Don’t think you’d care about what goes into Viennese Whirls, or how they’re made? Well, this show not just about baking, it’s an opportunity to spend time with people overflowing with passion, optimism, kindness and skill.
This show is like a hot pepper…pop that little inconspicuous chile into your mouth and be swept up into the burst of flavor and surprising heat that hits you when least expect it.
Seriously, the baking is secondary to everything else.
Weekend In The Country
Searching for the U.K.’s best amateur bakers, the competition, held in the lush garden of a stately country manor, brings together 12 competitors from all walks of life. They will gather each week and bake their way through ten weekend “bake-fests.”
As each episode begins, piano and strings play the show’s effervescent theme song, as clips of baked masterpieces flash across the screen. Then we see them, amateur or “home-cook” contestants excitedly chatting among themselves as they make their way down the stone steps in the terraced gardens of the estate. They enter the bright white competition tent that looks like dollops of meringue floating on a verdant green tea sea.
We look around at the shabby chic/greenhouse inspired interior, bathed in calming pastels, and see little vignettes of antique baskets and bins overflowing with wildflowers and plants.
The contestants file in, stand behind their assigned baking stations (complete with sink, cutting board tops, refrigerator, oven, and proofing oven (you may have never heard of one, but before the season ends, you’ll want one in your kitchen), and nervously don their unifying beige aprons. Suddenly the contestant’s unique personalities are all brought to the same starting line.
Time To Mix It Up
“Hello bakers!” the charming hosts, Sue and Mel chime as they introduce the week’s theme and first assignment through a pun-laden dialogue. Marion Berry, a petite, grandmotherly, popular cookbook writer, and Paul Hollywood (yes, that’s his name) a British celebrity chef, are the two fantastically incongruent judges for the summer-long competition.
There are three increasingly difficult challenges the contestants must tackle throughout the two days. During the challenge, each one intimately shares their concerns and uncertainties with the camera, as they whip, knead and stir up glorious breads, cakes, pies and desserts. Their endearing humility and candid reactions to calamity, and success alike, move the charm meter pointer to high!
Mezmorized, we watch clouds of powdered sugar engulf our friends as they turn on the mixer, when they sit on the floor outside of their ovens, agonizing over bake time, and every time they cry tears of frustration over breads that don’t rise, and cakes that tumble over. We also share their joy as they successfully try a new technique, or build a multi-tiered cake.
This drama isn’t born of contestants back stories or conflict, it’s the human drama that arises from competition. I just want to give them all a hug!
Whipping Things Up
Balancing out the culinary drama, the comedic hosts combine sass, innuendo, and culinary puns while they wander around the tent, sneaking tastes and delivering loving, yet zesty zingers to the judges. Their cocked eyebrow facial expressions, nutty escapades, and ever-optimistic support to struggling contestants, infuses the show with the frivolity and charm only one’s “favorite (crazy) aunts” can.
In a recent episode, host Sue said about the desired quality of the mouse they’d be making, “I’m looking for more wobble than me on a truss-free Sunday.”
Time To Cut The Cake
Mary and Paul only judge the finished product, but while the contestants are furiously trying to complete their masterpieces in the allotted time, the judges chat with them, attempting to get clarity about their hoped for outcome and their creative process.
So, what makes this judging combo one of the finest in reality television? Viewer, Mitten d’ Amore tweeted this about judge Paul, ” Little known fact, Paul Hollywood slices cake with deadly precision using only a withering stare and a rhetorical question.”
Like a beloved boss, Paul can rattle the contestant’s nerves, but their insecurity instantly fades away as grandmotherly Mary gently inquires about their decisions and methods. Ever the cheerleader, Mary encouragingly mentions potential problems, hoping to help them avoid mistakes and if need be “turn the ship around” before they run into trouble.
After two days of equal parts flour, sugar, and sweat, the contestants sit atop closely placed stools, shoulders-to-shoulder supporting one another as they await judgement. Who will be crowned this week’s “Star Baker” (yes, that’s all the reward they seek), and who will be leaving the competition that week?
The announcements are bittersweet, but the extended hugs and incredibly kind words exchanged between everyone in the final minutes, let us know that our well-loved eliminated friend is going to be okay! See you next weekend!
The Secret Sauce
What makes this show so unique is that there’s no cash price, just the title and notoriety of being named champion that year. Harsh words are never spoken about fellow competitors, only supportive praise and refreshing politeness. The contestants truly care about each other, and we care about them.
There is absolutely no product placement and the competition takes place outside in tent! Some days the rain drizzles down the tent windows, and some days the birds are charmingly chirping. Some days it’s too hot for pastry to cooperate, and other days the contestants are wearing cardigans under their aprons. The hosts are funny, the judges quirky and the creations are a sweet tooth’s dream.
“Ready, get set…BAKE!”
Pura vida, Penny
You can view The Great British Baking Show on PBS and Netflix.