Baking in the revered Bake Off tent is a unique experience, usually only offered to a handful of talented home bakers (and the occasional celeb). So when I was offered the opportunity on behalf of HELLO!, I jumped at it. Though the Great British Bake Off is usually filmed in Berkshire's Welford Park, for the purpose of 2019's Stand Up To Cancer specials, the tent has been moved to Pinewood Studios. The tent is much bigger than it appears on screen, the kitchen at the back of the tent hides backstage production space and though there are only five benches they are quite close together, it’s difficult to imagine how cramped and claustrophobic the space must be when there are a full dozen bakers in the tent. In order of the new Celebrity Bake Off, here's what it is like baking in the famous tent...
The space is also much brighter; huge production lights cover much of the ceiling making the tent uncomfortably hot. Since it was October, the temperature in the tent was manageable, but it’s easy to understand how much the bakers struggle in the height of summer when asked to prepare chocolate collars.
With my half finished croquembouche
Our hosts for the afternoon were 2017 winner Sophie Faldo and Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off Star Baker Perri Kiely, who briefed us on the challenge - creating a croquembouche. This would have been hard enough at home without time constraints and the stress of baking in the hallowed tent, but there’s a twist. Our croquembouche has to also be a self portrait.
I quickly decide to make my self portrait an abstract one, more out of necessity than desire. I start filling the choux puffs with crème patissiere. Surprisingly difficult work. The crème pat is thick and gelatinously solid and my hands soon start to cramp. Sophie Faldo gives me an important piece of advice, when the choux puffs are full they will start to swell and feel solid. I’ll remember that when my mum and I make profiteroles this Christmas, our annual tradition. Thanks to Amazon’s sponsorship of the show this season there are a couple of brand new Echo Shows on hand to help with timekeeping. Having one of the hands free devices in my own kitchen I can assure that it works admirably, and ensures that my phone doesn’t end up smeared with cake batter.
Some tough but fair criticism from 2017 winner Sophie Faldo
Once all the puffs have been filled I start assembling the croquembouche. I start at the bottom, making my shirt, I make a thin white icing and artistically spatter it over the bottom few rows of choux puffs. I then sprinkle hundreds and thousands over the icing. I decide to skip making my face, too time consuming and move onto my hair. I make bright red butter icing in the stand mixer and smear it all over my mould, and then I roll out some red fondant, perfect for my bun. Using some edible glue I cover one of the choux puffs in vermilion icing and stick it on top. Then I take a can of spray paint and colour one of the puffs gold, for my nose ring. According to Perri, I 'smashed it'. I think he was probably being kind.
Baking in the actual Bake Off tent was an incredible experience, and not one I thought I would ever get to live out. The episode actually inspired me to possibly apply to enter the show at some point in the future, so who knows, you may see me winging my way onto Channel 4 at some point in the future.