GBBO 2.0—or is it (Channel) 4.0?

Please note: There aren’t any spoilers here—the new season of The Great British Bake-Off hasn’t yet aired. If you are GBBO spoiler-averse, in future, please avert your eyes.

I was as disappointed as anyone else when The Great British Bake-Off jumped the Good Ship BBC for (still ultimately publicly owned) Channel 4. I just knew it was all over, this thing I loved—deep fatalism is so good about providing for instant, total, and complete resignation.

© Love Productions / Channel 4 / Mark Bourdillon

Acute tristesse was actually pretty brief—after all, TV is merely TV, a primordial blob from which capriciously emerges both the nearly sublime and the abjectly awful. A most undependable medium. Besides, Channel 4 already seemed a friendly place to me, home as it is of Jamie Oliver, who I like a lot. And the salient fact is Love Productions created and makes GBBO, no matter who’s doing the broadcasting. We can visit with the lovely Mary Berry during her own BBC shows.

So. The first reviews are in—I’ve linked a few below—but I already had a little good anticipation after seeing the GBBO Season 8 trailer, with a Paul McCartney song and animated baked goods. The spot garnered a surprising amount of offended-sensibilities opprobrium in the foodsphere, but I found it charming all ‘round, probably from being raised on the freakazoid stop-action claymation of Art Clokey’s Gumby, and Terry Gilliam’s Victorian clip-art mini-monstrosities for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I even have (measured) good feeling about the new cohorts for Paul Hollywood: years ago I picked up an excellent Prue Leith book at a used bookstore, I do not ignore that Sandi Toksvig has been vetted by the likes o’ Stephen Fry, and Noel Fielding was my favorite part of The IT Crowd. The best revelation has been the return of Extra Slice, the Jo Brand-hosted aftershow with cake-loving comedians, where the leaving baker is debriefed and audience bakes are displayed.

Some reviews… the tl;dr takeaway is it isn’t ruined. My aforementioned fatalism will be the judge of that, however. Here’s The Guardian, Radio Times, and the Telegraph for those interested in pre-game due diligence.

GBBO Season 7 Episode 1—Bakers Aweigh

Bake Off’s back! That’d be The Great British Bake Off, airing over there in Merrie Olde on BBC One. I watch it here in Southern California through VPN magick.

GBBO 4If you’ve seen the show on PBS, unfortunately re-titled The Great British Baking Show, apparently due to Pillsbury having a trademark lock on “Bake Off,” you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. And it’ll be a long, cold day indeed before they let you see more—was the same situation with Downton Abbey that spurred me to seek out an alternative. Aren’t the days long past when television networks get to dictate when we consume television? Rhetorical question, but the sort of rhetorical that happens to have an answer, and that answer is YES.

So, if you’re in a non-BBC place, and plan to try to watch this season of GBBO when—maybe if, think about that!—PBS deigns to show it, you might want to give my recaps a miss, even though as in-fact recaps they’ll leave something to be desired. Of course this will be to your detriment, but as free men and women it is your right to decide and we shan’t speak of this further. I happen to be the sort of person that has no problem with spoilers of any stripe no matter the show. Maybe there are a few more out there like me. In which case, welcome. And let’s get to the bakes.

But firstly: Meet the Bakers, if you haven’t previously. Place your early-bird wagers now; announce your predictions; keep your secret crushes to yourselves.

Episode 1: Cake Week! My favorite week, unless you count Bread Week, upcoming—biscuit week is immediately next, howevah.

The sig bake was the very British, and I can only imagine before long the world’s, drizzle cake. Sponges of various shapes, poked and soaked. Then, for the tech bake, Mary Berry charged the bakers with jaffa cakes, the beloved packaged treat that probably most of us picture being manufactured entirely untouched by human hands. Not so, here in The Tent. In The Tent, jaffa cakes are artisanal. The showstopper is, truth be told, my least-favorite event. I am sure I am quite in the minority with this view, and that’s OK with me. Occasionally we get something really fantastic in this segment, like the bread lion face, lion bread face, from contestant Paul last season. The mirror-finish cakes of this first episode were not bad at all, blessedly lacking the over-the-topness that’s usually what puts me off more outlandish assemblages. The problem with several was they also lacked a, you know, mirror finish. A couple looked nomworthy, though, and having to no one’s surprise affable banker Selasi’s won the category. Jane was made Star Baker, and the token Old White Guy was sent home. A shame, he seemed nice, but do you hear the world-wide brain scream? For God’s sake how in the world did he make it into The Tent with those subpar skills? Bye-bye, ta very much, see you on An Extra Slice.

An Extra Slice is a bonus not only for the dismissed baker of the week, but also for viewers, as we get to retread the episode just past with acerbic yet sympathetic Jo Brand and guests, often comedians or chefs. Both are good, but most days I’ll take the comedians. The charming Josh Widdicombe was very funny last season, for instance—hope we see him again.

Jaffa cakes photo

 

Here’s the recipe for Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes. See if you can’t get them right-way-up, with a thin disc of orange gelée perfectly napped in hash-marked choccy, just like they emerge from the McVitie’s factory.

Micro Road Trips—They Exist

We call an overnighter a Mini Road Trip. So what about one that transpires completely inside of a single day? I submit: Micro Road Trip. In little more time than would be spent on regular errand-running, it’s entirely possible to see and do a lot of interesting stuff.

Billy's Egg Farm barn

(Photo courtesy VMB Foto)

In connection with a regular visit to the grandparents, a destination that by itself is a solid hour’s drive, we took a micro road trip. Spurred by needing eggs and more than need specifically wanting eggs from Billy’s Egg Farm in Chino, I checked and ascertained that a drive-by of drive-through Billy’s would add a mere 6 minutes to our travel.

Billy's Egg Farm sign

Seems an improbably tiny amount of extra time, but you know how numbers and distance are magical and weird, sometimes revealing surprises like that. A huge concomitant plus of this plan was the avoidance of the very worst part of the suburban-sprawl freeway grind—indeed, the drive instantly becomes good. And the bonuses keep on coming: Collaterally, this route makes possible a jaunt on Carbon Canyon Road, which passes through the mysterious community of Sleepy Hollow as San Bernardino County becomes Orange. The next Carbon Canyon landmark a few miles on would have been La Vida Hot Springs, only it is no more. Its built environment, at least—no reason to suspect the natural hot springs aren’t still a-burbling.

My La Vida memories are considerably more noisy and less health-giving than they would have been if I’d gone there to take the waters and indulge in spa treatments. For a short, lovely time, a teensy subset of the surrounding, larger-but-still-short late 1970s, a couple of ambitious Cal State Fullerton students put on multi-act punk shows at La Vida. The gone-to-seed health resort/biker bar—and I do mean actual bikers, not the craft-beer-swilling RUBBies who keep Cook’s Corner, our local canyon biker bar, in business, and God bless ‘em for that—turned out to be downright idyllic as a venue for all the best people’s favorite music. For some reason it was completely unsurprising that the bikers enjoyed the shows, too. Today, there’s nothing left of La Vida, nor of the mini, and, as it turns out, entirely ephemeral, world that produced punk.

And what of Sleepy Hollow? It looks much as any of our California canyons, including the one in which I live. As a child I wondered who lived in the houses and cabins built in the style I grew up to call Canyon Vernacular, sited here and there on non-standard parcels along the curvy road. The whole place seemed mysteriously overgrown, quite a contrast to the suburban front yards I saw every day with their bloodlessly manicured juniper shrubs. Up close, junipers are prickly, awful, welt-raising things, whether carved into spheres, cones, or cubes. My family’s front yard was blessedly juniper-free—maybe the Japanese owner of Sandan Nursery, from whom my Dad got his landscaping advice and supplies, didn’t favor them.

As an older teenager, I heard that Sleepy Hollow was a place where Orange County gay people felt comfortable living. I have no idea if this is in fact true, but however improbably Brea was always quite a bit gayer than the other small cities surrounding it. Other than that, it really doesn’t have much going for it at all. I was able to conclude at a very young age that it was clear most gay people want what most people in general want: a job, a home, a quiet life. And, God knows, Brea was so up to providing the latter.

Billy's Egg Farm guests of honor

Anythewho, micro road trips. My infatuation with Billy’s Egg Farm is the result of an odysseggy or eggyssey (we’ve tried both on for size), a micro road trip on the topic of eggs. We visited a whole slew of egg ranches in the great Inland Empire, and Billy’s was the winner in a walkaway, or rather a drive-through, and not just because we happened to get Billy his own darn self at the window only too glad to expound on his chickens, 80 percent of which are cage-free, and of course the rest in the expanded cages required by California law. Billy’s eggs won because they were so far superior in taste and freshness, it’s not even funny.

Billy's Egg Farm in context

We quickly came up with several scenarios for working a Billy’s stop into daily life, in addition to grandparent visits: driving in from the desert, driving to the nearest, only-in-the-I.E. Baker’s Drive-Thru for one of their excellent burgers, driving to… buy eggs. Great eggs are their own raison de road trip.