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Great British Bake Off - now I know why I'd never watched it.

Wed, 7 September, 2016

I am a changed person, my innocence gone. I have now, finally, after 6 seasons that I’d disdainfully ignored, watched GBBO. Unlikely that apart from me anyone will not know the acronym (and now even I do), but for the sake of precision: The Great British Bake Off.

And it is now painfully and transparently obvious how right I was not to have watched the previous 6 seasons.

Where shall we start? And how to put it not to incur public wrath? This is after all the TV programme watched by 10 million on launch and 15 by the final. My mind boggles, and that’s me who loves baking.

That’s probably actually the primary reason. What I’ve seen of it was not a baking competition but a contest in elaborate decorating, combined with bizarre requirement rules: crunchy biscuits, for one. Okay - and what’s wrong with soft biscuits: cookies? macarons?? lady fingers??? Biscuits are not crunchy by definition, at least not in the wide meaning, and I’d not seen any contestants bake theirs twice.  The gingerbread house (again, what’s with the crunch stipulation? that’s hard on teeth, especially for people who refuse to dunk) - I dare say most professional pâtissiers would either scoff at a challenge like that or attempt and get bored after half an hour of what is a child’s game of cutting and gluing. Another decorating contest.

I actually would find it educational as I am pathetically awful at decorating but that’s the parts they don’t show! We can see the contestants produce the most godawful gloopy sponges, curdle fillings, burn biscuits and then all of a sudden they parade a work of art, with fancy shards of rainbow coloured chocolate, elegant swirls of frosting and precision piping work worthy of a watchmaker! And not a sniff of footage while it’s done!

The challenges are all wrong - they clearly went and threw out of the window the proof, the taste and the pudding adage because the tasks are nothing to do with it. 24 biscuits - any fewer and you’re out. Mirror glaze (WTF? Honestly?). Jaffa cakes judged on size; and Viennese whirls, a cookie so quaint they probably smelled of mothballs.

But it still could be a good bit of fun, Bizarre Bake Off, if it wasn’t for the judges and presenters. A more charmless and less accomplished bunch can hardly have been put together. Mary Berry is one of those British bakers who believe any cake mix is made by just lumping the ingredients together in a bowl and stirring around. I chanced to witness her make a Simnel cake on television and shuddered within. And I own one of her cake books (hey, I own all sorts of cook books) where every other thing is a traybake and everything else is a sponge, even if it has pounds of butter in it. And what a peculiar way of pronouncing genoise (correctly pronounced zha-'nwäz, to rhyme with framboise) she has, which has infected all the contestants and subsequently, I fear, the nation. Folks, from now on it’s ZHEnou-WESE!

The other judge - Paul Hollywood - must be one of those celebrities who are suddenly imported to the public view, middle-aged and fully shaped, perma-tan firmly in place. Whoever heard of him before the BO? As far as competence goes, I once tried his ciabatta recipe. Don’t even ask.

They are widely praised as the best TV panel judges which completely puzzles me - let alone the competencies, there is no chemistry between them and the contestants or between the pair of them: they look like they hardly speak to each other off-screen because they have so little in common.

It is completely unclear to me what the two presenters, Mel and Sue - though Mel and Kim would probably have added more value - are there for, apart from wandering around distracting the bakers, gurning and attempting unfunny innuendoes. What a great job if you can get it!

And the contestants? The ones who are sent home get reassured that they are still ‘the 12th, 10th or whatever best baker in Britain’. Not so. They are only the 12th most half-baked narcissist whose high aspiration is to appear on television. The remaining ones struggle with unreasonable challenges but hey! it ain’t that tough since they are allowed to prepare beforehand or, hilariously, are given recipes.

So I think I won’t be holding my breath for the next episodes - better go and bake something…


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