Tom’s departed the tent then, but at least he went down fighting. After he catastrophically misapplied to the show-stopper round Paul’s pre-signature bake advice to ‘think of a roulade like a good sandwich’, his ‘hipster picnic’ – in which innocent mousse mini cakes were hallucinogenically transformed into something resembling dodgy prawn sandwiches – suggested that what he’d really produced was a euphemism for a lost weekend.
To be honest though, Tom’s always liked to cast himself as the stormy-browed, misunderstood genius who’ll one day have everyone eating their words. His unrepentant use of bad-acid-trip flavour combinations that made sense only inside his head were just a supercilious way of making the point that he was way-ahead of the game; staid old GBBO simply hadn’t caught up with him yet.
So the question became: who was he baking for? In the signature round, he seemed unbothered whether the judges would like his weird ‘millionaire’s shortbread roulade’ or not: ‘the caramel next to the sponge can be an odd texture because it’s two quite soft, delicate things, but personally I think it’s good…’.
Even when Paul and Mary – those two quite soft, delicate things – predictably disliked it, he remained defiant: ‘[they] didn’t like the decoration so much, but d’you know what? I think it’s classy. I wanted it to look like a chocolate bar, and it did look like a chocolate bar’. (Tom, it didn’t look like any chocolate bar I’ve ever seen – but then I’ve never had a near-death experience while chasing a satanic goat up a mountainside with a bloke called Pod either, so what do I know?)
The message seemed to be that stuffy old Paul and Mary had become an irrelevance. As the latest contestant to be caught hi-jacking the show to further his own agenda, Tom was now reaching over their heads and aiming his baking directly at what is plainly the only tribe whose opinions he really values: East London trendsetters. (Although saying that, if you think it’s a club you have to apply to join, you’re probably not a suitable candidate).
Elsewhere, Benjamina tried to impress Paul by including in her ‘pina colada roulade’ a coconut essence that could have doubled-up as a male grooming product. Surprising really, given how many contestants try to win Mary over by seeking inspiration in the Bake-Off Hotel mini-bar, that no one has ever thought of concocting a Hollywood-tribute bake flavoured with after-shave. When it came to judging, the sage debated whether it tasted ‘natural’- and concluded it didn’t. (But as the whole point of a male-grooming product is to make the wearer smell otherwise than ‘natural’, I’m not sure how valid a criticism that is).
For Benjamina, the take-home was probably that her (apparent) budding romance with Selasi is supplying quite enough chemistry for one programme – letting him spoon-feed her with his curd indeed! Earlier in the series, feverish commentators were speculating that Candice was the one Selasi had the hots for – but the only thing between those two now seems to be the old cold shoulder. Maybe it was just editing, but the way Candice looked round when Selasi uttered the words ‘slight bitter aftertaste’ momentarily lifted the tent-flaps on a whole intriguing other world beyond them.
And in a humiliating turn of events for such an out-and-out glamourpuss, the narrative for Candice seems to have switched to her relationship with middle-aged Mary Portas look-alike, Jane. If you close your eyes, you can almost believe that the rivalry between these two (Candice: ‘It is so hot in here!’. Cut to Jane: ‘If you can’t stand the heat…’) has just the finest edge of genuineness to it. Maybe Jane’s as sick of Candice’s posturing as I am.
Writing in The Guardian last week, Stuart Heritage claimed that Channel Four notwithstanding, this year’s contestants are duds and the best days of GBBO are behind it. But while Tom’s attempt to inject a shot of ultra-urban cool into Bake-Off’s pastoral idyll didn’t work out, the hipsters may yet inherit the earth. Tom later defined ‘the hipster way’ as ‘taking something really classic and simple and making it ludicrously complicated’. Surveying his cake that looked like a chocolate bar that looked like a cake (or was it chocolate bar that looked like a cake that looked like a chocolate bar?), you can’t help wondering if ‘Hipster Picnic’ wouldn’t be a fitting epitaph for the whole sorry mess.