The Great British Bake Off: It's The Squirrel's Nuts

Keep the sequins of Strictly and the histrionics of X Factor, the Great British Bake Off has been the reality TV highlight of the year.
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You wouldn’t have guessed in January that one of the TV highlights of the year would be a programme about 12 people making buns in a tent, but series 2 of the Great British Bake Off (which finished last night on BBC2) has proven to be a suitably reserved, sugar-sprinkled mini masterpiece. Yes, it’s a bit middle class and yes, it’s never going to attract 12 million viewers but anyone with any sense has been enjoying 8 weeks of gentle, educating, comforting TV.

Pinning down exactly what has been so enjoyable about the series is tough; while it’s well made, chirpily presented and features occasional cutaways of a squirrel with terrifyingly large testicles it’s hardly state-of-the-art or edge-of-your-seat stuff. Basically, baking expert judges Paul ‘over-groomed Scouser, terrible taste in shirts’ Hollywood and Mary ‘British institution, 76-years old!’ Berry set three baking challenges which 12 relatively boring home bakers have to undertake on camera in a country fayre-style marquee. Hosts Sue ‘never seen in the same room as Danny Wallace’ Perkins and Mel ‘no idea how you say her surname’ Giedroyc dodge their way between cooking stations, cracking wise and occasionally fronting genuinely interesting mini-documentaries about the origins of different types of pud. The only drama in the programme comes from wondering if someone has beaten an egg too hard or if they’ve got the oven too low. There’s no bellowing voice-over, no tearful hysteria, just a gentle, soporific hour watching a parade of sweet treats made by some nice people.

Next up I want BBC2 to make the Great British Beer Off – then I may never leave the house.

Last night’s final displayed perfectly what makes the show so appealing. The finalists were Holly (works in advertising and looks like she mastered baking specifically to make hash cake), Jo (the most clichéd accent ever seen outside of a Mike Leigh film) and Mary-Anne (she obviously practises her baking A LOT). They had to make mille-feuilles – an absurdly complicated French thing – then Sachertorte – an absurdly complicated Austrian thing - and Petit Fours – another absurdly complicated French thing, but smaller. Anyone watching that hasn’t trained as a pastry chef had probably only heard of petit fours and even then many would have confused them with plus fours (‘baked trousers?’ a few thousand people cry at once).

The competitors set about their tasks with appropriate seriousness and we made judgements on their efforts based on what we had learned from the voice-over in the three minutes before their timers went ping. ‘Oooh, that’s not flat enough’, ‘she shouldn’t have used a wooden spoon’ and ‘she needs to sieve that jam’ we lament at our TV’s while wishing we had cake. The eventual winner, for no discernible reason, was Jo. There was a half hearted attempt to pretend she had been on a ‘journey’ (she used to be OK at baking, now she’s very good) and Jo looked for a minute like she might cry but there was none of the sensorial sledgehammer-ing so beloved of typical reality television. Some people made cakes while we watched – top TV really can be this simple.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Bake Off is how much it inspires you to bake. If the affect the show has had on our household is duplicated across the nation then viewers everywhere will be enjoying fresh baked bread, elaborate cakes and belt-loosening servings of tart.  Next up I want BBC2 to make the Great British Beer Off – then I may never leave the house.

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