Pop Culture

The Great British Baking Show is Back!

July  7, 2016

Allison Robicelli will be recapping each episode, week-by-week. Catch the next one Monday, and tune in to the show on PBS.

This past Friday, the Great British Baking Show returned to the telly for season three, and with it, three months of me fantasizing that I’m a fancy Englishwoman: living off tea sandwiches, pretending I understand Brexit, adding superfluous u’s to everything I write. At last, all is right in my wourld.

See that guy in the hat? Remember him. Photo by Erika Herzog

I must begin by letting you all know that I hate food shows. Despise them. Imagine you went home at night and tuned into four hours of programming about your job. America’s Best Insurance Adjuster. The Secret Life of Medical Billers. Extreme Accounts Receivable. You feel me here?

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That being said, I break my own rule and watch GBBS religiously, as it is, without question, one of the best shows on television. Every chef I know was similarly apprehensive about watching, but one by one we’ve fallen for Mary Berry’s charms like dominoes. GBBS is not mean-spirited, it’s not make believe, there is no manufactured drama, and there’s not even a cash prize (the winner gets a simple trophy); it is pure and lovely, and exactly what baking should be about—the love of the craft, the love of sharing.

I watch GBBS in bed and dream the contestants are baking just for me. (When you’re a chef, no one ever cooks for you. We are the loneliest, most cakeless people in the world.) I get to go to a beautiful English manor with all my other chef friends, where we run through the grass barefoot and act out scenes from Spice World. We eat charlottes and biscuits and delectable puddings. All the contestants give us hugs. Nothing is wrapped in bacon.

One by one, we’ve fallen for Mary Berry’s charms like dominoes.

This season begins as all others do: with an aerial shot of a beautiful English manor with sprawling lawns, upon which sits a white tent where the show is set. Why aren’t they allowed inside the house? Because these contestants are average. They are not chefs, they are not washed up 90s celebrities. They’re just like you and me, and if they need to pee, they’ve got to go in a portable trailer just like the rest of the help. The fancy, tapestry-filled privies are to be used exclusively by Paul Hollywood.

And let’s talk Paul Hollywood! There are two judges on the show: You’ve likely heard of Mary Berry, who has become a celebrity for her warm, grandmotherly charm. But co-judge Paul Hollywood is an acclaimed baker, cookbook author, and pure sex, with piercing blue eyes and a body that is just barely contained by a shirt. He’s reminiscent of Gladiator-era Russell Crowe, if instead of dying at the end of the film, Maximus retired to a five star hotel in Gaul and devoted his life to making light and airy sponge cakes. His critique is kind and gentle, yet spares no blows, and it is just a matter of time before one too many bites of trifle causes his shirt to rip in two, the shock of which causes him to accidentally drip whipped cream across his chiseled chest.

Sadly this isn’t trifle week, it’s cake week. The good news is that it’s raining, so the contestants are going to have a hell of a time making buttercreams and meringues (being that sugar is hygroscopic and will suck up the atmospheric humidity like cocaine), so there’s a good chance something will get messy and the shirt will still have to come off.

So after we see Paul Hollywood and his eyes there are a bunch of contestants. One of them has a stupid hat and I hate him. I’m guessing the rest of them are okay?

The first challenge is a classic Madeira cake. Here’s example number one regarding what makes this show magical: A Madeira cake is understated, classic, and unbelievably delicious. It’s similar to a pound cake here in the U.S., but better because it’s British and classy. Simplicity wins.

Of course, guy in the stupid hat decides that he’s got to go big and bold and do a lime and chocolate marble cake, which is not a Madeira cake. Also, if you’re picking a citrus to go with chocolate, you pick oranges, you elderberry-huffing twit. Who picks limes?! You’ve had months to prepare for this, knowing what recipes you’ll be expected to make, and that’s what you came up with? Yes, my snarkiness might be the antithesis of everything this show is about, but if you want to go American-game-show style on a Madeira cake, that’s what you get. Plus the show tells his backstory and we see him playing standup bass in a band while wearing his stupid hat, so screw this guy.

The rest of the contestants also try to jazz things up, but safely and predictably. One adds cardamom, which the judges warn not to overuse because too much is terrible. Another adds rosewater, which the judges warn not to overuse because too much is terrible. Pretty much, guys, when you’re adding flavors to stuff, don’t add too much because it will make it terrible. Like lime and chocolate.

After spending a lot of time on the other contestants’ stories, we come to a contestant named Paul, who looks somewhat similar to judge Paul. His bio package is exactly four seconds long, which reveals he’s a prison governor who likes to relax by making sugar flowers. You read that right: Season three has a contestant who is a goddamn prison warden and looks like Paul Hollywood’s cousin who is visiting for the summer. I don’t know what happened with his cake because I immediately began writing fan fiction which Food52 refuses to publish.

Next comes the technical challenge…

...where the contestants are given a recipe with no instructions and are told to do their best. This week it’s Mary Berry’s walnut cake, which involves making both hard crack caramel and a boiled Swiss meringue icing, which is just about the worst possible thing to make on a rainy day with full humidity under hot television lights. Do they have some sort of climate control system in the tent? This is a high tension situation! Fortunately it’s eased by hearing people with accents say the word “nuts” over and over again, which will never stop being hilarious. This is why I don’t get invited to garden parties.

The last round is the “Showstopper” round…

...where contestants are allowed to do their own interpretation on a classic: This week is Black Forest cake. So many big dreams and elaborate plans! The sketches—yes, sketches—are nothing short of brilliant! Would I ever make one of these myself? NEVER! Who the hell are these people, making these sorts of cakes for their friends? Does Paul bring them to prison for birthday parties? Could he and Paul Hollywood bring one of these to my bedroom with some extra chocolate we can all temper together?

For the most dramatic moment of this episode: One contestant’s cake doesn’t come together. Her nerves caused her to make some critical timing errors and her chocolate mousse layer doesn’t set. My husband and I immediately sit up and bed and start screaming: “DON’T CRY! DON’T CRY! IT WILL BE OKAY!” Because this isn’t a show about wanting people to fail! It’s a show about trying your best, pushing yourself to your limits, and praying you succeed. The hosts and fellow contestants comfort her and offer support. No one is in a dark confessional gloating. This show is about hope, and Paul Hollywood’s eyes. It is about what we aspire to be as humans: good, kind, and generous.

I have another 11 episodes to try to become that person, though, because stupid hat guy goes home and I cheer. He put beets in his Black Forest Cake. Seriously, dude? GTFO.

Next week: BISCUITS! Which is what they call cookies, and what I will be calling them for the next several weeks until my husband threatens to leave me.

Do you watch? Are you a Paul Hollywood fan? We want to hear from you in the comments.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Allison Robicelli is a James Beard-nominated food writer, a Publisher's Weekly-starred author, and lots of other fun things. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she currently lives with her two sons and four cats in Baltimore, Maryland.


Jessica August 11, 2016
"One of them has a stupid hat and I hate him"...I love this. I watch the GBBS with my 9 year old daughter so my snarky comments have to stay in my head.
Kate July 19, 2016
I'm an American living in the UK and I believe the chocolate-lime combo is a traditional one in British sweets, so it's not as out there as one might think ... there's a UK chocolate company that does a fantastic bar of dark chocolate with lime and sea salt.

But, yes, the hat wearer had to go!!
HalfPint July 12, 2016
I'm not a Paul fan. But I love Mel, Sue, and Mary!
chefrockyrd July 12, 2016
I love you Allison, I am laughing and laughing even more. I swear you were at my house watching with me. I am totally addicted and have now found that the rest of the series is available on the net. Even before its been shown on tv here.
Don't worry I didn't watch the last episode. And if I did I won't say who won.
My friend told me that Paul and Mary have also given "master classes" on the items baked on the show, so you can see them in action too.
So why did that one person put truffles in everything?
LouLu July 12, 2016
I am impressed with the contestants that participate in this show, but I get mad when the judges cut them off in the knees with their comments. What do they think? These people are NOT professional bakers, who have gone to a culinary arts school.
Donna H. July 12, 2016
I guess they figure if you want to run with the big dogs...
ependar July 9, 2016
Allison, you absolutely must recap each episode or I'll die in a vain search for someone else who can capture the essence of Paul Hollywood with words. Laughed out loud, nodded with emphatic agreement, and reread your recap because it was, with a British nod, absolutely spot on. LOVE.
Geoffrey T. July 8, 2016
Hello, I am delighted to be able to respond to your entertaining/culinary educational
presentation, "Great British Baking Show."
I have been watching and creating some of the recipes the contestant
bakers struggle, in some ways, (which adds Drama),in the participation
of the baking challenges.
I do hope the effort, 'Great British Bake Show' continues to be broadcast
here in the United States. I have my concerns for its airing now that the UK has left the EU.
And, a question: When I make biscuits, cookie, I will only use one oven shelf at the medium level. I do not double up on two level. I feel that the baking on two levels at once is not allowing the heat to properly circulate.
And, I will bake 72 biscuits in three sessions. ( ? )
Carry On,
Tally Ho,
Geoffrey T. Meehan
laurie H. July 8, 2016
Insightful, clever, hysterical and spot on are just a few ways to describe Allison's commentary/critique. Please keep it coming. I enjoyed it almost as much as sampling a slice of Black Forest cake.
gaelc July 8, 2016
Can't wait for more commentary...let 'em rip Allison! I adore this show and kinda found out last year who won while searching for more details on PBS's showing last summer. BBC is a year ahead of us. You are so right that there is no ill will or contestant put-downs like there is on Food Network. This show is far more civilized. I had never heard of Paul before this show...but who can resist that look he gives! Move over Bobby Flay!
amysarah July 8, 2016
This was so funny and spot on. Laughed out loud several times - Paul Hollywood, Gladiator, stupid hat guy, and especially how unappealing (even aggravating!) shows about your own profession are. I hope we see more pieces by Allison Robicelli, about GBBS or anything that grabs her. (Quite honestly, I had to look back over this twice to even figure out what words might be called objectionable...I loved the tone, like a casual conversation with your funniest girlfriend.)
Adele D. July 8, 2016
This article is incredible! Living in the UK we watched the series airing in the States last summer and are eagerly awaiting the new series in August. Your description of Paul Hollywood made me laugh so much I had to share it with the rest of the office. I've met a couple of the Bake Off contestants including Stu with the silly hat and Paul the prison guard and you're spot on about both! Can't wait for next week's round up.
Lara M. July 8, 2016
OMG you are killing me! I thought I was the only one with a crush on Paul HOTywood. My son and I watch together and called Mr. Chocolate Lime "Portlandia" and were happy to see him go. I'm known as a good home baker (because I am) and a pal who hasn't watched asked if I thought I could go on this show and I was all HELL NAW! I was trying to explain how BRITISH the bakes are. Madeira cake? And everyone acts like they know JUST what that is like duh! And last season? Picnic Loaf? Sure, I've got one of them up my sleeve at all times. ;)
Terri July 8, 2016
And just what is wrong with Portlandia??
Terri from Portland ;o)
ctgal July 7, 2016
You made me smile, a lot. Very very amusing, and I am not the least offended by your "language". More, more, please.
Amy B. July 7, 2016
In future recaps could you please give a bit of your perspective on what was made and done? I'd love to hear from a professional about what they think of some of the things people attempt along with the technical bakes!
AntoniaJames July 7, 2016
Am I the only one here who finds the surprise during each episode of what the various challenges are, especially the technical challenge, to be a significant part of the fun of the show? I enjoy feeling the bewilderment, terror, anxiety, etc., along with the contestants when the technical challenge is announced. I also like seeing for the first time during the show what the other challenges are.

For that reason (if I had not already seen the entire series), I would avoid the "spoiler" effect of reading these pieces before the show airs.

I also second Louise Murphy's comment. ;o)
Dolores L. July 7, 2016
I travel to Europe often for business, and always seem to luck out and have BBC One and BBC Two on my television at the hotel, so I've seen all SIX seasons of the show (don't know why PBS has never aired the first 3 seasons, and why they started counting at season 4?!?). While the GBBS is truly awesome, there is an even more awesome spin-off - The Great British Bake Off (what they call it in England) - Master Class, which is just an hour of Paul & Mary baking together with the same theme of the week, but different recipes. Come on PBS - we want those episodes as well!!!!! And why isn't this show also aired on BBC American?!?
Donna H. July 7, 2016
Love love love this program! So very civilized, the contestants help each other, the hosts help the contestants, and it's witty as all get out! Appreciate the commentary for each program. I too, didn't think hat wearing, bass playing guy was long for the contest.
Terri July 7, 2016
Also, not sure if PBS airs GBBS An Extra Slice,; if so, watch this show! It's a hilarious recap of the week's show hosted by a comedian and featuring the contestant who left that week. Good stuff!
Terri July 7, 2016
I owe my new-found love of baking to the GBBS. I binge watched all six episodes on pirate TV last year, and now am baking tarts and whipping meringue with the best of them. Who would have thought? I'm craving new episodes since I've re-watched all of them a few times, but alas, this season isn't new to me, I have to wait along with the Brits.
For fans, don't miss out on the Australian and South African versions. They're every bit as good. But the show failed in America, which doesn't surprise me; not competitive and mean enough.
Terri July 8, 2016
That should be "all six seasons" not episodes.
Dorothea W. July 7, 2016
The bummer is that this season has already been on YouTube...it must have aired in England already and I watched it last year. So very bummed that I don't get a "new season" of GBBS
Kelly July 7, 2016
Same here! I was all excited when someone was talking about a "new" season only to realize I'd already seen it. :(