TV Review: The Great British Bake Off BBC2


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The Independent Culture

Do you prefer your Bake Off as light and fluffy as a Victoria sponge? Or as dark and layered as a burnt Black Forest gâteau? Last night's semi-final was a reminder that The Great British Bake Off may be the friendliest show on television, but it's still got a competitive crunch. With only younger female contestants left in the competition, the feeling of being a fly on the wall during a home economics A-level practical is now unshakable.

At St Mary's School for Wayward Girls, Welsh Beca is class clown, and arty Frances looks uncannily like the lovechild of presenting duo Mel and Sue; the terrifyingly competent Kimberly should be head girl and ex-model Ruby is teacher's pet – but for how much longer?

The spectre of the soggy bottom loomed large over the canapé round and Ruby's beautiful green eyes were looking particularly haunted. Could it be that after three weeks as star baker, the pressure of perfection would tell in her pastry finish? Paul Hollywood couldn't hide his disappointment at Ruby's under-filled quail's egg tartlets, but they were certainly more appealing than Beca's walnut-and-stilton macaroons, which looked like two concrete paving stones cemented together with mould. I'm not saying I wouldn't scoff all 12, but I'd insist on keeping my eyes closed throughout.

It was the Charlotte Royale that really sorted the women from the girls. No, I'd never heard of it either (Mary Berry makes them up as she goes along, doesn't she?), but apparently it consists of Bavarian custard encased by sliced Swiss roll. As Sue pointed out, the finished product looks exactly like a quivering pink brain, which made the sight of Mary slicing into one with a large knife unexpectedly gruesome.

At least it probably tasted nice. That's more than can be said for some of the flavour combinations in their opera cakes. Ruby's puzzling addition of saffron to everything won't help her win, but it was worth it "just to spite Paul", while a pun on "soap opera" was all the excuse Frances needed to combine the washing-up liquid flavours of lavender and lemon. It's all very clever, but would anyone want to eat it?