Bake Off was once the show that glued us to the sofa (with a pack of biscuits and a cup of tea, naturally) as we became invested in the many baking dramas from custard-gate to Baked Alaska-gate.
The past 10 years has seen the saccharine competition cement itself as essential weeknight viewing, having nailed that elusive recipe for a sure-fire TV hit: take a dozen wannabe bakers, mix in good-and-bad cop judges, sprinkle in some challenging themes, add a dash of pure filth from the hosts and leave to bake for 10 weeks.
But series 10 has been as limp as a soggy bottom.
Bake Off is, first and foremost, a baking competition, but it’s the mostly quirky and eccentric collection of bakers that keep us tuning in. Featuring bakers of all ages, the show made stars of characters such as Karen, who ate a packet of crisps as everyone else struggled, Val, who could tell her Yorkshire pudding was cooked by listening to it, and Deborah, who accidentally nicked Howard’s custard.
However, the line-up for series 10 welcomed the youngest bakers’ dozen ever – and while yes, there’s been some real break-out stars (justice for Henry), and it’s been lovely to see genuinely close friendships develop between our hopefuls, it’s a shame that we’ve lost the don’t-care dynamic of older bakers. It seemed wrong-footed to only include one over-50 in a bid to appeal to Bake Off’s now-younger audience, particularly when older bakers are often so popular.
And it’s not just the contestants, but the increasingly bizarre selection of themes that have left me questioning whether Bake Off has lost its charm this year. Part of the fun was seeing what the bakes were, how they would turn out and whether I could have a crack myself – even as a total baking philistine. But this year was heavy on the unknowable bakes as part of clutching-at-straw themes (I’m still in the dark about what festival a Sicilian cassatelle is for). Some of the showstoppers were so difficult they seemed damned-near impossible. Four hours to create an edible glass cabinet? With cake inside? It’s less Bake Off, more Bake Off: The Professionals – and it takes away from the fun of the show.
It’s the difficulty of these gargantuan tasks that has made the judges’ usual constructive feedback border on mean. Paul Hollywood and his freezing cold blue-eyed stare has cemented him as the Mr Nasty judge to Prue Leith’s more amicable-auntie criticism, but it seems both sharpened their talons this series as they cut chunks (figuratively and literally) out of the bakes. Hollywood pretended to walk out of the tent after the Maids of Honor technical, describing the creations as “awful, really bad”, while Leith declared the lavender colour of Priya’s cake “horrible” and said some bakes had been “dreadful”.
Bake Off has always prided itself on being one of the “nicer” competition shows, a stark contrast from Simon Cowell and Craig Revel Horwood on The X Factor and Strictly – but watching our bakers break down on several occasions as their bakes didn’t quite go to plan, only to be savaged once more, has started to transform Bake Off from a fun jaunt in a tent to more of an emotional ordeal.
I understand producers’ desire to stop Bake Off going stale as it hits its tenth year, and I understand why tweaking the format and adding more twists and turns may seem like a good idea – but Bake Off’s success lies in the simplicity of its format; you don’t need to constantly kick things up a gear with shock double dumpings and bakers having breakdowns for us to remain invested. Recent attempts to spice up Bake Off’s usually sweet offerings have resulted in the show becoming unnecessarily sour. Too many cooks interfering when it’s really not needed could see this once great show sink.
The Great British Bake Off concludes Tuesday at 8pm on Channel 4