That custard will never set! Bake Off has turned us all into armchair experts

One day, a hundred thousand aeons ago, back in the BBC-and-Mel-&-Sue days, The Great British Bake Off (Tuesday, 8pm, Channel 4) was simple event-reality TV, The X Factor but made exclusively for people who composted aggressively and used to be prefects. Somewhere along the line, though, it evolved: no longer the humble domain of normal people competing on TV, it became something sensational, larger than the hard confines of the flatscreen around it. The first Bake Off final, 10 years ago, felt like a totaliser episode of Blue Peter. In 2020, it seems as seismic as a Wimbledon final.

Paul Hollywood is there, of course, a sex wolf in the body of a mature catalogue model; Prue Leith, as well, wincing her way through plates of food that, if I ate them, I would find so transcendent they would change my life. Pairing Matt Lucas with Noel Fielding was an inspired idea – Fielding’s dual energies (“Unkillable vampire allergic to light” and “Boy who gets detention for mooning too many trucks on the way back from a school coach trip”) mesh perfectly with Lucas’s (“Cuddly village fete mother” and “Untameable toddler who’s slightly too large for his cot”) – and, as the final three bakers sweat fretfully in a roiling marquee tent, the duo’s levity works as a perfect foil to the serious baking going on in front of them. I never thought I’d get a tension headache from watching a 20-year-old Scottish boy try to carry a cake from one workbench to another, but Bake Off, like no other programme on TV, knows how to stop my heart.

Bake Off’s Prue, Noel, Matt and Paul

Photograph: Mark Bourdillon

I suppose that’s the core reality at the heart of the show, isn’t it? An absurd and all-encompassing drama. Before this year, I had watched about four episodes of Bake Off in my life, and attempted to bake about as many cakes. Ten minutes into this final and I was already saying: “Oh, that’ll never set” about some custard I just saw a self-taught pastry chef make magnificently within a tight time frame.

Bake Off allows armchair expertise like no other show on Earth – and I include live sports in that. Here I am, eating a slice of bread I couldn’t be bothered to toast (!) smeared with off-brand Biscoff spread, watching someone who managed to cram in 10,000 hours of expertise around their job, their life and their family, and, at the end of the four hours they spent putting their heart and soul and sugar and butter and flour into their showstopper cake, I have the temerity to sit here – breadcrumbs all over me – and go: “Well, that’ll never win. They’ve absolutely ballsed that up. Put it in the bin and start again. Learn how to spin sugar, you cretin.”

So it’s not about the winner, really. It’s about holding up a mirror to who we are, and who we threaten to be: the demon that slithers out of us whenever someone sincerely tries to make a pavlova. Aside from that, the Bake Off finale is exactly what you want it to be: as heartwarming, dramatic and engrossing an episode of TV you can possibly hope to watch this year. Not bad for a show about three people in a tent trying very hard not to touch each other while laminating pastry.

The Guardian

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