Baking is my passion. It’s in my blood. My great granddad owned a bakery. His son, my beloved grandad Bob lived in the tiny seaside town of Ilfracombe during his later years and he and my grandma loved submitting their delicious baked goods into local competitions. Bobs legendary fruit cake regularly won prizes, but my favourite was his lardy cake. I used to watch him as he smeared huge blobs of white lard onto the dough, then covered it with fruit and sugar. The finished result was a big oblong currant bun, squidgy and oozy, with a sticky caramel outer coating. He also made multi award-winning runner bean chutney but that’s another story.
Every birthday in our house was celebrated with a home-made birthday cake. Mum attempted many different designs, some more successful than others, and she was a decent baker. There were always rock buns or jam tarts in the tin for after school and she would often let us play with the pastry scraps. My sister and I would roll it out, cut it into shapes and use currants as decoration. The dough was often grey and miserable looking by the time we had finished with it, but mum would put it onto a tray and bake it anyway. It always tasted good because we had made it. Once I had children of my own, baking was a way of life. The kids would happily hoover up anything I produced so I was always baking, it took me to a happy place, still does.
Last year, after the final of The Great British Bake Off, I casually mentioned to my husband Vern that I might apply for the next series. I had this vision in my head of a warm summer day in the tent, me in my apron, rosy cheeks, whipping up a show stopper of epic proportions and receiving a coveted handshake from old blue eyes himself. My husband snorted his derision and muttered something along the lines of “Ha!, You could never do that. You couldn’t take the pressure”. That sounded like a challenge to me! I spent a long time filling in the extensive application form and uploading pictures of my cakes in secret. Finally I was happy with it. I clicked send and promptly forgot all about it (well, I am peri-menopausal, I forget everything).
One Thursday in January I got an email from the casting team at The Great British Bake Off. It said that they had enjoyed reading my application and would like me to take part in a telephone interview which would include a quiz about general baking techniques. I read the email three or four times in utter disbelief, then I jumped around the living room screaming until I got cramp in my calf and had to stop. The dogs sat staring at me as if they feared I had finally lost the plot. I text Vern to tell him my news and he replied with one word and an emoji, “Oh poo emoji”. It was nice to know he shared my excitement!
By the time he arrived home that evening I had arranged my telephone interview for the following day and was furiously cramming, using every cookery book I could find and the internet. Inspired by the last series of Bake Off I had really got into baking bread. I had purchased a Paul Hollywood book about bread and some fancy equipment and was working on a sourdough starter. Actually it was my third attempt but it was looking more promising than the last two. I read up about all the different types of french pastry, how to make an Opera cake, Sacher Torte, croissants, creme patisserie, you name it, I read about it. The previous week I had even managed to successfully execute macarons, my nemesis in the baking world. I felt ready to smash this interview.
A nice young man called the next day and I scurried away to a quiet room to give him my full attention. I was still in my pyjamas but I had brushed my teeth and put a bra on so I felt decent. We had a friendly chat about why I had applied and what I liked doing in my spare time then we came to the technical questions. I answered each question confidently and with a smile on my face, all that swotting had paid off! The final question however made me hesitate. He wanted to know what the difference was between a fatless sponge and a Genoese sponge. I knew the obvious answer but was that too easy? The answer was in the question surely? But I doubted myself, I didn’t want to look like a berk in front of the nice Bake Off man. So I stumbled and mumbled and finally fluffed it completely. Turned out it was the obvious answer but by then I think the damage had been done. I sort of knew deep down that I wouldn’t get a call back. To take my mind off it all I threw myself into baking, so much so that I ended up having to give huge quantities to the local homeless shelter who were delighted.
The deadline came and went and I could finally tell my family and friends why I had been baking so obsessively for weeks. I felt deflated when the ads for the new series started appearing. My internal voice keeps saying “It should have been me”. It will be bittersweet watching my favourite programme and seeing all the lucky contestants battling it out every week but I have decided that I am going to have my own Bake Off at home. Every week I will make something from the show and write about how I get on. I intend to develop my own recipe and I’ll post pictures and all the details so that you can try it too if you feel like it. Who knows, you might just catch the baking bug!