Watching bread rise is not half a step up from watching grass grow, but somehow, “The Great British Baking Show” makes even the simplest ingredients sources of pure suspense. Who knew flour and yeast could be so stressful?
After it was broadcast on PBS last spring, season four of “The Great British Baking Show” recently made its long-awaited debut on Netflix, and it is a real treat. Known as “The Great British Bake Off” in the United Kingdom, the baking competition welcomes amateur bakers to face off in a 10-week competition, and one baker is eliminated per week. It is hosted by professional chef Paul Hollywood and British baking queen Mary Berry.
The bakers in the new season are a delight to watch. Half the fun is hearing the only Irish contestant say “flour” and “butter” with an accent, and the rest is watching what baking masterpieces the contestants manage under serious time crunches.
The show is graced with wit, creativity and joy, but the secret to its eloquence is the love for food, baking, tradition and camaraderie. This is a dynamic untapped by other cooking competitions, and “The Great British Baking Show” has hit the nail on the head. There isn’t even a grand prize for the winner; all they receive is a glass serving platter and, of course, the winning title.
Unlike American cooking shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped,” the atmosphere in “The Great British Baking Show” – though frantic at times – includes teamwork and a mutual love for baking. It’s not uncommon to see bakers lending hands to one another when pressed for time.
The best episode of the season is the quarterfinal, “Tudor Week.” The five remaining bakers are asked to bake pastries inspired by the Tudor period, which started with Henry VII and ended with Elizabeth I in 1603.
This last group of bakers in season four are scary good. One contestant constructed a peacock out of marzipan, and another created a set of pies that rotated like working gears. Most of them credit their skills to their mothers and grandmothers. This sentiment is perhaps what makes the show so alluring, because it really is like watching a family interact in the last few episodes.
“We’re like the Spice Girls before Geri (Halliwell) left,” said one of the five remaining bakers.
“The Great British Baking Show” will make you feel the joy and nostalgia of baking without leaving the couch, so much so, that it may inspire you to make a mess of your own kitchen.