“I don’t know why I’m crying over cake.”
The Great British Bake Off
I’ll be honest: I’m a Bake Off newbie. I’ve seen odds and ends of the show at various times, just passing through as you might say, and I’ve always enjoyed looking at the cake and biscuits and other lovely things. My new ambition is to become a judge on Bake Off just so I get to eat all the cake. Anyway, this year seemed as good a time as any to start watching it properly. So here we are. Cake.
(If during the course of this review I ever feel that I haven’t used the word “cake” for too long, I may just write it randomly.)
So. In episode one of the Brand New Bake Off Series, a Brand New Set of Bakers make cake. In a tent. Why do they have to do it in a tent? It seems unnecessarily inconvenient for all involved, setting up ovens and fridges and things in an essentially temporary environment, as well as slightly unsanitary (what about bugs and wasps?). But hey ho. Cake.
The first test: Swiss rolls. To be more specific, the twelve bakers must each make their own variation on a Swiss roll. One girl makes a chocolate-orange affair with a rather fetching chocolate tree. Someone else bakes little flowers into the surface of their cake. And the remarkable thing about this is how civilized it all is. Compared to the rather macho, extremely competitive world of Masterchef, Bake Off is a summer picnic with flowers and rainbows and fluffy pumpkins. The contestants chat to each other, cheerfully and good-naturedly. Presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc make slightly surreal jokes (“Ian, it’s not a squid!”) and encourage bakers whose cakes are broken. Even the high-flying judges, Mary Berry and Paul Holland, can’t help but be nice, given that Mary Berry has a voice like your favourite grandmother and Paul Holland, while slightly American and therefore scary, is busy chuntering about cherry distribution and icing consistency. It is impossible for these things to be at all threatening or, indeed, macho. Cake.
The second test is quite a mean one, a technical challenge which asks the contestants to make a Mary Berry classic, a cherry cake, with only minimal instructions. If the cherries sink to the bottom of the cake, Mary and Paul give you a disappointed look. Nobody wants this. Surprisingly enough, the bakers who did well in the first challenge are not the ones who do well in this one. The best person is a woman who’s been cooking for thirty years, evidently, and who looks extremely smug about this. Cake. I immediately want her to leave, perhaps uncharitably.
The final test is another invention-type one: make thirty-six miniature British cakes, all identical. Cake choices range from improbably tall Victoria sponges to posh Jaffa cakes. There was a chocolate tier which looked promising, but unfortunately it exploded and got a disappointed look. Paul was evidently not impressed with the overall quality; towards the end of the challenge his idea of encouragement was to announce “Well done, guys. On the whole.” Ouch.
Then, of course, someone had to leave. It was Chocolate Tier Girl, and everyone was very nice and appropriately sad, and people said things like “Stay in touch” (after two days?), and nobody cried, and on the whole it appeared that all the bakers, all the presenters, and all the judges had had a Jolly Good Time (Famous Five-style), even the ones who didn’t do very well at all. I think the best word to describe Bake Off is probably “nice”. Or, more appropriately, “sweet”. You couldn’t get more pink and fluffy if you tried. It’s perhaps the least competitive cooking competition on television, which is why it’s so relaxing to watch. (Cake.) Of course, this may all be editing. But that doesn’t make it any less nice.