The new series of The Great British Bake Off has the “highest standard” of bakers the show has ever seen, Paul Hollywood has said.
The TV judge has also revealed that in one week he gave out four of his “Hollywood handshakes” – his ultimate, and rare, sign of approval.
Hollywood, who is the only returning star of the baking show following its shift from BBC One to Channel 4, said he was “amazed” at how good this year’s contestants were.
“Every single week this year has been better than any others we’ve done,” he said.
“The standard of the baking this year was annoyingly good. I mean that in a nice way because there were just like, ‘how did you do that? Where did you people come from?’.”
He said the contestants impressed in the tent with “new techniques, new flavours, new ideas”.
“They’ve really gone to town on finding out how to do things properly,” he added.
Sandi Toksvig, who presents the series with Noel Fielding, added: “The wonderful thing is, when they’ve finished judging and the cameras have stopped rolling, the four of us are still sitting at the table eating because some of it is so delicious.”
Fielding added: “The standard has been so high on this show, so they often know when they’ve made a mistake. It’s fascinating.”
He also shared his surprise at how “natural” the contestants were while being filmed.
“It’s astonishing how unfazed by cameras they are,” he said. “They’re all pretty natural in front of the camera.”
Having such a high quality of bakers proved tricky at times for the judges, though, with Bake Off stalwart Hollywood admitting it has been tougher than ever before.
He said: “I gave out four handshakes once, one week. That’s never happened again, so I’ve moved the bar up again.”
New judge Prue Leith said it was fortunate that “everybody makes mistakes”, otherwise judging would have sometimes been near impossible.
“I was amazed… I mean, it’s so real, I think that’s what surprised me,” she said.
“The whole point of Bake Off is to find the best amateur bakers and so they are absolutely fixed on their baking.
“It’s as if they’re not in a television show. They just want to produce the best stuff and it must be quite hard when we’re walking around interrupting them and talking to them, but they just keep at it.”
Hollywood said: “This year’s final, the standard was exceptional, and for us it’s the hardest judging I’ve ever been involved in.”
The winner of the series will join the ranks of previous Bake Off champions including Candice Brown and Nadiya Hussain.
:: The Great British Bake Off begins at 8pm on Tuesday August 29 on Channel 4.