The Great British Bake Off review: Remember when it was controversial?

TV: Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas return with 12 new contestants

The Great British Bake Off: Noel Fielding, Prue Leith, Paul Hollywood and Matt Lucas with this year’s bakers

The Great British Bake Off: Noel Fielding, Prue Leith, Paul Hollywood and Matt Lucas with this year’s bakers

 

In a world gone mad, the primary task of The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm) is to remain deliciously predictable. It is a rock bun of consistency, a treat that always tastes the same, a reminder that, come what may, some things in life can be depended upon. And so, while the faces are different as the series welcomes the class of 2021, in its essence this gateaux-fabulous blockbuster is unchanged.

Not that Channel 4 doesn’t try to shake things up. The episode starts with a sanity-threatening reimagining of Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart, mimed by the programme’s judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, and presenters, Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas. To read the lyrics aloud is to know true delirium. “Don’t bake my tart, my flaky-pastry tart,” goes the chorus. And there we shall stop, lest we summon Nyarlathotep from his slumber.

Cosmic horror aside, the recipe is unchanged. For their first task, the 12 contestants – young and old, male and female, British, Italian and German – must prepare “decorative mini rolls”. Or, as you or I might call them, “very small Swiss rolls”. Then they are required to bake a malt loaf. And, finally – bun roll – the signature challenge: creating a cake that defies gravity and has a component of autobiography.

Jürgen does his best to banish the cliche of Germans as self-serious by modelling his 3D cake on his favourite book, Thomas More’s Utopia. Oh do stop clowning about, Jürgen – this is a serious competition

There is some tension. Amanda, a detective with the London Metropolitan Police, makes a mess of her mini rolls, only to redeem herself with a signature cake featuring dolphins surfing a wave (inspired by a favourite holiday to Florida).

By contrast, Giuseppe, who is originally from Italy, is off to a roaring beginning – but his Jack and the Beanstalk is more delicious to gaze at than to eat. Jürgen, originally from the Black Forest, does his best to banish the cliche of Germans as self-serious by modelling his 3D cake on his favourite book, Thomas More’s Utopia. Oh do stop clowning about, Jürgen – this is a serious competition.

Just an hour in, potential winners are already emerging. Crystelle, a client-relationship manager from London, dazzles with a cake modelled on a bouquet of flowers. And Freya, a psychology student, and Maggie, a retired nurse and midwife, win praise for their malt loaves.

There is also the start of a running joke in which Lucas confuses Maggie for Leith – because they’re both of vaguely similar vintage. The gag is going to age like a three-week-old sliced pan.

Bake Off is such perfectly judged comfort food that it’s mildly shocking to recall there was once a very big controversy about its moving from the BBC to Channel 4. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins quit as hosts, and Mary Berry, Hollywood’s original judging partner, left with them. Yet that feels a million years ago, and it’s hard to imagine a time when Fielding wasn’t prowling the Bake Off tent in his dad-goth clobber or when Leith wasn’t trading zingers with Hollywood.

All of those ingredients are stirred in with aplomb in the new series. Viewers long since browned off by Bake Off will find it hard to digest. But for true believers the mix continues to go down a treat.

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