I AM quite surprised to be confessing this, but I was one of the
12.3 million to watch the final of The Great British Bake
Surprised, not because I despise populist TV shows - I like to
think I am discriminating - but simply because I don't salivate as
much over cakes, scones, and pastry as I might over, say, scallops,
pan-fried duck, and beetroot three ways.
This is why my attention wandered a bit as flour and eggs were
whirled together, and dough was energetically kneaded. For me, the
interest from the Bake Off final was more in the interplay
of the characters than in that of the ingredients.
Bakers are the foot soldiers of the kitchen rather than the
elite troops, and there was something pleasingly modest and humble
about the finalists, Luis, Richard, and Nancy - not surprisingly,
given that there is something so utterly hopeless about failed
bakery: the terrible flop of the baked Alaska in an earlier
episode; or the runny jam that wrecked a finalist's Victoria
At least with other forms of cooking there is usually a way of
redeeming failure: adding a new egg yolk to the mayonnaise and
starting again, for example, which I had to do on a recent attempt.
Salvation is part of the skill. But in baking there is no second
There was, none the less, an atmosphere of jollity about the
Bake Off final - a festival under canvas with crowds of
supporters quaffing champagne between showers. They seemed to know
that bakery is trivial stuff compared with haute cuisine, but they
were there to have a good time, and so they did.
Dressed in pink florals, slightly detached from the rest of the
team, Mary Berry terrified me. It was her quietness that
threatened. The festive atmosphere did not disguise the seriousness
of the judges' approach. You knew that she could spot the perfect
cake, scone, and tart almost before the taste test. She carries the
Platonic forms in her head.
But essence is nothing without manifestation. "When you want to
impress, you pipe," she said firmly, as she dismissed a sad, nude
tarte au citron.
And now for the moral. Bake Off entertains because it
hints at the Gospel truth that our true works will indeed be
revealed in the final judgement. We, like leaven, are tested and
But think what an anticipation of our heavenly reward it would
be to hear Mary Berry say: "That's a first-rate shortbread
biscuit." Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.