Tonight, a nation of wannabe bakers will hang up their pinnies, dust the flour from their hands and settle down with a madeleine to watch the final of the Great British Bake Off. With all the tweeness of an afternoon at Midsomer Cricket Club, the finalists will whisk, beat and cream their little hearts out in the hope of exchanging a sticky handshake with Paul Hollywood. Not a drop of sweat will upset the delicate balance of the ingredients. No outbursts of profanity will drift into the vanilla-scented air. But let’s add something extra. Let’s throw in a small child to assist each of the finalists. Now there’s a recipe for disaster.
I regularly don my rose-tinted spectacles and bake cakes with my two children. Generally we bake fairy cakes – no, we always bake fairy cakes – those fail-safe bundles of sponge that – like cockroaches – can survive pretty much anything. Oh how we skip around the kitchen with our teatowels (the only vintage print I have) and look forward to some quality time together as we mix and laugh and … Hold on. Here is the scene 5 minutes after we’ve started:
You will note the absence of children. The thrill of baking has left them in the time it takes for caramel to burn irremovably onto your best Le Creuset pan. Maybe this is a moment for the Head Baker to cherish, after all there is peace and quiet and no one is treading on my toes. But then as quickly as they left, they’re back and I await the inevitable. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …
“Mummy, I’m hungry!”
“Have a banana.”
“I want to try what’s in there.”
“It’s not ready yet.”
“I want it!”
I toss them each a spoon of tooth-rotting, artery-blocking, salmonella-inducing cake mixture. I have sacrificed a dollop but the demons have not been appeased. They keep on coming back. Not once, not twice but over and over and over. My head spins with the glint of spoons and my Kirstie Allsopp façade starts to slip like an undercooked custard tart off its plate:
“I warn you – if you don’t stop asking to taste it I’m going to put it all in the bin!”*
(* There’s a sweary bit too that stays in my head.) Not a proud moment but, good lord, I see now where the bearded bloke in the Great British Bake Off was coming from when he tossed his baked Alaska in the pedal bin. Like the moment in Midsomer when a villager bursts into the cricket pavilion announcing there’s been a murder and John Nettles spills his tea, the joy of baking can come crashing to the ground in a tangle of Cath Kidston bunting.
When Mary Berry steps forward tonight to judge the finalists, I ask that she does not judge them on the end product. She must judge them on the journey, for, like me, they may have endured the 12 Labours of Hercules in order to produce their soggy bottomed Victoria sponge. And as the camera pans out from the GBBO tent, we know that baking isn’t really about china cake stands and Mary Berry’s twinset and pearls – it is all about licking the spoon.