Thought a little late to the game (as usual), I started watching The Great British Baking Show this summer and I am completely hooked.
I’ve learned a great deal about baking. The judges are critical, yes, but not mean. This is a refreshing change from the Simon Cowell-esque version of personal criticism as a form of entertainment. Instead, the judges serve their honest opinions, but those opinions include constructive criticism. Without cursing. Both Paul Hollywood (yes, seriously, that is his name) and Mary Berry (I’m not making this up either) are experienced and well versed in their craft of baking in all forms. They explain what you did wrong and how you can fix it for next time. For example, if you let the dough prove longer, then your rolls would not be as dense. If you would have chosen a smaller loaf pan, you could have proven the dough and baked it long enough at the right temperature to finish the bake in the given time. Paul and Mary also love baking and learning new things from the baker contestants, so it is a fun and congenial atmosphere, despite the drama of bakes that flop, burn, don’t set, or don’t rise properly (which we can all identify with).
Another thing I like about the show is that all the bakers are amateurs. They are not professional bakers or people who attended culinary school, became pastry chefs, or even worked in a bakery. They are strictly home bakers who happen to enjoy baking and do it well. It’s inspiring. The bakers are as young as 17 and also very well seasoned. The bakers are male and female and come from all walks of life. It seems like the most unflappable bakers are the older ones who have baked and made mistakes most of their lives and don’t let it fluster them. A good lesson.
I’ve also learned a new vocabulary from watching The Great British Baking Show.
I’ve become familiar with baking terms like proofing and proving, laminating dough and tempering chocolate, making rough puff (pastry), and biscuits. But I’m not sure where the British slang ends and the baking terms begin. Traybakes, sponges of all varieties, vegetable bakes, and meat pies are new territory for me. And then there’s the technical challenges of all manners of unusual french or other ethnic pastries, cakes, breads, and desserts that I’ve never heard of, let alone eaten. Most of the bakers are in the same boat and thus need to think on their feet. Fascinating and fun to watch.
I particularly enjoy phrases such as “that’s scrummy,” or “bang up job,” as well as “that’s cracker.”
And of course there’s the puns by the comedy host duo of Mel and Sus about buns and tarts, soggy bottoms, and pastry horns. Groanworthy and delicious, all in one, with a great deal of side eye and winks aimed at the camera. I’m a big fan.
The food is a delight for the eyes. Every episode, my daughter would turn to me a say, yum! I wish we could taste that, Mom! Me too. The one downfall of the show is that the viewers cannot fully partake in the competition. I imagine it’s only the crew that gets to enjoy all the food made on the show. One of my favorite reality tv shows is Project Runway (originally on Bravo and now on Lifetime) because the aspiring designers must construct the garments, fit their models and send their fashion look down a runway in absurd amount of time. What I like about PR (besides the incomparable Tim Gunn), is that I can consume the fashion with my eyes and provide some constructive criticism as a viewer. With a food show like The Great British Baking Show or Top Chef, I can only surmise and watch instead of participate as a viewer.
Too bad! On the other hand, if I could taste and sample everything made on the show, I would surely be a stone thicker.
Inspired by the show, I made a lemon mousse dessert with fresh berries. I even piped the mousse into the puff pastry cups. I did not, however, make my own puff pastry. Maybe next time.