All rise for the next baking challenge

AFTER four years presenting The Great British Bake Off, Sue Perkins has picked up some pretty decent kitchen skills.

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Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and Mel Giedroyc have all become household names since the BC baking competition became a surprse ratings  hit with viewers
Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and Mel Giedroyc have all become household names since the BC baking competition became a surprse ratings hit with viewers

So much so that notoriously hard-to-impress judge Paul Hollywood - who knows a good crumb from a soggy bottom - has termed her "a really good baker".

"I wouldn't say I was any good at it, but it's very sweet of Paul to say I'm ok," says the bespectacled comedian, who returns tonight with co-host Mel Giedroyc for series five.

"I'm not much of a cake-maker, because I don't have kids. I do love making bread though, it's an amazing thing to get into. It's a stress-reliever, it's fun and I just absolutely love it."

Perkins isn't the only one to have been bitten by the baking bug. The show, which first aired in 2010, has led to a major revival in cake, bun and biscuit-making, and made stars of bread guru Hollywood and food writer Mary Berry.

More than nine million of us tuned in to see Frances Quinn crowned winner of series four, and this year the contest - which is moving from BBC Two to BBC One - will also have a spin-off programme, An Extra Slice, hosted by Jo Brand.

London-born Perkins, 44, is modest about the role she and Giedroyc have played in the show's success.

But when the pressure gets too much in the Bake Off tent, the pair are always on hand to provide welcome light relief and console the contestants.

Admittedly, the ice-breaking does usually come in the form of a smutty pun or a wink at a rude-shaped bake...

"I've sort of cultivated this sort of, 'Ooh look at me, I've got my glasses on, let's try and pretend that I'm clever'," says Perkins.

"Actually, I'm just a buffoon child wrapped in a 40-something-year-old's body. Really contrived puns, terrible jokes, people falling over, an exquisitely timed fart; these are things that will make me just roar with laughter."

Over the years, Perkins has befriended the home economists who test the recipes on Bake Off ("they're my mates"), and has gleaned plenty of baking tips from them.

"I will help them make stuff and if they're doing demonstrations, I'll make some of the bread," she adds.

"I had quite a slow day on Bake Off once and we were having Comic Relief winners to come and have tea with us, and I made pretty much the whole tea myself - the scones and muffins and cakes and things. I was quite pleased with that."

It's just as well Perkins is a so interested in food, as many of her presenting gigs have involved it.

She and Giedroyc, who met at Cambridge University, rose to TV prominence on the Channel 4 daytime show Light Lunch, in which each episode saw a top chef cook lunch for the duo.

Along with stints on Celebrity MasterChef and Celebrity Big Brother, Perkins also co-presented the The Supersizers Eat... food history shows with restaurant critic Giles Coren.

"I'm quite lucky," she admis. "I've been cooked for by amazing people."

As well as the new series of Bake Off, Perkins is also the host of new More4 show, Cooks' Questions, in which three top chefs demonstrate their skills and answer questions from a studio audience.

"I think the show shows how many answers there are to one simple question, like how to roast a chicken," says Perkins.

"We had almost war with Tom Aikens saying you need to brine it for 16 days and then hang it upside down and then form a pentangle around it and set light to it then shove an almond up it's bottom, and then you had Richard Corrigan going, 'No that's rubbish, just get a hairdryer and turn it on', and then Frances [Atkins] saying, 'Oh no, just shove it in the oven at 180C. I think you'll find that turns out pretty well'.

"So actually, it showed the many ways you can skin a cat. Although a cat, of course, is not the best meat if you want a roast..."

Perkins is a fan of "good solid practical home cookery"; the kind she used to help her mum with growing up.

"I do sort of love those big traybakes and great duvets of lasagne, and all those sort of comforting family foods," she adds.

"I think there's all this razzmatazz around the star chefs. You forget that real women - and men too - are turning out amazing things every single night of the year."

n The Great British Bake Off BBC One, Wednesday, 8pm 6

n Cooks' Questions airs on More4 on Mondays

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