There are few things that manifest holiday spirit as much as baking, especially homebaking. From gingerbread cookies to Christmas puddings and everything in between, there’s no lack of sweet treats to satisfy our holiday cravings. What could be as good as indulging in the miscellany of baked goods that emerge during this festive season? Watching an assorted crop of talented amateur bakers demonstrate their holiday spirit in “The Great British Bake-Off” tent.
For those unfamiliar with “GBBO,” the UK competition show pits various homebakers against one another to determine the best among them. Hosted by the charming Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, both English comedians, and judged by cookbook author Mary Berry (come on, it doesn’t get more festive than a name like that) and professional baker Paul Hollywood, the series serves up great fun.
Paul and Mary don Christmas sweaters in preparation to judge competitors from previous seasons who return for another shot at culinary glory in the series finale which aired in two parts, “Christmas Day” and “Boxing Day.” In a series of three challenges — signature, technical and showstopper — the bakers must impress the judges with their creativity and skill.
While aided by the judges’ instructions in the technical challenges and their own recipes in the others, there’s no shortage of setbacks for the aspiring bakers who fight against the clock and their own inexperience in the kitchen. But both the judges and hosts reassure the uneasy contestants as they make their rounds early in each challenge and prod each contestant to explain their plans of action. Mel and Sue even spur them on with good-natured words of encouragement — though at times contestants find them distracting (for instance when Part One competitor Mary-Anne attempted to repel Sue’s insistent hug).
The special hits a sweet spot between sentimental and spectacle, showcasing the fusion of personality and passion in culinary achievement. While the homebakers stumble at times under the strain of competition, they push forward with their past experience and cheerful sportsmanship to carry them through.
What the show lacks in suspense and excitement it makes up for in sheer geniality and insight into the minds of homebakers — with a delightful representation of various UK sweets and pastries to keep us glued to the action on screen.
With the variety of contestants, there is a great diversity in the talent showcased. Some contestants call back to their roots using flavors to embolden otherwise traditional recipes. Veering towards the more “exotic” is typically rewarded by the judges who like to see personality shine through in the fare they sample.
The judges — who are more than willing to dole out praise to the eager competitors, especially given their histories on the show — don’t hesitate to criticize where some more constructive feedback is due.
And the judges certainly know what they’re talking about — clarifying some of the more daunting methods involved in the technical challenges to audiences at home prior to the challenges commencing. To those unfamiliar with baking technique, explanation of the precise methods required of the contestants can be illuminating, or it can be a slightly dulling exposition taking up airtime. Regardless, we’re made to feel a little more like experts watching from home.
The competition is handled with as much care and delicacy as the the challenges themselves. As the bakers strive to knead the perfect dough and achieve the right balance of flavors, they interact freely with the judges and hosts who encourage them with animated commentary.
Each contestant’s competing items are introduced with mouth-watering illustrations accompanied by the hosts’ descriptions of them. Though the contestants are expected to execute each challenge with precision and deftness given time they have to prepare beforehand, some are overly ambitious. One contestant’s gingerbread tiers collapse on themselves during the showstopper in Part Two, while another mistakes flour for powdered sugar, making for unconventionally disgusting icing.
Though we follow the contestants through success and disappointment, the nature of watching amateurs trying to impress a panel of kind, yet imposing judges carries strength in its hint of emotional suspense — one that is rather different from the excitement we’re used to on professional cooking competitions.
Only one contestant can take home the winning title, however everyone leaves the tent in good spirits, exuding contagious positivity. While the pros make it look easy, watching “GBBO” veterans attempt three tier masterpieces and inventive cookie decorations simply for the fun of it is the most rewarding of all.