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Thumbs-up (and nearly thumbs off) for ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and Nigella

The strain of baking to a deadline in a kitchen that isn’t their own drives even the calmest cooks to distraction

Gossip columnists can finally sleep again at night: Nigella has returned to the melee of social media with a photograph of a nice-looking slice of blackcurrant Victoria sponge. She went silent after the publication of those vile photos of Charles Saatchi grabbing her neck but now she’s back, armed with cake, to watch The Great British Bake Off

If any TV show was capable of mending a broken heart, it would surely be TGBBO. It’s ostensibly about cooking, but actually about the way British people cope with adversity. There are no tragic interviews with the contestants weeping at the long-ago death of a much-loved pet or distant cousin, which define every other TV talent show. I’ve often wondered when someone will murder a relative just so they have something to cry about on The X-Factor.

TGBBO is a classier programme, casually studded with information about the contestants’ lives, like chocolate chips in a cookie. Only gradually do we learn their backgrounds, long after we’ve gleaned an insight into their characters from the way they cope when custard curdles.

The strain of baking to a deadline in a kitchen that isn’t their own drives even the calmest cooks to distraction. This week’s GBBO was like the Somme for hands, as every contestant succumbed to panic and sliced into one or more fingers. Paul and Mary were lucky not to be tucking into a plate full of blue plasters. And still, the bakers produced cakes wrapped in sugar paper bags or covered in truffles. One had sculpted a bear – an actual three-dimensional bear – out of moulding chocolate. Another had hidden a cake-squirrel within her cake. This, it hardly needs saying, is not the behaviour of a quitter.

The good thing for the less exacting cook is that even most baking failures are edible (though not if you accidentally use salt in place of sugar, as happened in this week’s episode). Produced a birthday cake that’s lopsided and who will care? You made them a damn cake. Make chocolate cake that’s a bit dry, and you swiftly discover this is why God gave us brandy, with which to soak it, and custard, with which to eat it.

Nigella is the über-cook – someone who bakes for pleasure rather than because it’s her job – so no wonder she enjoys watching others do the same. I too will be willing the mangled hands of the bakers to hold steady. I’ll gasp in sympathy when someone drops a tray of biscuits and I’ll cheer when their soufflés rise. Mostly, I’ll be hoping they dispel their demons as they knead their dough. It’s a piece of cake.