The Independent, 23 August 2013

Gossip columnists can finally sleep again at night: Nigella has returned to the melee of social media with a photograph of a nice looking slice of blackcurrant victoria sponge. She went silent after the publication of those vile photos of Charles Saatchi grabbing her neck, but now she’s back, armed with cake, to watch the Great British Bake-Off.

If any TV show was capable of mending a broken heart, it would surely be GBBO. It’s a programme which is ostensibly about cooking, and actually about the way British people cope with adversity. There are no tragic interviews with the contestants weeping at the long-ago death of a much-loved pet or distant cousin, which define every other TV talent show. I’ve long wondered when someone will murder a relative just to have something to cry about on the next series of The X-Factor.

The Bake-Off is classier, casually studding the programme with information about the contestants’ lives, like chocolate chips in a cookie: only gradually do we learn about their background, long after we’ve learned their characters from the way they cope when a custard curdles.

The strain of baking to a deadline in a kitchen that isn’t their own drives even the calmest cooks to distraction. This week’s Bake-Off was like the Somme for hands as every contestant succumbed to panic and sliced into one or more fingers. Paul and Mary were lucky not to be tucking in to a plate full of blue plasters. And still, the bakers produced cakes wrapped in sugar paper bags or covered in truffles. One had sculpted a bear — an actual three-dimensional bear — our of moulding chocolate. Another had hidden a cake-squirrel within her cake. This, it scarcely needs saying, is not the behaviour of a quitter.

The good thing for the less exacting cook is that even most baking failures are edible (though not if you accidentally use salt in place of sugar, as happened in this week’s episode). Produce a birthday cake that’s lop-sided and who will care? You made them a damn cake. Make chocolate cake that’s a bit dry, and you swiftly discover this is why god gave us brandy, with which to soak it, and custard, with which to eat it.

Nigella is the uber-cook, someone who bakes for pleasure rather than because it’s her job, so no wonder she enjoys watching others do the same. I too will be willing the mangled hands of the bakers to hold steady. I’ll gasp in sympathy when someone drops a tray of biscuits on the floor and I’ll cheer when their soufflés rise. Mostly, I’ll be hoping they dispel their demons as they knead their dough. It’s a piece of cake.

There was bad news for tennis fans yesterday, when Maria Sharapova pulled out of the US Open with a shoulder injury. But it is worse news for those of us who enjoy product placement in increasingly unlikely settings. Sharapova, in case you have been following a duller sport this summer, had been pondering changing her name to Sugarpova (the name of a brand of sweets she endorses).

Sharapova is not short of money, one assumes, given that her Tour earnings alone total more than $26 million. Her sponsorship deals must be worth that many times over. So can she really need extra cash from a candy manufacturer? I mean, enough to change her actual name so that the chair umpire would have to say, ‘Advantage Miss Sugarpova,’ and not get down off the chair and beat himself to death with one of her racquets?

Perhaps she could view her injured shoulder as the lesser of two evils.