The opening round of The Great British Bake Off is always tough.
First time in the tent and you’re cooking in a new environment, in the company of 11 other nervous strangers. Plus there are television cameras everywhere.
For this year’s contestants, including Jewish ex-teacher Stacey Hart from Radlett, and her rival contestants, the stress was even greater than usual. This was the first Bake Off since Channel 4 poached the show from the BBC. Competitive baking, to paraphrase a rival cookery tournament, doesn’t get tougher than this.
How would Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding compare with Mel and Sue, the queens of innuendo, as presenters? Could new judge Prue Leith fill Mary Berry's shoes? Would Paul Hollywood, the sole survivor from the BBC, bond with his new colleagues?
So, the heat in the tent was turned up to gas mark 11.
Stacey is clearly a good baker - she wouldn't have made it to the last 12 if she wasn't, but nerves clearly got to her.
Challenge one was to bake a cake containing fresh fruit. Stacey chose apple. The judges had warned that a cake packed with fruit could end up over- or under-baked as the moisture content makes it more difficult to judge.
A red-faced and stressed Stacey felt her final cake was ‘pants’ and the judges weren’t much more complimentary.
The technical challenge — to bake 12 identical mini-rolls — was worse. I’m with competitor Kate, an amateur blacksmith, who said: “I’ve never baked a mini-roll. Why would you?!”
It was a tough task — Swiss rolls must neither be too dry nor too wet if they are to roll up neatly and remain light and spongey.
You've then got to make sure they are identical. The judges declared that bare bottoms would be fine — no need for a soggy bottom warning on this bake. Stacey’s efforts were under-baked, leaving her 11th out of 12 in the blind tasting.
She needed to wow in the showstopper round, to avoid having to hang up her apron almost as soon as she’d put it on.
Contestants were asked to produce a cake that didn’t look like a cake. Even with Toksvig and Fielding by now very much in their comedic groove, Stacey struggled to regain her momentum.
She chose a cake that looked like a handbag. Unhappy with her first effort, she re-baked, a brave move but one which ultimately gave her too little time to decorate.
Hollywood was unimpressed with her unfinished design. “It looks like a… cake,” he told her before declaring it “dry”. Many of the other bakers’ efforts were similarly lacking in moisture, but that may not have been much comfort to poor Stacey at this point.
Not that she should feel too downhearted. Hollywood reckoned that the round had been one of the strongest ever in an opening episode of Bake Off.
Flo’s watermelon cake was spectacular and Liam’s pile of pancakes was pronounced as delicious as it looked, despite Hollywood’s earlier doubts. Hollywood handshakes were all over the place.
By the end of the show, Stacey and Peter, the 52-year-old IT manager from Essex, were both mentioned by Hollywood and fellow judge, Leith, as in the danger zone.
The tension showed on their faces as Fielding and Toksvig prepared to make their first announcement.
Stacey narrowly made the cut, but she know she will have to raise her game next week. Will she survive? Watch this space!