The Great British Bake Off just wrapped its 7th season, and once again we were treated to a great variety of classics mixed in with whimsical desserts, the legendary, harsh but fair judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the funny commentary of Mel and Sue, and a dozen lovely home bakers, each more lovable than the next, all tremendously skilled in baking.
There’s much to admire about the show, even down to the pretty pastel work benches where the home cooks produce their masterpieces. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find something to nitpick about what’s an otherwise excellent show – and one of the few cooking competitions that features perfectly nice people who support each other and only unleash their competitive side in the kitchen instead of lashing out at each other like The Real Housewives of Wherever.
Let’s start with the actual format of the show: the bakers are given three challenges over the course of a weekend; the signature challenge, the technical one, and the showstopper. At the end of the final challenge, one of them is crowned star baker and another one is eliminated.
The one thing that bothers me this format has to do with the bakers’ rankings. Although I do think it’s fair that each baker is judged based on their overall performance over the 2 days of challenges rather than just one individual bake before they’re eliminated, the ‘star baker‘ doesn’t really get much of an advantage other than the pride that comes with the distinction. Why not give them an extra few minutes of baking time on the next challenge? Why not a sneak peak at the technical so they have a leg up on the competition? In effect, why strive to be star baker if there’s no real reward to be earned?
What bugs me the most isn’t the sometimes harsh judging; that’s to be expected, and at least it’s done with all the subtlety and politeness you’d expect from those two lovely Brits. It’s the fact that actual objectivity often goes by the wayside, as the judges opinions on the bakers’ offerings are sometimes based not just on personal views, but also personal taste.
If a baker wanted their cookie to come out soft and chewy, it’s unfair to knock off points when the cookie is indeed soft and not crispy like the judges prefer; likewise, if a judge doesn’t like the taste of the actual ingredients used in the recipe, that doesn’t make the baked product bad. If the taste of matcha isn’t to Mary’s liking, that doesn’t make any matcha-based baked good ‘grassy’ and horrible. Nor does a ‘semi-naked’ cake warrant a comment about it looking ‘unfinished’ when that’s exactly the kind of look the baker is going for!
(Also: Paul was surprised by the combination of banana and peanut butter? I get that it’s a British show but hasn’t he heard of the Elvis sandwich?)
What amazes me is what spectacular centerpieces the bakers are able to achieve during the showstopper challenge and how flustered they seem when it’s time for the technical. Unless they have baked whatever it is the challenge requires before, they have trouble improvising, filling in the blanks when given sparse recipes, and time is often an issue. The fact that they know beforehand what the other two challenges will be and have time to rehearse at home during the week is crucial, and it’s therefore shocking when they don’t perfect their bakes in the signature challenge. I used to be intimidated by how talented these bakers are, but their lackluster performance in the technical challenges has made me reconsider a bit.
Having said that, I have to roll my eyes a little bit at some of the challenges they insist on setting: fyllo pastry, puff pastry, strudel pastry, multiple-strand plaits… who actually bakes all these types of pastries from scratch and not buy them ready made? Who makes an 8-strand plaited loaf? And then again, what self-respecting home baker doesn’t know how to make the basic traditional desserts that any housewife should be able to prepare blind-folded, like a Bakewell tart or pancake batter? How can making a citrus meringue pie as your signature dish fail because your meringue wasn’t stiff enough, especially considering you had all week to perfect your technique at home?
With the whining out of the way, let me just reiterate my initial point: this is one hell of a well-produced, entertaining, informative baking show, that stands head and shoulders above most of its competition.
This year wasn’t short of spectacular desserts and definitely didn’t disappoint in terms of quality, as well as variety. Tudor week was an especially nice touch, as were batter and floral weeks. You couldn’t get more british than the actual finale challenges, which ranged from a 3-tiered meringue crown to a classic victoria sandwich to a ‘picnic for her Majesty’.
So congrats to Candice for not only baking up a storm and winning the competition, but also managing to do so while balancing on high heels and rocking that bold lip!