It's finally back! Great British Bake Off is once again gracing our screens to help make Tuesday nights altogether fluffier and more fun. Last night saw twelve hopeful amateur bakers (though I think the beeb's missed a trick by not making it thirteen for a baker's dozen) compete to go through to the second round. Real life silver haired lego man, Paul Hollywood, and angel delight of a judge, Mary Berry, are back and... well... exactly the same as ever.
Hollywood is still blowing as much hot air up his loaf as he can muster. I'm not saying the man doesn't know his stuff, but why he feels the need to describe every single recipe as a near-Herculean challenge is beyond me. Steely eyed and head-shaking over any deviation, Hollywood doesn't want any boats pushed out, he wants the whole fleet to remain firmly in the harbour. If I'm being unfair it's because I still haven't forgiven him for turning his nose up at Mary-Anne's syllabub last year for being too alcoholic (as if there's such a thing!) or for that horrifying spectacle when he made buttercream with his bare hands. Mary Berry, on the other hand, is as charming and whimsical as ever. Always there with a kind word and an appreciative "Mmm", she's the great aunt of all our dreams and is ever ready to give Hollywood the gentle scoldings he so desperately deserves.
For me, it's really Mel and Sue who make this show. From their lighthearted puns and tea mug-holding support for all the contestants, to their informative historical interludes, interviewing experts and uncovering eccentric laws of our baking past, we really couldn't want for more. But the show would be nothing without its contestants.
This year's participants seem, so far, to be a bunch of total sweethearts (possibly with one exception, but I'll reserve judgement for now). We've got James, a bespectacled and woolly jumper-wearing medical student from the Shetland Islands, who, at only 21, brings out in me a strong desire to ruffle his hair whenever he gets anything right. He is already one of my favourites and I was delighted to see him hold his nerve when the judges raised their collective eyebrows at the idea of putting parsnip in a cake. Which isn't that weird at all. You clearly need to get out more, Mary and Paul.
There's nervous and bubbly vicar's wife, Sarah-Jane, who, aside from worrying us that an early breakdown might be imminent, was consistently in the top half of the judges' scoreboard. Then there's Ryan. He might not have impressed Hollywood with the polenta in his upside-down cake, but he made a lovely looking "hidden design" cake for the technical challenge. We were also introduced to John, who left his place at Oxford University to study law at Manchester to be nearer his family. John seems to be the 2012 replacement for last year's housewife's favourite, the wet-eyed and floppy-haired Rob. This sweet mummy's boy of 22 declared baking to be "the biggest fashion there is at the minute" and told Sue how he likes to go clubbing before coming home to bake a cake. And he wasn't the only one with disco manoeuvres. Recently retired Brendan gave Mel a crash course in "dips" for when the DJ spins Gloria Gaynor on his turntable. A sight to behold.
On to Victoria, the CEO of a charity protecting wild flowers (I expected nothing less) and a lovely posho with a penchant for wearing a roll-neck under a shirt. She did a cracking job on the technical round with her "Sing a Song of Sixpence" inspired blackbirds in a pie cake, even if the outside of the cake was more impressive than the image it was hiding. Then there's smily Manisha, who muddled through in good spirits and Cathryn, who (as Brendan pointed out in the programme) looks to have a serious competitive streak. She was "on it like a car bonnet" and may be this year's answer to Head Girl Holly.
This first episode also saw a Bake Off first. Peter and Stuart went head-to-head in a Union Flag-off. Peter's efforts may have been neater, but he left out the St Patrick's saltire from his design, so is unlikely to win the popular vote with Northern Ireland's viewers. We saw precious little of intensive care consultant, Danny, in episode one. Her plum, ginger and orange upside-down cake sounded delicious, but rather unpleasantly resembled a giant blood clot (her medical training possibly inspiring this choice).
Finally we were briefly introduced to delightful midwife, Natasha, whose pineapple and passionfruit upside-down cake passed the judges' inspection, but her boiled baba and raw rose-soaked show stopper knocked her out of the competition. Such a shame, as she was clearly just having a very bad day and her nerves got the better of her. Her disappointment was hugged away by the ever-wonderful Sue Perkins. I really do love Sue. Since watching Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas, she has firmly cemented her place as one of my absolute favourite television personalities of all time.
One down, eleven to go. Roll on Tuesday. Who'll be the stale crumbs brushed off next week's Bake Off plate?