These young stars are upstaging the adults by producing masterpieces ahead of their time (Picture: Channel 4)
When 14-year-old Erin presented a Loch Ness monster entirely constructed out of bread on Junior Bake Off, I was in awe.
Every detail was immaculate, with the creature even sculpted to look like it was emerging out of water; I never knew bread could do so much more than sit horizontally.
Erin is just one of many contestants currently wowing us in the latest series, which features several gifted young bakers. Yet their talent is lacking the recognition it deserves.
This is particularly unfair when they are producing such innovative and elaborate ideas, despite the fact that their adult counterparts have much more experience behind them.
Junior Bake Off airs weeknights at 5pm on Channel 4 – a time currently dominated by news briefings relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Even without the clash, this earlier television slot could be preventing the show from matching the overwhelming popularity of its parent programme, The Great British Bake Off.
This means that perhaps not everyone knows the uncomplicated triumph of Junior Bake Off – a show that isn’t just for youngsters.
I discovered it over the festive season, when Channel 4 repeated the previous series. It was an unexpected saviour during the strangest Christmas and New Year yet – and after just one episode, I was captivated by their high standards and incredible creations.
Fin’s amazing chocolate cake – inspired by the trophy he went on to win – blew me away and one of fellow finalist Aleena’s most memorable bakes was a biscuit dish designed to look just like a pizza.
It has to be said, these young stars are upstaging the adults by producing masterpieces ahead of their time.
As far as I’m concerned, Junior Bake Off is the superior series. It doesn’t try too hard because it doesn’t need to. There is a natural flow to proceedings and improvisation seems to be key – and that is part of its brilliance.
Every episode is delightful viewing. Unpredictable imaginations make the challenges all the more intriguing to watch; from preparation to process, to the inventive end result.
Like 15-year-old Robbie’s first cake that had contrasting flavours within two separate components and looked exactly like a camera and microphone, steering away from the traditional shape and going beyond what we usually expect on GBBO.
The shared buzz and vibrant personalities of the contestants always feel authentic and they also seem much more attuned to the problems encountered by those around them – like when Robbie stopped what he was doing to help Cece, 14, make caramel.
Host Harry Hill keeps the atmosphere light and relaxed. The kids aren’t phased by his antics, and will send an eye-roll or a witty comeback his way even if they have no idea what he’s talking about.
Junior Bake Off doesn’t take itself too seriously (Picture: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)
Harry’s fun-loving nature has found the perfect setting, as he breaks any nervous tension with a daft joke or fitting one-liner while offering support when needed.
In one recent episode, Harry encouraged Fern to make sure she got her pastry in the oven in time. At the end of the same task, he grinned as he instructed the bakers to put their finished products behind their photos: ‘Or if you’re not happy with yours, place it behind someone else’s photo.’
Junior Bake Off doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the silliness never undermines the hard work involved.
The show also strikes just the right balance with its judging experts because there is nothing condescending about the way they talk to the kids.
New judge Ravneet Gill gives a technical appraisal, treating everyone professionally but kindly; and prompting bakers to concentrate on achievements rather than failures.
While former Bake Off star Liam Charles brings an infectious passion for baking, passing on his knowledge with insightful critiques.
The adult competition generally takes a more reserved approach when tasting, but Liam is joyously animated in his response when a cake, biscuit or dessert meets his approval. This reaction probably means a lot more to the children than a Hollywood handshake.
Channel 4 are missing a key opportunity to recapture their audience with this dose of joy, filling the gap while GBBO is off the air.
Last year reports suggested that Junior Bake Off was facing the axe due to the channel cutting costs. Happily this has not been the case so far, but perhaps the show could still be in danger. It would be a great shame to lose such an uplifting piece of television – something we now need more than ever.
Placing Junior Bake Off in a peak time slot would make the wait much more bearable for avid Bake Off viewers, and allow more people to discover its brilliance. Airing during the first hour of prime time viewing might even ensure that younger viewers can still tune in.
Alternatively, splitting the broadcasts between evenings for older viewers and weekend repeats for children could equally see an increase in ratings – all the while giving the spin-off the recognition it truly deserves.
A programme that features such skill and positivity should be as big a talking point as The Great British Bake Off, if not more so. It should not be restricted to a fraction of the audience and left for others to stumble across on the streaming service.
So please, Channel 4, reward this wholesome show with the prime time position it deserves.