A teacher, a hairdresser, a pastor, a banker, an aerospace engineer and a nurse: No, it’s not some wacky new revival of The Village People; these are just a few of the new crop of baking hopefuls for Season 4 of The Great British Baking Show, premiering Sunday, June 18 at 4pm on THIRTEEN, and Wednesday, August 2 at 8pm on WLIW.
Yes, Mary and Paul And Mel and Sue are back in the big tent, and all is right with the world! I have already screened the first episode of this new season, and while I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I will say, the blue bandages have already started to appear on the fingers of our bakers and at least one tearful contestant needed a pep talk from Sue to keep from giving up the ship. In short, the carbohydrate-induced drama of The Great British Baking Show is back and in the fine form we have come to expect! Below are some tasty tidbits to add to your viewing pleasure…
The thing that makes The Great British Baking Show so much fun is, it is a rarity among reality shows: it is a show where kindness is the main ingredient — except for Paul Hollywood, whose icy stare has made more than a few fledgling bakers run screaming into the night. (We are told he means well though). These baking contestants support each other, offering words of encouragement rather than screaming at each other and trash-talking in confessionals (a typical plot device on most reality shows). In a world where there is so much nastiness, it is nice to be able to pull up a seat in front of the TV and relax, watching creative people strive to accomplish something without losing their humanity, without tearing each other down. It is life-affirming. Even the criticism from the judges is constructive and always meant to be helpful. That is likely a big reason why the show is so popular. In the UK it is the most-watched program on TV, where it has also led to an increase in sales for baking supplies and equipment. Last season, over 13 million viewers tuned in to see Nadiya win. (More about how that changed her life below.)
Bake On, Bake Off
Last season I recapped each Great British Baking Show episode, baking along with the contestants, (though in my apartment, not a tent in Central Park), testing out my bakes on my own panel of judges (my unsuspecting co-workers). This season I will not be doing that — which is a bit of a relief, because while I had lots of fun and learned a lot doing it, I also gained six pounds over the course of the summer! (I should have taken a page out of the book of one of this year’s contestants, Val, who likes to do aerobic exercise while she’s baking.) But while I won’t be recapping this season, I will be watching along for sure and, no doubt, be tempted to try out at least a few of the recipes. (I still have an obsession with the Victoria Sponge and have not yet perfected it.)
Being a Celiac, I always feel a bit like a conscientious objector watching these cooking and baking shows because I have to be gluten-free, but last year’s British Baking Show was very educational. After baking along with The Great British Baking Show, with an assist from Martha Bakes (and converting everything to gluten free as I went), I now feel less clumsy in the kitchen. And while my results may not yet be ready for prime time, at least I can set them down in front of company without a look of dread (on my part or theirs). From the pictures here, you can see a disastrous-looking cake I made pre-British Baking Show, and one I just whipped up over the weekend. The new one is not perfect (it looks a bit like a giant cupcake, which I suppose it is, actually), but hey, now I can just whip up a cake — from scratch — and it doesn’t look too bad. Thanks, PBS! I highly recommend to anyone to try baking along with this show!
The Few, The Proud, The Bakers
But what about this season’s contestants? The twelve bakers who arrive in The Great British Baking Show tent for episode one have already run the gauntlet just to get there. Last year over twelve thousand amateur bakers applied to be a part the show. The audition process begins with a seven-page application, followed by a 45-minute phone call with a researcher, then a screen test in London (where you need to bring along two bakes). Those who make that cut then have to do two more bakes on-camera for Mary and Paul, followed by an interview with a psychologist (to make sure they can handle the pressure). Considering the amount of tears we see in the tent one wonders just how hysterical those rejected were!
What Is A Weekend?
Early on, the producers decided they wanted the contestants to be “real people,” not people who just wanted to be on TV. That is why the show is filmed over ten weekends, so the bakers don’t have to give up their day jobs. They go home during the week and resume their normal lives. Even so, being a contestant can be a pressure cooker. From the snippets of inteviews we see, it’s pretty clear they practice baking all week, while they are home. In the tent they film about thirteen hours a day, during which they are interviewed eight times a day, and cameras are constantly on them as they are working in the tent.
The Great British Baking Show is filmed on the grounds of a stately home called Welford Park in Newbury, Berkshire (not far from Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle), which began its life as a monastery. When King Henry VIII disolved the monasteries in 1536, it became his private deer hunting lodge. (How convenient!) He later gifted the estate to Thomas Parry, a courtier who had come to his attention whilst being a servant of Thomas Cromwell. Parry’s grandfather had been knighted, then beheaded by King Richard III, so he was quite familiar with the vagaries of the royal court. He did survive Henry’s chopping block, however, to emerge as one of the most powerful commoners, later becoming Comptroller of the Household for Elizabeth I. She augmented his estate with more land, and knighted him, too, making him Sir Thomas Parry. The country pile (as stately homes are often referred to) is no longer in the Parry family. In the only time in its history that the estate changed hands for money, it was sold in 1618 to descendants of the family who own it now.
Like Highclere Castle (and Downton Abbey), Welford Park was utilized as a recuperation home for soldiers during WWI. The family even sold off most of the family jewels to help fund the war effort. Now, the estate is only open to the public between January and March, when the masses and masses of Snowdrops (the wildflowers planted by the Norman monks) are in bloom. The production company for The Great British Baking Show chose Welford Park as the location after “someone met someone at a party.” They were filming there three weeks later. How appropriate that a place with a connection to Henry VIII now plays host to King Paul Hollywood I?
Bad Chocolate Day
Is there ever a bad day for chocolate? No, there is not. But there are less-than-ideal conditions for tempering chocolate, and filming outdoors in a tent (in all sorts of temperatures and humidity), as they do, there are times when it becomes very challenging for our bakers to create certain types of bakes. Despite much research, I still cannot find the answer to why they film the show in a tent, rather than in an indoor location (other than it looks rather lovely). Those tempermental meringues will just have to deal with it.
Testing, 1, 2, 3…
And speaking of challenging conditions, one thing the crew does not want is for any of the bakers to have to deal with malfunctioning equipment. To that end, every weekend, before the contestants arrive, the crew bakes a Victoria Sponge in each of the ovens to make sure they are all functioning properly. They then chow down on those cakes. A tough job but someone’s got to do it!
Last year’s Great British Baking Show winner Nadiya Hussain, she of the show-stopping, series-winning My Big Fat British Wedding Cake, a lemon drizzle cake with marshmallow fondant icing, is now a big star in the UK. Not just famous for being reality show famous, she has parlayed her win into a serious lifestyle brand complete with best-selling books, personal appearances, a weekly column in The Times Magazine, TV hosting duties (she now hosts the children’s version of The Great British Baking Show for the BBC, where she took over from Mary Berry no less). She was even commissioned by Buckingham Palace to bake Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday cake! For Her Madge she baked an orange drizzle cake with orange curd and orange buttercream (which seems to be an indication that Queen Liz likes orange, in case you peasants were wondering). Very cool result for Nadiya!
Sugar And Spice And Everything Nice
Who will win this season’s competition, and all that goes with it? And who will have the first “soggy bottom?” Right now it is anyone’s guess and anyone’s horse race. All we know is that we can look forward to some time-crunch drama, some double entendres from Mel and Sue, and some luscious bakes from our talented bakers. And by the way, here’s a Great British Baking Show drinking game: every time Mary Berry (or anyone else) says “soggy bottom,” have a sip of your favorite cocktail (or maybe just some milk and cookies). Whether you bake along, or drink along, or just watch and enjoy it all vicariously (and calorie-free), this show promises to be absolutely delicious! Are you ready?
On Your Marks, Get Set… BAKE!
If you do bake along, please post pictures of your own baking creations on Twitter and Instagram — and if you don’t, then post your comments — using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow, and join in the conversation. Make sure to enter THIRTEEN’s Great British Baking Show Giveaway for a chance to win three cookbooks written by the contestants and hosts!