Audience shots #25: Let them make cake
Great British Bake Off is a tonic for the nation and an inspiration for home cooks
This year, it has to be said, has been short on things to look forward to. So the return of The Great British Bake Off to British television screens in late September has been greeted with the kind of enthusiasm usually seen among castaways getting their first glimpse of a rescue boat.
Is it any wonder that in this year of disease, death and doom we’re desperate for an hour in front of the telly knowing that the worst thing we’ll see is, well, some upside-down upside-down pineapple cakes.
The season 11 launch on Tuesday 22 September peaked with nearly eight million viewers (if you weren’t one of them, don’t panic — we won’t discuss episode outcomes here), making it the biggest launch episode for Channel 4 since it started broadcasting it in 2017.
As with nearly everything this year, 2020 has brought its own special touch to proceedings — Covid pushed filming back several months and required contestants to live together in a self-contained biosphere. As a result, there are only six episodes instead of the usual 12. There was also a change in hosts, with Matt Lucas taking over from Sandi Toksvig. None of that seems to matter — we just want to see adults crying over spilt creme patisserie.
Inspiring us to get baking
Week one, as is tradition, is all about cakes. This saw an inspired showstopper round, requiring contestants to render their idol in sponge and fondant, which from the results was every bit as difficult as it sounds.
While it doesn’t look like there were many people rushing to their kitchens to create their own pound cake portrait, plenty of viewers seemed to be inspired by the challenge of a Battenberg cake, the very first task the bakers tackled this season.
We decided to compare the Google searches for the cake week technical challenge in 2019, which first broadcast on 29 August.
With Google Trends the highest number of searches is always 100, but it’s interesting to see that interest tapered off far more quickly in 2019. Could it be that Brits were suddenly remembering that ovens aren’t just for heating frozen pizzas?
A home cooking revival?
As anyone who decided to try baking discovered, the start of lockdown meant it was hard to get hold of flour in supermarkets (and impossible to get dried yeast). But other trends suggest that it wasn’t just homemade bread we were eating. For example, there was a lockdown spike in searches for vegetable boxes.
And looking at the five-year trend shows that 2020 has been incredible for this sector.
Some of the uptick was certainly due to people avoiding the shops at the height of the pandemic. But it has been accompanied by a spike in searches on terms like ‘homemade curry’ and ‘recipe ideas’ (apparently week seven of lockdown was when we’d all had enough of eating the same three dishes on rotation).
You might think that there would be a similar pattern for recipe box subscriptions. There was a spike but searches during 2020 are no higher than in previous years.
But if you look at how one of the established names performed, like Hello Fresh, the story is different. Marketing works!
And in fact Oddbox, a fruit and veg subscription box which has built its name on its claim of using surplus and ‘wonky’ produce, shows that although plenty of people were searching for local green grocery deliveries, there’s power in branding — even for misshapen carrots and bananas.
The packed lunch renaissance
Back to school time coincided with a period of low Covid infection rates and with shops open as normal(ish). But searches for ‘packed lunch’ were still higher than at any point in the past five years:
What’s behind this trend? Mostly likely multiple factors — but one contributor might be the fact that parents have more time now the morning rush isn’t quite as intense for many of us.
It could be the renewed conversation about healthy eating or the discovery that your child’s school isn’t named in Tatler’s all-important list of the best school dinners. Or it might be the irresistible need to show off those superior parenting skills.
FIRST DAY OF YEAR 2!! So proud of my little man heading off to find his friends and play at school…
With talk of #lockdown2 on a national level, and parts of the country facing tighter restrictions, one thing seems certain — our renewed enthusiasm for home cooking is probably a trend that will be with us for a while longer.