The Great British Bake Off returns this month with a fresh batch of bakers trying out their cakes, pies and bread creations in the tent.
Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding will again guide the hopefuls through their technical challenges and signature bakes before the final in November.
And as a treat to the show’s nine million fans, the “cake week” opener has been extended into a 90-minute special.
Here we speak to judges Paul and Prue about what’s in store for this series.
- GBBO, August 27, Channel 4, 8pm.
Any changes for the 10th series?
Paul: The challenges have been scaled back – not a lot – because I thought we’ve been running away with some of them. If you make them too difficult people will not be interested.
How are the bakers coping?
Prue: This is my third year – Paul’s been doing it forever – so I don’t know if it’s always true but sometimes you can see a baker in the beginning and you think he or she will be fantastic and will walk it.
And it’s quite worrying because you don’t really want somebody to gallop ahead. And almost always, at some point, they do really badly! So there’s a sort of seesaw and it’s really confusing.
Do you feel gutted when a good person goes because of a bad mistake?
Paul: I feel upset because I know they’re capable of much more and in that particular week they’ve messed up and that’s it, they’re gone. The best bakers are the ones that are good at everything.
Prue: You can have a weak-ish week but you’ve got to be better than the worst one. You cannot afford to really cock up thoroughly because that’s the week you’ll go out. It’s not as if you can take credits from week one and stack them up to go against something terrible in week two.
Any other milestones coming up?
Paul: This year I break my 500th challenge over all Bake Offs – the American ones, junior ones, Christmas celeb ones – which is a lot.
Anything else that could be done with Bake Off?
Paul: I’d like to get an international Bake Off going so we would challenge the French version, or the Americans, or the Aussies and have multi-international judges there as well.
Prue: It’s whether you’d get the winners. If they don’t win it they’ll come again and again until they win but when they win it they never come back.
Anything about this series that’s standing out so far?
Paul: There’s a couple of bakers this year who are very good and you wouldn’t expect them to be good – I don’t think they expect them to be good.
Prue: What hasn’t changed is the sort of homely, friendly [atmosphere]. There’s no malice to it, we’re never wanting to humiliate people or choosing somebody just because we can laugh at them. You sometimes feel with some talent shows that somebody’s there for comic value.
Do you tone down your critiques?
Paul: You can’t say it’s good if it’s not. Just because the person’s nice you cannot say “that’s a great bake” when you know it’s not. You have to be honest. But it has to be constructive, not destructive.
What about when they get upset? Do you feel you’re too mean?
Paul: No. It’s not personal, I’m only having a go at scones. They are an emotional bunch this year.
I’ve got a job to do, I can’t go around and go, “Well actually it’s really good, stop crying!” I’ve hugged a couple of bakers and they’ve really broken down. I went round and gave them a hug and said [whispers]: “It’s only a baking show.” But I said: “No one’s filming that are they? That was too nice.”
I have got a soft side but that’s not why I’m here, I’m here to judge.
Prue: He’s as tough as old boots – but I get really upset. The ones who are really upset will always say they’ve learnt a lot.
How can you be so steely?
Paul: Professionally that’s my job. The times you walk into bakeries and the baker’s trying to the pull wool over your eyes. You scan to see how many trays have been done, we’re a tray short. I go: “Where’s the other tray?” They’ve stuck it in a prover and it’s burnt and I lose it.
So I’m striving for perfection all the time – that’s the point of Bake Off.
Are times difficult for bakers at the moment?
Paul: All the bakers I know are struggling, it’s really difficult to make money. People don’t know what’s happening with Brexit , the businesses are panicking. They’ve got no idea where they’re going to go in the future.
Prue: And rents are amazing, because there was this great boom of chains taking more and more space, they thought they could charge a fortune and the rents went up and now the businesses have gone bust.
Do you still have the same enthusiasm?
Paul: You see the standard everyone has – this place [the tent] has become almost a shrine to baking now in this country. I get the same feeling still and I know Prue does and we all do, there’s something special about this tent.
Prue: When you come in after a gap there’s a surge of excitement. The first time I walked into this tent I had no idea it was so big.
Were you nervous?
Prue: I was very nervous. The very first day we were in here – there were 12 bakers I’d never seen before, we had been given a sheet with their names but we hadn’t yet really learnt them, so I was about to walk in and I said to Paul: “That’s James, isn’t it?” And he said, “No it’s Peter.” So I go in and say, “Oh hello Peter”, laughter all around. He was lying. Mean.
Do you have to pander to 21st century eating habits?
Paul: We’re not pandering, but we’ll have a nod to it. We’ve done dairy-free and sugar-free before, we’ve been doing it for most of the Bake Off, we just drop in challenges because it has to reflect what people’s eating habits are.
Is clean eating ruining people’s attitude towards food?
Prue: It’s about enjoyment. Food shouldn’t do you any harm, obviously you don’t want a bad diet, but it should be one of life’s great pleasures.
The trouble is, it’s been corrupted by this sort of panic about food being the enemy and people get neurotic and start worrying about clean guts and all the rest of it.
Paul: Anything in moderation is OK – that’s why we say a balanced diet.
It changes every week doesn’t it? The public are getting bombarded. Do anything – just in moderation.
So eating cake and bread isn’t bad for people?
Prue: If you eat good ingredients, and moderately, it should not be a problem.
If you look at the bakers over the years, how many obese bakers have there been? There have been a few – nobody’s saying you can’t join Bake Off if you’re obese – but by and large bakers, just like cooks, are not particularly overweight.
And the bakers all lose weight while they’re here, which may be the stress – in spite of eating a lot of cake.
Paul: You can burn calories making bread! You make a loaf at home, the amount of working out you’re doing on your arms, your biceps, triceps, by the time you eat that loaf you’d have burnt it off anyway so it negates it.
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