5 reasons why 'The Great British Baking Show' is completely brilliant
The other day while searching for a new show to watch on Netflix (is "Parenthood" Season 6 ever going to come out?), I stumbled upon something that has become my new obsession. There is simply nothing not to like about "The Great British Baking Show."
I've been a fan of American baking shows for quite some time. But I didn't know what I was missing until I saw "The Great British Baking Show" (or TGBBS, as the cool bakers call it). It was created in 2010 in Great Britain as "The Great British Bake-Off." In five short years, it has taken the UK by storm. Last year's "Bake-Off" finale was watched by 12.3 million people — more than watched last summer's World Cup final or the final of Britain's "X Factor."
"Cake" has now replaced "chicken" as the most-searched word on the country's food websites.
American TV executives are looking to capitalize. Earlier this week, ABC kicked off a four-week-long series called "The Great Holiday Baking Show," which stars one of the hosts of TGBBS. Thank you, ABC. I haven't been this excited since you aired "The Partridge Family" and "The Brady Bunch" on the same night.
So exactly what makes "The Great British Baking Show" so brilliant?
• The setting: The show takes place outdoors under a tent in an idyllic-looking British garden with a large 18th century country estate in the background. At any moment, you expect Lady Mary Crawley and the Dowager Countess to pop in for a tart. In between shots of bakers busily working, editors will throw in a shot of a lamb frolicking in the grass a few feet away.
• Its tone: It's quiet. The American shows are all about fast-paced music, building tension and yelling. And is it just me or are a good number of these contestants kind of obnoxious? Compare that to the tone of TGBBS. While the bakers are certainly under deadline pressure, you'll still more likely to hear a soft-spoken baker say something like, "Well, I might be cutting this a wee bit close" as she peeks in the oven — the sounds of a French horn playing in the background.
• The hosts: Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are really funny. They are two middle-aged women in baggy jeans and tennis shoes, with imperfect British smiles, who seem to be having a great deal of fun with one another and the contestants. Occasionally, their puns fall as flat as a sunken chocolate souffle. But then they redeem themselves by doing something silly like calling out time cues for a Swedish cake using ABBA lyrics."Ten minutes til your cakes face their Waterloo!" "One minute till the winner takes it all." (Maybe it's only something we middle-aged women in baggy trousers find funny.)
• The judges: Mary Berry is an elegant 80-year-old woman who dresses like she's 40, but still utters little old British lady things like "It's a little higgelty piggelty all the way around, isn't it, dear?" Judge Paul Hollywood (yes, that's his real name) is the only male star of the show. He, with the piercing blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, swaggers around the kitchen like a heartthrob who knows it. Both Berry and Hollywood also happen to be baking experts.
• The recipes: The recipes on TGBBS are over the top. Who needs cupcakes, brownies or cookies when you can make Choux Religious (a complicated pastry that resembles a nun) or Kouign Amann (a flaky layered dessert)? Most of the desserts look scrumptious (or "scrummy," as Berry would say), while others leave a little something to be desired, like a pudding that uses suet, the hard white fat surrounding the loins and kidneys in cows and sheep. Yum, right?
The show has inspired amateur bakers all over the world to try out the recipes. I'm one of them. I tried to make the Swedish Princess Cake, or Prinsesstarta, not just because of the whole ABBA thing I mentioned earlier, but because, according the hosts, it was one of the most difficult challenges given to bakers last season. It includes 14 separate ingredients in 24 different stages. It consists of alternating layers of sponge, crème patisserie, whipped cream and jam topped with a layer of green marzipan. It was first published in a cookbook in 1940 as "green cake," but the name changed after it became a favorite of Swedish princesses Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid.
It took me about three to four hours to make the cake from start to rocky finish. As for the taste, I'd say it was OK. The raspberry jam and custard played nicely with the delicate sponge cake, but the marzipan was grainy. I have to wonder if part the problem was in my amateurish execution.
Check out the above video I shot to see the ups and downs I experienced. Go to my blog — tracybriggs.areavoices.com — for the recipe. And for heaven's sake, go to Netflix or PBS.com to check out episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" and ABC on Monday nights for the "The Great Holiday Baking Show."
What a delicious way to spend a cold winter's night.