With two Hollywood handshakes and a “style over substance” it was clear that not much has changed in the Great British Bake Off tent. The innuendos were still there, cakes collapsed, the judges were suitably critical, the jokes were appalling and someone was sent home.
So a switch to Channel 4 has left life inside the tent pretty much as normal, with only a few brighter colours and some different faces reading from the same script, to make much of a difference.
For the first week I was surprised by the standard of design within some of the showstoppers: the champagne bottle, which of course received suggestive remarks, was a stand out for me – although the cake was sadly dry; as was the superb design of a chocolate cake masquerading as a loaf of bread and the watermelon cake. The one common theme through the first week was lots of dry sponge cakes. The key to a good cake is not to over bake, which many contestants did, and also to make sure it has both moisture and lightness. We teach our professional student chefs to keep an eye on the clock rather than use a timer, which builds a natural sense of time rather than relying on external factors. The tension in the tent might not allow this more intuitive approach, but every good baker should know when their cake is ready, even in an unfamiliar oven.
Despite the dry sponges and one soggy bottom, it is clear the standard is going to be high. This week we met the scientist; the pretty one; the baker who’ll use exotic flavours; the boy who cries; and the granny – all the usual characters we have come to expect.
As someone who worked for new judge, Prue Leith for many years, before I set up the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, I know she is a brilliant teacher and we all know she is an excellent cook. It will take time for the Mary Berry lovers to accept that Prue is not Mary, but she went a good way last night in showing she has a knack for TV with her bright colours, friendly but firm manner and a good ear for a soundbite. I don’t think it will take long for the Bake Off fans to take her to their hearts.
Prue will definitely bring out the best of the Bake-off contestants, she is a terrific motivator too and when she kindly wrote these words about us recently, I knew they came from the heart:
“Fiona Burrell was a brilliant teacher at Leith’s with a flock of ex-students now successfully working in the restaurant and catering worlds. She’s good fun too, and the New Town Cookery School has a great atmosphere, part dedication to technique , part love of good food.”
It is too early to say who will win, there is a long way to go yet. And despite the ad breaks, the new comedians to lighten things and a new judge to love, I am clear of one thing: the format is always a winner – the ratings will be fine and soon we’ll love the characters in the tent as we always do.