Lining up a fresh batch of aspiring bakers

The Great British Bake Off is back tonight, so Gemma Dunn finds out what’s in store

Lining up a fresh batch of aspiring bakers

The Great British Bake Off is back tonight, so Gemma Dunn finds out what’s in store

Paul Hollywood is musing over some of The Great British Bake Off’s more well-known fans. “There’s a lot of celebrities, a lot of people that approach you. It’s crazy, where it’s got to...,” he begins.

“There were a couple of people on Instagram, a very famous American actress, who’d baked something,” he recalls, furtively.

“She sent a video and said, ‘I wonder what Paul Hollywood would say about this?’ And you’re going, ‘What?’

“And then you get people like Nick Mason, the drummer of Pink Floyd, who bakes all the time.

“I also remember getting a call from Ronnie Corbett years ago; he wanted to speak to me, he baked a lot of bread!” quips Hollywood, 53.

Then there’s Taylor Swift. Keira Knightley... She once tried to bin off a premiere to go and watch the final of the Bake Off! It’s just incredible.

Now back for a 10th season, its third since on Channel 4, the baking competition is set to once again delight the nation, with judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, plus presenting duo Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, returning for the ride.

This year’s participants showcase a younger demographic than most.

“They’re much younger and actually it’s been the hardest year judging, personally, for me, because it was all about detail,” admits Hollywood, who has been a staple of the show since its 2010 inception.

“You judge them in your head and mark them one to ten, and then in the next round they all do the opposite!” explains the Cheshire native.

“Then you have to sit around the table and decide who’s going to be star baker and who’s going to go.

You have absolutely no idea, it could be any one of them!

“Paul’s right,” Leith chimes.

“The number of times that the person who has won the technical or won the signature round comes last in the showstopper, it happens over and over again.

“The hard thing for them is if they’re sent home because they’ve cocked up,” she empathises. “They know it’s perfectly fair but they’re just so angry with themselves.”

“I’d rather judge them when they’ve done the best they can, rather than when they’ve made a mistake,” Hollywood says. “It makes it easier and it’s nicer for them. But, that’s the job and I think the decisions we’ve made are correct and you go home with a clear conscience.”

But it’s not just youthful contestants getting a slice of the action — those watching at home spans generations, too. “We know it’s cool to bake; you see it in schools,” coos Hollywood, who shares a teenage son with ex-wife Alexandra. “I’ve been into schools in the past to judge and the reaction is incredible,” he reminisces. “I remember when I first walked in, I heard screams!

Baking has become such a cool thing to do, and if you’re a girl, a young lad, if you can bake, you’ll get friends. Always.

Even the judges how found themselves inspired. “I’ve been amazed at how much more baking I’ve done since I’ve been on this show!” Leith confesses.

“I used to bake the odd cake,” she adds, “If someone was coming to dinner, I would make a polenta cake for pudding or whatever; or [if we were] having people for the weekend, I’d make a cake the kids could eat. But now I tend to nick the recipes from the bakers!”

She follows: “I pinched Steven Carter-Bailey’s caramel cake recipe and I took Paul Hollywood’s chocolate cake. I don’t even like chocolate cake! But this particular cake is delicious. And very rich.

“Now it’s one of the most popular things I bake because it’s the one I use for my grandchildren’s’ birthday cakes because they all like chocolate!” says the grandmother-of-four.

“We had a challenge a couple of years back which was a basket meringue cake, and I have done that in the past for a quick birthday thing or to go to a dinner party,” Hollywood adds.

What about the future — can they see an end in sight?

Hollywood laughs that he still wants to be doing the show when he’s “a grumpy old man with a stick”.

“And my ambition is not so ambitious,” Leith responds.

I just want to at least equal Mary Berry; she did seven years, so I’ve got another four years to go!

The Great British Bake Off returns to Channel 4 tonight

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