Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Great British Bake Off: Everyone's an armchair baker now

You might think there's only limited fun you can have in a large marquee in the middle of a wet field and decked out with reasonably stylish kitchen equipment as if in preparation for a slightly retro-themed Jubilee party, but in The Great British Bake Off, they manage not only the fun, but a bit of tension too - and that comes from more than just the occasionally annoying thrill of wondering exactly how presenters Mel and Sue might pronounce the word 'bake!' when the competitors begin their work.

The programme, featuring an ever dwindling number of contestants baking food to be judged and eaten in pursuit of the title of Great British Bake Off's Best Amateur Baker, is simultaneously evocative not only of a simpler time when people from the 1950s baked cakes in a nice apron a lot, but also a salute to unusual but successful on-screen pairings - and we don't mean Mel and Sue.

Trying to pin down the curious power dynamic between the two judges, the alpha male captain of cooks Paul Hollywood and his sort of right-hand-hence-woman-cum-kitchen-mistress-in-charge Mary Berry, is not that easy - do they really get on, who's in charge, who makes the better flan? - but together they are a formidable pairing, and all the contestants are desperate to impress, hanging on to the judges' every word as they nibble at their humble offerings before them.

"Nice flavours, but it looks a mess," Mr Hollywood tells contestant John, in the verbal equivalent of a soft stroke followed by a sharp, stinging slap. John's fruity take on a sweet doughy strudel didn't hit the mark - his mix of strawberrys and rhubarb was too wet for the thin pastry you see.

And that's another part of the show's fun: everyone's an armchair baker now - we've seen a few series now, and we know how this rolls (and if it's pastry, it's generally thinly).

Great British Bake Off contestant John Whaite shows off his bloody cut.
Not sure what he's doing with the other hand but it's quite a fun pose, no?
John was later escorted from the marquee - and because this was television it was by an overly concerned-looking ambulance medic perhaps hoping to be spotted by the producers of Casualty.

John had a cut finger he'd been ignoring until the point his whole hand was stained with his blood underneath a latex glove.

But his dedication to his craft is admirable - you wouldn't find many X-Factor contestants prepared to lose a finger in pursuit of the prize - but he was still trumped by rival Brendan's complex lattice work, who won approving nods from both Mary and Paul: "He's gone the extra mile, and it shows."

John's misfortune was to the advantage of everyone else: so high was the quality of this week's haul of stomach-bloating pastry-based goods with innards of varying appeal - ricotta cheese and unidentifiable green stuff, yum! - that the judges decided to not send anyone home.

But, and this is where Mel and Sue needlessly ramp up the tension to the point that they're on the verge of tears as they deliver the news, the downside is that two - two! - bakers will be lost next week.

Genuinely, and bizarrely, exciting. Rescue remedy at the ready, viewers.

Related stories (sort of, in as much as it's another story about a baking show):
The Fabulous Baker Brothers: Less 'rivalry' and scripted banter, but we'd still eat your pies

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