The Great British Bake Off review: Mere mention of the word ‘moist’ causes hilarity

The show is back with its innuendoes and irresistible sense of fun, and new host Alison Hammond’s influence is already clear – Paul Hollywood actually cuddles a contestant

Michael Hogan
Wednesday 27 September 2023 06:53 BST
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The Great British Bake Off trailer 2023

“Tell us about your beaver.” Not only is The Great British Bake Off back, so are its innuendoes and irresistible sense of fun. As Prue Leith gets in a linguistic tangle over a rodent-shaped cake, everyone dissolves into giggles. Mere mention of the word “moist” causes hilarity. We even hear the fabled “soggy bottom”. This is Bake Off returning to its joyously giddy best.

With that familiar white marquee pitched once more at picturesque Welford Park, Channel 4 has promised a back-to-basics approach. Classic bakes, silly jokes, gentle kindness – all the ingredients that originally saw this sweet-toothed contest clutched to the nation’s hearts. Key to the tweaked recipe is new presenter Alison Hammond – a natural fit and immediate hit. In a Mafia-spoofing sketch, she is welcomed to the family by Paul Hollywood, aka “The Breadfather”.

Hammond replaces previous incumbent Matt Lucas, who was fine but too similar to his co-host Noel Fielding. Born within a year of each other, both were best known as the dafter half of comic double acts. And on Bake Off, their surreal skits became a distraction from the main action. Hammond is a “proper” presenter, and right from the start, she puts the focus firmly back on the bakers.

A wise move, since this batch are beautifully cast. Standout characters include cheeky retired cabin crew member Nicky (she of beavergate), gentle giant Amos, deadpan accountant Keith and giggly Sri Lankan intelligence analyst Saku – one of those endearingly eccentric characters that Bake Off excels at unearthing.

Perhaps the pick of the bunch is children’s charity worker Tasha, the show’s first deaf baker. She is an engaging, expressive presence with a sly sense of humour. Not a bad baker either. Too early to tip her as the winner? The judges and hosts have even learned some sign language. Bake Off is nothing if not heartwarmingly inclusive.

As is traditional, the contest kicks off with Cake Week. The technical challenge is a meta one: the chocolate cake from Bake Off’s own title sequence. Told you it’s back to basics. How did it take 14 series to come up with this delicious idea? The quandary is whether to copy its infamous missing raspberry or finally correct this fruity oversight. The judges are forced to sample 12 chocolate fudge cakes. Hollywood looks distinctly queasy.

Then comes that double entendre-rich animal cake round. “I’m not even sure I know what a beaver looks like,” says Leith, innocently. Nicky’s cartoonish critter looks great but is overbaked. “I don’t like dry beavers,” mutters Hammond, prompting Fielding to ask, “Am I in a Carry On film?” In the nicest possible way, Noel, you are. Keep Calm and Carry On Baking.

There are also four dogs on the menu. Two look like they’ve been run over. And Hollywood cares little for cuteness, gleefully hacking the creatures in half with his fiercest knife. Student Rowan, this year’s youngest baker at 21, serves up a lobster cake flavoured like a Cosmopolitan cocktail. “I don’t like it,” deadpans Hollywood. “I love it.” Oh, you tease.

Hollywood holds back his coveted handshake for when it’s really merited. Rightly so. It had become a devalued accolade in recent series. The arrival of the tactile Hammond, however, has rubbed off on the tent’s resident alpha male. Saku admits to feeling “a lot nervous” and the silver-backed softie gives her a calming cuddle.

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Noel Fielding, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Alison Hammond on ‘The Great British Bake Off’
Noel Fielding, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Alison Hammond on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ (Channel 4)

When Essex girl Dana says, “Look at me getting MasterChef-y,” Hammond jokily admonishes her for plugging a rival cookery contest. It’s a measure of Bake Off’s rediscovered confidence that this faux-pas isn’t edited out. Nor is Leith pulling herself together and rephrasing her beaver enquiry.

Tension mounts as the clock counts down. Sponges crack and structures fall. Buttercream curdles and ganaches split. Contestants peer anxiously into ovens and fan baking sheets, in a bid to cool their sponges quicker. Amos, sadly, is sent home after his orca cake sinks. At least he had a killer whale of a time.

But the problem with these early episodes, as Strictly Come Dancing is also currently experiencing, is that they’re overpopulated. Too many contestants jostle for camera time. When the field is whittled down and we get to know them better, the series will settle into a rhythm. This isn’t quite a show-stopping opener, but a hugely promising start. Good bakes. Nice beaver.

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