December is the perfect season for a binge, be it on food (it’s sweater weather), alcohol (family time ahoy!), or books and television (it’s cold outside!). Well, we can’t tell you what to eat or drink, but we relish telling you what books to read to scratch a particular itch. In that spirit, this holiday season we’ve teamed up with Harper Voyager to create the Binge-Watchers Companion Guide, in which we asked 12 sci-fi and fantasy authors to suggest films or shows they think pair especially well with their novels. Joining us today is Beth Cato, author of Breath of Earth, who explains who The Great British Baking Show is the perfect binge-watch for aspiring authors.
My next book, Call of Fire, is out in August. It carries a dedication to Mel, Sue, Mary, and Paul. Yep, I dedicated the whole book to the hosts and judges of The Great British Baking Show (or The Great British Bake Off, as it’s known in its homeland).
Rewatching episodes acted as my reward for making my word count goals as I tore through the entire rough draft in one month.
It established a coping method I utilize even now: if I have a stressful day, in the evening I don’t crave a hard drink. I need me some Baking Show.
Within the SFF community, I’m known for my baking, so that aspect of the show is highly relevant to my interests. I bring cookies to conventions so I can feed friends and strangers, and I maintain a weekly food blog called Bready or Not. But The Great British Baking Show isn’t merely a baking show. It’s reality show that isn’t about back-stabbing or snark or the ugliness of life. At heart, it’s about fandom and the camaraderie within that fandom…one that happens to involve baking biscuits/cookies galore, peacock-shaped cakes, povitica, and Tudor-style meat pies.
Let’s break down the format of the show and what makes it so magically binge-worthy.
First of all, there are the hosts, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. The two women are close friends and unabashed goofballs who make innuendo-filled comments about baked goods. The judges are Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Paul is a steely-eyed professional bread baker, and earning his congratulatory handshake is akin to the heavens opening up and angels singing in chorus. Mary Berry is the author of over 70 cookbooks and she’s famous (or infamous) for her wariness of pies with soggy bottoms. You never, ever, want to present a soggy bottom to Mary Berry.
Each themed episode is divided into thirds: the signature challenge, where the bakers can recreate a practiced recipe or even bring their own ingredients; the technical, where they are surprised by one of Mary’s or Paul’s recipes that has missing instructions; and the showstopper, where they again can use a practiced recipe but it must be extraordinary in every way. Each segment has a strict time limit.
The ticking clock and inevitable cooking disasters deliver a constant sense of tension and imminent failure. A sponge doesn’t rise. The curd doesn’t thicken. A dish isn’t cooked through, or is burned. A gingerbread house cannot pass basic inspection, or battle gravity. If you want the highest point of drama throughout all seasons, look up the “Baked Alaska incident.”
The show is educational, too. Baking Show features diverse bakers who bring flavors from their home counties in England and from their countries around the world, and they find creative ways to merge those elements with other recipes.
As a writer, I see it as outright inspirational. Whenever I’m asked about the best way to quickly world-build in novels or stories, my immediate answer is use food. We are what we eat. Baking Show demonstrates food on an alchemical level; really, it’s showing world-building in our modern, Pinterest-recipe-trove society with its greater awareness of cultures worldwide. The sheer availability of ingredients these days is the stuff of science fiction from decades ago.
It’s impossible to forget that the show is a competition, and that each week someone will leave the show. But here’s the thing: it’s a pleasant competition. The bakers become friends. If someone’s choux tower is falling down, another baker will rush to lend a hand. There’s no cruel talk or sabotage. It’s competition the way it should be. When someone must leave the show, everyone gathers around for a group hug. People cry. They talk about the good times, and when criticism is offered, it’s in a detailed, constructive way.
Baking Show is the opposite of internet trolls. It’s a cozy fantasyland in a big tent that provides the perfect escape after a day of disastrous, depressing news and writing deadlines that loom like guillotines. It’s a way to binge on amazing baked goods without actually ingesting calories, and you learn a lot in the process, too.
After all, we can all use more techniques to help us avoid soggy bottoms.