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7 Reasons to Watch 'The Great British Baking Show' (Even if You Don't Bake)

May 17, 2021 | By

Sourdough bread may have had its biggest 12 months since the invention of quick-rise yeast. A lot of people who just watched baking on TV actually started to do it. But let's face it, watching baking means a lot less clean-up (and goodies can always be delivered).

Introducing our newest contributor, Lisa Hess, an author, speaker and educator, who also has excellent taste in TV.

Take it away, Lisa! -- Editor

A show about baking? How exciting can that be?

Just ask the millions of American fans of The Great British Baking Show (known as The Great British Bake-Off in its native Britain), who tune in via PBS or Netflix.

As it turns out, watching talented Brits — whether by-the-book bakers or by-the-seat-of-their pants creatives — is very entertaining indeed. A playful atmosphere and almost as many flavors of accents as sponges (cakes) and biscuits (cookies) give the show a “we’re all in this together” feel — sort of like High School Musical with baking instead of dancing, and one winner at the end (who gets a bunch of flowers and a nice cake plate, but no cash).

The stakes feel huge, and there's plenty of tension, but the interpersonal conflict that characterizes many U.S. reality/competition shows is nonexistent. The contestants all seem to like each other and will even pitch in to help a competitor in trouble.

A cast of real people

Over its eight seasons (“collections”), contestants have included teens, grandmothers, fussy British guys, construction workers, military wives and scientists. Some were serious, others jovial, but each has brought his or her own twist to the three bakes presented in each episode.

(Mostly) gorgeous final products

Even if we can’t taste the end results, (and, in cases like the contestant who mistakenly used salt instead of sugar, that’s a good thing), each bake is a testament to both cooking ingenuity and visual creativity.

Some bakes they get to practice at home (at their own expense), but others are on the fly, even if they're unfamiliar and the recipe is stripped down to basics.

Armchair visits abroad

Between bakes, the camera pans the English countryside surrounding the tent in which the bakers make their magic. No matter the collection, there’s always at least one episode where it pours and another where it’s too darn hot.

Lessons learned

Voice-overs from the hosts and chatter from the contestants share a variety of baking tidbits, such as why we knead bread (to form gluten), and whether to grease the pan for an angel food cake (don’t).

Speaking of hosts

There have been five to date. Mel and Sue gave way to Sandy and Noel, and, in Collection 8, Noel and Matt. Each pairing has brought its own flavor to the show, ranging from bad puns to banter that is somewhat suggestive (and likely to go over the heads of younger viewers), but that always includes a supportive shoulder for contestants who are struggling.

Good cop/bad cop

What would a reality show be without judges? Each judge has high standards, but Paul Hollywood is always scarier than his female counterpart, whether it’s tidy Mary Berry (in the early seasons) or Pru Leith of the statement glasses and jewelry.

There’s no yelling, though, because just that signature Paul Hollywood look of superiority -- augmented by his silver hair and ice-blue eyes -- is enough to throw many contestants off-balance.

The human element

Pre-COVID, each season wrapped with a party, bringing former contestants and families of finalists to the property for the announcement of the winner and some celebratory fun. The final scenes were a sort of “where are they now?” montage, featuring friendships begun on the show, along with an update on those who hadn’t made the cut.

It’s fun to watch a show with contestants of all sizes and shapes where everyone wants to win, but not at someone else’s expense. If they could figure out a way for us to sample the goodies, the experience would be even better. Until then, it’s BYOB: bring your own bake.

But, thanks to the show's British producers, click here for recipes!

Here's a taste:


Image: Netflix

Lisa Hess describes herself as: Transplanted Jersey girl. Author. Organizational work-in-progress. Kid advocate & defender of emerging adults. Inveterate procrastinator. Follow her blog here.

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