Nigel Slater's Icing on the Cake, TV review: Forget the suspiciously svelte Mary Berry - naughty Nigel likes to have his cake and eat it


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Nigel Slater's Icing on the Cake (BBC4) was food porn so explicit it should have come with a censor's warning. Cheesecake glistened seductively in low lighting, cream oozed from the layers of a Victoria sponge, and icing sugar caressed the curves of a chocolate torte. Oh Nigel, you are naughty!

Most of us are happy enough to be eating cake, but Nigel Slater wants to rhapsodise it – and then eat it. Throughout his interviews with various cake historians (it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it etc), Nigel never missed an opportunity to help himself to a second slice. For that he must be commended. I've often wondered about the suspiciously svelte Mary Berry, but Slater is clearly a man struggling in the grip of a serious cake obsession. The author of Toast: the Story of a Boy's Hunger has built a career around culinary nostalgia, and cake is the most emotionally resonant food of all. We eat it at every celebration, big and small, and we have done for centuries.

According to Professor Nicola Humble, the modern cake can be traced back to "things squished together in a sort of patty-like form" by neolithic cooks at a campfire. "Squished together" is also a fair description of this hour-long programme's approach to history and science, but the facts, anecdotes and tips were no less delicious for their hodgepodge combination.

We learned that the early-17th-century discovery of egg white as a raising agent gave us the sponge; that the cross motif on hot cross bun was originally intended "to let the devil out", and that the best way to prevent a cake from sinking is to drop it on the counter-top.

Archive adverts featuring Frankie Howerd purring and Larry Grayson winking were a reminder of cake's campness, while Nigel revealed he'd had to request the headmaster's special permission to study domestic science at school: "If the boys made fun of me, they stopped as soon as I opened my tin of scones."

Even now, cake is still associated with all things frilly and feminine, thanks in part to the dreaded cupcake. Food historian Dr Annie Gray shuddered at this "huge, horrible leviathan of horrible oily mess with buttercream goo everywhere" and comedian Jenny Eclair condemned them as the mortal enemy of women everywhere: "They're like stupid shoes, they serve no purpose... It's not an honest cake, like an Eccles cake."