Old-timer Paul Hollywood is joined by a host of new faces in the great 'Bake Off' shake-up of 2017LOVE PRODUCTIONS

Let me be honest with you: I’d love to have Mary Berry drizzle my lemon and prod my sponge. So when the love of my culinary life hopped off the Bake Off ship out of loyalty to the BBC, I was determined to follow suit. But, as it turns out, it only takes waving a slice of cake on TV at me, and my principles collapse like a badly baked soufflé. My doubts about the Channel 4 takeover lasted for the first minute or so of the premiere, and by the time the theme tune rolled on, I was salivating to it like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear Berry-esque revelations of how Paul ‘loves his buns’ when the series has had some time to rise.”

What I had feared the most about the new Bake Off without Mary, Mel, Sue, or the BBC, was the enigmatic ‘Channel 4 twist’ that had been thrown around as a buzzword in press releases. There was a sense of foreboding in the run up to series eight: what with Taylor Swift literally burying her old self in her new music video only days before broadcast, I feared Channel 4 might give GBBO a similar treatment, albeit with less spandex and more dough. Nightmares of Paul Hollywood being branded as the ‘Big Brother of Bread’, or the employment of a fembot à la Humans to replace Mary Berry haunted my mind. No thanks.

It’s the subtlety of everything that makes Bake Off so lovable, and that’s also very easy to mess up. Where else does a melted baked Alaska or someone binning their spoiled sponges cause major furore? As my American Bake Off addict friend said: “They’re so nice. Like, that wouldn’t happen on US TV.” But, contrary to my fears, they’re still nice over on Channel 4. And the new cast does it all with a tip of the hat to the old ones.

Paul is now paired up with Prue Leith, and the Mel and Sue duo is replaced with Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding. Paul and Prue (I hate to admit it, but that does have a better ring to it than ‘Mary and Paul’) work well as a ‘good cop/bad cop’ double act. They are still missing the beloved working dynamic of their predecessors, but I’m happy to leave the pair in the proving draw and see what emerges with time – I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear Berry-esque revelations of how Paul ‘loves his buns’ when the series has had some time to rise.

All the familiar baking banter and innuendo return in the new series thanks to its quirky new hostsLOVE PRODUCTIONS

Also, Sandi and Noel have their buns very much in the oven: the presenting is not quite the same parade of non-stop innuendo as before, even if the bare-bottomed mini chocolate rolls do offer much potential, but the subtler style of the new duo is a winning recipe in its own way. Always a bit at loss, Noel’s insecure character falls nothing short of affable. Making the angst of being the new kid on the block explicit, Noel works as a major nod to people like me who might still be pining over the previous presenters. And it works – my heart has grown quite fondant of Noel.

“What ensues is a parade of cakes in the form of juicy melons, phallic champagne bottle tops, and even a terrarium for cacti.”

The cast aside, the Bake Off recipe book is still very much followed to the letter, and the trinity of signature, technical, and showstopper challenges is preserved. Fruit cakes as the starter signature bake and mini chocolate rolls (although, as one baker points out, why would one ever bake a mini anything?) as the technical challenge are standard, run-of-the-mill material: the first suitably varied to leave room for creativity, and the latter fiddly enough to expose any shaky hands.

What blows the bank, though, is the showstopper – illusion cakes. Past series have seen bakers create bread sculptures – Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ in bread form remains a personal favourite – and construct nuns out of dough but disguising a non-cake as a cake is easily the trickiest first episode bake ever. What ensues is a parade of cakes in the form of juicy melons, phallic champagne bottle tops, and even a terrarium for cacti (although I can’t say I’d be the first to bite into anyone’s cactus), all baked to perfection with so few slips that I’m left wondering if the bakers are actually amateurs this time round.

Apparently so, because the contestant demographic follows the tried and tested recipe. We have Liam, a student from Hackney, as the ‘young one’, Flo as the grandparent figure with additional Scouse accent appeal, and several of the DIY-baking-tool measuring-is-everything types, from biomedical scientist Yan to architect Tom.

Plus, there’s the occasional face palm moment to banish any remaining doubts of the bakers being professional pastry chefs in disguise. If the recipe tells you to whisk your eggs separately but you dump them directly into your batter, you shouldn’t really be wondering why your sponges keep coming out of the oven in a sadly flattened state, now should you, Chris? And Yan – yes, you do have to switch your oven on for it to bake anything.

Unlike all of the bakers, though, Channel 4 has its eggs whisked, oven on, and ingredients in sync. I still want you to stiffen the peaks of my meringue, Mary Berry, but, against all odds, I have to say this: there’s no soggy bottom in sight for Bake Off 2.0

Sponsored links