Image: Flickr/LolaRainbows

Bake Off kneads some improvement

The baking royalty has ruled – and they have declared Frances Quinn as the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2013. After weeks of intense competition, the 31-year-old clothes designer from Leicestershire finally proved that she was capable of producing bakes with both flavour and flare in time to win her the coveted crown.

But amongst all of the hype on Twitter and in the media surrounding the much-anticipated finale, it felt like a rather disappointing curtain call. Let me explain why, after all the weeks of mounting expectation, I was left so underwhelmed.

An hour before the hotly anticipated finale kicked off, the BBC made the somewhat foolish decision to air a rerun of the 2012 GBBO final – a decision akin to stealing someone else’s custard on trifle week.

Not only did this repeat episode remind us of how much more fun and charming the class of 2012 were, but it also illustrated the superior standard of baking, ingenuity and deliciousness that was on offer last year.

In a weird way, BBC Two were placing last year’s series and this year’s in direct competition – a contest that had only one outcome.

For me, the structure and technical challenges throughout the Great British Bake Off 2012 were of a much higher standard and produced far more exciting television. Last year, the challenges had fun and clear-cut themes, which spawned baked goods that part-time bakers (such as myself) had a reasonable expectation of reproducing.

In the most recent series, we watched a show whose weekly challenges were far more vague – they were technically difficult and required a long list of equipment that would make Nigella Lawson blush.

What’s more, whereas last year saw the likes of John Wait’s “heaven and hell” cake, this year’s showstoppers seemed to lack the “wow” factor. Come on ladies – it’s the finale, get your piping bags out. Alas, there was neither a sugar-basket nor a blowtorch in sight.

Last year’s standards of baking, ingenuity and deliciousness were superior [and] the challenges had fun and clear-cut themes

The 2013 final itself provided the anti-climax that I half expected.

I’m sure I speak for the majority when admitting my disappointment in Ruby’s average performance. She started off promisingly, producing an impressive picnic pie (I say impressive as if I knew what a picnic pie was before the show…) with halloumi, cous-cous and tomato, but that was as good as it got for the former model.

The fact that the judges didn’t give the baking title to the 21-year-old came as a shock to most. From the outset, Ruby had been singled out for her youth amongst a much older cast of bakers than in the previous series, as well as for her scandalous flirtation with a certain silver-haired baker.

I admired her skill and confidence at a relatively young age, but her self-deprecating manner began to grate on me as the show progressed – in the finale, she was caught saying, “It’s just lemon [cake]. Come on Ruby – you know you rock!”

I feel like any judgement I make about Kimberley will inevitably be tinged with bias. I found her smug and overly competitive throughout – qualities that aren’t particularly synonymous with the newest of British institutions!

Nonetheless, even the staunchest of Kimberley supporters (whoever you are) will have been forced to admit that her baking in the final was not worthy of the title. Despite producing an impressive showstopper, she fell foul to the most cardinal sin of Great British baking: the dreaded soggy-bottom.

Her decoration may have been good, but it was nowhere near the standard that drives a woman to create edible confetti, and she never justified being pre-show favourite.

So, on to the winner herself: Frances. Although I had found her uninspiring early in the series, her performance in the final brilliantly demonstrated her ability to learn from the judges’ criticism and produce visually beautiful cakes with flavour and subtle presentation. As it was, the competition in the final week was limited, and the fact that her showstopper (which was brilliant, by the way) secured her the title is evidence that this year just didn’t live up to the hype of its predecessor.

As always, it was the show’s staple personalities that kept the audiences flocking in in their millions.

The presenting duo of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were characteristically brilliant throughout, whilst Mary Berry continued to dazzle viewers and contestants alike with her impressive “cakespertise” and range of marvellous blazers.

It was Berry’s male counterpart, Paul Hollywood, who had a slightly different effect. Hollywood seemed to have taken a decision to adopt a Simon Cowell persona for the new series, but instead of endearing him to the audience, it had the opposite effect.

I love a good baking innuendo as much as the next person, but I feel that he crossed the line of professionalism. His continued flirting with Ruby raised a lot of eyebrows, and resulted in the latter responding to criticism in a piece in The Guardian shortly after the final.

After all of the sweetness that the Great British Bake Off provides, this left a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

Comments (2)

  • Only just got round to reading this. Excellent review. I follow the bake-off and I totally agree. Well written too. A good read.

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