REMEMBER a time when people baked just for something nice to eat with a cup of tea, not to photograph it? A time when there weren’t 112 baking magazines for sale in the supermarket and the only flour you could get was plain or self-raising?
Those were dark days. When baking happened in isolation, in people’s homes; not in a public frenzy of sugar and butter beating. Then one day someone called Paul Hollywood, himself a tier cake of grey gloss, blue sparkle and brown crumb, got together with the spun sugar fairy Mary Berry and they gave birth to a giant baby: The Great British Bake Off.
Last night was the final. Three women: Ruby, Kimberley and Frances, looking like a line-up of Charlie’s Angels, baking for their lives. Or the next part of it.
Ruby Tandoh was the youngest ever to take part in Bake Off. Kimberley Wilson had “extensive technical knowledge” and Frances Quinn was “the most creative baker ever to have set foot in the tent” (the competition takes part in a giant tent). But Frances had a flaw – she was generally all style over substance. Poor Frances.
The competition was in three parts. First, they had to bake a picnic pie. Frances made a rainbow picnic pie, turmeric, rice, red peppers and two types of trout, both of them dead, in a lattice topped pastry coffin.
Ruby’s picnic basket pie also had a lattice top and contained squeaky cheese: halloumi, basil and aubergine.
Kimberley did three varieties of pastry: white, green and pink. A chicken and pig pie containing chicken mousse, pistachios and a black pudding running through it, where you might find a Scotch egg, say.
This round went to Ruby because Kimberley’s pie was too wet and started to fall apart. “Is it going to ooze when I cut it open?” asked Paul.
Next, it was pretzels. We had an aside of Paul discussing how to make a pretzel with Mary. Paul is a bread and dough man and has written books about how to make dough and turn it into bread. He probably, secretly, thinks he’s the king of bread.
Paul started talking about dough as if he were psyching up a boxer. “Look at the crumb,” he said to Mary, stuffing one of his pretzels into her face, “it’s tight. Don’t be tempted to rev up the water.” I was expecting the gum shield to go in next.
Instead we cut to the three bakers hurling the dough around. Doh! Kneading is so 2012. Surely most people now know that the change to the gluten is more chemical than physical. Just leave it for a few minutes, I wanted to say, and have a fondant fancy and a fag.
No-one’s pretzels were really that good, but Kimberley won this round because hers had “a good break and a good bake” said Paul. “It’s the closest thing to a pretzel [we have here],” he said, but just as she was about to break into a smile, he warned her “Don’t clap”. No-one can make bread or bread products like Paul, and don’t you ever forget it.
The last challenge was a three-tier wedding cake. Frances went for a Midsummer Night’s Dream cake with rhubarb and ginger and lemon and carrot and various other bits she’d found in the salad drawer. Plus beetroot and sweet potato confetti which is the best use of vegetable chips I’ve ever seen.
Kimberley was making raspberry cake pops that would sit inside a chocolate fudge cake. When they went into the oven they looked like meatballs. Then there was orange and pistachio sponge in a chequerboard shape on top of that and, finally, another boring lemon cake on top. She had had a stamp especially made to print I love you in 28 languages all over her cake. Unfortunately it didn’t look like she liked her cake very much because it was a boring looking little thing.
Ruby is not keen on wedding cakes. She’s not much of a cynic she says but “weddings are an exercise in narcissism”. Her cake was yellow and pale pink with little shaky cut-outs on the side, of things like dragon flies. It had exotic curds inside and was meant to represent a sunset on a warm summer evening. My heart broke a little bit for her because it was not well received and she knew the sun had set on her Bake Off crown and so her nose went red and she started to cry.
Thus, one by one, they bring their cakes up to be judged. One by one their cakes, upon which all hopes and dreams rest, are cut up and dissected. Then the judges go off to discuss Who Will Win.
Tension mounts. Everyone goes outside and the winner will be announced in a minute. We see nail biting, foreheads creasing and sense enough adrenalin to stave off an anaphylactic shock.
The three women hug. They all love each other so much, you see; they all want the other to win.
The winner is Frances. No, she can’t believe it either.
First published in The Week on 23 October 2013.