REVIEW: Britain’s Great Baking Show

(Graphic by Catherine Eldridge | Collegian Media Group)

The sweltering heat breaks for the first time, high winds threaten unsecured papers on campus, and spooky props appear overnight. All of this can only mean one thing: it’s cake week. The Great British Baking Show has officially aired the first episode of this year’s season, as it has done at the start of every autumn since 2010.

Season 13 represents a return to form for the series after the pandemic caused the last two seasons to be locked down completely. Competitors and staff will no longer be required to remain sequestered for the duration of the show, and the set has finally returned to Welford Park. These changes aren’t obviously significant to the viewer, but there’s certainly palpable excitement and relief in the show’s cast.

On the other hand, the essence of the emission remains unchanged: each week, a different topic, going from cookies to German. The theme determines the type of baked goods baked in the week’s three challenges, as well as the type of jokes and puns that the two comedians, Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas, inevitably end up doing. The judges, Paul Hollywood, known for his icy blue eyes, and Prue Leith, known for her love of alcoholic baked goods, are renowned bakers responsible for evaluating the contestants.

The first challenge is always “the signature”. Bakers receive the parameters in advance and can practice and work on their recipes at home. However, cooking under the infamous tent is a different beast. This week, the judges had them make a “cake sandwich,” or some sort of filling between two layers of cake. Some bakers opted for traditional flavors, like lemon poppyseed, while others opted for unusual flavors, like lime tamarind. Every baker had a fair amount of anxiety the first week.

The second challenge is “the technique”. Bakers have no idea what they are going to do ahead of time, and all they are given is a list of vague instructions. This week, Paul asked the bakers to make a traditional red velvet cake, which involves a complex series of baking and freezing. Stress and mishap ensued, culminating in Paul and Prue ranking each cake from last to first.

The third challenge is “the showstopper”. Bakers are allowed to plan their baking ahead of time, but unlike their signature, “the showstopper” is elaborate and detailed so bakers can show off both their decorating and flavoring skills. It’s a chance for bakers to pull themselves up from the bottom up, or take a big tumble if they underperform. This week’s challenge was intricate 3D replicas of bakers’ houses, made entirely of cake. Some bakers rose to the challenge and saved themselves from elimination, while others battled it out for last place. In the end, one was eliminated and one was named “star baker”.

What sets this cultural staple apart from other contemporary pastry salons is its warmth and comfort. Competitors vie for a title – no money or cookbooks for the champion, only a passion shared by each competitor. It culminates when these terrific, yet talented, bakers bond and grow for several weeks — not to mention the cast’s occasional laugh at an accidental understatement or general celebration over incredible baking.

The show airs every Friday on Channel 4 and Netflix. So if school has passed you by, take an hour to unwind with The Great British Baking Show.