The Great British Bake Off Christmas Special, BBC2 - TV review

The Bake-Off turns into a bit of a bunfight, but Hollywood shows his star quality

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The Independent Culture

Here was another chance to peer through the television's frosty window at the unlikely friendship that has forged between a perma-tanned Merseyside bread baker and a delicate 78-year-old former cookery editor at Housewife magazine. That's right, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry were back for The Great British Bake Off Christmas Special (BBC2).

GBBO's baking experts took turns to demonstrate their traditional festive recipes with time for a festive sit-down and festive chit-chat in between. Mary treated us to time-saving mincemeat streusel, a gingerbread house and a Madeira tunis cake. Paul brought to the table a German stollen, a Scottish black bun and a hot water crust pie – perhaps, the manliest pie the world has ever seen.

The format may have been simple, but the relationship dynamic was as complex as one of Paul's eight-strand plaited loafs. Now it's just Paul and Mary, Mary and Paul. There's no Mel or Sue to relieve the tension with a bad pun and no amateur contestants to judge, so instead they must turn their critical gaze on each other. It wouldn't do to be too exacting, but that didn't stop Mary sceptically eyeing Paul's ingredient choices. "Black pepper? Are you sure?"

Collaborating on Mary's very pretty gingerbread house was a chance for reconciliation. Mary kept saying it would also be a wonderful recipe to try with children, but I notice she didn't invite any sticky-fingered under-10s into the studio to mess with her elegant creation. Paul was allowed to muck in, but when presented with an opportunity to avenge her earlier slight, clearly he couldn't resist. "Can I let you into a little secret?" he said casually. "I've never made one before in my life." "Never?" said an astonished Mary. "Not a gingerbread house, no." (pause for dramatic effect.) "I've made a gingerbread cathedral, though." Well played, Paul.