YOU have to be a tough cookie to showcase your baking skills on a nationally televised competition.

But that’s exactly what Southend-born Ruby Tandoh, 21, has done in entering the Great British Bake Off.

Ruby is the youngest of the 12 competitors in the hugely popular BBC series and has already baked her way through to the third round.

Having survived eviction after a custard calamity in round one, she came back strongly this week in the bread-baking challenge. Ruby overcame the turmoil of the first round with aplomb, being awarded the Star Baker in week two.

She impressed judges with her two-tone French stick and an ornate white chocolate peacock-shaped loaf which bagged her the top prize.

Judge Paul Hollywood was particularly impressed with how she kneeded the white chocolate into the dough herself and created its elaborate shape.

Ruby says: “I was embarrassed by the way week one had gone.

“I wanted to show everyone I could bake so I prepared like crazy.

“I really turned it up a notch. I was even practising and preparing myself on the minibus on the way to the competition and I’m just so happy it paid off.”

She admits: “I still can’t figure out what possessed me to apply for the show. I always set myself challenges and have projects on the go. But it definitely feels surreal to be there.”

Filming was wrapped up months in advance of its TV airing, but Ruby remains tight-lipped about how far she managed to progress on the show.

But she has already been recognised in the street by one of its thousands of fans.

“One girl came up to me and said ‘are you the girl from the Bake Off?’” she says.

“It was nice – and unnerving.

“I was worried they were going to say ‘I thought you were rubbish’.”

It’s this exposure which directly contrasts her modest beginnings in the world of baking.

While studying philosophy and history of art at University College, London, she began making cakes in secret and eventually became the centre of a campus mystery.

She says: “It started as a means of procrastination. But I always found it difficult to be proud of the things I baked.

“I would take things I made into my common room and leave them there anonymously.

“Everyone was asking ‘who is the mystery baker?’”

Ruby would then watch her fellow students enjoy her cakes, and overhear their compliments, unaware that the baker was sat among them.

“Eventually they figured it out,” she says.

“I became known as the cooking girl.”

Ruby still tries out her concoctions on her friends at university and at the weekends on her parents and three younger brothers and sisters.

“I was putting so much pressure on myself with coursework and revision for exams that I needed a distraction,” she says.

“But Bake Off has been so stressful that everything else in contrast is a breeze.”

Ruby has hit if off with her fellow contestants and even lists them and their Twitter handles on her own food blog, She says her cooking style is to remain methodical and she remains a self-critical perfectionist.

“I love food and I love writing about food,” she admits.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but its exciting.”

Her analytical nature meant she struggled to come to terms with the round one disaster that befell her custard creme patissiere. She says: “I was really stressed out when I realised it was not going to plan. It was weird for my family to watch that unfold on their TV.”

But she insists that making mistakes is all part of becoming a better baker.

“At the start, I had so many disasters and I still have them all the time,” she admits. “It takes a while to get a feel for it.”

Ruby shirks traditional cookbooks in favour of internet recipes and experimentation. Having learnt the basics baking biscuits, she progressed on to the kind of dishes she hopes will continue to impress TV judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

The Great British Bake Off has given sales of cake-making ingredients, plaid pinnies and rolling pins a boost.

High Street analysts have labelled the new craze the GBBO effect and hundreds of cook books have been marketed in hope of emulating its success.

But why, in Ruby’s opinion, has the quaint tradition endured?

“Desserts excite people,” she suggests. “They represent a special occasion and everyone looks forward to seeing their birthday cake.”