In Noel and Allison, "The Great British Bake Off" cooks up a new dynamic hosting duo

If you miss original hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, it might be time to give "Bake Off" another chance

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published October 7, 2023 4:00PM (EDT)

Alison Hammond and Noel Fielding from "Great British Bake Off"  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Netflix/Mark Bourdillon)
Alison Hammond and Noel Fielding from "Great British Bake Off" (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Netflix/Mark Bourdillon)

After a lovely return to form in the season premiere, we’re back in the “Bake Off” tents for Biscuit Week. Historically, I’ve always been a huge fan of the second and third episodes of the beloved show simply for the reason that we are just starting to find out little defining details about the bakers; often, these are presented through short cutaway scenes resulting in slightly scattershot personality studies. 

For instance, did you know that forager Abbi used to both live in Tunisia and takes aerial acrobatics courses (or, as co-presenter Noel Fielding put it, she “drives to a barn, gets in a hoop, makes shapes” and goes home)? 

Well, now you do. 

Anyways, it’s on to the signature bake. This week, the contestants are being asked to make a dozen marshmallow biscuits (which, for the uninitiated, are cookies to us American fans). There’s a variety of ways the bakers could approach the challenge — from wagon wheel biscuit sandwiches stuffed with marshmallow to shortbreads topped with marshmallow fluff hidden under a sleek molded chocolate dome — but they only have two and a half hours to complete the challenge and the cookies have to be identical, which is always a trick under a time crunch. 

“It’s got to look shop-made,” judge Paul Hollywood cautions the bakers, while Prue notes that the inherent toasted sugar flavor of marshmallow is the perfect match for slightly more acidic and spice-forward flavors. 

Quickly, it becomes apparent that some bakers, including Dana, whose concept for speculoos-flavored biscuits catches Prue’s attention early in the round,  heed that advice more than others. It’s during this signature bake that I start finding myself pulling for Keith, a 60-year-old who lives just a few steps from the seaside with her partner Sue and their poodle Maisie. 

Per one of those quick cutaways, we find out that Keith often seeks out (or perhaps “corners,” is more appropriate) his neighbors to solicit feedback on his baked goods, which has earned him the local nickname “Needy Ned.” As a recovering people-pleaser with a latent praise kink, I empathize with Keith and his desire for external validation — and we do love a relatable king. 

That said, his signature bake doesn’t necessarily elicit the response from the judges he was likely seeking. Keith’s “Letter from America,” a dozen PB&J-filled wagon wheel cookies, is delicious, but ends up pretty sloppy. “It looks like a flipping mess,” Keith acknowledges in an aside to the camera. 

Meanwhile, baker Tasha stuns the judges with her malted chocolate biscuits inspired by Nestlé’s Milo powder, earning her a coveted Hollywood handshake. However, she can’t spend too much time celebrating as it’s now time for the technical challenge: Bakers must create 12 perfectly-formed custard creams. 

As a recovering people-pleaser with a latent praise kink, I empathize with Keith and his desire for external validation — and we do love a relatable king.

“Use your time wisely,” Prue advises the bakers, before Noel announces that they only have 90 minutes to complete the challenge. That’s a tight squeeze timing-wise since the shortbread base for the custard creams is heavy on butter, meaning that in order for it to both bake properly and hold its shape, it needs a fair amount of time in the refrigerator to chill. 

As an aside, I quickly turn to Google: “Is the tent temperature-controlled?” Apparently it is not as, per Decider, the sound of AC and ventilation would interfere with the recording process (though in 2019, producers did allow bakers workstation fans when the UK famously saw three back-to-back-to-back heat waves). 

There are a few notable mishaps this round — like when baker Cristy accidentally pulls fellow baker Rowan’s shortbread dough out of the refrigerator instead of her own and proceeds to roll it out — but as expected, much of the fretting is about timing and ensuring that their butter-packed dough stays cool enough to manipulate. In the end, Rowan, Dan and challenge winner Abbi (all of whom were stand-outs last week) put on the best show, while Saku, Cristy and Keith/Needy Ned pulled up the rear. 

This week’s showstopper challenge is a fun one. 

The bakers are asked to create a spread of their favorite foods out of shaped, molded and decorated biscuits. Initially, I was concerned that some of the competitor’s concepts were a little too ambitious — like Abbi’s full dim sum feast in a completely edible steamer basket — but it looks like we’ve actually got a season of relatively talented sculptors, which hasn’t always been the case in seasons prior (again, remember the celebrity bust challenge of yesteryear?). 

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The contestants also have a full four hours to complete the challenge, which seems to allow enough time for some serious decorating, as well as some not-so-serious bits from Noel and Allison. Every time the camera pans to the co-presenters, they’re riffing in the corner of the tent and it’s delightful to watch the easy chemistry between the two develop, especially after last season, in which much of the host-work felt a little stilted. Like marshmallow and chocolate, peanut butter and jelly or — dare I say —original hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the pair are proving to be quite the dynamic duo. 

From a crowded field of competing charcuterie boards, steak pies and deep-dish pizzas emerge two judge favorites: Tasha’s shockingly realistic chicken katsu served in an edible, painted bowl (which Prue said “set the bar a little high) and Josh’s double-cheeseburger, which was described as “a little triumph” and earned this episode’s second Hollywood handshake. 

But ultimately, it’s Tasha who takes home the title of star baker. 

Meanwhile, just as I was learning to love Keith/Needy Ned, the judges opt to send him home after his  uneven week, a portion of which he spent with an errant fleck of marshmallow stuck to his forehead. However, he’s not too disappointed. He’s ready to go home and tell his neighbors all about the process. “I don’t know how many hours in my life I’m going to spend banging on about this,” he says with a smile. 

Next up: Bread week. 

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Allison Hammond Bake Off Commentary Great British Bake-off Noel Fielding Paul Hollywood