Much-loved culinary competition The Great British Bake Off returned to our screens last week, with a new batch of contestants entering the COVID-compliant tent for series 11 – however it wasn’t just the bakers making their debut on the show.
Comedian Matt Lucas made his first appearance on Bake Off after replacing Sandi Toksvig as Noel Fielding’s whimsical co-host and cake-tasting partner-in-crime, and while some were apprehensive about the change in presenter – mostly due to Toksvig and Fielding’s unparalleled chemistry – Lucas knocked it out of the park. His opening Boris Johnson impression was both topical and spot-on, he cracked delightfully silly jokes throughout and reassured an upset Sura after the heart-stopping incident which saw her accidentally knock Dave’s tray of miniature cakes onto the floor.
But even if Lucas hadn’t lived up to Toksvig’s three-year reign as the face of Bake Off, it wouldn’t have mattered too much. Viewers would have still tuned in, recipes would have still been crudely copied by amateur pastry chefs at home and Twitter would have still gone wild during each episode with freshly baked memes. Why? Because it’s the Bake Off format that the nation fell in love with 10 years ago, which keeps them coming back for more each series.
Over the last decade, The Great British Bake Off has faced a number of big changes, from multiple channel moves – in the words of rapper Drake: started from BBC Two, now we here (Channel 4) – to the introduction of completely new presenters and judges that followed. However, it’s still maintained a loyal audience of layer cake-lovers and Battenberg buffs.
When Bake Off moved to Channel 4 from the BBC in 2017 – and original hosts Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins and judge Mary Berry quit the series – fans were worried that the show’s introduction of new personnel, Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig and Prue Leith, and the unfamiliar ad breaks would turn off viewers. However, 6.5 million still tuned in to watch series eight’s premiere – a decrease from the 10 million that watched the previous BBC series’ opening, but still a ratings smash for Channel 4, which recorded its highest viewing figure since the 2012 Paralympics’ opening ceremony.
As the series went on, it began to feel as though nothing had changed at all – the Bake Off tent was completely identical to previous series, the contestants were just as diverse in terms of backgrounds, careers and hobbies, and the mood was still as light and fluffy as the lemon drizzles baked in series seven.
You know what you’re getting with Bake Off – each week will have a different culinary theme, with Cakes, Biscuits, Bread, Pastry and Desserts guaranteed to be making an appearance, while each episode is divided into three different challenges: the Signature, the Technical and finally, the Showstopper.
The contestants’ performance in the Signature challenge can give them either a confident start to the week, or a disaster to crawl back from, while the Technical challenge is consistently difficult thanks to vague instructions from the judges and a huge reliance on the bakers’ own cooking experience.
The showstopper can therefore catapult a contender to the top – giving them chance to become Star Baker of the week – redeem a baker’s poor performance in the previous rounds or push another right to the bottom, putting them at risk of elimination.
This standard Bake Off routine, although predictable, can lead to heart-warming underdog moments, outrageous yet trivial drama (lest we forget #bingate) and patisserie disasters that ensure the series never grows old.
The efforts of all the show’s fabulous presenters and judges shouldn’t be dismissed as simply set dressing – their performances and expertise add to the show’s family-friendly, playful tone that allows viewers to escape life and flee to the Bake Off tent for an hour. But it’s the familiar and fertile Bake Off format that keeps the show in the heart of its viewers and ensures the shenanigans that keep the series fresh.