As millions prepare for 10 weeks of baking, bunting and soggy bottoms, Alison Carr gets nicely preheated as she describes her Bake Off devotion.
Let’s get one thing straight from the off: I’ve watched Bake Off since the very beginning. I’m not some Johnny-come-lately to that tent of dreams; I’ve been there from day one.
Because I have a particular fondness for competitive baking? No. Because Mel and Sue off of Light Lunch were presenting? Yes.
When one of my fave comedy duos went into a bunting-bedecked marquee in 2010 with a gaggle of amateur bakers, a blue-eyed dough-botherer who fancies himself and a doyenne of British cookery, I blindly followed. Little did I know.
Six years later we’re about to head into series seven, and it still makes me giddy with excitement. And not just ‘cos I’ve got a windfall coming my way if I win the sweepstake (howay Michael, don’t let me down).
I, like every normal person, watch each episode of Bake Off twice. Once for the overview and then again a few days later for the detail. So take it from me when I say that it is the most joyous show on telly.
“But it’s just people making cakes,” the naysayers cry. Well yes, it is. It’s a celebration of the creativity, imagination and skill of those people and their cakes (and breads and biscuits and… anyone else hungry?) And I couldn’t make what they do.
Admittedly I’m not the best example. The nearest to baking I’ve ever got was chocolate crispy nests for Easter one year and even then I had to look up the recipe on the CBBC website. I was 32.
What they make is amazing and mouthwatering (NEVER tune in without snacks handy) and gloriously ambitious. A lion made out of bread. A Bavarian clock tower crafted out of shortbread. A gingerbread colosseum. Because, of course.
Confession. I was always very impressed by how much the bakes turn out looking like the coloured pencil drawings in the descriptions. It only dawned on me around series four that maybe these were drawn afterwards.
“The nearest to baking I’ve ever got was chocolate crispy nests for Easter one year and even then I had to look up the recipe on the CBBC website. I was 32.”
Whether the grand plans of the bakers pay off or don’t, Bake Off is never cruel. Yeah, Paul can be harsh and make them cry, or Mary might be disappointed (even worse), but the programme doesn’t set out to humiliate or vilify anyone. The emphasis is on the contestants trying hard and doing their best – oven settings, obscure technical challenges, nerves and the infamous ‘was that salt or sugar?’ quandary allowing. And man, it’s gripping.
Seriously. In the moment, it matters. Will the crème pâtissière be the right consistency? Is that dough going to spring back when Paul inevitably shoves his thumb into it? Will the depiction of the Fall of Pompeii made out of flaky pastry stand until tasting? Big questions, all.
The bakers and their creations are not all of it, though. Mel and Sue’s particular brand of arsing about is a vital part of the winning recipe (see what I did there).
When they’re not chasing each other around the tent for chocolate mousse, they’re always on hand with a supportive word, a joke or an innuendo about baps. Mary and Paul too. Good cop, bad cop. How bright will Mary’s floral bomber jacket be this week? Will Paul break out the infamous Hollywood Handshake (which sounds like a euphemism for masturbation, fittingly so seeing as he’s a master baker – snarf)?
Bake Off has become a colossus, but its appeal is that it hasn’t really changed, even after so many years and so much success. It’s still gentle fun, entertaining escapism. And that’s OK. It’s ruddy brilliant. It improves a bad day and makes a good day better. It introduced me to Howard (my all-time favourite contestant) and the word ‘croquembouche’. Say it. It’s so much fun to say.
I can’t wait for the new series to start. I’ve got it set to record for the all-important rewatch. My snacks are primed and ready. Best of British to the new batch of bakers (especially Michael) – go forth and wow the millions of us tuning in. No pressure.
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Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.