The moment cake-lovers have waited for all year is almost upon us: the new series of the Great British Bake Off. As eagerly anticipated by fans as ever, the production team have stayed tantalisingly silent on the matter of what we can expect. We know a bit about the contestants, but what can we speculate they will be called upon to make this year?
The regular Bake Off team is back – image from the Telegraph, crediting the bbc
The answer is extremely hard even to guess at. The skill expected of the amateur contestants has risen year upon year, and was only heightened with the move to a prime time slot a couple of years ago. The years of stumbling through on a decent Victoria Sandwich while putting a bit of lavender in a batch of scones are long gone. For several years now, the bakers have been expected to be fully conversant with complex yeasted doughs, pastry in all its forms, flavour combinations that would not disgrace a Michelin starred restaurant, and the intricacies of Continental showstoppers. Much as we joke about the inevitable soggy bottoms, they’re actually a darn sight less common than they used to be.
True, we do still get the occasional catastrophe to keep the levels of suspense high; the binned Baked Alaska, the teetering gingerbread structures, the icing that slides ignominiously off the sides of a towering cake. But on the whole, you’ve got to admit that the Bake Off contestants are a good few rungs above any of us regular amateurs, if not an entire ladder (I speak for myself at any rate 😉 )
The 2016 line-up (image from the bbc)
Take the latest batch to enter the inevitably rain-blatted marquee: among them are one man who makes his own cheese, a woman who rises with the larks to make bread, a specialist in vegan baking, and another in gluten-free flours. Many of them cite family members as being the ones who inspired them to bake from childhood. They are also very varied in their backgrounds and day-jobs; factors which seem to be of increasing importance in bringing that distinctive flavour palette to a baker’s portfolio. Old blue eyes Hollywood has admitted that it took them longer to gel as a group this year than last – perhaps the ever-rising standards have notched up the competitiveness in the tent.
Image source (available via Creative Commons)
Will the Australian Lamington be the same stumbling block as those fiddly fondant fancies?
As to the challenges that await them, we can scarcely even speculate, though snippets in the press suggest that there will be a new emphasis on baking skills. Macarons barely raise an eyebrow in week one nowadays; the Croquembouche has already been tackled, as have Dobos Tortas, Prinsesstarta and Opera cakes. Europe, North America and Australasia are the homes of the most cake-like bakes, so perhaps we should expect Lamingtons, some of the rarer types of Kuchen, or specialities from further east. After all, the challenges work best when the bakers have the least idea of what they are actually aiming to produce. There must also be many more breads we have yet to encounter, from South America, Africa, or the Middle East. And we should not forget how trendy everything Scandi is now.
The only clue we have is Paul’s enigmatic reference to a challenge which involved Batter. Baumkuchen anyone??