Colm O'Regan: Good lockdown viewing is something where everything just works out OK

Colm O'Regan: Good lockdown viewing is something where everything just works out OK

Students — are you confused about whether you should be a baker, or designer, or engineer, or artist, or architect?

You can be all of them at the same time. If you’re an Extreme Cake Maker.

The unlikely Lockdown (Part 3: The Reckoning) comfort watch — the back-catalogue of Channel 4’s Extreme Cake Making on Netflix.

Every episode has a similar structure. Narrator Rufus Hound will introduce a number of cake makers. Then he’ll say some variation of “but this is [their] toughest challenge yet” and reveal what they have to bake. It could be a functioning slot machine or an 11-tier fairy tale palace suspended from the ceiling. Or a giant squid.

The baker gets to work. First, they nonchalantly unwrap a set of enormous vanilla sponges that they have baked earlier. While mere mortals would be fretting over turloughs in their sponge, these professionals just take the cling film off a perfect disc the size of a tractor wheel (the back one). They observe it with the dispassion of a foreman watching the crane bring in a bale of blocks. It’s just building material.

Then they layer it. How many layers will depend on how many metric tons the cake weighs. Layers are arranged around a perfectly solid structure of platforms and pillars which, we are reminded, is non-edible.

Once they’ve sawed the rough shape, there will be the first mention of ganache. Always ganache. I didn’t know of the chocolate plaster’s existence in 2020, but now the word ganache trips off my tongue with well … panache.

“Meanwhile, 30 miles further north …” Rufus moves off to someone else who is putting an entire model train through a cake mountain tunnel.

Rufus will hint at upcoming problems in the opening credits but — spoiler alert — disasters pictured are few and far between. And all fixed. This is why it’s good lockdown viewing. I want to watch something where everything just works out OK. My tolerance for reality drama is zero. Reality is bad enough.

Some drama is unavoidable. There is the car journey. A lot of us have transported a cake at some point. We’ve cursed speed ramps and looked over our shoulder to see whether decades of underinvestment in infrastructure have chipped a bit of icing. So we empathise with the extreme cake makers as they wince in case a chandelier made of sugar has fallen off one of the vanilla sponge gazebos.

But most of the time it’s fine. I’m glad. The cake makers are nice people. There are no villains here, only pros.

It’s time for the reveal! I worry the person’s reaction isn’t as effusive as the cake deserves. Especially with the wedding cakes. The wedding cakes are inspired by many things, but chiefly they seemed to be inspired by having one more tier than the wedding cake in the previous season of Extreme Cake Makers.

And I worry that the client has got it wrong and this isn’t what the cake would really like. "...and this scale reconstruction of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest took a month to make. But let's see what birthday boy, three-year-old Jamie, makes of it." 

But mostly the reactions are adequate. There are sometimes tears. And I join in.

I try not to think too much about food waste. Especially when Molly — after 60 episodes, we are on first-name terms now — has to make a LIFE-SIZED BABY ELEPHANT for a birthday party. It weighs 100 kilos, but there are only about 10 skinny malinks there to eat it.

But it’s fine. Because 200 miles south in Cornwall, a 10-year-old is about to eat his own cake head.

Bon appetit.

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