It’s late, I’m tired, I’m miserable and the usual parade of drunks are chattering away outside my window with no forseeable intentions of shutting up. Yes, it’s time for The Great British Bake Off again, a show which combines stodgy puddings with heart-stopping trials-by-cooking, like a Saw trap designed by Delia Smith.
I grew up with a clutch of Mary Berry cookery books as a child, enthusiastically baking to her kind, slow, matronly recipes. To see her here, then, a great, sweeping, almost avian matriarch, is somewhat of a shock. By far the judge with the most gravitas, she brings a layer of haughty, slightly sulky, expertise to the show. The other judges-Paul Hollywood,who both sounds and looks like an ageing male stripper, Mel Giedroyc, and Sue Perkins, all seem quite extra-requirements as the contestants are so astonishingly knowledgeable about what they cook. It’s gratifying to watch for much of the time, cooking is a science as opposed to an art, which is surely where some if this so-called “Britishness” comes from.
The food looks so good I tried at regular intervals to crawl through the screen to eat it. And there’s something quite relaxing about listening to the cool narration describing the catastrophic effects of steam on pastry. And the competitions are genuinely nail-biting- everything looks such an incredible improvement on something I, a sufficient cook, could make. These people are the sort of people who have families, kids, a full-time job, and can still whip up what appears to be a stag beetle fighting a dove out of crisp bread on the hop? Now that’s something I can buy into.
The whole programme would be perhaps more truthful if it were renamed “The Great British Pastry Fetishists Club”, as everyone is focused on pastry. There are countless crash-zooms of pastry going into ovens, coming out of ovens, being kneaded, being rolled out. Frantic vox-pop interviews with exhausted competitors on their hopes and their fears for their pastry. And the narration which I’m certain had hours of outtakes in which she descended into “Your pastry better turn out all right, you bitch, otherwise you’re totally fucked. Yes, God help you if you don’t use lard to get a crisp pastry. Who knows what they’ll all say. They’ll all laugh. Mary. And Paul. And Mel. And the other one. Yes. You’ve got to rotatae it while squeezing the pastry into the doily…..”
Well, I like to think so.