One of the best parts of Christmas TV for me is that, while my favorite shows are on hiatus, I can binge-watch cooking show specials like the Holiday Baking Championship. The one I was really looking forward to, however, was the Christmas tradition of The Great British Bake Off Masterclass special.
I’m sad to say, I was a wee bit disappointed this year. It’s not that Mary and Paul didn’t deliver absolutely stunning baked goods that look delicious. It’s that none of it feels new and exciting. Everything the two seasoned bakers cooked up on the special episode was either updated versions of traditional recipes or sweet and savory dishes they’ve baked on the show before, with minor tweaks in the ingredients or the shape and style of presentation.
Mary really didn’t show us anything new this time around; nor did we really expect her to go outside her comfort zone and try her hand in something extreme. She’s a home cook who’s had tremendous success teaching viewers how to make the very recipes she grew up on and perfected, but a little variety never hurt anyone. And despite her meticulous attention to detail when it comes to presentation, at the end of the day, it really is more of the same, and that’s a shame – and a missed opportunity.
Take her Christmas Trifle, for instance.
Yes, it looks beautiful, and I bet it tastes lovely if you’re into boozy desserts (and let’s face it, who isn’t?).
But the trifle components offered nothing new to anyone who’s watched her make a trifle before, and everyone who watches this show actually has. It also offered nothing new to any home baker who likes to experiment and try different flavors and techniques: if anything, using store-bought trifle sponges and amaretti biscuits and soaking the entire thing in half a bottle of sherry seems like a cop-out. We’ve all seen her make custard before – plenty of times, in fact – and God knows we’ve seen enough heavy cream being whipped to last us a lifetime.
As much as I appreciate the classic, this one was nothing more recycling stuff she’s already done in the several years the show has been airing its special Masterclass episodes, and I assume it’s nothing any british baker doesn’t already know how to prepare.
The Christmas Pavlova was yet another Mary Berry recipe we’ve all seen before.
Piping the meringue into a wreath shape rather than a disk and topping it with berries is, again, nothing new; it’s also puzzling to me that the Pavlova is considered a holiday staple (apparently). Maybe down under it makes sense, as they celebrate Christmas in the summer, but does a refreshing, light and fruity dessert really scream “Christmas” in the UK in December?
I’m also annoyed that this is a suggestion for a dessert for the Christmas table. Pavs don’t keep well and they need to be made last minute. When you’re hosting a dinner party and preparing food in a normal-sized kitchen like most of us have to, why make your life harder by whipping cream and slicing berries when you should be entertaining your guests? Meh.
The Rosace à L’ Orange cake looks amazing, I’ll give her that.
I would have preferred if the orange slices went all the way down to the base of the cake to give the full stained glass effect, but it’s a stunner nonetheless.
However, it’s yet another case of recipes cobbled together, and all of them have been done on this show before, from the creme pat to the genoise base (which I swear, if I hear it pronounced je-no-eez again I’ll throw a fit). Even flavoring the cream and sponge base with orange would have been a welcome tweak to the old recipes, but nope, just soak the thing in more booze and you’re done. I think I would have trouble driving myself home if I was ever invited to Mary’s for Christmas.
On to Paul’s leftover Turkey and Ham Pie.
No doubt it’s a delicious way to use up leftovers from the Christmas dinner. Still, we’ve seen Paul do plenty of pies before – although none using a pie bird, which was a welcome surprise! We’ve also seen him make leftover turkey chelsea buns, so the concept isn’t exactly new. And he’s done every puff pastry variation there is, from rough to full-blown-take-8-hours-to-make puff pastry dough.
His Tear-and-Share Christmas Chelsea Buns looks absolutely lovely.
The Christmas tree shape is impressive yet ridiculously easy to make (unlike some braided loaves he’s shown us before that we’d need diagrams to reproduce), but at the end of the day, it’s a Chelsea bun. He’s done them before – on a previous Christmas special no less – and I’m pretty sure every british housewife has a chelsea bun recipe up her sleeve.
Perhaps the only new thing we learned on this Christmas episode was Paul’s recipe for the Pandoro.
It looks spectacular, the store-bought version I’ve tried tastes amazing so I have no doubt this one is even more delicious, and it’s a simple yet impressive centerpiece.
Now, I don’t mean to be nit-picky – or maybe I do, this is what I’m all about – but have they made Italy intentionally the only other country whose traditional Christmas recipes are represented on the Christmas shows? We’ve seen Paul do a panettone before, so now he’s giving us the pandoro. Both challenging recipes, but still, a little variety would go a long way, wouldn’t it?
I guess I’m just annoyed at the lack of originality overall. Over the years it’s clear that they’ve exhausted the limited array of traditional british holiday recipes, so why not branch out and show their viewers something they’re actually not familiar with? There are so many nationalities, such a multitude of wonderful baked goods out there to choose from, so why choose the safe route again? I don’t expect Paul and Mary to start whipping up greek melomakarona and kourampiedes (although that would be awesome – and Paul’s done a tsoureki for the Easter special before), but I absolutely expect them to do something other than a bun and a creme pattissiere for Christmas.
Perhaps it’s all the producers’ fault; maybe they are just supposed to stay within their comfort zone, or maybe they’re trying to reach new viewers and not necessarily repeat audiences who’ve watched previous Christmas specials over the years.
Whatever the case, I guess I just expected more, and this particular episode was a disappointment.