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Celeb Masterchef winner Janet Street-Porter says Bake Off is more about showoffs than showstoppers

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The Great British Bake Off has become a national institution, such as the Chelsea Flower Show, The Grand National and the Changing of the Guard. The show has even been made into a musical, but I’m not going. I also won’t tune in when it returns to screens this month.

Unlike millions of devoted fans (6.9 million watched last year’s finale), I don’t swoon over Paul Hollywood or hang on to every word from Prue Leith. Nice people, shame about the silly competition, desperately trying to elevate the simple act of making a pie into a triumph of artistic effort.

The modern Cult of Cake has completely passed me by, and as a result, I have time for other more rewarding pleasures than spending hours mixing butter, eggs, and flour into something that will be demolished in minutes and sure to add to acreage. around my waist.

Basically, I’ve decided that life is too short to bake a pie. I realize that my position is heresy. Baking is what every real woman should do for her family to show that she loves them. That was the generally accepted wisdom in post-war Britain.

Team Bake Off: From left, Paul, Noel, Prue and Matt. The Great British Bake Off has become a national institution and is back on our screens

Cooking classes at my high school required you to whip up a tray of fairy tale cakes before you learned anything about nutrition or preparing basic meals. Pies were more important than coming up with a frugal but warming stew, a nutritious risotto or pasta dish. In the 1950s, pie making was part of our national DNA. #

Every woman knew the basics – passed down from their mother, who learned the rules from hers. My mother baked a simple sponge cake every Saturday afternoon. It was part of the weekend ritual in our small terraced house. The task would take her a few hours, and by the end of Sunday afternoon the delicious product of all that effort was gone.

Mother could have spent those hours reading, going to the movies, gardening, or just enjoying a moment of peace. She then worked as a dinner lady at Marks & Spencer. My father was an electrician and had little money. She must have been desperate to get some rest.

But week in and week out she was tempted (by Dad and then conventions) to make a cake, while very decent ones were available at the bakery a few yards from our home in Fulham, West London.

Janet Street-Porter (pictured) says Bake Off is a stupid match she won't watch.  Celebrity Masterchef winner says life is too short to bake pies

Janet Street-Porter (pictured) says Bake Off is a stupid match she won’t watch. Celebrity Masterchef winner says life is too short to bake pies

In our small towns and villages, baking was (and still is) considered a gateway to the WI, and country shows hold hotly contested Victoria sponge competitions. Many years ago there was outrage at my local Kilnsey Show in North Yorkshire when most of the pie prizes were won by a young man in training as a baker.

The judges’ choices resulted in snide remarks about “semi-professionals” — as if cake-making was a sacred craft that only one woman could pass on to another.

But the fancy — even ridiculous — concoctions that today’s Bake Off contestants have to come up with to impress judges Paul and Prue are miles away from my mom’s humble Victoria sponge.

Long before Bake Off launched on BBC2 in 2010, Nigella introduced us to the idea of ​​sexy baking as TV entertainment – although, to be fair, she always emphasized how easy and quick most of her favorite recipes were.

Jane says the best pies are simple.  There is a world of difference between baking an elegant tarte tatin and making a grotesque caterpillar or pink pig from marzipan and food coloring

Jane says the best pies are simple. There is a world of difference between baking an elegant tarte tatin and making a grotesque caterpillar or pink pig from marzipan and food coloring

But the arrival of Bake Off heralded the beginning of a new era. Cake making was turned into a highly competitive spectator sport. Of course, taste and texture had to be matched, but appearance was everything. Pies looked like boats, chessboards, cats and dogs. I managed the first few series occasionally, and then I had enough, so stopped watching.

The best pies are simple. There is a world of difference between baking an elegant tarte tatin and making a grotesque caterpillar or pink pig from marzipan and food coloring.

It’s TV entertainment for those who can’t cook, armchair experts who make fun of the failures and the flops. Not to mention it’s a great excuse to eat even more junk food: cookies, strudel, donuts — whatever the bakers are making that week.

Growing up in the 1960s, women like me were too busy having fun, taking the pill, and partying to bake a pie. The kind of men we hoped to snare were far more interested in our short skirts than in our ability to whip up a Swiss roll.

My favorite cake was a Battenberg – a pink and yellow concoction that I bought at the grocery store for about 30 cents. Or Sara Lee brownies, which were frozen in a foil tray you could pop in the oven and then went on as a homemade dessert slathered with ice cream.

Jane says the show pretends it's about talent, but she believes it's really about showing off

Jane says the show pretends it’s about talent, but she believes it’s really about showing off

The first and last cake I made was my wedding cake, in the Summer of Love, 1967. This historic item was a two tier fruit cake that wasn’t bad at all. I covered the layers with marzipan and icing, glued on a bridal couple and embellished it with some Smarties.

Since then I no longer suffer from it. None of my four husbands ever expected me to conjure up a homemade cake. Instead, I focused on learning how to cook Mediterranean and Middle Eastern comfort foods that were quick, easy to prepare, and much healthier.

Still, I came second in Celebrity MasterChef and won their Christmas special in 2020 – all without baking a cake!

Because the way to my heart will never be through cake, I’ve never dated a guy who lists baking as one of his top talents. Strangely enough, there are suddenly a lot more of those left. The past four Bake Off winners have been men: Rahul, David, Peter and, most recently, Giuseppe, in 2021.

After Covid, most of the men I meet have turned to making sourdough bread as a way to showcase their hidden strengths. They ramble on about their secrets and their oven bounce on WhatsApp groups and bore you to death with their troubled starter and their attempts to bring it back to life. (Could it be an analogy for another piece of their anatomy, I wonder?)

But these modern men do not bake bread to feed a working-class family, as my mother was. Instead, the sourdough starter ritual is as macho as tuning a high-performance car, a chance to show off.

Yet I seem to be the only one who finds modern baking a turn-off. GBBO goes from strength to strength. We are now on series 13, the show – now hosted by Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas – has switched from the BBC to Channel 4 and is showing no signs of fatigue.

The program has been sold all over the world, from Brazil and Belgium to Australia and the US. In particular, the rise of the Cult of Cake has coincided with a global rise in obesity in all countries where the show is broadcast. Don’t tell me the two aren’t connected.

Bake Off pretends to be about technique and talent, but it’s really about showing off. How on earth do you rate one crazy pie against another? It’s as silly as pole vaulting against sprinters, tap dancers against swimmers.

And, given the nation’s dire state of health, isn’t our obsession with cake just another excuse to put off the day when we’re going to eat healthy and end up cutting back on sugar?

So spare me the soaked bum, the tears and the shaky showstoppers. For me, the days of Bake Off are well and truly over.

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