Great British Bake Off 2016: episode one

Great British Bake Off 2016: episode one

by Howard Middleton 25 August 2016

Ex-GBBO contestant Howard Middleton is back to bring us all the highs, lows and laughs of this year's Great British Bake Off, eyeing up this year's contestants as they enter the tent for the first time.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients. He now demonstrates his creative approach to gluten-free baking at numerous food festivals and shows and by teaching baking classes around the country, including at corporate events, commercial promotions and private parties. Howard continues to entertain audiences as a public speaker, compere and broadcaster.

And relax and breathe. After a somewhat unwelcome delay for some sporty South American thingy, we can now settle down to ten weeks of intense tent that is the very essence of summer. Inhale the evocative aromas – buttery vanilla, warm sweet cinnamon and the unmistakably pungent scent that is sheer panic. Sorry, that’s probably me; an embarrassing reaction still brought on by the sight of bunting.

Our merry band of berry-fresh new bakers stride into the tent with cheerful confidence, blissfully unaware that guts will wrench and stomachs will churn. Within thirty seconds, panicking Rav has cut his finger and the blue plasters are out. These are the perils of home bakers unaccustomed to unfamiliar appliances, clocked confections and an ever-present film crew. I feel an immediate empathy – been there, done that, worn the thumb guard.

The confines of TV can barely contain character actress lookalike Val, who fizzes hyperactively around the tent like a young Constance Chapman, creating a drama out of a tricky lid and banging her bum on a tray of crystallised primroses. She claims that by listening to her cakes she can hear them singing ‘not ready, not ready’. I wonder if TV is really ready for Val.

Jane has a look of friendly familiarity – did she do a series of The Great British Sewing Bee? Possibly distracted by the memory of a perfectly concealed zip, she forgets to include ground almonds in her lemon and poppy seed cake and decides to start again.

Nerves are getting the better of most bakers but self-admittedly ‘laid back’ Selasi is the exception – a man so cool he wears a tea towel as a scarf. If you pointed out that it’s not the most hygienic of accessorising I’m sure he’d simply shrug. Next week, the oven glove boxers?


It’s taken us until series seven to discover that Paul’s favourite cake is a moist drizzle. Hordes of past bakers weep that we never had the recipe to satisfy him. Sadly some of this lot fail to raise a smile too.

Mary points out that Lee’s mixture has separated and the camera zooms in, in search of the evidence. Lee bravely half-smiles in the face of surgically invasive bowl scrutiny.

Tom’s G&T cake includes a curd filling made with boiled down tonic water, which he claims won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s his gin drizzle that makes the judges wince. ‘That’s been killed off by the alcohol,’ says Paul. Surely there are worse fates for a cake?

Louise’s Cointreau and lemonade domes are deemed too dense, Val’s contribution is ‘very dry’ and Paul can’t taste the lemon in Andrew’s cake or the blackberries in Kate’s. The judges are confused by the taste of Rav’s yuzu drizzle but Selasi’s flavours are ‘fantastic’. He shrugs like a man who’s used to such compliments.

The technical challenge is to produce twelve Jaffa Cakes – discs of orange jelly are perched on fatless sponges and topped with dark chocolate. Instructions are typically vague and the bakers aren’t sure which way up they should go. Cheerful Andrew plumps for the bottom and finishes in bottom place. Val decides on the basis of what she describes as ‘one of those epiphanies’, Jane quickly changes sides after one miscreant, but it’s smooth Selasi’s level-headed batch that takes the top spot.


The debut bakers’ first showstopper is a mirror-glazed beauty that must include a foundation of Genoese sponge. Mary says she’s looking for ‘sheer perfection’ – her first of the series! It won’t be her last.

The bakers soon discover they’re getting beaten by the super-whipped Genoese. Tom, Val, Benjamina and Michael all start again. Candice says she would throw her flat sponge out of the window if she were at home. She settles for bouncing it off the wall of the tent, like a Frisbee of disappointment. Benjamina blubs as her Swiss meringue buttercream runs towards neutrality.

Rav’s mocha mirror is polished but the cake beneath is too dry. Selasi’s raspberry, sloe and white chocolate cake is judged to be beautifully flavoured but not a shining example.

Poor Tom can’t get the balance right – after inebriating the judges with his boozy drizzle cake, he’s now told his Black Forest showstopper needed more kirsch. Mary sniffs at the grassy scent of Michael’s matcha tea-flavoured cake.

Bleeps abound but it’s Candice who produces the best cake-aimed expletive – ‘Oh you Mother Hubbard,’ she curses.

In the end, most disasters are offset by redeeming features – Paul thinks that swallow-obsessed Kate’s decorations look more like penguins but Mary likes the sharp gooseberry flavour. Louise’s white chocolate trifle cake is mirror-less but delicious, Benjamina’s simple shiny creation brings smiles all round and Andrew’s salted caramel and orange cake is ‘absolutely stunning’.

Presenting what is in effect a big glossy classy Jaffa cake, it’s Renaissance woman Jane, that gardening, baking, sewing machine who is made the first Star Baker. She looks exhausted! Lee, who created something called a Strawberry Surprise, seems unsurprised to be the first to leave and accepts his fate with good grace. Who knows if he’s a little relieved, when next week’s trailer heralds the largest gingerbread structures ever attempted on the Bake Off. It promises to be a challenging week. Selasi shrugs.