My daughter recently introduced me to another TV show. As a devotee of the Food Network, I thought I’d seen it all but not until I watched the The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. Tuning in after several seasons had aired, I learned the show had experienced some turnover amongst the beloved hosts and judges that had the show’s faithful up in arms. It seems for the producers, “dough” had a different meaning but “cracking on” as the Brits say, the show continues to attract new amateur bakers and new viewers like me.
Food truck and outdoor grill challenges aren’t unusual to us but baking inside a tent on the grounds of a private English estate presents challenges of a different sort. For 10-weeks, not only do the 12-amateur bakers challenge their baking skills, they must deal with the elements of nature, baking rain or shine, facing heat and humidity that can cause spun sugar sculptures to disintegrate. That alone can make the difference in being named Star Baker of the week or going home.
After binge watching a season or two, I adjusted to the accents, the slang expressions and the baking lingo. I now know what “sponge” is and what to expect when a challenge requires a choux pastry, a savory patisserie, a chocolate collar or a five element Entremet. Meringue isn’t just meringue anymore…it’s either Swiss, Italian or French. And “proving” dough is all about its final rising phase. I’m feeling challenged myself to attempt to bake a Swiss Roll!
British humor is a little drier, but the show’s hosts and judges are quick-witted, quirky and extremely capable of a double entrendre here and there. But curses on the curd curdling or the custard splitting because the desired outcome of every challenge is to receive the highly coveted handshake of handsome, blue-eyed judge Paul Hollywood for a job well done!
The artistry and creativity of these amateur bakers as they navigate the Signature, Technical and Show Stopper Challenges in the allotted time is amazing and nail-biting. They must pull out all stops on style as well as substance to avoid being eliminated. This can mean working from a surprise recipe lacking key information like the baking time or temperature, ingredient measurements or even without the proper equipment. These are ordinary people from all walks of life incorporating their artistic, mental and work skills into a finished product as unique as each baker.
The lack of competitive drama between the contestants is refreshing. Contrast that to some American programming with clips of contestant comments about their fellow competitors that are not so complimentary. What I’ve observed is that Great British Baking Show competitors cheer each other on. The camaraderie surprisingly doesn’t diminish but increases as the field narrows, and the finale gets closer.
What surprised me the most is there is no network show contract or $25,000 cash prize awaiting the winner. And yet the desire to make it to the next round, and the next only intensifies – and for what? A bouquet of flowers and an engraved glass cake stand!
As I watched my first finale with Sophie proudly clasping that cake stand to her chest, it clicked why we love this show so much - because it’s not about the “dough,” it’s all about the baking.
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter and an award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.