The Great British Baking Show changed my life.
No, really — I know sometimes people use that phrase for fun to joke or exaggerate, but this delightful little baking show actually impacted me on a level I didn’t anticipate when I first started watching it.
The show has been around since 2010, and it features one of the most charming concepts for a reality show I have ever seen. Each year, the best amateur bakers in the U.K. gather in a tent in the picturesque countryside and compete to create the best cakes and other baked goods. (Interesting bit of trivia: The show is actually called The Great British Bake Off, but due to trademark issues is referred to as The Great British Baking Show in the U.S. and Canada.)
Although only one baker is crowned the winner, every season I’m blown away by how supportive and loving the environment on this show is. Obviously, every baker would like to win, but they regularly offer encouragement to each other and even help each other finish up baking projects when one contestant is struggling or running out of time. They all cheer each other on and genuinely root for each other to succeed.
There’s some humor and gentle teasing, but it’s never mean-spirited (as I type this, I’m giving some major side eye to certain U.S.-based reality shows). The show is all about celebrating the art and creativity of baking and improving your skills. In addition to expert judges Paul Hollywood (whose steely stare continues to inspire dread in bakers) and Prue Leith, English comedian Noel Fielding has served as a longtime host (I’ve adored him ever since his days on The IT Crowd).
I would recommend this show to just about anyone. My husband is not really interested in cooking or baking as a hobby, but he started catching some episodes here and there and now sits down with me every week to watch the newest episode on Netflix. Even if you aren’t a baker yourself, this show is just so charming and cozy; it’s like having tea with a friend. I love this show so much I even had a Great British Baking Show themed birthday party one year!
The Great British Baking Show does not fall within the sci-fi or fantasy genre, which is typically what geek discussion centers around. However, I still consider it a fandom that I geek out about, and I’ve been delighted to discover that many of my fellow geeks also enjoy this show.
One of the biggest reasons this show is so close to my heart is that it inspired me on my own journey to become a better baker.
In my younger days, I hated cooking. I hated having to follow a recipe. I hated gathering ingredients. I hated cleaning up afterwards (to be fair, everyone hates that). My oven was one of the least-used appliances in my house.
Then fast-forward to 2017, when my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that meant I could never eat wheat or gluten again. Ever. All my favorite restaurant foods and sweet treats suddenly became off limits.
I was devastated. Although I didn’t love to cook, I did love food: trying new things, experiencing complex flavors and textures, and so on. Now I’d go to a wedding or birthday party and couldn’t have a slice of cake. Someone would bring donuts to the office, but I would have to say no thank you. If I ingested even a small amount of gluten on accident, I would become severely ill.
I realized that if I wanted to enjoy the types of foods and desserts that had brought me so much joy in the past, I’d have to learn to make gluten-free versions myself.
Through a lot of learning (and sometimes painful trial and error!), I got to a point where I felt confident as a cook and even started having fun creating food in the kitchen. But it wasn’t until watching The Great British Baking Show that my interest in baking elaborate desserts really took off.
I kept watching all these charming people making lovely baked goods. They weren’t professional chefs; they were everyday types of folks who happened to enjoy baking in their spare time.
This show inspired me that maybe I could do it too. And so for the past several years I have been researching recipes and trying new techniques and creating some of the same types of treats I’ve seen on the show.
These are treats I never thought I’d get to experience again after my Celiac diagnosis. I made a homemade pound cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream. I made a fruitcake, often the butt of holiday-time jokes, but seriously folks — a homemade British-style fruitcake actually tastes incredible. I made homemade lemon curd and raspberry reductions. I learned how to pipe elaborate swirls of buttercream frosting on top of pillowy cupcakes.
There’s no way I could out-bake any of the bakers on the show, and sometimes using gluten-free flour doesn’t work as well as traditional flour.
Yet this show has inspired me and brought me so much joy and confidence. One of my biggest geek out moments last year was when my mom and mother-in-law surprised me with a stand mixer just like the ones in the show. I might have cried just a little bit.
Maybe baking is not your thing, and that’s totally cool. But it feels like these days there’s such a focus on negativity and bullying in fandom, and this is a show and a community that made my life better.
So, as they say on the show, on your mark…get set…bake!