Bake off the rails

Published October 27, 2022

There’s been a growing feeling of dissent amongst Great British Bake Off viewers for a few years now - the challenges are getting too hard, we want to go back to basics, there’s nothing wrong with 12 different takes on a basic sponge cake. This year it seems to have hit harder than ever, wherever I look I see complaints about how hard the show is this year. So I thought I’d add my thoughts to them too.

A well decorated professional looking cake with brown border

Technically poor

Firstly, let’s get it out there: a technical with instructions that just say ‘make the thing’ is NOT what we want. Complaining later that they haven’t done it exactly how you wanted when that’s all the guidance you gave? Get out of town.

I really enjoyed the howls of virtual laughter I saw across social media when the challenge was to make s’mores, most American viewers in hysterics at Paul Hollywood’s view of the fabled campfire snack. A circular thing with far too much marshmallow. And don’t get me started on Prue’s garibaldi biscuits that included an element of chocolate. What??

Theme out of tune

Then we have the theme weeks. This week’s theme was custard which is gross, although that may just be a personal view. Halloween is always fun, although seems to have aired a week earlier than you might expect. Mexican week has really come in for some stick, what with the stereotypical jokes littered through the show, and the fact that making tacos is really stretching the concept of baking to its absolute limit.

This ties back to the fact that the baking genres are just getting too wild and wacky. If you look back to the first few series’ the weekly themes were:

  • Cakes
  • Tarts
  • Pastry
  • Bread
  • Biscuits
  • Puddings

All sensible types of baking that normal people like me can try.

In 2012, I tried to bake along with the show, picking the most accessible recipe from each episode and having a go. It wasn’t brilliant but it was a lot of fun. The following year, I wrote a pondering piece about whether the show (along with others) was getting too complicated.

Add on a further decade of throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks and we find ourself with custard week, free-from week, 80s week, and goodness knows what else is in store this year.

Bring back Victoria sponges.

Presenting is a gift

Noel and Sandy were a brilliant presenting duo and of course it was going to be hard to replace her when she moved on. I don’t mind the Noel and Matt partnership, they’re great with the bakers - funny when they can, gentle when necessary, sympathetic when things start to go wrong.

But I do agree with a few people who have been uncomfortable with them when they’re together on screen. They seem to spend quite a lot of time trying to make each other laugh which doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the show. The time calls are just getting a bit silly now. When contestants have to stop and think about what the time call is actually telling them, do some maths even, you’ve gone too far. They’ve got enough on their plates trying to keep up with Japanese week.

So all in all, I feel like the show is on a real precipice here - it’s on the edge of losing what makes it great and beloved. We don’t want super high drama and experimental baking all the time. We want a gentle show to lose ourselves in, people stressing over using salt instead of sugar, and contestants being wonderful to each other in the spirit of the tent. Hopefully the makers of the show see it the same way.

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