‘The Great British Bakeoff’ Premiere: A sweet spot amidst a somber year

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A baking village sounds like dream come true and quite extraordinary in the context of this disastrous year, but such is the case for this year’s contestants on “The Great British Bakeoff,” who have been asked to live in a self-contained biosphere with the judges, hosts and crew over the course of the competition. The all-familiar baking tent is currently pitched on the grounds of the Down Hall Hotel in Bishop’s Strortford for the cast and crew to remain quarantined to ensure safe filming during the pandemic. Series 11 premiered last Tuesday for viewers in the U.K. while Canada and U.S. viewers, who also know the show as “The Great British Baking Show,” have to wait until Friday to access the weekly episode on Netflix  

“It’s unbelievable that I’m living in a wee ‘Bake Off’ village, a wee ‘Bake Off’ town,” Peter, a 20-year old student from Edinburgh and one of the bakers, said. 

Contrasted with the anxiety and annoying drama that typically accompanies competition series, especially ones related to cuisine, the BBC Studios show stands out as a comfort for all, even for the competitors. Amidst the multiple changes the show has had to make includes its new co-host Matt Lucas, who takes the cake from Sandi Toksvig and fittingly joins the comedic Noel Fielding. They take our bakers through three rounds and brace them from the critiques of judges and baking legends of Prue Leigh and Paul Hollwyood. 

“Something about the year 2020 felt as if it was kind of momentous, maybe not in the year it turned out to be, so I thought I would give it a go,” Rowan, one of the bakers, said about trying his luck in the competition. 

If anything, I feel like the baking bubble might make for an even better environment for the show as it allows the contestants to bond and familiarize themselves with the environment. At the very least, it certainly makes leaving the show more bittersweet as they return to their families after possibly seven weeks of separation. 

This week’s theme seeks to provide some familiarity to the contestants and audience alike with cakes. The signature challenge, the first of three rounds, allows the bakers to prepare ahead of time and show off a trusted recipe based off of the given prompts. Many of the bakers weren’t the most enthusiastic about crafting a Battenberg cake, which is known for its marzipan exterior and patterned interior. However, it did allow them to show off some technical skills with cutting and layering their cakes. The technical challenge, which isn’t revealed to contestants until the beginning of the round, asked for six renditions of the classic pineapple upside-down cake, which was easier said than done. And the showstopper challenge certainly presented some of the most creative bakes I’ve seen throughout the series with 3-D cake busts, requiring artistic and engineering skill. 

This collection of bakers seems charming and talented and makes me excited to have one of my favorite shows at its best back. Although I’ll miss binging episode after episode in an attempt to satiate my sweet tooth, I enjoy the sentimental connection the audience is bound to have with their favorite contestants over the coming weeks. 

Rating: 5/5 sweet stars 

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