It’s that time of year again… A time when everyone becomes an expert in floury baps, moistened ladyfingers and soggy bottoms. It is, of course, the Great British Bake Off, which returns to BBC 1 tonight. I think the Bake Off has been a surprising hit for everyone involved – Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood can’t do their Waitrose shop in peace, Mel and Sue’s careers have been given a new and exciting lease of life, and we all know who Nadiya Hussain is now (and the world is a better place for that!)
“Something horrifically difficult from Mary Berry’s Cook Like An Artisanal Royal Patisserie Chef”
Now, you may have been living on Mars since 2010, and if you have (and ONLY if you have) you’ll be forgiven for not knowing what the deal is with the Bake Off. Basically, a group of amateur bakers (and by amateur I mean absolutely amazing, but being completely wasted in another job) compete against each other to be crowned Star Baker. There are 3 rounds each week: the signature challenge (everyone in the office crowds round my desk when I make this); the technical challenge (something horrifically difficult from Mary Berry’s Cook Like An Artisanal Royal Patisserie Chef); and the Showstopper (bake something that would make Da Vinci weep). Each week there’s a different theme – bread, cakes, biscuits, gluten free etc – that the bakers have to work with, and at the end of the day, someone will be sent home for not cutting the mustard, and someone will be told they’re amazing. They’ll both be hugged by Mel, Sue and every other person in the tent.
But why is it so popular? Firstly, the writing. Mel and Sue are hilarious and likeable. Their running commentary, their banter with the contestants, their general cheekiness is delightful to watch. Unfortunately, the double entendres seem to have subsided since the move to BBC 1, but you can’t have everything! Mel will steal someone’s delicious ganache icing; Sue will talk someone down from committing harikari over a broken pie crust; both will insinuate Mary Berry needs gin to function.
Secondly, the contestants are nice people. This is not The Apprentice (which I assume will take Bake Off’s slot when the series ends). These people are not monumental bellends with as much charisma as athletes’ foot (but more entertaining – I do watch The Apprentice…) These are nice students, grannies, blokes, ladies etc. They genuinely want to see each other do well, and feel very sad when one of them is sent home. They help each other. They smile. And what’s not to smile about when there’s cake involved! And at this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the pulling power of the bakes themselves. Oh, the collective moan of the armchair pastry chef, as a beautiful lavender and dark chocolate croquembouche is assembled in less than 3 hours by a nurse from Warrington! Each piece, even the ones considered a failure by their perfectionist creator, is a treat for the eyes. Even the steely blue eyes of Berry and Hollywood.
“What’s not to smile about when there’s cake involved!”
The thing I love most about the bake off is the drama, or should I say ‘drama’ (because it is the daftest things that anyone would find nail biting at all!) Someone will cry over some scones. There will be real life tears over some sort of cake I guarantee it! Someone will pinch something by accident – freezer space, custard creme pat. Someone will balls up with the oven, putting it up too high or not high enough, and everyone will look ashen as Hattie’s Danish Whirls With Fig Compote come out raw or incinerated. They will watch the ovens like safe crackers listen. And you’ll be there with them – crying and gasping and watching.
The guys and girls in the tent will be a representation of Britain – a happy, pre-Brexit society of bakers. We’ll get to know them, we’ll pick a favourite who we are desperate to see get the trophy at the end (Tamal, I still hold out hope you’ll make a shock comeback in the next series) and we’ll insist on having a pudding while we watch. Is a happy little slice of British life we can enjoy. I, for one, will be going back for seconds!