Friday 19 January 2018

A slice of heaven: 'Bake Off' pastor entices worshippers - with cake

The baking show that's as addictive as sugar returns, writes Hannah Furness

READY TO CRUMBLE: From left, Rav, Tom, Kate, Lee, Val, Candice, Benjamina, Michael, Selasi, Jane, Andrew and Louise — contestants for this year’s ‘Great British Bake Off’. Photo: Mark Bourdillon/PA
READY TO CRUMBLE: From left, Rav, Tom, Kate, Lee, Val, Candice, Benjamina, Michael, Selasi, Jane, Andrew and Louise — contestants for this year’s ‘Great British Bake Off’. Photo: Mark Bourdillon/PA

Hannah Furness

Some enter with the aim of becoming professional bakers, others with a view to writing a cook book or opening a cake shop.

But one of the contestants for this year's The Great British Bake Off will have more spiritual matters on his mind when the show starts this week, even if they still involve mastering a madeleine or a croquembouche.

The Reverend Lee Banfield, a pastor at a Baptist church near Bolton, may be hoping his appearance on one of television's most popular shows will alter the often-negative public perception of committed Christians.

Indeed, it may even boost attendances at his services, if only because he is known to serve a slice of cake or two at church meetings.

Marylyn Tonge, who runs the ladies' meetings at Rev Banfield's Cornerstone church, said: "He always bakes for us at church, and he always brings a cake for us at the ladies' meetings. Lovely cakes he makes. He makes lots of different things, baked pies and everything."

So could the pastor's fortunes on TGBBO encourage more people though the doors? "Hopefully," said Mrs Tonge. "I think that was maybe one reason Lee entered."

Rev Banfield, a father of two with four grandchildren who lives with his wife Dorothy near Bolton, worked as a builder before studying theology in the 1980s. He took up baking as a hobby in 1984 after injuring his back.

Kevan Nelson, a deacon at Rev Banfield's church and a former professional baker and award-winning confectioner himself, said the pastor specialises in meringue and pavlova, as well as making wedding cakes.

"He's good, I'll admit," said Mr Nelson. "The congregation were very, very surprised, because he's not been allowed to tell anybody. But yes, he is excellent at what he does professionally."

Mr Nelson points out that the 67-year-old pastor has one distinct advantage. "He has a captain looking over him, as it were," he said.

God may be on his side, but Rev Banfield and the other 11 contestants will still have to cope with the withering stares of presenters Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

And this year's series is reportedly the most technically demanding yet, with challenges including a Botanicals Week, in which the bakers use edible flowers, sugar-paste blossoms and floral extracts such as elderflower.

One contestant is said to have fallen foul of the new, high-tech ovens, not realising for half an hour that it was switched off. Then there are the nerves.

"They've practised in their own kitchens, but they come in here and are shaking like leaves," says Berry.

She added that this series has been the hardest in which to predict the winner. "This year more than any other year, we genuinely couldn't call it."

Rev Banfield is up against fellow 60-somethings Val Stones, a semi-retired school headteacher, and Jane Beedle, a garden designer. Their younger rivals include teaching assistant Benjamina Ebuehi, Candice Brown, a PE teacher, and nurse Kate Barmby.

Michael Georgiou, a 20-year-old student, is also taking part along with Rav Bansal, a 28-year-old member of the support staff at City University, and Selasi Gbormittah, who works in finance. They are joined by Andrew Smyth (25), who works for Rolls-Royce, Tom Gilliford, a 26-year-old project engagement manager for the Royal Society of Arts, and Louise Williams (46), a hairdresser.

'The Great British Bake Off' is on BBC One at 8pm this Wednesday.


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