Is the Great British Bake Off getting too complicated?

Published September 29, 2013

The Great British Bake Off

When the last series of the Great British Bake Off aired, I was inspired to start baking. I’ve made the occasional cake here and there, but I wouldn’t have called myself an enthusiast beforehand. However, with each episode of the series, I baked something out of my comfort zone to varying degrees of success. This year, I’m less inclined to get the oven on. Part of that is because I have less time, but a big part of it is just how complex the series has got now.

We’re on the fourth outing of Britain’s best-loved baking show, and whilst it’s still as entertaining and pun-filled as ever, there are some distinct changes as the show has evolved. The titles to the episodes are similar, “bread” and “biscuits” but they belie some really difficult, complex and potentially unachievable bakes.

Whereas last year I was watching at home and thinking “I could bake that” and hurrying to my nearest search engine for a recipe, this year I am befuddled by 90% of what is being made. The showstoppers have always been out of my league, but I’ve not heard of almost all of the technical challenges this year, and the signature bakes are taking a turn for the tricky as well.

In the first series, the technical challenges were things like a Victoria Sandwich cake, Cornish pasties, and cob loaves. This year we’ve had Floating Islands, French Classic Tuiles and Apricot Couronne. It may be progress, but it’s put the baking out of my reach.

I can see why the changes occur, as the producers presumably think that they can’t repeat any of the previous bakes for boredom reasons. I think that’s a mistake. Firstly, repetition helps us mere mortals to really understand what’s going on. I’d like to see a new batch of people make Cornish pasties, and it helps to really compare and contrast. The standard of bakers is getting higher, but it’s still an amateur show. We can just have excellent Cornish pasties, instead of sub-standard or inedible ones.

Secondly, a new batch of bakers brings with it a new set of problems or results. This year, we had our first bake off theft, with the mystery of the missing custard. That could happen with any custard-related dish, it doesn’t have to be hugely complicated. Things falling down, inedible bits and pieces, the disasters and the triumphs, this is what makes the show fascinating, not the standard of the recipes.

It’s not just the Bake Off that struggles with this. The more series that air of something, the harder they try to be relevant, ignoring what it is that people love about the show. Strictly Come Dancing introduced highly-produced training video set-pieces where people just wanted to see the dancers working hard on the floor. They went all out on props and themes, whereas those were limited to the odd show here and there before.

Big Brother is another classic example. The first series was a fascinating experiment in psychology that I watched every single moment of. The second was less so. Each and every series, the show gets more complex, more twisted, more unwatchable. I haven’t seen it for years. The X Factor is a similar story, always switching things up.

Of course it’s important not to get stale, and there are elements that can do with refreshes. But the rate of change doesn’t have to be so fast, the public don’t get bored as quickly as people thing, particularly with something so timeless as baking.

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