What's On: The Great British Bake-Off


Who’d have thought that a show about baking could be so exciting? Catherine Cloughley delves into the reality show with a difference.

For the past ten weeks, The Great British Bake Off, or GBBO, has not only had the Jamie Oliver clan glued to the television but created a social media storm, as millions have tuned in to watch a group of amateur bakers battle it out against a backdrop of Cath Kidston bunting. The all-male final on Tuesday evening, pulled in an estimated five million viewers and saw underdog John Whaite clinch the title. Unlike many, (ahem X Factor) there hasn’t been a drop of cynicism. Simply twelve dedicated bakers agonising over whether their sponge will rise to the occasion.

However, first to Tuesday’s final. We had quirky and innovative medical student James, the competent ‘I’ve done it all before’ baker Brendan, and self-doubting John. First the finalists were challenged to make a Pithivier (round pie to me and you), and whilst Brendan and John were praised for their “buttery rough puff”, James fell down with his soggy bottom, euphemisms aside. In the technical challenge, there were dramas over fondant fancies, as even Brendan struggled with presentation and John quipped that “Mr Kipling would be turning in his grave”.  For the final showstopper, the trio made themed chiffon cakes to be served at a fete later that day. Brendan wowed the judges with his Family Reunion creation; ambitious James wanted to pay homage to Britain’s great year, but Paul just couldn’t understand the structure, or lack of, he noted: “the United Kingdom was his idea and yet there was nothing united about that”. This left John, who’s Heaven and Hell Cake, adorned with gold leaf and ‘perfect’ lemon meringues arguably stole the show. The Law graduate went on to clinch the title, as GBBO contestants of past and present gathered at the fete on a typically wet British afternoon.

The GBBO effect has seen sales of baking appliances go through the roof; baking powder and icing sugar fly off supermarket shelves. Tuesday’s Twitter feeds saw men torn between cake decoration with Mary Berry and the silver-fox and the England versus Ukraine football friendly. And it doesn’t stop there. The show is flourishing internationally, with French and Australian versions currently in production, and Scandinavian shows also proving immensely popular. So why has baking become so cool?

In a recent TV interview, Paul and Mary highlighted the economic recession as a reason for baking’s homely comeback, people are moving back to good old home cooking. However, there’s probably a little more to it than that. There’s something nostalgic and retro about baking that ties it nicely into the current ‘vintage revolution’. And 2012 has been a year to celebrate all things British, which perhaps explains the revived interest in our baking heritage. And quite simply, who doesn’t love cake?

Now that GBBO has come to an end, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with my Tuesday evenings. No more choux pastry swans. No more talk of soggy bottoms and witty sexual innuendo from Mel and Sue. However, for fans of the show, we won’t have to wait long; in the pipeline are specials for both Christmas and Comic Relief and after a series which has seen re-creations of the Colosseum in gingerbread from, who knows what Britain’s amateur bakers might come up with next?

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