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Home / Latest News / The Great British Bake Off: Welsh contestant is icing on cake for comfort TV at its finest

The Great British Bake Off: Welsh contestant is icing on cake for comfort TV at its finest

Bake Off is back. Prepare yourself for 10 weeks of flour-dusted drama, a rainbow selection of Mary Berry’s lovely jackets and assorted Daily Mail articles on Paul Hollywood’s tortured love life.

And, of course, lots and lots of cake.

This series has an added topping of excitement for me because my friend Rhiannon’s daughter Beca will be baking for Wales.

Originally from Cardiff, the 31-year-old former events manager, army wife and Mam to baby Mari is a dough-kneading, cake-creating macaroon-making marvel.

Beca Lyne-Perkis on the Great British Bake Off
Beca Lyne-Perkis on the Great British Bake Off

 

To get on the show in the first place is a massive achievement. Beca is one of 13 chosen from a staggering 14,000 applicants.

So tune in tomorrow night to root for our Cymric contestant.

It’s the cookery programme that’s captured the nation’s heart like no other.

What are the ingredients that constitute its recipe for success (yes I know, that culinary metaphor is older than Mrs Beeton)?

Perhaps it’s easier to start with what it hasn’t got.

No-one snarls: “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this” even though a mille feuille pastry challenge on Bake Off can be as fiendish as anything Masterchef throws at its amateur cooks.

No-one gets bullied, sworn at or ridiculed.

That’s not to say there are no tears, however.

Who can forget Llanelli bus driver Mark’s anguish?

There are few more affecting sights than a grown man crying over collapsed ginger cake.

And there are no egomaniac chefs speaking in four-letter words or incomprehensible Frenglish.

(While we’re on the subject, please BBC when are we going to get subtitles for Raymond Blanc? I’ve heard more decipherable accents on ‘Allo ‘Allo.)

But the clue’s in the title.

Great British implies the culinary values of the WI rather than a fancy fusion restaurant. Hence the nostalgic styling.

If Cath Kidston made reality television formats, this would be it.

Forget Nigella’s industrial chic kitchen or the modernist work-stations of Masterchef – like a garden fete in Hampshire, all Bake Off needs is a tent.

Even the genius decision to have the series fronted by Mel Sue has a pleasing retro feel.

The pair take us back to an era when television execs gambled on female presenters who were funny, talented and looked like normal women rather than Tess Daly.

I’m less taken with Paul Hollywood – though I have friends who would happily leave home for him wearing nothing but a rose-print apron.

My suspicions that he was rather too aware of his burgeoning Mr Sexy Bread appeal were confirmed when his marriage collapsed amid rumours of a relationship with his co-star on The American Baking Competition, 35-year-old Marcela Valladoid.

They do say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, however, and his extra-marital adventures have certainly kept Bake Off in the papers in recent months, ensuring there’s a sharper edge of sourdough alongside the icing sugar.

But of course the wholesome heart of the programme is Hollywood’s co-presenter.

There’s not so much something about Mary but everything about Mary.

For a start, she’s 78. An old lady on telly? This breaks every rule in British popular culture.

Think about it. The only other female septuagenarians regularly on television are the grannies knitting breakfast cereal in the Shreddies advert and those horrible Wonga puppets.

On the small screen, ageing men get distinguished, ageing women get extinguished.

Fifty five is considered positively Paleolithic for female television personalities, yet on Bake Off we have Mary Berry smashing stereotypes of elderly women with every elegant outfit, incisive comment and her sheer charisma.

She also gives me a pang because she is the same age my mother would have been and has the same bright blue eyes, soft blonde hair and beautiful cheekbones.

And perhaps Mary takes all of us back to a nice, warm, family place and the reassurance of your Mam and your Nan baking in simpler times.

So Bake Off has tapped into the comfort of the idealised home kitchen and the comfort of cake, a nostalgic phenomenon that should not be underestimated.

After all, from the first candle-topped sponge to a three-tiered wedding confection, cake marks most of life’s major milestones.

Cake can act as therapy too.

When I was homesick at university, my Aunty Mary sent me a package of her legendary Welsh cakes.

The parcel split open in the college lodge but thankfully the porter was from Aberdare and recognised how precious its contents were – after he’d helped himself to a taste of home.

For me a family Christmas could only begin when a certain baking ritual was complete.

Arriving back in the Rhondda on Christmas Eve the first thing my mother would hand me before I’d barely taken my coat off was a warm mince pie stuffed with melting brandy butter. For cake-making is an act of love.

Unlike other food which is simply fuel, we make cakes as treats for family and friends.

At this point, I should come clean on my own domestic goddess credentials.

I have only actually made two cakes in my life – one the obligatory Victoria Sandwich in the Home Economics class of 1980; and two, a carrot cake baked for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago.

So astonished were my family by this uncharacteristic culinary act they asked me if I’d secretly bought it and messed up the icing a bit to make it look home-made.

When I responded with an outraged no, they asked: “But you did use one of those pre-prepared cake mixes, didn’t you.”

How dare you – I made it from scratch and spent the entire length of a Cardiff Blues v Munster match grating carrots.

The reason for their incredulity was the cake actually tasted delicious. I was as surprised as they were.

And this is another reason Bake Off succeeds.

It’s not about faffing around with foams, coulis or complicated fish-gutting.

As Hollywood says, everyone can have a go at cake: “Baking is approachable. If you have a good set of digital scales and follow the recipe it will work. Even international rugby players make fairy cake.”

My skill are not in the same realms of Beca Lyn-Perkis, who will be putting a contemporary twist on the Cymric cooking heritage she has inherited from her West Wales Nan and South Wales Nan.

“Baking has always been my hobby, but I would love to make it my job. I have dreamed about baking for a living since I was a little girl,” she says.

She couldn’t have a better platform for achieving that dream than competing in Britain’s favourite cookery show.

So get baking Beca. Wales will be rooting for you. And if you do well in Bake Off that will be the icing on the cake.

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