Baking Meets Binge-watching


Amelia Valente, Chief Editor

Several months ago when we were all stuck inside of our houses during quarantine, a resurgence of baking took place in homes across the country: from sourdough starters to banana breads, from focaccia gardens to decorated birthday cakes left on doorsteps, we all started baking non-stop. Even flour, sugar, and yeast were in short supply at the grocery store. Maybe the introduction of this new hobby is what inspired me to, one day while mindlessly scrolling through Netflix, click on a series called “The Great British Baking Show”.

 “The Great British Baking Show” is a baking competition that takes place in Berkshire England in which a group of amateur bakers compete in a series of baking challenges in the hopes of impressing the two famous judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. Paul Hollywood is an English celebrity chef, and Prue Leith is considered one of the UK’s most renowned restaurateurs and caterers as well as a TV cook and writer. At the end of each episode, Paul and Prue declare one of the contestants “Star Baker” and send one contestant home. At the conclusion of a 10 episode season one baker earns the title of champion. Although in The Great British Baking Show there is no prize for the baker that comes in first place: instead they are rewarded with a festival that includes all of the contestants and their families, and their achievement is honored with a bouquet of flowers and a simply decorated cake stand representing all of their hard work. All of the bakers who take part in the competition are competing because they simply love to bake and want to showcase their skills; they do not receive any prize money or widespread recognition for their achievement, so the motivations of all the contestants are pure and unadulterated.

Unlike other culinary competition shows I’ve watched, “The Great British Baking Show” is not the least bit stressful or cut-throat. The contestants are people of all ages, professions, and backgrounds. They can be quirky, shy, serious, insecure, and funny, but they all share a love of baking. They want to do their best but never disparage or sabotage anyone else in the process and develop friendships with one another that last well beyond the show’s filming. During the show a relaxing ambiance is set by images of the English countryside, whimsical music, and beautiful desserts described in detail in soft voices with British accents. Each episode the bakers compete in three challenges reflecting a theme selected by the judges. The first challenge is the Signature and gives contestants the opportunity to choose their own flavors and put their personal touch on a common bakery item. The Technical Challenge is more difficult as each baker is given an identical and purposely vague recipe and has to create a perfect replica of a dessert that the judges choose. Their bakes are then judged blind and ranked from best to worst. The final challenge, the Show Stopper, is a complex bake that requires the bakers to showcase multiple skills and follow specific steps to create something visually impressive and equally delicious while balancing tight time constraints. The contestants make everything from puddings to pastries, savory pies, suspended shortbread displays, cakes, custards, breads, and so much more.

For the one hour you spend watching “The Great British Baking Show”, stress melts away like the liquid center of a “self saucing pudding” (also known as a molten lava cake), and there is nothing more important than a “lovely Genoise sponge” or a “perfectly executed choux pastry”. I didn’t think it was possible to become so emotionally invested in the successes and failures of home bakers or sit on the edge of my seat while waiting for bread dough to prove before baking. Not only is this show relaxing and entertaining, but it is also educational. I would have never had the occasion to learn the difference between a short crust and rough puff pastry, and after several seasons I know that it’s a mistake to ice a warm cake or add too much lavender to a crème bavarois.

“The Great British Baking Show” has easily become one of my favorite series to watch on Netflix. Like the desserts they showcase, it’s the perfect way to end a stressful day and focus on the simple joys you can create with just the right amount of flour, butter and sugar.