Okay, yes, I know it’s weird for me to be writing about a reality show, of all things, but bear with me for a minute. The Great British Baking Show (actually The Great British Bake-Off, but trademark stuff) is one of the best reality shows I’ve ever seen.
I came across it while poking around Netflix looking for something to watch, and I had heard other people talk about how good it was. And I like baking, so I turned it on and gave it a go.
The Great British Baking Show is about finding the best amateur baker in Britain. Twelve contestants are selected, and each weekend, they head to the baking tent for three different challenges: a signature bake, a technical challenge, and then a showstopper challenge. One person is awarded Star Baker each week, and one person is eliminated. Three bakers remain for the final challenge, where one person is crowned the winner.
It’s the kindest, most uplifting reality show I’ve ever watched, and it’s all topped off by acres and acres of delicious-looking food.
The hosts are silly and light-hearted, and their banter never feels forced or painful. The judges are effusive with praise when they like the food, and honest but not cruel when there are things that need work. The contestants are all supportive of each other, offering hugs and words of encouragement after they receive criticism and excitement after praise. There is so much hugging in this show, it’s glorious.
And the baking. I mean. The baking. Each episode revolves around a theme–cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread, etc.–and all the bakes have to do with that.
The signature bake is the first one in each episode, and it’s one that the contestants know about and can practice at home. It’s so cool to see them take the assignment–for example, a Swiss roll or a savory biscuit–and make it their own. Each person has their own tricks for getting their bakes to do what they want, and it’s really interesting to watch.
The second challenge, the technical challenge, is a complete surprise. The contestants are given a list of ingredients and the recipe, but there are key components missing, like a baking temperature or a baking time or what size you should chop the fruit. It’s up to the bakers to use their baking knowledge to bring the recipe together, even if it’s something they’ve never heard of before. Then, all the bakes are placed on a table and the judges taste them, then rank them from the least successful to the most successful.
In case you couldn’t tell, this is probably my favorite part of each episode. I love seeing how the bakers interpret the recipes differently, how some of them are familiar enough with the bake to make good guesses and how others are flying completely blind. Sometimes they wing it and it turns out beautifully, other times, not so much.
(In a side note, all the recipes for the technical challenges from the sole season on Netflix are available on the PBS website. I’m tempted to give them all a go.)
The final piece of each episode, the showstopper, is another challenge that the bakers can develop at home before they have to reproduce it at the tent. By the name of it, it’s clear this bake has to be as visually striking as it is tasty, and it’s really great to see how the bakers pull out all the stops for it.
It’s just a fun show, and it’s amazing to see the sheer variety of food the bakers have to tackle. In addition to expected foods like cookies and bread and tarts, there are puddings and samosas and entremets. In one episode, they make baklava, and they have to make their own filo dough to do it.
There’s only one season available on Netflix currently, and at this point I’ve watched the whole thing three times. It’s just such a sweet, fun, fluffy show–and I use “fluffy” in many senses of the word–that it makes me feel better just knowing it’s out there. If you like baking (or at least, like watching people bake), then you should definitely check it out.