Lately, it seems as though the Bake Off franchise of Channel 4 is being used extensively.
There have been weekly reruns and holiday shows since the end of Season 11. The last of two seasonal specials, the Great New Year Bake Off (Channel 4), brings back Nancy, Rahul, Helena and Henry, all stellar parts of their respective years, to prove that there’s still plenty of heat in the ovens. This is a special Now That’s What I Call Bake Off, a chance to bring the band back together. The Bake Off proved to be a national tonic as the pandemic months dragged on – that’s a bread pun, and I think emphasizing it implies it’s a good one. In 2020, all that made the show so eminently watchable, and everything that gave it that almost infinite lifespan, felt perfectly right.
It was friendly, soothing, and amusing, and it appealed to our growing national appetite to get flour and eggs and to try to bake a cake or a cookie, if not quite in the form of the Louvre, then at least as a vaguely edible item.
Traditionally, an apology is made for the excesses of December at this time of the new year, although more puritanical thoughts emerge: no alcohol, healthy food, maybe even a greater number of participants in Veganuary.
So putting on a show like this, full of delicious-looking, butter-dependent sweets and drinking gags, borders on trolling.
I’m taking that in stride.
And there’s also one of those bao buns, thank you. After her win six years ago, Nancy’s return to the tent was a success. (I don’t know if it’s really a triumph – the previews are sent out without announcing the episode’s winner). With the opportunity to put Paul Hollywood in his place, Nancy is one of the few historical candidates, and she continues to talk with brilliant simplicity.
She attempts to make a bao or a “bayo,” and what she explains fairly as subdued pitta bread ends up. When Noel Fielding says that he’s going to make tea and asks how much sugar she needs, she shoots back, “What, in a gin and tonic?” She fixes Paul with a look and scolds after Prue praises her Caribbean-inspired crumble, “What about you? ” Rahul is at the other end of the bake-off spectrum: still relentlessly apologetic, still infatuated with a story going on and on.
Rahul is a nuclear scientist, and you’re still secretly hoping — like doctors on reality TV shows — that he’ll be okay and not have to quit his work.
The passion of Rahul for absolutely anything is irresistible. “Such a good invention, isn’t it?”Such a good invention, isn’t it?
You may expect Rahul’s nerves to have subsided after winning his series, but he admits that he is more nervous than ever.
His 21st birthday story, which includes giant rats and a rooftop garden in Calcutta, deserved its own hour-long special: a great concept for a showstopper is the 21st birthday cake because it incorporates the best of the challenges, mixing the various ages of the contestants and therefore different reference points and personal stories. Henry, dry as ever, claims he considers it as his 21st birthday and when the actual incident took place, he was locked up. Helena, whose daily bickering hits a new high with Fielding, makes a cake that is half pie, half center of action.
It’s a celebration, and it has the familiarity of hanging out with old friends. Matt Lucas has more than settled into hosting duties. Though I don’t blame him, his arrival seemed to signal a slightly higher level of grime than the Sandi Toksvig era allowed. When Nancy is outside talking to the cameras, this episode hits a height of innuendo and it begins to pour. ‘Don’t get your fluff wet,’ the sound guy says.
The jurors are told later that they should actually eat the balls. The plums are, I have to warn you, scratched.
I’m not saying it’s huge, I’m not saying it’s smart, but times are difficult, and if we need dirt to get through it, then it has to be dirt. These smaller episodes are far more about the personalities than the baked goods with four bakers instead of the packed tent we’re used to, and that’s a good thing. Such bakers represent everything that the Bake Off has to offer.
It is less educational, although I have discovered that it helps to bind and make it less messy by adding cornstarch to the compote in a crumble, and that ice cream adds n