For Canadian fans of the Great British Baking Show (GBBS), this was a big day. We got our own version of the hit show! And just like our Canadian version of maple-iced scones, it is pure British heritage, dressed up with some Canadian glaze.
We even get an honest-to-goodness Canadian legacy to host. Dan Levy isn’t the first person you think of when you think baked goods, but hey, we like our homegrown talent on many formats. His on-again, off-again co-host Jessi Cruikshank was supposed to be at his side. But her dramatic twin pregnancy meant she had to hand over the duties. Julia Chan (from Saving Hope) is now the co-host, and while she doesn’t have Cruikshank’s kooky humour or wardrobe, she does have a vague British accent, which is so comforting in the voiceovers.
And it is Julie’s voice that takes to the famous tent, telling us that we have the 10-best home bakers, ready to compete for the longed-for title of Canada’s best baker. (We all know it’s hyperbole, but we will forgive, for now.)
But first the judges. I don’t think I am speaking out of turn when I admit that the food community was very surprised at the choice of judges (and hosts). To say that no one had ever heard of these two is putting it mildly. Our Paul Hollywood stand-in, Bruno Feldeisen, competed on Chopped Canada and Donut Showdown, he is currently the pastry chef at The Semiahmoo Resort & Spa. He has been nominated for a James Beard Award for his pastry work. Rochelle Adonis, Canada’s own Mary Berry, is not that Canadian. The show is trying to push her Canadian roots by telling us she grew up in Canada – but she moved from Montreal when she was 10. She trained in London, and is now baking and serving afternoon tea in Perth, Australia. Along the way, she baked wedding cakes for British and Saudi royalty. Which, as Shania Twain would say, doesn’t impress me much. But she does seem lovely, and I assume, knowledgeable. Maybe Bruno is our Mary Berry? They are a little stiff on camera at first, as if they are also a little surprised to be there.
And now the contestants. The first episode has a few goals – introduce us to the contestants, establish some storylines and get us hooked for next week. They can’t invest too much in the people going home in the first two episodes, but they can’t ignore them either.
The GBBS was famous for not encouraging conflict, and not painting people as villains or heroes. Dan said in an interview that the Canadian version will be the same. The conflict comes from the inherent competition between the baker and “their bake”. The entire show has already been filmed and edited, so we have to assume that there is some manipulation of the storylines by the producers going forward. But it doesn’t matter, because we signed on for a sweet ride.
The contestants are all adorable and stereotypically Canadian.
The show has hardly started, and it’s announced that it is cake week. Signature Bake challenge is to make two dozen cupcakes in two flavours. Of course, these cupcakes have to say something about you. The contestants knew about this challenge ahead of time, so they have brought props and special ingredients from home. Ready, Set Bake!
Let’s be honest, cupcakes are the least delicious baked good. I don’t even know how they became so popular. I personally think the ratio of icing to cake is never right. But I digress….
And now we get to meet the contestants. James Hoyland is an adorable Brit who brought beer with him. But don’t doubt him, is also a physics professor!
We have Sinclair Shuit, the optometrist who is not-so-subtly adorned in a shirt with small glasses on it. According to the website, he is precise. He brought little injectors to put more booze in the cupcakes, he wasn’t the only one to think alcohol would win over the judges. These bakers like the booze. Who wouldn’t?
Jude Somers is obviously being set up as the funny one. She does a jig, she is a retired animator and is not very precise with her vanilla.
Corey Shefman is the downtown Toronto representative. He is a human rights lawyer and kind of nerdy. If we played a game of Jewish Geography right now, I bet I could get to him in a few steps.
Julian D’Entremont obviously doesn’t watch other competitive cooking shows because he tells Bruno he made a mistake. He has twins and is a contractor in Halifax. He also likes to forage. His cupcakes, wrapped in birch bark, are lovely to look at.
Pierre Morin is representing Quebec and French baking. He is a dentist, but is also a musician. And, He is adorable. His cupcakes, though, aren’t looking too good.
The youngest baker, Montreal’s Sabrina Degni is making cookies and cream cupcakes. She gets a thumbs-up from the judges on her cupcakes because they are moist. And unlike in the GBBS, it wasn’t said with any irony.
Vandana Jain is piquing my interest. She is a director at the Regina Science museum, and science types tend to be good at baking. She also uses interesting flavours–she is making a chocolate cupcake with rose-flavoured icing. She says she wants to incorporate flavours from her East Indian and Prairie roots. Dan Levy’s attempts to help her in the kitchen here do make me wonder about his kitchen skills; as in, has he ever been in a kitchen?
I’m bestowing the “sweet baker” title on Terri Thompson. She’s a mom to three from Alberta. She seems nervous as if she could fail any moment, but then, whips up beautiful candy floss cupcakes that transports Rochelle back to her childhood. One question: where did the candy floss machine come from?
Linda Longson is a grandmother who uses four pounds of butter a week baking for her grandkids. We don’t see her much this episode – I suspect there is a reason for this.
British James tell us that he doesn’t like cupcakes. Well too bad; this is Canada’s baking show. Of course, cupcakes are going to be part of it.
Once the judges (and Dan) taste the cupcakes, we are plunged right into the Technical Bake. The technical challenge is a surprise recipe to the bakers, and the recipe is written vaguely on purpose. Bruno and Rochelle are kicked out of the room with Rochelle’s ominous reminder to read the recipe carefully.
The nervous bakers have to make a Battenberg cake. Yuck. It’s a two colour sponge cake with marzipan, jam, and the horrible-tasting fondant. The filling is pink and green and arranged to look like a checkerboard. This kind of cake needs presentation skills, and the ability to cut straight.
While Bruno and Rochelle chat about what makes a good Battenberg cake (softness, jam filling, even layers). I’m wondering, who made the cake they are eating? I want to know who the stylists are in the back. Good work, people!
Then we find out key details to the recipe have been omitted. That’s just mean. Bakers are so anal, it must be hard for them not to have any timing in the recipe.
We have confirmation that Somers is fun and quirky. Please don’t leave, Jude! (Even though you keep forgetting things that are in the recipe.)
And finally, the gingham alter is revealed. Let’s take a moment to honour the gingham alter, and all it will reveal in the next couple of months.
Uh-oh. Pierre is in trouble again. His fondant to marzipan ratio is off. But don’t worry, the judges forgive the ugly cakes because taste is paramount here in the tent.
My (current) favourite Vandana wins it, with the best tasting cake. Will she suffer from frontrunner syndrome?
And suddenly, it’s the next day and we are here for Showstopper It’s a chocolate layer cake. Make it your own, people! Dan and Julia are once again dressed in white. Will this be a theme throughout the show? Seems like a questionable choice with chocolate flying around.
Sinclair is back with his sartorial best–another cool white shirt. What’s with these people? Have they never been in a kitchen before?
James, you quirky Brit, what is happening? You are mixing the batter with your hands? As a food writer who once double dipped in a video, I know that CBC is currently being inundated with complaints about his unhygienic practices. I’m a messy baker, but that, that was gross.
Pierre is here to fight for a spot, he is showing off with some fancy French knowledge and cool baking technique.
Terri is decorating three chocolate butterflies, each one representing her daughter. Is she cheesy, she wonders? Yes, we all answer.
Mirror glaze, mirror glaze. A lot of talk of mirror glazing, which is icing with gelatin in it. Dan shimmies over to see if he can see his reflection.
Suddenly, all the cakes are coming together and look kind of amazing. Jude takes a moment to help Terri out, this is the spirit of the GBBS: everyone is in it together! Terri isn’t cheesy; she is an amazing chocolate artist. Didn’t see that coming.
Julian makes a cake that is supposed to look like cement with a giant shard coming out of it, and some chocolate tools. I am going to be nice and say it must have looked better in real life. Judges love it. He’s in the clear.
Rochelle looks at the cakes and reminds people that in the tent, presentation is nice, but flavour is everything. If Corey’s messy cake could take a sigh of relief, it would.
Jude lives another day with her whimsical gnomes.
Linda, the queen of birthday cakes didn’t add a crumb coat? I’m surprised; but she’s okay too.
Vandana lets me down a little with her slightly dry, not too amazing-looking cake. Rochelle calls it Victorian, I feel like the GBBS would have said prudish.
And finally, a winner! Terri looks sweet and plays the underdog, but she is a powerhouse! She does look honestly shocked, barely glancing at the camera. She is today’s Star Baker! Will it come back to haunt her?
Au revoir, Pierre! Pierre had bon intentions, but was lacking the execution skills. Big group hugs. Rochelle knows that baking brings him so much pleasure. Sadly, it didn’t bring any to the judges.
And that’s the end of Cake Week! A good start all around. It’s missing some of the zing of the British show, but it is in its early days. The rest of us will eat leftover Halloween candy instead of chocolate cake for the rest of the night.
Tune in next week for Bread week. The contestants will rise again.
James, clean up your act or the health inspector is going to toss you out.
Terri, drop the sweet act and go for the jugular!
Dan Levy, for someone who is starring and writing in Schitt’s Creek, you can ramp up the humour. Part of the appeal of GBBS was the innuendos, they were always left to drop into thin air. But they were there. We know you can do it.
What would I eat? I would definitely skip the Battenberg cakes. Chocolate layer cake wouldn’t be my first choice. I wouldn’t turn down Vandana’s lime coconut cupcakes, and Julian’s birch syrup cupcakes. But no showstoppers for me today.
I will keep sneaking my kids’ leftover Kit Kats.