For four nights this week there will be an episode of a special version of The Great British Bake Off on BBC 2 in aid of the charity Sport Relief. For me, this is about as exciting as people who actually like sport get when contemplating watching the olympics.
Four celebrities compete against each other in each of the first three episodes, battling it out for a place in the finals.
As per usual, the dynamic duo of Paul ‘Silver Fox’ Hollywood and Mary Berry are the judges, aided this week by Mel Giedroyc as the presenter.
Sadly for me, there is no sign of Sue Perkins, who is my absolute favourite, and who I would have very much enjoyed seeing sampling some fine baked goods via the power of the television, but we cannot have everything we want, and five episodes of GBBO in one week is manna from the bakery.
In the first episode the celebrities were:
Angela Griffin – an actress who has been in lots of stuff I have never seen.
James Wong – A botanist and presenter who I have never heard of.
Sarah Hadland – A comedienne who has been in some stuff I have never seen.
Joe Swift – a gardener who has been on Gardener’s World for many years, and is the only person I really recognised.
How sad and middle aged am I? I am not saying that they are not famous. I am sure they are. It’s just that I only ever watch baking programmes and Danish programmes about jumpers. I’m just not down with the kids. If they had all been wearing knitwear whilst making macaroons and shouting ‘Tak!’ I’d have been much more comfortable with things in general.
The programme is exactly the same format as regular GBBO’s. The signature dish; the technical challenge and the show stopper.
I thought it wouldn’t be so exciting as the regular programmes because the celebrities are all used to being on the television and really there isn’t so much to play for in terms of competition.
I was wrong. They all took it very seriously in the end, and the genius bit for me was that despite their seriousness, their technical skills didn’t always match up to their ambition and there were enough disasters to set my heart racing with excitement through the whole hour.
And it seems that Paul Hollywood strikes as much fear into the heart of your average celebrity as he does your average amateur baker, which is somehow comforting to know.
The signature bake in the first episode was to create a tray bake of twenty, perfectly even squares of baked goodness.
Angela went for a white chocolate and peanut butter blondie with added figs. She is a huge fan of GBBO and was obviously completely over excited to be in the presence of Paul and Mary, which added a nice amount of tension. She looked rather like a startled meerkat for much of the programme as her head popped up about every ten seconds to see what everyone else was doing and whether she should be panicking. She nearly had a heart failure when Mary confessed that she wasn’t keen on figs. I thought she might cry.
James was a total maverick who confessed he hadn’t baked anything for twenty years. He was also completely bonkers about sticking plants in everything. He could not resist the lure of botany at every turn. He’d have been much more comfortable in a greenhouse, but he did his best. His tray bake was blondies made with vanilla grass and pink peppercorns. The vanilla grass is a leaf called pandan, which he had to kind of beat up and infuse with butter and then strain. Mary tried some in its raw state and confessed that it tasted ‘like grass’. He assured her it wouldn’t after being strained. She seemed unconvinced.
Angela, in meerkat mode was convinced he’d been foraging in the park earlier. During the showstopper challenge he did actually leap out of the tent at one point, carving knife in hand, and wander off to carve up a large banana leaf to use instead of a plate.
I now have visions of him living in a grass hut, drinking out of coconut shells and weaving his own carpets out of rushes, somewhere along the M40 probably.
Sarah decided to make red velvet cakes with a cream cheese topping, which she had made perfectly in a slightly different form for her boyfriend. This, of course, was the kiss of death. She wrestled with the Kitchenaid and lost, shooting red velvet mixture all over herself and the work station. It genuinely looked like someone had severed at least an artery. Paul looked solemn and said: ‘It’s the worst work station I’ve seen. I’ve sacked people for less.’
No pressure then.
Shortly after that she went on to explode her icing sugar all over the rest of the workstation. That Kitchenaid really didn’t like her.
It was obviously quite hot in the tent. Frankly it’s a wonder they didn’t find her stuck to the side of a fridge somewhere after the judging, welded by a mixture of red velvet goo and melted icing sugar.
Joe made flap jacks with stem ginger and dates with rum and chocolate in a neat, workman like way.
At the end Sarah ballsed things up even further by cutting all her slices wonky and then dousing everything in runny icing with glitter that she really wasn’t sure was edible. It’s fair to say that short of poisoning Paul and stabbing Mary through the heart with a skewer, she couldn’t have made much more of a hash of things.
James nearly killed Mel with the strength of his pink peppercorns, and Mary remained unconvinced as to the vanilla grass, which was a shame as he had sweated over it in much the same manner as Heston in his lab. Paul had always remained sceptical, opining that it was much less work to scrape down a vanilla pod.
James remained unchastened and ebullient.
When Paul praised Angela’s cakes her meerkat head shot up and she squeaked with total and unfeigned joy which would have been fine had she not then decided to explain that she was so excited that her legs were sweating.
Not really what I would have wanted to hear prior to putting cake in my mouth. Although hopefully she would not have been entwining her legs around any cakes at all, but you know what I mean. You don’t really want the word sweat, and cakes to be merged into the same sentence. EVER.
The technical challenge was cheese scones.
Buoyed with the success of her blondies, Angela went completely to pieces. She added too much cheese, she took cheese out, she waved cheese around. She threw everything in the bin and started again. It was like the cheese hokey cokey in that corner.
James seemed slightly disappointed he couldn’t put some coltsfoot or henbane or liana in his recipe and remained conservatively good throughout. The effort nearly killed him. Joe had a problem with evaporating cheese, and Sarah, who had literally painted the tent red, had an absolute belter of a round and created fabulous cheese scones with nary an exploding mixer to her name. All in all, it was quite a sedate round, although I did spy two squirrels in the background at this point. Unlike in the real competition none of them had their enormous, squirrelly wedding tackle out though.
I was slightly disappointed, to say the least.
A bit of squirrel porn never goes amiss when the baking is going well.
The showstopper challenge was to create a meringue dessert.
James, as you might expect, took the whole idea of dessert very liberally, preferring to make his meringues with spiced salt and garlic, and fill them with spicy prawns and foliage. It didn’t go down terribly well. It turns out that meringues really are not cut out for the savoury world at all no matter how much James finessed them. Mary called his baking ‘brave’. Again, with the whole ‘sweat’ thing, I don’t want it in my baking. Not until it has been intensely tested anyway.
Joe made the perfect meringue nests filled with cream, and raspberries and chocolate trellises. This is much as you would expect from a gardener. It’s a wonder he didn’t serve them on a small trowel inside a trug.
Sarah made a three layer chocolate meringue sandwiched together with caramel sauce. This did not go well. She was going to flambee the caramel sauce with brandy until Paul and Mary quizzed her intensively on the process and elicited the fact that the one and only other time she had tried it she had set fire to her arm, and the kitchen splash back.
I don’t think they had the full fire brigade and St. John’s ambulance on hand, so they dissuaded her, suggesting it would be just as effective if she simply stirred in the brandy.
It was the safe choice. Admittedly, in terms of televisual pleasure it would have been way more fun to see her flambee the brandy and then set the tent on fire, but it was probably wisest to just stir it in.
After three attempts at massacring the caramel sauce, most of which ended up in the sink and one of which she dismissed as being too brown until Paul raised his eyebrows at her and said: ‘It’s caramel. It’s meant to be brown.’ I think she probably drank the brandy and just did a straight caramel sauce.
The overall winner was Angela, who created a hazlenut meringue with an Irish cream filling which had Paul drooling and coming back for seconds. It’s a wonder Angela didn’t faint with joy and face plant into the meringue she was so excited.
And so she is through to the next round, and there is all to play for.
I’m quite disappointed James or Sarah didn’t get through, mostly for entertainment value, but it was a joy to watch them on screen for an hour exploding and burning and hacking and diffusing and botanising.