For the past few holiday seasons, I’ve been making the deliberate effort to start some new traditions. The sweetest of those takes place in a tent. Features a woman named Prue. And constantly makes me want to pack it all in and move to merrie olde England.
I’m speaking, of course, of The Great British Baking Show.
If you haven’t seen it, let me quickly fill you in on its concept. It’s a baking competition between a group of amateur bakers asked to make sometimes traditional, sometimes outrageous confections by judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. As with the case of Survivor, one baker gets eliminated at the end of every episode until just one remains standing.
While its concept is simple (almost embarrassingly so), I can assure you the show is completely binge-worthy. First off, as I mentioned, it all takes place in a white tent, like the kind you would set up for a glamorous wedding. Every once in a while, the camera pans outside of it and you’re left to gaze at the prettiest wild flowers and listen to birdsong.
And then, of course, the bakers are subject to weather, which can easily affect not only their physical comfort, but the outcome from their ovens. This adds to the tension, which is already pretty high.
But, as you cozy on the couch with your doggies, you’re happily aware that their tension is not your tension, their stress not your stress. In fact, you can easily just snack on a grocery-bought chocolate bar if you’re really in the mood for something sweet, which you inevitably will be.
If we’re honest, I’d say I can attribute about three good pounds gained every December exclusively to The Great British Baking Show, not only because of the chocolate and cookies I eat while I watch it, but how it influences what I make for dinner as well. In answer to pastry week, I decided to make a mushroom and gruyère tart last night made, of course, with plenty of luscious butter, cream and cheese. It’s a recipe I’ve long considered and passed on after looking at the ingredient list. But last night, it was time.
I imagined Prue watching me as I mixed my dough by hand (first time I’ve been brave enough to do that). I’m not exactly sure she’d be happy with my technique of stamping the dough into the tart pan instead of rolling it out, but honestly, it turned out pretty well.
Often, Prue will accuse a submission, whether hot cross bun or genoise sponge, of being “claggy.” I am in love with that word and have, on purpose, not looked up its definition because I’m hoping I can one day figure it out through context. So far, no luck, so I’ve started just randomly calling just about everything “claggy,” whether person, place or thing. So far, no one has called me out on it.
But that’s another terrific thing about this show: the expressions and words the judges and contestants use. I mean, if you ever want to hear how the word “darling” should really be used, just listen to contestant Michael (season 9) say it. Also, they call hamburger buns “baps,” which is obviously fabulous. And they really do pronounce “shallots” as “shal-LOTS.”
As with any good storyline, there is a villain in the GBBS, and he comes in the form of Paul Hollywood, who glides around the tent like a blue-eyed shark and attacks everyone with questions like, “Why would you ever want to do that?”
Obviously, his last name makes you want to vomit, especially because you have to think he’s had the ego to choose it. Also, he’s a complete jerk (or arse, if we’re going to really get British about it), almost as if he’s worried one of his contestants is going to surpass his skills.
Still, he makes a good villain and, luckily, his screen time is limited. Otherwise, it’s just the contestants working away, each with their own story, coming from various parts of Britain, each with their own accent.
It is, in a word, lovely to see, and I so hope you’ll participate in their new tradition with me. You (and your appetite) won’t regret it.