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CAKE OR BREAK #1: An American Recaps Bake Off

by Hannah Jane Cohen

"The fact that these people care so much about cake is kind of silly, but at the same time, the Amazon is burning and climate change will soon kill us all."
Noel Fielding hosting Bake Off

Editor's note: Britain's political institutions are today in unending crisis. However, while millions of Brits are switching off to tales of political subterfuge, cloaks and daggers, kings and queens, they're still tuning into what may be the last democratic institution left in the country: The Great British Bake Off. Given our nation's demonstrable lack of ability in dealing with the pressing issues of the day, we turned to one of our new overlords to adjudicate as our great national drama plays out every Tuesday at 8PM on Channel 4. That is to say, we asked an American to recap Bake Off ahead of tonight's episode. Meet Hannah.

If a show can sustain ten seasons, there must be some inherent value to it. At least, that’s what I told myself as I illegally downloaded the first episode of ‘The Great British Bake Off.’ The show is, according to the editor of this publication, the pinnacle of Britishness, which makes me, as an American-born Iceland-transplant who has never baked in her life, extremely qualified to comment on it.

So buckle up, brethren, as for the next few months, I will be doing weekly reviews of this show. To set the scene, I’d first off like to give you a bit of background on myself. My name is Hannah Jane. I am 25. I love trashy reality TV (RIP Celebrity Big Brother!!!) but I fucking hate cooking shows. I don’t cook. I was only sold on even watching this show because ya boi Noel Fielding is the host. I highly identify with Richmond from ‘The IT Crowd.’ Cradle of Filth is a great band and you can’t change my mind.

So on a Monday night at 2:00 AM, I settled in with a plate of lamb and mushroom sauce—if you don’t eat while watching a cooking show, you are a fucking sociopath—to enter a world full of doilies and ruined Baked Alaska. Yes, before I watched this, the only thing I knew about the Great British Bake Off was that some old cunt once ruined some dude’s Baked Alaska. Bitch.

After a super cheesy intro based on The Wizard Of Oz, the “judges” were introduced. There’s old man, short old woman, shorter old women, and Noel Fielding. I don’t know who any of these people are and it was explained too quickly for me to pick up on it.

"I genuinely didn’t know people actually ate fruitcake."

Immediately the first challenge begun. It was to create a unique fruitcake that, as they repeatedly stressed, needed to include a shit-ton of fruit in it. Here was where my first problem began: I genuinely didn’t know people actually ate fruitcake. Is this a British thing? No one eats them in America. Truly, I always thought a fruitcake would be a gag gift you’d give a co-worker you hated because they’re disgusting.

The contestants apparently disagreed with me and all immediately launched into emotional stories of their fruitcake. Apparently most of them have families that do things like pass down secret fruitcake recipes. This seemed fishy to me because I have never been passed down a “secret recipe” from a relative, much less for something as bizarre as a fruitcake. I thought this was something that only happened in YA novels. Apparently not. That said, perhaps having a Grandparent who passes down fruitcake recipes is the nurture-not-nature factor which leads someone into doing something like entering a televised baking competition. Perhaps.

Bake Off contestant manbun
Tattoo Man Bun Guy was swiftly dumped from the contest on Episode One

As the challenge commenced, we were slowly introduced to the set of characters. There’s type-A uni guy, middle-aged woman who owns snakes, lorry driver who loves fondant, some teenage English bro, tattooed manbun guy, goth girl, fitness man, and many others. I was instantly most taken by the lorry driver and the teenage English bro. While I could see why some middle aged woman who was surrounded by snakes might like baking, I couldn’t fathom how this teenage bro got into the hobby, and the lorry driver just seemed so out-of-place that I couldn’t help but root for him. Everyone loves an underdog and I’ll give anything for some 30 year old white woman not to win. Lorry driver, I stan.

So someone won the fruitcake challenge—I think it was one of the 30 year old white women—and they then moved on to the technical challenge. This was to create some ridiculously complicated layered thing. Some people were good at it but by far the most entertaining thing was watching teenage bro completely BOMB this challenge. He bombed so bad the judges seemed sympathetic. That said, I have to say the old man judge is a jerk. I like the shorter old woman the best.

The layered thing was a sort of pink cake slice. I don’t like cake so I thought it just looked overly sweet and awful.

But let’s get back to the “judges.” Watching Noel Fielding walk around and talk to the contestants as they cooked is both entertaining and completely strange. I love the guy, but what on Earth makes Noel Fielding qualified to host a cooking show? He’s certainly pithy, no doubt, but with his goth duds and general bizarreness, he just seems like a homeless dude that walked onto the set. I completely loved it and will probably only survive through the rest of this trivial show because of him.

"At the end, tattooed manbun man went home for this shitty jungle cake and one of the white women won for her sweet depiction of a candy shop."

Afterwards, they had their special challenge, which was to create a cake from their childhood birthday party. Lorry dude, in my opinion, had the most original idea, which was a rocket ship. Apparently the taste wasn’t great though. Teenage English bro made some sort of dog cake, which looked distinctly amateur next to the fabulous cakes made by the 30 year old white women. I don’t think he is going to win. At the end, tattooed manbun man went home for this shitty jungle cake and one of the white women won for her sweet depiction of a candy shop.

To be honest, I can’t decide if this show is super boring or beautifully dramatic. The fact that these people care so much about cake is kind of silly, but at the same time, the Amazon is burning and climate change will soon kill us all—is creating a perfectly smooth passionfruit buttercream really all that imperative? I find much more human importance in watching Juvedermed-up girls desperately try to become influencers á la the Bachelor and Love Island. At least that leads to sex and money. What on Earth do winners of the Great British Bake Off get?

But we will dive into that on a later date. For now, I’ll simply root for old Lorry guy and teenage English bro to turn it out. They’re my number one picks. But if they crumble like a dry sponge, I guess I’ll settle for middle-age snake woman.

Tune in next week for the next instalment of our Bake Off recap, where Hannah will likely become very confused by Digestive biscuits.


Based in Iceland, Hannah Jane Cohen is the Listings Director for The Reykjavík Grapevine and was recently crowned the Drag King of Iceland for her performance art project, HANS.


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