The joy of the original show is becoming invested in ordinary humans excelling themselves. Watching chefs getting it wrong is just frustrating
It remains a strange thing to have done: to have taken The Great British Bake Off, a show that lives and dies by its showcasing of amateur skills and the invitation to lose yourself in a nostalgic daydream of fluffy buttercream, and stripped it of every ounce of that to produce a spinoff. But there you go and here we are – the fourth series of Bake Off: The Professionals (Channel 4).
Twelve teams bake six at a time over two days, overseen by the presenters Liam Charles (a hugely charming contestant on proper Bake Off in 2017) and Tom Allen (who has his own experience of talent competitions, having won the comedy contest So You Think You’re Funny? in 2005). They are judged by Cherish Finden (the award-winning executive pastry chef at the Langham hotel in London) and Benoit Blin (the chef patissier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons et Frenchest Frenchman that ever did live). They are a slightly effortful, slightly exhausting quartet, although Blin’s unmediated expressions of disappointment are always worth the price of admission. “Texture-wise,” he says dolefully at one stage, munching on a sub-par showpiece, “I am not ’aving fon.”
The first challenge is to bake 24 identical miniature linzer tortes. It does not go well. I imagine these to be little chocolate German tanks, possibly with working turrets – they call themselves professionals, after all – but, of course, they are not (for one thing, they are Austrian, named after the city of Linz). However, considering the trouble most teams have, I wonder if it would be any trickier to give my idea a go. A lot of latticework, is all I am saying. Only Nelson and Evaldas, from the South Place hotel in London, really kick its arse. They make a lattice you could train roses up, freeze it, then cut rounds out of it while the others fiddle about with crumbling strips of dough. It is marvellous.