It’s that time of year again: time for families, friends, and lots of food. This is the season when everyone pulls out their cookbooks to create those wonderful holiday dishes that are staples for their particular families. For my family, Christmas was when my mother made her homemade hard candy and campfire cookies. Not to mention the Chex holiday mix, which back then was not available ready-made at your local supermarket. Then, there were the sugar cookies in the shape of Santa Claus and Christmas trees that we frosted and decorated ourselves.
Unfortunately, I have not carried on her holiday cooking traditions for a very simple reason. I don’t cook. I can’t cook. I despise cooking. Perhaps this is because I have lived alone my entire adult life. But the fact that I have no patience with the art of cooking probably has a lot more to do with it. In fact, I am completely uninterested in cooking altogether. So why is it that I absolutely adore The Great British Baking Show?
I have seen glimpses of other cooking competitions on television and have not been enamored with any of them. And it is not just my lack of interest in the subject—I am not a fan of reality TV. I find that most reality TV competition shows tend to get nasty and there is a negative atmosphere between their contestants. I don’t enjoy watching people going after each other; nor do I like judges who don’t just criticize, they belittle and put down. This is common amongst many reality competition shows.
But The Great British Baking Show is decidedly different. Known in Great Britain as The Great British Bake Off, home bakers from around the country audition to be one of the lucky few to enter the now legendary white tent. These are just normal, everyday people. They have day jobs, and their ages range from college student to grandfather. And this is why the show is primarily filmed during the weekend. The contestants don’t have to give up their lives to move into an artificial environment for the couple of months it takes to film.
Every episode consists of three rounds. The Signature Bake is when the contestants get to show off the types of dishes they enjoy creating for their family and friends. Next up is the Technical Challenge. Here, the judges present a surprise recipe that the bakers have to create solely based on the instructions provided for them which often lack specific details, forcing the contestants to fill in the blanks. And finally, there is the Show Stopper. This is where the contestants attempt to create a dish that is both spectacular looking and spectacular tasting.
During each of the challenges, the judges taste the outcome and then tell the baker what they did right and what they did wrong. No insults or put-downs here. The judging is strict, but it is also supportive and has the goal of helping the contestant to improve. At the end of every show, the two judges pick the person who did the best that week and name them Star Baker. They then send one baker home. This is always the difficult part because during their time on the show we get to know and like all of the contestants. Especially since no one is crafted to be the “villain.”
That’s why The Great British Baking Show is such a breath of fresh air. The judges critique the contestants without getting nasty. Instead, they honestly tell the baker where they went wrong and even provide advice on how they can do better next time. Then there are the contestants themselves. A supportive atmosphere is created in the tent rather than one in which they are encouraged to consider each other enemies. The competing bakers actually root for each other and sometimes will even lend a hand to one another if they are able. Sounds completely foreign for a reality TV show, doesn’t it?
There is also an educational element to the show. While the contestants are doing their thing in the kitchen, the audience is instructed on what the baker is doing and why. The history of the dish being created is often described, and helpful tips are given for people who might want to try the dish themselves. If you are an amateur baker who wants to improve your own creations, you can actually learn something.
The Great British Baking Show is a nice change of pace in the cooking competition genre and is a perfect watch for this time of year. If you are interested in discovering a new recipe idea for the upcoming holidays, check out an episode. However, I must issue one dire warning: do not, I repeat, DO NOT watch this show if you are hungry and have a sweet tooth. It will drive you mad.
And don’t forget the incredible assortment of cookbooks available on the shelves here at MCPL. Whatever you want to bake, we’ve probably got a recipe for it.