There’s no million-pound recording contract, or the promise of a number one album. Just a trophy, a round of jolly hugs and perhaps a few tears from the usually unflappable Mary Berry. Yet this is the most hotly contested competition on television. Sorry, Simon Cowell – Paul Hollywood rules. The faux-amateur approach – a WI-style cake contest, all fluttery bunting and floral aprons – belies its success.
Bake Off has gone global with 20 versions worldwide. The 2015 final, was watched by a stiff peak of 15 million BBC One viewers, making it last year’s most-watched programme. So what does it take to translate 10 weeks of tension, tears – and the very occasional tantrum – in the ‘tent’ into a dream career of baking for a living? As the seventh series gets underway, here’s our recipe for Bake Off success:
Big up the booze
It can’t be coincidence that all these claimed the star baker spot: Jason White’s cocktail-flavoured macarons, Chetna Makan’s almond liqueur torte, Mat Riley’s piña colada frangipane tart and Ian Cummings’ biscotti with a zabaglione dip.
Make it a team effort
Enlist the help of your nearest and dearest. John Whaite’s partner, a graphic designer, created the template for the 2012 champion’s gingerbread Roman Colosseum. Nancy Birtwhistle’s husband created moulds for her bakes. Nadiya’s husband, Abdul, was enthusiastically supportive – although she didn’t always listen to his advice.
Beware the beetroot
Rose can be thorny
Six contestants have been eliminated for being too enthusiastic with the rose flavouring, including Deborah Manger in series four, and Danny Bryden for her rosewater & lychee St Honoré in series three.
Tweet your progress
With as much of a following as the series. Canny bakers should use social media to build their profile for potential book deals and TV opportunities once the series ends. Heartthrob medic Tamal Ray, one of last year’s finalists, used Twitter to extend his fanbase. As an anaesthetist working shifts, he couldn’t always watch his own progress and tweeted: ‘No Bake Off for me tonight as I’m on nights again. Feeling sadder than a very sad panda…’
Talking of animals…
Never underestimate the power of a creature crafted in dough. Paul Jagger didn’t win, but his lion bread inspired hard-to-please Hollywood to say: ‘That is one of the best things I’ve seen in bread, ever.’
Think big, think kitsch
A winner’s CV needs a standout showstopper – a mix of audacity, skill and surrealism. Remember Frances Quinn’s giant matchbox with breadstick matches or Nancy Birtwhistle’s edible Moulin Rouge? And the pièce de résistance? Nadiya’s levitating soda can cake with Italian meringue ‘foam’.
Nadiya’s winning formula
Nadiya Hussain’s advice for would-be champions:
Plan ahead. ‘I tried to predict which technicals might come up. My husband created a spreadsheet of the five previous series. Before the semi-final, he said, “I think they’re going to do a chocolate soufflé.” Did I listen? No! He brings it up, now and again as ammunition.
Swot up. ‘Before the show, I bought Paul and Mary’s books. I didn’t make many dishes, but looking at the recipes helped.’
Don’t fight gravity. ‘When the judges want something big, scale it back – that gives you a fighting chance of it not falling apart. If they want a stack of cheesecakes, do small-ish ones. It gives you more time and is more achievable.’
- Flavour to the max. ‘It has to look great, but flavour is what really counts. I messed up my vol-au-vents but the judges hadn’t tasted my fillings before – Bengali korma and cod and clementine. Those stayed with them.’
Test your own technical baking skills with a showstopper from our celebration cake collection.
Think you’ve got the winning baking formula? Let us know your never-fail showstoppers in the comment section below…