Welcome one and all to the grounds of Welford Park, a country estate in Berkshire, England, where 12 budding bakers are about to embark on 10 weeks of competitive, but oh-so-well-mannered, baking.
For newcomers to the show, here’s the basics: 12 hopeful bakers take on an array of baking challenges, three each week — the Signature Bake (bakers make their own creations), the Technical Bake (bakers re-create a judge’s masterpiece), and the Showstopper Bake (bakers test their most-elaborate aesthetic skills) — after which one baker is sent home and one is crowned Star Baker. There’s no safety net or prize for being Star Baker — and also no overall monetary award (this is the BBC, after all) at the end of the 10 weeks of competition.
The judges are Mary Berry (yes, her real name) and Paul Hollywood (also his real name). Mary Berry is the English grandmother you’d just love to have; she’s Mrs. Weasley whirled in a mixer with Mrs. Hughes, but with all the sternness simmered out. A little more rough (and rugged) around the edges, Paul grew up the son of a baker and today is one of the UK’s leading artisan bakers. Mary and Paul share a pleasant and polite relationship, founded on mutual respect and whimsical humor that is 100 percent of the whipped cream holding this layer-cake of a show together.
Then there are commentators/hosts Mel and Sue. They’re surely the punniest pair on television — their convivial and supporting nature easily encourages the bakers.
Now let’s pop the kettle on: It’s time for a slice of British baking goodness. It’s week one, and that means cake week. The bakers enter the tent, and we’re informed the first signature bake of the season is a Madeira cake. Apparently, it’s all about the crack…? We’ll let Mary explain: “Madeira cake, for me, is one of the great classics,” she informs the audience at home. “It is a close-textured, beautiful plain cake, but it should have a dome and a crack on the top.” With just two hours to complete the challenge, the bakers get to cracking (puns!)…
We meet the season 3 bakers as they give us their takes on the recipe. I like to think the ingredients they add tell us something about their personalities, or at the very least their levels of daring and nerve — and, unfortunately, sometimes their lack of taste. Literally. We have…
Ugne: Thyme. She was born in Lithuania and has two burning passions — British baking and bodybuilding. She just really hopes her “crack will show.”
Nadiya: Orange and cardamom powder — which sounds medicinal. She tells us her eldest son will be disappointed if she doesn’t get through and seems to be perpetually on the verge of tears, so I’m totally rooting for her already.
Ian: Ginger and lime, because he used to work in the Caribbean — he says something about mojitos in Cuba, and I’m now fully on Team Ian. He’s a stay-at-home dad and travel photographer, and is naming his sponge “Somewhere West of Madeira.” Bonus points for a creative name.
Mat, with one T: Gin and tonic. There are seven shots of gin in his cake. He’s a winner in my eyes already. Also, he’s a London firefighter.
Grandma Marie: Nothing special. She’s keeping it real with a recipe she’s served many times before. She bakes every day for her five grandchildren.
Dorret: Candied lemons. Baking since she was 11, Dorret is also keeping it simple. She’s been honing this recipe for 40 years, but still seems surprised when Paul points out it should be light as well as close-textured.
NEXT: Meet the rest of the bakers…