high placement in these Rankings is due to her mindset. She appeared immune to pressure in a way that speaks extremely well for her chances at a deep run. Messing up the Battenberg sponges so much that she needed to start over entirely didn’t seem to phase her; she just started over with minimal fuss, and it turned out mostly fine, even if the warmer sponges messed up the interior design somewhat. Her Show Stopper was deemed recognizable; I’ll have to take the judges’ word for it, since I don’t know who this guy is. Unfortunately, the cake itself was dry; one of the things that makes GBBS a frustrating watch sometimes is that it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to determine how severe a criticism is. When Paul says it’s too dry, what does he mean, exactly? How bad is it? This is never really clear, and that makes it difficult to determine how successful Lottie’s Show Stopper actually was. Still, a good Technical and a strong ability to recover from mistakes bodes well.
Place In Technical: 5th
Hermine’s Cake Week was a success across the board. She took a pretty big gamble in making her marzipan with marmalade instead of eggs, and not only did it work, it paid dividends. Her Battenberg not only had a real sheen to it, but she received high praise for the marmalade flavor, which tied together the chocolate and orange flavors without being two sweet. Her Show Stopper was received in even more glowing terms, with excellent fondant work on the exterior, and delicious chocolate cake on the interior. The only thing that seemed to keep her out of contention for Star Baker was a slightly lower Technical placement, although the comments she received there suggested her cakes were still pretty good. It may be early in the season, but Hermine had such a good showing that I believe she’ll be around for quite a while.
Place In Technical: 1st
According to Sura, she had never made a marzipan or a pineapple upside down cake of any size prior to this week’s competition. Perhaps it’s naive of me to take those comments at face value, but damn, if Sura does this well at skills she hasn’t practiced, how good can she be at bakes that are in her wheelhouse? How does one do so well in a reasonably difficult Technical that she had no direct experience with? How does one fix overflowing sponge so thoroughly, the judges don’t even notice? How does one make a structurally sound cake bust that also has texturally appealing and tasty cake on the inside? The only reasonable explanation is a deep reservoir of baking know-how. I was deeply, profoundly tempted to put Sura at the top of the Rankings this week; she displayed some nervous tendencies that are noteworthy, but not enough of a concern to cancel out her obvious skill. I’ve wussed out on doing so since, let’s face it, we’re only one week in and don’t know that much about each baker’s strengths and weaknesses, in the scheme of things. Even so, if Sura keeps this up she’ll be nigh-unstoppable.
Place In Technical: 2nd
Alas, as alluring as it may have been to give first to a non-Star Baker right out of the gate, Peter had too good of a week to ignore. It takes real guts to make any bake gluten free without being under compulsion to do so, and it takes a real good job for said bake to come out as delicious as any other in the tent, self-handicap and all. Peter’s gluten free Battenberg was moist, flavorful, and impeccably neat, to a degree that’s tough under the best of circumstances. I do feel that, in making his Show Stopper bust’s head smaller and concealing the face under a helmet, Peter sort of got away with something, but Paul in particular seemed to think it was a smart play. What seemed to push Peter into the stratosphere this week, as far as Paul and Prue were concerned, was his ability to make a structurally sound bust out of the notoriously light Victoria sponge. Again, he made his job harder, and still pulled it off better than just about everyone else. He has a bright future in the Tent ahead.
Next Week: No idea! As of this writing, Netflix is not telling me what the theme of the next episode is. I guess we’ll see on Friday? Peace out.