ALISON BOSHOFF: So that's how they saved Bake Off from Covid!

So that’s how they stopped Covid being a Bake Off showstopper! It’s heading back to our screens after cast and crew were isolated in a luxury hotel… where Matt Lucas hosted bingo nights and Paul Hollywood cooked pizzas for 200, writes ALISON BOSHOFF

All rise for the Great British Bake Off! As cosy as the aroma of freshly baked bread, the 11th series kicks off tomorrow night.

Filmed during six intense weeks of lockdown earlier this year, it will see comedian Matt Lucas replace presenter Sandi Toksvig.

Paul Hollywood thinks that, despite the high-pressure experience, this will be an exceptional year for quality. He says: ‘The bakers were some of the best we’ve had. I’ve seen different flavours, different approaches, different techniques — and some of the best sponges and pastries ever in the tent. The standard blew everybody away.’

Fellow judge Prue Leith added: ‘They’d take a traditional method from one cuisine and combine it with flavours and ingredients from another. There’s one savoury bake (I can’t tell you what) but I stole the recipe. I’ve made it twice since.’

Tonight they will tackle a Battenberg cake, and later in the series there will be Japanese week and 1980s week, alongside regular favourites such as bread week, biscuit week and batter week.

So who will be the star bakers of this series? From the student prodigy and the twin kings of bread to the virtuosos of the Victoria sponge, we report…

All rise for the Great British Bake Off! As cosy as the aroma of freshly baked bread, the 11th series kicks off tomorrow night. Filmed during six intense weeks of lockdown earlier this year, it will see comedian Matt Lucas replace presenter Sandi Toksvig

STAR BAKERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

The 12 bakers in the class of 2020 are all on social media — except for Linda Rayfield, 61. They all follow each other, and most of them also follow and are followed by previous winners and runners-up.

Project manager Mark Lutton, 32, who calls himself the ‘baking Buddha’, is in the lead with more than 1,800 Instagram followers. The next highest is student Peter Sawkins, 20, on just over 1,100. The least followed is teacher Rowan Williams, 55, on around 300.

YOUNG PRODIGY IN THE KITCHEN

Student Peter, from Edinburgh, is the youngest — and one of the most impressive. Key lime and mango pie, sourdough rye and Cranachan gateau St Honore are among his highlights.

He is studying accounting and finance at Edinburgh University, and is a champion badminton player.

THE FABULOUS BAKING BOYS…

Dave Friday, 30, a security guard, has an affinity for bread, and says his strengths lie in pretzels, brioche buns and baguettes.

His Instagram feed shows an immaculate white cob and a sugar-glazed winter spiced loaf. It also shows a beautiful chocolate drip and illusion cake, shaped like a treasure chest.

He lives with his girlfriend, a photographer, who is expecting their first baby this Saturday.

Dave Friday (pictured), 30, a security guard, has an affinity for bread, and says his strengths lie in pretzels, brioche buns and baguettes

Another bread enthusiast is Marc Elliott, 51, a sculptor and amputee from Cornwall. He has posted sourdough baguettes and a sourdough margherita pizza made in a skillet.

Possibly the most impressive Insta-baker is Mark Lutton, a project manager from Liverpool. His most recent Insta posting shows focaccia with rosemary salt, and previous bread hits including a Christmas brioche with chunks of Terry’s Chocolate Orange, plus lockdown sourdough.

…AND HERE COME THE GIRLS

Laura Adlington, 31, a fan of musical theatre from Gravesend, Kent, has posted a series of professional looking and neat cakes, including stunning mermaid cupcakes, Biscoff drip cake and cupcakes with iced flowers.

London pharmacist Sura Selvarajah, 31, has put up a blueberry and yoghurt loaf and a delicate shortbread with edible pansies.

And panto producer Lottie Bedlow, also 31 and from West Sussex, has produced a spectacular cake topped with cherries and macarons. She wrote: ‘Even if I do ever have children, this will remain the best-looking thing I have ever made.’


Laura Adlington (left), 31, a fan of musical theatre from Gravesend, Kent, has posted a series of professional looking and neat cakes

She describes herself as a ‘frustrated perfectionist.’ Her Insta bio calls her an ‘average baker’.

Hermine, 39, an accountant who grew up in Benin, West Africa, and lives in London, is the queen of patisserie — which is notoriously difficult. She calls mille-feuille — which has brought previous contestants to tears — ‘her favourite’.

THE KING OF THE CUPCAKES  

Makbul Patel, 51, also an accountant, is a father-of-three from Greater Manchester. He is a self-taught baker and beekeeper. He calls himself ‘the most boring accountant in the world’ and posts a lot of pictures of his great-nieces and nephews on social media, and not an awful lot of baking. His bakes include cupcakes, scones, and pizzas.

Radiographer Loriea Campbell-Clarey, 27, from Durham, seems to be a relative newcomer to baking. Her first attempt at bread making was in November 2018. Many of her cakes are vegan. One recent bake was a black sesame, blueberry and yoghurt loaf cake.

Panto producer Lottie Bedlow (pictured), also 31 and from West Sussex, has produced a spectacular cake topped with cherries and macarons

TURNING UP THE HEAT IN THE BIOSPHERE

All 12 contestants had been selected before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Usually, contestants travel to film at the weekends and then lead their normal lives in the week — including taking time to practise their bakes.

This time, all were asked to commit to leaving their jobs for the duration of the shoot.

The filming location was Down Hall Hotel in Essex in 110 acres of parkland. It was standing empty because of the pandemic and big enough to accommodate all crew and on screen talent. The hotel nominated 25 employees to quarantine and live on site.

All 130 of those in the ‘biosphere’ had to quarantine for nine days before arrival and were tested for Covid three times before the filming started.

Particular difficulties were also caused by judge Prue Leith, who is 80. Because of her age, there were issues around compliance and insurance.

Prue says: ‘To get into this bubble we had to be tested three times, and during that time we were in strict quarantine. I didn’t leave my house, Paul didn’t leave his, none of the crew or hotel staff could leave theirs. It was as if we were all vulnerable old ladies.’

The filming location was Down Hall Hotel (pictured) in Essex in 110 acres of parkland

Ingredients for the show were pre-ordered from wholesalers before lockdown, so there were no shortages of yeast or flour.

Bakers were sent ‘care packages’ in March with which to practise at home. Make-up artists and crew wore masks on set.

HOW PAUL PILED ON THE POUNDS  

To keep the shoot a manageable length, filming was two days on and two days off.

Prue says: ‘The gap between each round was shorter, so they probably felt the pressure. Normally, they go home for a week, practise and come back refreshed. But we didn’t have that luxury. On the upside, though, they got very tight as a team because they were living together. It got very emotional when someone left.’

Paul Hollywood, 54, grumbled that it wasn’t good news for his waistline. ‘For the first time I put a bit of weight on this year — I wanted to get out more. Normally, I’m out on the bike, I’m out doing stuff out and away.’

Individual practice kitchens were created in a series of tents in a car park for the 12 bakers.

Lottie Bedlow uploaded a picture of her macaron cake and wrote: ‘Even if I do ever have children, this will remain the best-looking thing I have ever made’

HAVING A BALL IN A GOLF BUGGY

New presenter Matt Lucas, 46, a non-driver, loved getting around the large site on a golf buggy.

Producer Letty Kavanagh says: ‘Matt had taken lockdown very seriously and had barely been out prior to filming. It was hugely liberating for him.

‘We had golf buggies for transporting people around the site and he got his own buggy. He can’t drive but the freedom to pootle about, look at the trees and get a bit of fresh air was huge for him.’

Paul Hollywood said: ‘We were going from place to place on the estate in golf buggies. It was like some weird cult.’

Mark Lutton uploads pictures of his baking creations to his Instagram under the name ‘the baking Buddha’ 

BUBBLE NANNIES AND DOG WALKERS

Everyone on the show was invited to ‘bubble’ with limited loved ones, if those loved ones remained for the duration.

There were also support staff including childminders and dog walkers.

Prue brought along her two spaniels, while Noel Fielding, 47, brought toddler daughter Dali and pregnant partner Lliana Bird.

PERFORMING IN THEIR OWN WING

The crew and cast had their own wing, garden, dining hall and bar separate from the contestants, so the latter did not feel constantly under pressure from the judges.

The judges and presenters also had trendy shepherds’ huts in the grounds of the hotel to use as their backstage/hospitality area.

Dave Friday’s Instagram feed shows an immaculate white cob and a sugar-glazed winter spiced loaf. It also shows a beautiful chocolate drip and illusion cake, shaped like a treasure chest

BINGO, PIZZA AND KEEP-FIT CLASSES 

A friendlier-than-ever atmosphere prevailed, with Matt Lucas compering an evening of bingo for all and Paul Hollywood twice cooking pizza for 200.

There were also games of football and rounders, plus yoga, Pilates and keep-fit classes.

Prue says: ‘It must have been the safest place in England. It was a bit like being at Butlin’s.’

Laura Adlington has uploaded pictures of stunning mermaid cupcakes, Biscoff drip cake and cupcakes with iced flowers

MATT LUCAS HAS A LITTLE BLUB

Following reports that Sandi Toksvig, 62, didn’t get on all that well with the judges before, presenter Noel Fielding was asked for his opinion on her replacement.

As Prue says: ‘Noel had to OK the right person because if it does not work with Noel it does not work.’

He nominated Matt Lucas, made famous by Little Britain, who brought an unashamedly emotional presence to the tent.

Matt says: ‘We got to know the bakers week after week after week. So I would have to go to my hotel room after a baker was sent home and sort of have a word with myself for a couple of hours because I would get really upset.’

He wasn’t the only one. This may be the most lachrymose series yet.

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