Earlier this week, I told you all that I had been invited to make a cake to celebrate the start of the new series of The Great British Bake Off and attend the filming of the very first episode of its companion show, An Extra Slice in its new home on Channel 4. I had been dreading the thought of getting my monster of a cake into Central London and had been so relieved to discover a public car park right by the studios. On the day, my guest (AKA my sister, Steph) and I gingerly drove to the ITV Studios, just off the Southbank, before I performed the herculean task of carrying my cake the short walk to the studio reception. My biceps hurt for days from that tiny walk and so I was most grateful when the studio runners conjured up a trolley for me.
On arrival, we were taken to a large group dressing room, where we were met by one of the production assistants, Sean and introduced to the other ‘pre-selected’ bakers. I was thrilled to see some familiar faces and also meet some lovely new friends, which made the whole experience a lot less daunting. While we were there, we all shared what we had brought with us and Sean asked some background questions that would help them decide which pieces would make entertaining television. We were all required to taste a bit of our own bake (presumably to prove that we hadn’t set out to poison the show’s guests in protest at the move to Channel 4) and I used this opportunity to grab some of the other bakers’ samples too – a highlight being the most scrumptious apple and cinnamon cupcake with a caramel frosting – yum! We also signed our non-disclosure agreements, legally agreeing that we would not tell anyone what we saw during the day – or during our advance preview of the first episode of The Great British Bake Off series 8 – until after they have aired. Eeek!
After this, we were given a break for lunch and, on our way out to the street, encountered none other than the newest judge herself, Prue Leith! At this, a thought stirred, but more on that in a moment. We continued out to the Southbank, where we found ourselves surrounded by the Urban Southbank festival in full swing and the amazing dancers, performers and musicians certainly made a grabbed-sandwich in the sunshine a more exciting experience. I literally had to be dragged away from the largest book sale I have ever seen!
Back at the studios, we met the executive producer of the show, who told us who would be joining Jo Brand on the panel: the hilarious Roisin Conaty, Richard Osman of Pointless fame and the new judge herself: Prue Leith – ah, that explains why we saw her before! We were then escorted to the set, which hasn’t changed a bit! I was shocked at how big the studio is – it seems much more intimate on screen – and also by the fact that all the baked goods you see dotted around the edges of the set are actually real. I almost wish I’d skipped lunch; I could have filled up right there with the huge selection of baked treats within arm’s reach! It was here that I was also told that the producers had chosen my cake to be one that is discussed on the show AND would be tasted by the panel – *gulp*.
Once we were settled and comfortable, Nick the floor manager gave us a bit of an intro and then it was time for our advance screening of The Great British Bake Off: series 8, episode 1! I won’t go into too much detail here as I’m sure we’ve all discussed it to exhaustion on our preferred social media channels, but I have to say, rather than hating the advert breaks – which for us were merely blank screens – I quite liked the opportunity to discuss the events of the episode so far with my companions and we all agreed that a tea break might actually enhance the experience of the show. I also enjoyed watching it with a big group of like-minded baking fans. The gasps of horror at disasters and admiring ooohs at triumphs felt a lot less silly in a crowd then when it is just me on my own at home! We all belly-laughed a lot, particularly when Noel shoved Kate’s marigold in his mouth and I think it’s safe to say that the tent’s youngest baker Liam was a firm favourite with us in the studio. I can’t wait to see how he gets on in the competition. Steven’s impressive bread-and-sandwich showstopper cake ensured that he was crowned our first star baker, while a series of disasters meant that Peter would be the first baker to leave the tent – and to join us in the studio. The show ended with a round of applause from us all and then it was on to the matter at hand…
At this point, those of us who would be talking to the panel were mic-ed up (a technical term, I am assured) and then it was time for the filming to begin. We were joined by a compere, whose job was to get us all excited and ready to be our audience-best and he, in turn, introduced our host and her panel. What you saw on screen is pretty much the order in which it was filmed, but I didn’t realise just how much extra material gets filmed that is never used! I think we were sat there for almost three hours to make a half-an-hour show! Luckily our compere’s ability to fill gaps between shots with little jokes and snarky comments, coupled with the inimitable Jo Brand’s fantastic wit ensured that there were very few dull moments and the time raced by. In spite of copious note-taking as soon as I got home, much of the experience has become a blur, but I still remember vividly the part when it was time to look at ‘what our audience have been baking at home…’
I was last on the list and so had the benefit of seeing what to expect long before it was my turn. In total, they spoke to eight bakers although of course we didn’t all make it into the final show. There were two ladies (including new friend, Gina) who had both recreated one of our new hosts in cake form – a certain Mr Fielding; another lady who had crafted a grilled cheese sandwich in cake, which was inspired; and a cake disguised as a shepherd’s pie (by my Twitter chum Sarah), although the inclusion of real peas raised a few eyebrows. Then it was time for the cakes that would be tasted and it must be noted that Jo Brand has a seemingly endless supply of dessert plates and forks hidden behind her desk. And the amount of mess she just sweeps onto the floor behind it?! I’m glad it isn’t my job to clean up back there!
First up was an incredible illusion cake of a cheeseboard and I swear it looked so realistic. The panel agreed that the filling was absolutely delicious, although Prue was unhappy about how thick the sugarpaste was. Next up was a lady who had decided to bake cupcakes including the unusual ingredient of broccoli, seemingly purely because it was unusual. The panel weren’t quite so complementary about this one and poor Roisin was unable to swallow her piece. Then it was time for the seventh baker – the one before me and another of my new friends. Leone had made a cactus in a marble plant pot and the panel were unanimous in their praise, all but insisting that she apply for Bake Off series 9.
By now, I was absolutely dreading them tasting my cake – what if they hated it?! I think I quite possibly would have died if Prue Leith had said anything bad about my cake on national television and I was so relieved when Sean grabbed me to whisper that they had decided not to taste mine because they didn’t want to ruin it. If I’m honest, I think the real reason is that they were worried that Roisin wouldn’t be able to lift it (she certainly looked horrified when she realised it was a possibility), but regardless, I think I dodged a bullet there! We still had a jolly good chat about my bake and honestly I couldn’t remember anything of what I said. I was incredibly worried that I would come across as a bumbling nitwit and that was if they had decided to include me, but I did remember two things: Jo Brand telling me that my cake was one of the best things anyone had ever brought along to the show (wow!) and that she would see me join Leone on Bake Off next year (no chance!), so even if my bit had ended up on the cutting room floor, I would have had those memories to treasure forever. Now the show has aired of course, I am vastly relieved that that was not in fact the case and I’m so excited that pretty much all of our conversation made the final cut! How exciting!
Next up, it was time for Peter to join us and he seemed absolutely lovely – completely sweet and unassuming. He had brought along another attempt at his coconut ‘fruity’ cake – albeit with slightly less baking powder this time! I was able to get a good look at it once the filming had finished (although sadly not a taste) and I have to say it looked remarkably professional. It’s a shame that we won’t get to see more from him.
After Peter was presented with his take-home cake, the show wrapped up with some more comedic spots and then, after a couple of reshoots and the trailers that would be shown leading up to the air date, we were done. And awesomely, a showrunner brought my cake on its trolley all the way to my car! Phew!
All in all, it was a really fun day out and I loved being a part of the Bake Off family, even if it was only just for one day. Sean really looked after us all and ensured we knew what was going on at all times, both leading up to the show via phone and email and then on the day in person. The team were also very kind about my cake and seemed genuinely thankful that I had gone to the effort of making it and bringing it along. Like I was doing them a favour?! Madness!
I’d definitely recommend going along to a filming if you can and you can find out more about that here.
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse behind the scenes of Extra Slice – if you didn’t manage to catch us on the show live, don’t panic! You can watch it again on catch up over at All 4. We had a bit of a viewing party here, where my guests got a real taste of the Bake Off, enjoying an Apple and Cinnamon signature bake, my chocolate mini roll technical and, of course, my Extra Slice illusion cake – which was thankfully still beautifully moist and delicious almost a week later!
I can’t imagine anyone was able to sleep after all that sugar and I know that my Bake Off experience means I will be on a sugar high for some time to come…!