Like many other people cooped up at home with the pandemic hanging over their heads, I was desperate for a distraction. I read books, watched movies and constantly annoyed my family. Finally, in early October, the “Great British Bake-Off” (also known as the “Great British Baking Show” for American audiences) came out with a new episode on Netflix.
Pandemic Season Versus Previous Seasons
Instead of having contestants stay six feet apart and wear masks, “Great British Bake-Off” made a quarantine bubble, which allowed the contestants and judges to interact normally. However, with quarantine restrictions in place, the show was quite different.
Some fans argued that this year’s contestants would not be as technically proficient as other years. With a more compressed timeline, bakers had less time to practice than they usually do. Sandi Toksvig — whose dry humor, tearful goodbyes and constant support endeared her to both bakers and audiences — left the show. There was no giant party filled with cheering family and friends awaiting the tired finalists at the end.
Yet, even with all these reminders of the current state of the world, the magic of “Great British Bake-Off” still held true. There is such a wholesome quality to the show, especially in contrast to dramatic American cooking shows. There is no backstabbing, no screaming and no dramatizations. This is what drew me — and millions of others — to the show all those years ago.
Like the other seasons, contestants helped each other and clearly liked each other. There were still all those milestones we’ve seen season after season — that coveted Paul Hollywood handshake, the less coveted cold Hollywood stare, the jokes about Prue and alcohol, the innuendos, the anxiety during bread week, the pain during pastry week and the unbearable heat that somehow comes during every chocolate week. The familiarity of everything was so comforting.
Every Friday, a new episode would come out on Netflix. Every other day of the week, I was counting down to the next episode, impatience filling my veins. I was not the only one who flocked to the show for relief. The season “averaged a consolidated audience of 10.6 million, making it the biggest series of Bake Off since it moved to the channel from the BBC in 2017.”
With all that said, it’s time to dive into specific episodes and moments. For people who have yet to see the new season, the rest of this article will contain spoilers.
Favorite Episode: Japanese Week
Though there was some controversy over “Japanese Week,” it was probably one of my favorite episodes. As a Chinese American who grew up eating steamed buns, I loved it. Some people on the internet said that it was cultural appropriation, given that contestants combined Chinese, Indian and British flavors. However, as a long-time watcher of the show, I would argue that similar to other signature bakes, these contestants simply went the nontraditional route.
Dal curry and mango chutney spicing the inside of a fluffy, steaming bun? I can only say, “Yes, please.” It may not be traditional, but they followed all the necessary technical steps and made delicious end results. Why should there be any complaints? Pastry chef Tomoko Kato explained that when it comes to baking in Japanese cuisine, “There is room for both traditional and nontraditional.” The other challenges — the matcha crepe cake technical challenge and the kawaii-style showstopper challenge — passed with slightly less controversy.
Favorite Contestants: Lottie Bedlow and Peter Sawkins
For me, the best part of the “Great British Bake-Off” is the contestants; we are able to understand their personalities and empathetically connect with them. Bedlow’s spunky personality immediately drew my attention. An almost walking contradiction, she listens to Viking metal pop and does yoga. She was sarcastic and had a sharp sense of humor.
During Japanese week, which she won Star Baker for, she cheekily turned to the camera with host Noel Fielding and said, “Cakes are boring.” When she and Mark Lutton decided to both do burger steamed buns, she playfully told him, “Burger off,” a wordplay on the English slang phrase, “Bugger off.” Her facial expressions made me giggle more than once.
— British Bake Off (@BritishBakeOff) November 3, 2020
Baker extraordinaire and the winner of the season, Sawkins was another one of my favorites. Though shy and quiet at first, he quickly grew on me. I was in awe at the fact that a fellow college student was able to pull off all of the challenges. With classic boy-next-door meets Scottish meets floral shirt vibes, he had some of the most hilarious and memorable sayings, like “Righty Ho,” “Rinky Dink,” “Okie Dokie,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Bonkers.”
Memorable Bakes Filled “The Great British Bake-Off”
The most beautiful bake I have ever seen happened this season — Hermine’s chocolate and raspberry mousse jelly cake. It had immaculate piping at the bottom, and a smooth chocolate collar around the outside of the cake framed a jelly art masterpiece. Vivid red petals, contrasting with the black center and dark green leaves, made a beautiful poppy-like flower.
— British Bake Off (@BritishBakeOff) November 10, 2020
Another one of my favorites was Bedlow’s cotton jiggle cake, shaped like a mushroom. Though the mushroom’s face made me laugh (it definitely looked like it had seen some things), it looked delicious. Even Hollywood, a notoriously harsh judge, said, “The last time I had sponge like that, I was actually in Japan.” Not to mention, Bedlow made several accompanying items, like a cherry tree made out of pulled sugar, cherry drop flavored candy floss, biscuit bamboo and whisky fudge.
“The Great British Bake-Off” Had A Beautiful Ending
At the end of almost every season, there is a “where are they now” photo and video montage that includes bakers enjoying each other’s company outside of the competition. This season was no exception. I started bawling when I saw Bedlow hiking together with Marc Elliot and his family, Dave Friday kissing his newborn and Sawkins telling his roommates about his win. It was such a heartwarming ending to a much-needed season of “The Great British Bake-Off.”