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I’ll state my case plainly: Paul Hollywood is a sex symbol. The British celebrity baker and host of the “Great British Bake Off” may be a bit of an asshole, sure, but so were James Dean and President Kennedy.

A quick visit to Twitter reveals a clearly polarized public opinion. While one twitter user tweeted “If Paul Hollywood wants a thick bottom he knows where to find me,” another said: “Thinking about saying to paul Hollywood ‘sorry daddy I’ve been a bad bad baker.’” However, the best comment was that “Paul Hollywood is known as a silver fox because he eats voles and urinates in bins.”

Hollywood’s sex appeal is a running joke on the show as well. In one episode, host Noel Fielding likened Paul’s rear end to “two beige moons, dancing in the sky,” which contestant Maggie remarked was a “rather nice” thought. Stickers of Hollywood with chiseled abs can be found on Etsy (and made a cameo in episode one of the latest season). 

Former stars have criticized Hollywood’s harshness, and fans love to hate him when he makes contestants cry, but deep down, I think many can agree that “Paul Hollywood is such a dilf bro, omg,” a statement which was (naturally) followed by two agonized emojis.

But what makes Hollywood so sexy? It certainly isn’t the way he berates old ladies. There’s nothing sexy about that. But it’s so easy to forget his brutishness when you see him extend his right hand for the elusive Hollywood Handshake. Reserved only for what he deems the most impressive bakes, the handshake is arguably more coveted than the weekly “Star Baker” crown. That meaty paw, connected to a forearm — thickened by years of kneading dough — that emerges from a sleazily cuffed and coolly untucked shirt, is enough to send shivers down spines.

The effect of the shake remains the same from season to season: A strong hand extended in silent praise from an otherwise frigid critic is hot, if you’re the kind of person who thrives on positive reinforcement. I’ll pass that off to the fact that I’m a Leo, but feel free to read into it further.

If there’s something else to the Hollywood Handshake, it’s the oceanic eyes. With a piercing blue stare, Hollywood must have X-ray vision and can probably read minds. Nestled beneath a furrowed brow, Hollywood’s “fuck me” eyes could melt butter, which he’d then work into the perfectly un-soggy bottom of a cheesecake or something.

The final piece to this puzzle, and the one that has nothing to do with Paul’s lumberjack limbs or Ice King eyes, is baking itself. In a very cottagecore (i.e., antithetical to the traditionally masculine Paul) way, there’s nothing sexier than a loaf of bread, baked just for you. The gift of comforting carbohydrates, the luscious and erotic aroma of yeasted dough, the time spent by a loved one so that you may slather a chunk of hot sourdough with butter — bread and baking are a love language.

Especially for the post-lockdown baking crowd, the comfort and love found at the bottom of a cake pan is certainly part of the hobby’s appeal. It isn’t a great leap to suggest that baking is intimate, sexual, erotic. There are 200k posts tagged #crumbshot on Instagram. Beyond the blooming aromas and communal joy of a batch of cookies, the art of baking is arousing even when no one is there to share. The way a roll gently rises and falls of its own accord in the distorted heat of an oven, the dregs of batter licked flagrantly from a spatula, the soft sizzle of a cooling loaf in a quiet room.

The eroticism of baking is a big part of Hollywood’s charm. As a prominent face of 21st-century baking, he stands for it all. Anyone who can make such delightful things, and especially one who can show you how it’s done, is worthy of a desiring, perhaps lustful eye.

Hollywood is no “nice guy,” and he certainly doesn’t finish last (a real James Bond, he races Aston Martins in his free time). He has his issues too, cheating on his now ex-wife with a co-host on another baking competition in 2013. This he called “the biggest mistake of my life” in a BBC interview at the time, but what else do you say about this sort of thing? Another big mistake in his life was in 2003, when Hollywood dressed up as a Nazi for a New Years’ Eve, to which he responded, 14 years hence, “​​I am absolutely devastated if this caused offence to anyone.” The classic non-apology, shifting blame to those who were offended and then proceeding to use his WWII-veteran grandfather as proof that he does not like Nazis. 

This is to say that Hollywood is not a perfect man. He makes old ladies cry and does his hair like a repressed Guy Fieri. These problematic aspects of Hollywood’s history might make him less attractive, but they don’t kill his “Bake Off” sex appeal. His flaws notwithstanding, he remains a sex symbol for lovers of baked goods everywhere. 

The celebrity chef community could do with a page from Hollywood’s book. The signature flames that Fieri wears on his clothing are frozen solid in Paul’s eyes. The suave dad style of Bobby Flay is given a burly, British twist. Even Giada De Laurentiis’s smile is mercifully softened into a sly, all-knowing grin. In fairness, I’ll concede that, style-wise, Hollywood is lacking. But his hands are his hands, no matter the sleeve from which they emerge.

Daily Arts Writer Ross London can be reached at rhorg@umich.edu.