Well, quelle surprise – just when you thought you’d have to wait until summer for your next Bake Off fix, Auntie Beeb dons her best starched whites and serves a trolley of teatime treats in the form of Bake Off – Crème de la Crème. But this is a very different fête – no tent, Mel, Sue, Mary, Paul or amateur bakers. The Bake Off baton is temporarily passed to the professionals, as teams of patisserie experts battle it out. Well, I say ‘battle’ – this is the theatre of meticulous perfectionism so we’re unlikely to see much of a bunfight.
It’s clear from the off that this is a new class of baker – whilst we amateurs muddled along in a tent in the garden, this elite lot have been allowed into the house. And what a house it is – Welbeck Abbey – majestically marbled and resplendently resistant to the threat of any airborne ingredients.
The judges observe proceedings from regal chairs that are either Baroque or Rococo. Well, it’s hard enough keeping up with the finer details of patisserie – don’t expect me to be an antiques expert too.
Jolly Tom Kerridge jollies things along nicely. The three judges scowl and purse their lips to indicate high expectations. On the BBC’s publicity shots, their smiles whisper, ‘you will rarely see us happy’. Indeed, they look like they could zest lemons with the sharp edge of their tongues and suck on the residue until the cameras roll. They prove to be less daunting as the programme progresses – obsessive but by no means heartless.
Benoit Blin is from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, which is one of those French phrases that I like to throw into everyday conversation, like L’Apres Midi d’un Faune. Does anyone else pretend they’re more fluent than they are? Cherish Finden is the passionately pernickety executive pastry chef from The Langham in London and award-winning Claire Clark completes the panel.