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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Mustard cake and bacon mousse? They’re a crime against humanity

Bake Off: The Professionals 

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The Black Death: Lucy Worsley Investigates 

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Like a chocolate and spun sugar sculpture suffering a meltdown under the studio lights, basic human decency has now collapsed.

Judges Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin ushered in a complete breakdown of civilisation, on Bake Off: The Professionals (C4).

Their insistence on savoury flavours in cream cakes turns a cookery show into an engine of anarchy. One pair of chefs produced a multi-layered custard slice that tasted like a ham and cheese sandwich — with salt and vinegar shavings on top.

A Hungarian couple made gateaux slices with potato rosti, flavoured with sausage meat. Two Frenchmen whisked up a tomato cheesecake with smoked salmon.

No one is anxious for a nibble of chocolate and black olive filling, or beetroot and cactus preserve - the kinds of dishes whipped up on C4's Bake Off: The Professionals

No one is anxious for a nibble of chocolate and black olive filling, or beetroot and cactus preserve – the kinds of dishes whipped up on C4’s Bake Off: The Professionals

A British duo created a Full English Breakfast tray bake with bacon mousse and mustard sponge. Surely they can see any cake that demands a dollop of HP sauce is an offence against reason.

This programme is conceived as patisserie porn. But a mille-feuille made with crab and scallop mousse plumbs uncharted depths of depravity. Fish and cake should never go together (except in a fishcake, which is very different).

The judges took a demonic delight in all of this. ‘Every mouthful is a spoonful of genius,’ crowed Cherish. ‘This is a blooming good slice, whoo-hoo-hoo,’ gurgled Benoit. The rest of us are thinking: ‘That cake shouldn’t be allowed. It’s simply immoral.’

It’s a dilemma for the producers, because they know most viewers don’t want to imagine how those dishes will taste. On the real Bake Off, we watch with our mouths watering, desperate for a crumb of traditional sponge with raspberry jam or a moist brownie.

But no one is anxious for a nibble of chocolate and black olive filling, or beetroot and cactus preserve.

As a result, the show must use other tricks to excite us. Mostly, that means putting the chefs under impossible time pressures, so that at least one team each week has to present a showstopper that looks like it has been scraped off the road with a shovel.

So many creations melt or disintegrate that I almost suspect the crew of turning up the heaters in the studio — or turning off the fridges at night. It’s the wrong tactic. From our cake shows, we don’t want high drama and jeopardy, let alone seafood pastries.

Lucy Worsley was also contemplating the end of civilisation as she investigated The Black Death (BBC2), the outbreak of plague that wiped out almost half of Britain’s population in two years during the 14th century.

To explain how the medieval feudal system worked, Professor Lucy Worsley (pictured) played with a chess set, making the knights gallop around the king, ‘de-dum, de-dum

To explain how the medieval feudal system worked, Professor Lucy Worsley (pictured) played with a chess set, making the knights gallop around the king, ‘de-dum, de-dum

Without belittling the pandemic, she made us understand that Black Death was a disease on an entirely more deadly scale than Covid-19

Without belittling the pandemic, she made us understand that Black Death was a disease on an entirely more deadly scale than Covid-19

Prof Lucy was in a playful mood, which didn’t quite suit the grim subject matter. She sat on a garden swing with a book on her lap, reading about the deaths of three million people. To illustrate how rats helped spread the disease, she picked up a childhood picture book, the story of Dick Whittington — though she admitted a Ladybird classic ‘isn’t exactly solid scientific or historical evidence’.

And to explain how the medieval feudal system worked, Lucy played with a chess set, making the knights gallop around the king, ‘de-dum, de-dum’.

Perhaps there is no other way to tell the story, without being overwhelmed by the horror of it all. At least she didn’t labour the comparisons with Covid.

Pilgrimages to Canterbury, where travellers shared straw beds, acted as ‘superspreader events’, she said. But without belittling the pandemic, she made us understand that Black Death was a disease on an entirely more deadly scale.

She ended on a sombre note, warning us to ‘enjoy life while you can’. That doesn’t mean inventing sausage-flavoured cream buns.


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