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The nation’s obsession with all things baked and all things British has reached a new high. The Great British Bake Off final was aired on the 22nd of October and a whopping eight million viewers tuned in to see if Ruby, Frances or Kimberly would take the baking crown. Being the current eleventh most viewed show on BBC iPlayer only confirms its popularity with the British public, and the show has just announced its return next summer for a fifth season – this cooking show does not have a soggy bottom.
But what is it about The Great British Bake Off that attracts such a wide audience? As a nation we are good at baking. Witness the Bakewell tart, the Victoria sponge, the apple pie or even the great pork pie. We are British, and we love our British food.
Tears flowed and teeth flashed as competitors were ‘Hollywood-ed’, arguably the equivalent of being ‘Cowell-ed’ in the X Factor. His piercing blue eyes fixed the contestants and they waited with baited breath to discover whether it was a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Contrast his approach with that of the lovely Mary Berry, the nation’s baking fairy Grandmother, and you have the perfect ingredients for a deliciously addictive show.
The element of competition and the scope for supporting the underdog sits well with the British psyche. We are a nation which adorns houses and pubs with flags and banners when the world cup comes around, and actually gets excited about the Eurovision Song Contest, despite the likelihood of achieving zero. This outlook may therefore be the reason why almost seven million viewers tuned in every Tuesday to watch the Bake Off and why it was the most watched show on BBC two for eleven weeks.
Every episode, the contestants knelt, as if in worship, before their ovens, gazing intently through the doors as if willing their bakes to achieve perfection. Each week, they baked to a theme for three rounds which were the signature bake, the technical challenge and the showstopper round. The signature bake round required contestants to use a specific skill based around a theme, for example, biscuits. But these weren’t just any old biscuits! Contestants fought for a place in the next round with millionaire banoffee buns, apricot and pistachio tiffin and chocolate, cherry and hazelnut brownies. In the feared technical challenge, a basic recipe of Paul or Mary’s was provided, giving the participants limited instructions for a usually complex bake with no cooking times and no pictures or indication of what the finished product would look like. The showstopper gave the contestants free rein to demonstrate their skills and creativity. Final products included a Dalek made of biscuits (from biscuit week), a Paul the psychic octopus tribute loaf (from bread week), and a sheet music mille-feuille (from pastry week). The final last Tuesday saw the remaining three contestants making three-tier wedding cakes from scratch in six hours, a challenge that would be daunting even for highly skilled, full time bakers. Forget the Olympics, this competition has it all, from tray bakes to tears and Victoria sponge to victory.