Letõs batter them, Mary!
Fiendish judge Paul Hollywood’s lips are sealed on Bake Off’s toughest test yet
aul Hollywood is smiling. Which is always a worry. We almost prefer it when The Great British Bake Off judge is patrolling the tent in silence, a brooding, slightly menacing presence, whose icy stare is only made bearable by the quietly encouraging serenity of Mary Berry by his side.
He’s up to something. And it can’t spell good news for the remaining nine bakers who have miraculously survived cake, biscuit and bread week. ‘It’s week four – you don’t expect us to suddenly start going easy on the bakers, do you?’ he winks.
‘It’s time to get them out of their comfort zones with a new theme and challenges we’ve never done before, so they won’t have had a chance to see it,’ he continues.
If you think the bakers have had a rough ride so far with those glazed mirror cakes, 3D gingerbread showstoppers and exquisite bread centrepieces, buckle up for this week’s batter theme.
‘We wanted something taxing,’ says Paul. ‘I don’t want to give too much away, but think of something with a thick consistency which grows in the oven. We’ve made the technical challenge – er, tricky!’
P‘Tricky?’ counters judging partner Mary, incredulously.
‘It was blooming impossible!’
‘Oh, leave it out, would you!’ grins Paul, clearly enjoying any challenge which will rattle the nerves of Candice, Benjamina,
Tom and the rest of the tent gang.
‘The truth is, the series really gets going for me this week,’ says Paul.
‘When the 12 arrive at the beginning it’s very, very difficult for them because they don’t know each other, they don’t know who’s going to be a friend, or who’s going to watch what they’re doing. They don’t know how to communicate, really, but the friendships between them are building up now and,
after starting nervously, they settle down and the baking starts to flow.’
Back to the batter, though, and hmmm, we can think of a few things that are made of batter…
‘Oh, can you… well, they’ve got to be good!’ teases Paul. ‘The bakers can fill their creations with mousse, roulade – they can do a full English breakfast in them if they like – but it’s got to have amazing flavours and look great.’
‘Yes, we’ve got to want to eat it, it must look good,’ agrees Mary. ‘But I think people forget that taste is immensely important to us. It’s the one thing, one advantage, up our sleeves – unlike viewers, we get to taste it!’
Now judging their seventh series, the duo must take some serious impressing, though – haven’t they pretty much seen and tasted it all by now?
‘No,’ says Mary. ‘Take the drizzle cake challenge in the first week: they came up with all sorts of drizzle flavours – yuzu, poppy seed, cardamom – which I’d never have thought of. It was so exciting.’ ‘We are hard to impress but we have a rule of thumb,’ explains Paul. ‘If they go for simplicity it’s got to be perfect: absolutely exhibition standard. If they go for something complicated they must make it as impressive as possible. We’ve got some elaborate stuff coming up.’
So which bakers hold their nerve this week and which get a battering? (Sorry, couldn’t resist). The judges are remaining tightlipped, but Paul admits to winding the hopefuls up when they’re in the midst of concentrating, trying to keep a lid on their frazzled nerves…
‘i like to remind them where they are so i walk in the tent playing the Bake Off theme tune on my phone. It freaks them out,’ he chuckles. ‘It suddenly dawns on them again where they are.’
Meanie! Turning 50 in March hasn’t mellowed you then, Paul? ‘I’ve always been mellow!’ he grins.
‘I beg your pardon?’ says Mary, eyebrows raised, clearly disagreeing.
‘I have! I may have been a bit scratchy occasionally, but I’m more mellow this year.’
‘He has mellowed a little as the years have gone on – maybe he’s growing up,’ muses Mary.
‘I’m apparently this big horrible person, but what viewers don’t see is that if someone’s really upset I’ll have a word with them privately,’ says Paul. ‘When the cameras are off I’ll whisper, “Don’t worry, it’s only a baking show”.’
‘Er – while also giving them a look that puts the fear of God into them!’ interrupts Mary.
There’s clearly no pulling the wool over the eyes of Britain’s First Lady of Baking. ‘We both wear the trousers in the tent,’ says Mary firmly.
‘Yeah, we both do actually,’ agrees Paul.
Speaking of trousers, how are their waistlines coping? It’s round about the fourth week when they and Mel and Sue groan about piling on extra pounds – an occupational hazard working in the tent. Did they diet before filming started?
‘No, no, no!’ says Paul. ‘I’ve never been on a diet and never will. I race cars now so I’ve been training and doing a lot of weightlifting and boxing, but no diets.’
‘We’re opposites,’ says Mary,
81. ‘I do no training, no gym, nothing other than I walk, play tennis and I do watch what I eat. I still eat all the things I love.’
Including cake? ‘Ooh, absolutely. Cake is very important to me, but it’s all about the size of the slice.’
Let’s hope the calories in batter week aren’t too much for the judges’ waistlines – and that the bakers survive what sounds like Bake Off’’s toughest technical challenge yet.
‘It’s tough, but fun,’ promises Paul. ‘Well, it’s fun for us anyway!’
is Previewed on Pages 66-67
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