How will Noel Fielding make his wacky entrance to the Bake Off this week? By wearing a bright yellow jumper and frolicking in a field of buttercups, of course! All for the single pun, “Never Mind The Frolicks” – a reference to the last time Noel was on telly and a hint of a rude word. I can’t help but wonder how these intro segments are devised each week. It’s starting to feel less and less like a boardroom of scriptwriters and producers scribbling on a flipboard and a lot more like every week Noel and Sandi are plonked outside the tent with a camera pointed at them when someone suddenly yells, “ACTION!” We watch on as the pair scramble for puns and field-adjacent props like comedy bushes, decorative flowers and the odd wheelbarrow.
Anyway, it’s the oddly vague “Pudding Week”. I thought every week was pudding week? Apparently not. Pudding is not JUST a catch-all word for after school mini rolls and jaffa cakes, but also a specific type of dessert that involves steaming or boiling. The signature challenge is the equally vague “steamed school pudding”, something I have never eaten in my life but that friends and acquaintances assure me does, in fact, exist. Apparently this bizarre dish also makes everyone adopt a strange Victorian mockney accent. “I love pudd’ns,” they all say, metaphorically wobbling their bellies like a bowl full of jelly. “In junior school we always had a choice of either syrup pudd’n or a marmalade pudd’n,” James reminisces, fondly. Meanwhile, Julia, the ghost of her traumatising schooldays etched across her face, informs us that her own canteen desserts were just apples stuffed with cottage cheese.
With eight bakers left, stress levels are rising. “I’ve made this pudding 17 times!!!” Stacey tells us, and her tone is surprisingly calm, but her eyes are screaming, help me, help me, I’m so alone, and the cakes are talking to me. She runs through the 17 different lengths of time she has steamed puddings for (Two hours! One hour and 39 minutes! One hour and three quarters!) – and repeats the word “fatal” with increasing emphasis. By the time she removes her pudding from its ceramic prison she is either furious or delighted, baring her teeth at the other bakers like she’s going to decapitate them at any moment. Steven starts injecting his pudding with suspiciously medical-looking instrument, red juice dripping threateningly down his fingers. “Wow! That’s the kind of thing they inseminate cows with!” Yan shrieks. Of her own pudding, she simply shrugs, “Looks alright. Mangos are done.”
Not to be outdone by the bakers, Sandi is all like, “I went to Cambridge with the steamed pudding, great guy, shared with him in halls, we actually worked together at the BBC for a while – small world!” We’re then gifted a small video in which Sandi and the steamed pudding attend alumni drinks in their old dorm room together. It feels a little bit smug, to be honest. Not all of us studied alongside medieval savoury puddings.
As always, Steven smashes it, earning himself his 73rd handshake from Paul Hollywood, a currency in rapid decline – after Yan and Stacey (and almost Liam) receive one too. “Do you want a Fielding fondle?” Noel asks, because this 40-year-old man has definitely had lots of sex, and there’s nothing creepy about making sure everyone knows that!
“That’s not custard, that’s a BIG MISTAKE,” Prue booms of Kate’s offering, which is just a very intense way to talk about custard, if I’m honest.
For the technical, Channel 4 have decided to *cough* KIIIICK THINGS UP A NOTCH!!! This is the big league, fuckers. Not like that weak little runty BBC Bake Off. This is the Channel 4 Bake Off, and it’s a real man. The bakers are all forced to leave the tent, except Julia, who is left alone to start making molten chocolate puddings with hot peanut butter fillings. The bakers’ start times are staggered and the bakes judged “live”. I have no idea what discernible difference this makes apart from to make the bakers slightly more stressed and to make the narrative of the challenge slightly harder to follow. The cute little pictures of the bakers? OUT OF THE PICTURE, MATE. Forget such cutesy trinkets. Now we’re all called “Baker One” and “Baker Two” and if you’re gonna cry about it you can go home to your mummy!
Paul and Prue judge from the tent as everyone is still baking, and we’re meant to just pretend that because they’re facing the wall they can’t hear everyone talking about their bakes as they hand them over to Noel. Regardless, Sophie tops the technical, closely followed by Liam and Julia – Kate is rock bottom. “Coming into the show stopper, she really has to pull out all the stops,” Paul notes. Show those stops Kate! Or, indeed, stop the show.
The showstopper is an “ornamental trifle terrine”, another definitely real pudding. James is making a very un-jolly “regret-tinged trifle” because he missed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee thanks to a case of chicken pox when he was six years old and is still absolutely raging about it. I thought I was bad, but this is clearly the most severe case of FOMO on record. “Mum brought me a trifle and that’s all I remember about the Silver Jubilee,” he explains. “A RUBBISH DAY, basically.” Bit harsh to your poor old mum, James. Yan’s trifle is also surprisingly serious – a metaphor for her parents “risking everything” to make it to the UK. Jelly has never seemed so deep. “Pushed it through a sieve,” she says of her strawberry purée. “’Cause it is the Bake Off.”
No one seems to enjoy the challenge. Kate hates it, Steph hates it. Liam hates it so much he breaks down in tears. “I’m not a big fan of trifles,” James says mournfully. “It all goes back to that sad day where I missed the Silver Jubilee…” But Sophie smashes it yet again. Yan leaves Paul and Prue gasping in delight. Steph’s good ol’ 17 college tries pay off. Steven gets applause for style but “see me” for substance. But the real winner, as always, is Tuesday night TV.