Tag Archives: mary berry

Great British Bake Off: Buns ho!

There’s been so much good telly recently, slobbing on the couch has never been so much fun. And a bit educational, in a literary sense, too. There was Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s novel Parade’s End (Rebecca Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch magnificent, and the rest of the cast were superb as well). I also enjoyed two ITV productions, which isn’t something I expected to write; The Bletchley Circle (I love Anna Maxwell Martin), and their adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel, Scapegoat (starring a most excellent Matthew  Rhys  – who you’ll know as Kevin from Brothers and Sisters). And the Strictly matchmaking show followed by a three-week hiatus, which happens every year, and every year I forget and get cross. Then there’s the return of The Thick of It, which is warming up to be nicely evil.

But in all this loveliness, the beacon of televisual fabulousness  every week  is the fragrant and delectable Great British Bake Off.

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The Great Sport Relief Bake Off: BBC Celebrity Special


Sports and cakes? Do they go together? I think not. And I’d have to seriously question the ‘celebrity’ bit of this, since I hardly recognise anyone, apart from Angela Griffin, Arlene Phillips and Fi Glover. But I’m enjoying it hugely. Why? Because they’re being set tasks most primary school kids would expect to do in a cooking lesson, (eg cheese scones), and despite that, they’re mostly crap, that’s why.

The woman who plays the shop assistant in Miranda tipped a ton of red colouring into her electric mixer for her revolting looking ‘red velvet tray bake’, turned the mixer on, then splattered red slop over herself and everything around her. Then she created an accidental snowstorm with icing sugar and a fast moving whisk attachment. That never happens on the main series of the Great British Bake Off. The contestants are far too good, too practised and perfectionist for that sort of thing.

And by ‘that sort of thing’ I mean what I sometimes do when I cook. I was employed as a chef once and I sent watercress soup squirting with vivid green splendour up the walls of a very posh kitchen when I forgot to put the lid on the blender. Twice. Oh yes.

It seems that many of these ‘celebrities’ never bake in real life at all. Arlene Phillips got herself into somewhat of a pickle. Angela Griffin was pretty darn good, and is in the final tonight. Fi Glover and Anita Rani too.

Sadly there is no Sue Perkins in this. And the banging on about baking cakes to raise money for Sports Relief gets a bit tedious (fine cause though it is of course). I love seeing the wonderful Mary Berry and rather foxy Paul Hollywood looking on with pained sorrow at times, when all of the banana chocolate cakes are so bad as to be inedible, or pastry sticks to the surface, quiche sticks to the flancase, or someone makes a prawn meringue, yes you heard that right. Truly, madly, horrible. But brilliant.

The celebrities flail around like helpless, hopeless mortals who normally buy Mr Kipling slices. God bless them, one and all.

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Great British Bake Off: Flour power

I can’t bear to watch the Great British Bake Off in ‘real time’ (not that it’s live of course). Too much tension, too much to go wrong. But I always catch up with it later, on iPlayer, where I can fast forward if it all gets too much. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a big baking drama, held over many weeks, in a tent in the garden of a fancy manor. The weather outside always seems pleasant. The contestants are nice but very intense and competitive, and the challenges are seriously hard. You’re expected to be super competent, as well as innovative, at all things baking-related, including cake, bun, tart, macaroon, quiche and biscuit making. And last night, bread making. And it doesn’t just have to taste good, it has to look good too. And be consistent. And there are all sorts of ultra tricky extra challenges too, such as making a breadbasket out of DOUGH. I fear madness could lie with too much of that sort of thing. And it does get a little like a Victoria Wood sketch at times.

The two judges are strict but (largely) fair. You have baking wide boy, Paul ‘blue eyes’ Hollywood and top cookery book writer and headmistress type, Mary Berry. Both can be nice, but they are strict markers and don’t coat their comments with sugar sprinkles. Then we have the sweet comedy sidekicks of Mel & Sue. Both women I warm to very much, and like me, get great pleasure from eating baked goods. They are there to provide support and leavening to the harsh marking, and cuddles when things, such as a freshly frosted gateaux, go tits up. They also infill the cooking bits with historical sections, about, for example, where cup cakes originated (cos they were made in cups of course. D’uh!). It’s a vastly more palatable version of a David Starkey monologue. With added sugar and without the snobbery and racism. If Mary & Paul are the scary school examiners, then Mel & Sue are the cool but friendly sixth form prefects.

I do like Mary but I’m slightly prejudiced against her because she keeps describing one contestant, Mary-Anne, who is a large woman, rather patronisingly as ‘clumsy’. Well, actually Mary, she’s not ‘clumsy’. The clumsy one, who has got through by the skin of his teeth is Robert, the skinny, pretty boy photographer, who dropped a whole cake (I do sympathise – I’d have chucked flour over everyone and fallen into a tray of eggs within minutes) and whose pastry cases all stuck to the tin last week. Although Robert also shows flashes of cooking genius, Paul is clearly thoroughly irked by his poor timekeeping, inconsistency and overly-laidback attitude. Mary likes him though, and so far, I suspect it’s her that’s kept him in. Continue reading

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