LImmediately, it appears that Channel 4 has put the Bake Off franchise to substantial use. Since Season 11 ended, we’ve had recaps and holiday shows, seemingly weekly. The Great New Year Bake Off (Channel 4), the last of two seasonal specials, brings back Nancy, Rahul, Helena and Henry, all stellar parts of their respective years, to show that there is still a lot of heat in those ovens. This is a Now That’s What I Call Bake Off special, an opportunity to bring the band together one more time.
The Bake Off proved, that’s a play on words, and I think having to point it out mens that it’s successful, being a national tonic as the months of the pandemic progressed. Everything that made him so eminently visible, and everything that this seemingly limitless life has given him, felt absolutely good in 2020. It was kind, comforting, and fun, and it spoke of our growing national appetite for chasing flour and eggs, and trying to make a cake or a cookie, if not in the shape of the Louvre, at least as something vaguely edible. It feels appropriate that it also takes us to 2021.
Traditionally this time of the new year you see a me culpa for the excesses of December, while more puritanical sensibilities emerge: no alcohol, a healthier diet, perhaps even more vegan participants. So putting on a show like this, full of drinking jokes and delicious-looking, butter-dependent sweet treats, is on the verge of trolling. I will accept it, happily. And one of those bad buns too, thanks.
Nancy’s return to the tent after her victory six years ago is a triumph. (I don’t know if it’s actually a win, previews are sent without the episode winner being revealed.) Nancy is one of the few historical contestants with the ability to put Paul Hollywood in the rear, and she continues to speak with brilliant clarity. Try doing a bath, or a “bay,” and you end up with what she describes, fairly, as steamed pitta breads. When Noel Fielding says she will make tea and asks her how much sugar she wants, she responds, “What, in a gin and tonic?” After Prue praises her Caribbean-inspired crumbling, she gives Paul a look and yells, “What about you?”
Rahul is at the other end of the Bake Off spectrum – he still apologizes endlessly, he still likes a story that goes on and on. Rahul is a nuclear scientist and, like when doctors appear on reality TV shows, you always end up secretly hoping that he does well and that he doesn’t have to give up his day job. Rahul’s enthusiasm for absolutely everything is irresistible. “What a nice invention, huh?” marvels, upon learning of the existence of apple pickers. After winning his series, hopefully Rahul’s nerves have faded, but he admits he’s more nervous than ever. And they may tease him for his talk, but his story about his 21st birthday, involving giant rats and a rooftop garden in Kolkata, deserves its own hour-long special.
The 21st birthday cake is a clever idea for a spectacular show, because it incorporates the best challenge snippets, combining the different ages of the contestants and thus different landmarks and personal stories. Henry, dry as always, says he’s treating it like his 21st birthday, as he was locked up when the actual event happened. Helena, whose usual Goths with Fielding reach new heights, makes a cake that is half confectionery, half activity center. It’s a celebration and you have the familiarity of hanging out with old friends.
Matt Lucas is more than adapted to hosting duties. His arrival seemed to indicate a slightly higher level of obscenity than the Sandi Toksvig era allowed, though that doesn’t men I blame him. This episode reaches a peak of innuendo when Nancy is talking to the cameras outside and it starts to rain. “Don’t get your fluffy wet,” he tells the sound technician. Later, the judges are informed that yes, they can eat the balls. The plums, I must inform you, are squeezed. I’m not saying it’s big, I’m not saying it’s smart, but times are tough, and if we need obscenities to get over it, then obscenities will do.
These smaller episodes, with four bakers, rather than the crowded tent we’re used to, have a lot more to do with personalities than cakes, and that’s okay too. These bakers represent everything Bake Off has to offer. It’s less instructive, although I learned that adding cornmel to cooked fruit in a crumble will help bind it together and make it less sloppy, and that ice cream tends to taste excessively because ice freezes taste buds, but that mens there is more to it. time for stories about giant rats and a roof garden in Kolkata.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism