The Great British Bake Off: Judge stabs baker with hot skewer – verbally

Review: Self-referencing contestants add charming colour to show’s reliable format

The contestants in this year’s Great British Bake Off.

It says something about The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm), now in its tenth series of competitive confectionary construction, and its uniquely soothing place in our ever-coarsening world, that it makes sugaring seem sadistic.

Here, the challenge to make a dainty Angel Cake comes with a wicked snicker “You like a bit of cruelty!” Here, you recoil in horror when a delicate lattice of sugar piping in the shape of a house collapses along with its architect’s hopes and dreams (“The worst has happened!” laughs geeky Henry. “The absolute worst!”).

Here, the assessment “there’s not a lot of finesse about this cake”, imparted softly, seem more wounding than if the judge had just stabbed the baker with a hot skewer.

Bake Off, you see, is less about cooking than it is about code: the subtle signification of judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood's expectations, the contestants' risk of public humiliation in the pursuit of modest glory, the presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding's ironic quips and thickly spread double entendres.

Judge Paul Hollywood alongside presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

Rising like sponges

In a grand marquee on the rolling green of a lavish Berkshire estate, among Union Jack bunting, halcyon sunshine and generalised stoicism, the 13 delicate contestants are expected to feel the heat and rise to the occasion, like Genovese sponges.

This they mostly do. "Each year the standard has gotten better and better," says the supposedly implacable judge Paul Hollywood, who is here roundly placated, "and I expect this year to be exactly the same".

Like the best batter for a fruit loaf, neither too thin nor too thick, consistency serves Bake Off well. You may be constantly informed about the “biggest ever” competition or the “first ever” challenge, but the recipe for the show is essentially unaltered.

Perhaps that’s why contestants now reference it from within. “He’s doing the Bake Off thing!” yelps gentle, accident-prone Michael as gentle, accident-prone Dan fans a stubbornly hot cake with his cutting board. Does it work? “No!”

It’s still a little early to evaluate our new ingredients, namely its competitors, who are sifted out in weekly instalments.

But Michelle, from Wales, has emerged as the frontrunner, advancing cake names (Bara Brith Teulu Ni, Ty Tylwyth Teg) that are as mouth-watering as the results (“It’s faultless, actually.” “The best cake I’ve ever eaten”).

Martin, whose hand she clenches tightly (and platonically) before every verdict, is the biggest dote. And Alice, a nervy lip-biter whose parents were dentists, is clearly here to work through complicated psychodynamics on a lifelong mission of revenge.

Her showstopper cake is called A Child in a Sweetshop.

But the consoling message of Bake Off, which you see in the number of grandmother’s recipes followed in the first episode, is that baking is a faithful inheritance of repeating the steps, that whatever the consequence will be for our enamel, the sweeter things in life will go on forever.