The Great British Bake Off: the nine greatest moments

As Bake Off returns for a 10th series on Tuesday, here are the highlights and controversies, from squirrel nuts to #Custardgate

Consider the end times in which The Great British Bake Off has risen like a derelict gingerbread barn from the ashes of a near showstopper disaster. (James Morton, adorable Scotsman, series three.) In the 10 years since a show about a disparate bunch of amateur bakers measuring out flour and whimsy in a countryside tent was commissioned by the BBC, more not-great British stuff has happened than in many other peacetime decades combined.

Bake Off was born into a country reeling from its first hung parliament since the 1970s. It turns 10 as the UK prepares to crash out of the EU without a deal. In between, lots of other nasty things have been stuffed, like an inedible victoria sandwich baked in hate. What I am really wondering, while being waylaid by extended cake metaphors in the grand tradition of #GBBO reportage, is whether The Great British Bake Off is all that is left of what’s great and British in this country?

Everyone has their own theory as to why the show has been such an unprecedented global success. For some, it is Bake Off’s magical ability to induce the warm contentment, sprinkled with mild hysteria, of eating cake. For others, it is the unbridled joy of a lion made out of bread by a prison governor. It combines the bunting-encircled days of the village hall fete with an irresistible, if concocted, vision of modern, diverse, harmonious Britain. In fact, The Great British Bake Off may be the last acceptable form of nostalgia in the UK.

In preparation for the 10th series, why not smooth on a few more layers of wistfulness with a rundown of the best moments from the past nine …


1. Sunken cake pep talk

There is a wonky charm to these six homespun episodes. In the first, Mark Whithers' marmalade tea loaf sank in the middle because he kept opening the oven door to check on it. "You put your heart and soul into this," said Sue Perkins, as he burst into tears. She straightened his tie. Gave him a little pat. "I'm ready for the next challenge," he said shakily. "Which will probably be a saltwater cake, unless you dry those peepers," Sue gently teased. A prototype pep-talk containing all the ingredients of Bake Off's future success: pathos, humour, a rounded teaspoon of melancholia, and words like "peepers".

2. Squirrel nuts

Remember when Robert Billington became the first twee heartthrob in the tent? All boyband hair and clumsy puppy paws. But even the sight of Bake Off’s own Captain Poldark dropping his chocolate genoise mousse cake couldn’t compete with a squirrel’s enorma-balls in the final. It was the equivalent of that lingering shot of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy eyeing each other up over a piano in Andrew Davies’s Pride and Prejudice. Subtle, subversive and deeply naughty.

3. Cathryn tosses strudel dough

This was when Bake Off began to quietly scale the meringue-peaked heights of greatness. Brendan Lynch greasing up his arms to stretch his dough! John Whaite confusing salt and sugar in a technical round, causing Paul Hollywood to retch over his rum babas! James Morton's Fair Isle knits! But no, the winner must be Cathryn Dresser. In episode six, Hollywood's advice to "build up the resistance" of strudel dough by grabbing, twisting, slapping and tossing it until you win virile baker of the year at the county fair was taken too enthusiastically by Cathryn, who catapulted hers to the floor. "It's so hairy!" she laughed. "I'm not serving Mary Berry green carpet."

4. #Custardgate

The controversial one, and not just because Sue elbowed Howard’s muffins. This was the series in which Ruby Tandoh – in the top five contestants of all time for her technical skill in folding bad attitude into false modesty – was accused of being favoured by Hollywood. Which turned out to just be vintage misogyny. Best moment, however, goes to #Custardgate, in which Howard became a victim of theft after Deborah used his crème anglaise in her trifle. Was it, to quote Sue, “the most incredible case of baking espionage” ever seen? Whatever, he ended up a national hero.

5. #Bingate

This may seem insane now, but #Bingate (a bolder, richer #Custardgate, do keep up) was actual front-page news. To attempt to boil this complex saga down to its essence is as pointless as tweeting the plot of Game of Thrones, but, basically, Diana Beard removed Iain Watters’ baked alaska from the freezer. He had a tantrum, threw it in the bin and stormed out of the tent. Then he came back, presented the bin to the judges and was duly voted off. That’s actually it. Anyway, 800 people complained to Ofcom, Iain appeared on Newsnight and Diana’s doctor got involved. Lessons learned: we really didn’t have much to worry about then, did we?

6. Nadiya Hussain’s victory speech

Winner of not just series six, but every Bake Off past and future, the nation’s heart and anything worth dying on a hill for, is Nadiya Hussain. Her facial expressions were gif gold. Her levitating-can showstopper was a metaphysical masterpiece. She was funny, wise, self-deprecating and always magnificently herself. She showed us what Britishness, at its best, could be. And her victory speech was so moving it made everyone, including Mary Berry, cry. “I can and I will” is all I need to reprise here to bring it back in its full Larkin-esque glory.

7. The king of chill

The best moment in the series touted at the time to be Bake Off’s last goes to Selasi Gbormittah or, as he came to be known, the king of chill. He baked from the floor; a yogi practising shivasana while checking on his savarins. He referred to puff pastry as “puff”. He did bump ’n’ grind rolling pin moves for Benjamina Ebuehi. Baking never got cooler than Selasi saying to Mel Giedroyc, when she observed smoke billowing from his dampfnudel, that “it’s the kind of burn that you like”.

8. Biscuit chess

The move to Channel 4 shocked, in the mild and comforting way only Bake Off can, by remaining exactly the same. This was no season six, but what it lacked in Nadiyas it made up for in fiendishly clever bakes. What could top Steven’s chess set made out of a hundred individual biscuit elements, each one purpose-baked to achieve checkmate? It even sharp-elbowed his own manchego clutch with breadstick chain out of the limelight. Actually, Steven was so good the palette knives came out. Let’s face it, there is no greater crime in reality TV – apart from sabotaging someone’s baked alaska – than being too good to be true.

9. Everything Rahul said

“I’m not confident with anything happening around my life … so how can the baking temperature be different?” With this profound ululation of self-effacement, the Eeyore of Bake Off shuffled into our lives. Rahul Mandal, an Indian research scientist who, in the best possible way, looked like a baby moulded by Aardman Animations, confessed he baked to make friends. He had only made his first cake two years earlier and, in his day job, continued to do “first-rate research using lasers”. Can you even imagine 2018 without Rahul? It would be as drab and joyless as a world without cake. No pressure then, series 10 ... – Guardian