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The Great British Bake Off 2013, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Great British Bake Off 2013, BBC Two

The Great British Bake Off 2013, BBC Two

Competitive cake show returns with a 'baker's dozen' of fresh contenders

Best of British: Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc get stuck into the greatest photoshoot of all time

Amongst my friends, I am known as an admirer of the baked good in just about all of its forms: the loaf, the sponge, the ubiquitous cupcake. And yet something about The Great British Bake Off has always put me off. The relentless commercialisation of certain stereotypes of post-war frugality, typically practised by female heads of house, over the past few years has left a progressively nastier taste in my mouth as national austerity has hit harder. I’m not sure whether the final straw was the Sewing Bee spin-off, or judge Mary Berry’s charming remarks in relation to feminism.

What makes 'Bake Off' fascinating to watch is that the contestants are judged on genuine skill

Still, the ratings juggernaut that launched a thousand cookery tie-ins returns with the predictability of another series of The X Factor - and it turns out that, even one week in, it’s a moreish mix. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc charm the cameras, if not the contestants, with a mixture of friendliness and withering put-downs. The “silverback gorilla” that is Berry’s co-judge Paul Hollywood is hard to please in the Simon Cowell role, as if forgetting that these days he presumably gets paid to sample cakes other people have made for him. And then there are our bakers (pictured below right): 13 for 2013, meaning plenty of “baker’s dozen” jokes from Mel and the prospect - we are told - of a double eviction, or knock-out, or firing, or whatever concept this one goes for, somewhere down the line.

The Great British Bake Off 2013What makes Bake Off more fascinating to watch than shows of a similar format is that the contestants are judged on genuine skill. Returning for 2013 - at least I assume so, given that they are spoken of in the sort of reverent tones that defy the need for explanation - are the show’s three challenges, and taken together they require skill, creativity and technical expertise. This week’s cake theme is a good introduction to the format and the bakers are asked to produce a signature sponge; follow Berry’s recipe for angel food cake; and produce a “show-stopping” chocolate cake.

It’s apparent early on that there are two ways to compete for baking glory: keep it simple and risk the contempt of the judges, or over-reach and - as any kitchen amateur will tell you - watch it all go horribly wrong. Bake Off might bury its cynical core in pastel colours, strawberries and middle class cookware, but its producers know as well as those on The Apprentice what makes good television. In the first hour of this series the hapless Howard, a Sheffield civil servant who nobody is surprised to learn will be baking gluten-free, almost loses a thumb; young philosophy student Ruby bursts into tears in Sue’s arms after she falls victim to both curdled custard and effortless stereotyping; and Glenn, a cheerful English teacher, gets so carried away trying to construct a chocolate replica of the Sagrada Familia he forgets the importance of making sure a sponge is edible.

There are some stand-outs even in this first week: Lucy, whose recipes incorporate home-grown elements from her own garden; Rob, a scientist and engineer whose technical skills translate into precise, delicious baking; and military wife Beca, who raises eyebrows by incorporating grapefruit zest into her signature sponge. “That’s really good actually,” Hollywood tells her grudgingly, forcing another slice of cake into his mouth. Beca, whose husband is probably fighting in Afghanistan as you read this, is suitably grateful. She'll go far.

Bake Off's producers know what makes good television

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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