"Crystelle the baking powerhouse"Instagram/britishbakeoff

As ever, when temperatures start to cool and summer nights slip into colder months, The Great British Bake Off returns to warm our spirits like the buttercream in George’s mini-roll, before it had time to cool. Along with it comes more cakes, bakes and low-stakes panic than you can shake a spatula at!

In the seasons following the Big Channel 4 Switchover, a Bake Off series can fall apart when left to be carried on the back of Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas, who lack the warm comedy and personal chemistry of their BBC predecessors. The stakes are even higher for the show and its contestants to present great bakes, take bold risks and provide that magical warmth that seasoned viewers tune in for. The first episode of a new season is a critical insight for the season in store and last week’s episode did not disappoint.

I’m not sure who was responsible for the frankly bizarre decision to kick off season nine with a baking-themed cover of Billy Ray Cyrus’s country classic ‘achy-breaky heart,’ but what a decision it was. Watching Paul Hollywood smoulder into the camera, wearing a suede fringe jacket and mullet wig while earnestly lip syncing in defence of his ‘flaky pastry tart’ felt like a sort of fever dream portal to the Bake Off tent. I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a seamless transition but it certainly felt far enough removed from any reality I knew to gear me up for the roller coaster of tension ahead.

We started off strong with a ‘mini-roll’ signature bake, giving viewers a flavour of the different characters we’d be following this season. I think it really is the contestants who carry the life of the show and a good or bad bunch can make or break a bake off season, based on their ability to spark the warm fuzzy feelings the show is known for. Although it seemed almost everyone opted for a black forest mini-roll, I must say I am cautiously optimistic about this year’s line-up which seems to offer a colourful variety of personalities and skills which should add a level of dynamism and tension to the show.

“The delightful cast of characters is a treat to rival the cakes they baked”

There’s Prue’s delightful doppelganger Maggie (first winner of the technical!), Chigs the lockdown baker with more hobbies than calendar days, Crystelle the baking powerhouse (who I can see shooting to the final) to name a few… Season nine also boasts its first ever vegan contestant, 19-year-old Freya, who plans to make up to par vegan versions of classic bakes right under the judges noses. I was a little sceptical of her chances at first. I have fairly limited knowledge of vegan baking (and even more limited experience of successful vegan baking), but Freya came out of episode one as one to watch, coming second in the technical and producing beautiful and well judged bakes in all three rounds.

Rochica, Chigs, Jurgen and Freya instagram/britishbakeoff

And then there’s Jurgen. What can I say about Jurgen? Week one star baker. Crowned ‘the flavour king’ by Paul Hollywood himself. I love Jurgen. And his rabbit Humphrey and just his whole situation. If you haven’t watched the first episode yet, all you need to know about Jurgen is that he’s German, plays the trombone, and sat patiently through Matt Lucas’s German translation of The Flintstones theme. He stole the show and my heart.

The showstopper was to create a gravity defying cake, sparking fond memories of 2015 winner Nadiya’s soda pop cake which won her the show back in season six. I must say this cake week showstopper was a welcome deviation from last year’s frankly horrifying ‘cake faces’ (David Attenborough’s fondant cake face still haunts me) and produced some pretty spectacular cakes which showed off exactly what the bakers had to offer. Guiseppe’s ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ cake looked amazing – like a supermarket birthday cake for your sixth birthday party but in the very best way – and Chrystelles’ perfectly piped buttercream bouquet was a work of art.

"And then there's Jurgen. What can I say about Jurgen?"instagram/juergenthebread

However, the episode wasn’t without its familiar nail-biting tensions. I am certain viewers across the country took a collective gasp when Chig’s mug cake cracked and fell apart at the final moment, holding their breaths in anxiety when the bakers attempted to roll up their uniform mini-rolls without meltage or cracks.

The episode ended with Tom, the model train enthusiast, being sent packing. A bittersweet moment, although not entirely unexpected given that his response to his failing mini-rolls was a flippant ‘whatever’. It’s sad to see anyone go but the promising line-up of contestants who remain make me optimistic for the episodes to come. There were several faces we didn’t get to see too much of this week like George, Jairzeno and Rochica, who seemed to be offering interesting flavours and sparkling personalities in the background so I look forward to (hopefully!) seeing more of them as the show progresses.


Mountain View

Jungle Cruise (2021) and the trouble of adapting theme park rides to film

Overall, I’d say episode one offered a promising start to the series. The adverts remain a jarring annoyance and I think sometimes efforts of showmanship feel a little laboursome (flaky pastry tart, I’m looking at you!) but overall I feel good about what season nine has to offer. The delightful cast of characters is a treat to rival the cakes they baked, enough to sweeten any moments of second hand embarrassment triggered by Noel’s awkward commentary, Matt Lucas’ singing, and whatever the opening theme was. I can’t wait to see what they whip up in the weeks to come. In summary: Bake Off is back, my heart is warm and, in the words of the man himself ‘I am a very happy Jurgen indeed.’