I don’t do well during the silly season. I judge people by the animal they support – donkeys or elephants. I am quick to anger and even quicker to argue. I fall victim to the outrage baiting that dangled before me on social media.
The Great British Baking Show is as good as Valium during this particularly stressful election season.
Twelve excruciatingly polite people compete over ten weeks to win the title of UK’s best amateur baker. I need to state that I am not a reality show fan. I’ll cop to a few American Idol episodes, or the show where a veterinarian cures a hedgehog of malaise, (but really, who wouldn’t want to see that?) but I’ve never seen Gordon Ramsey, that cake boss guy, or any of the programs where three ingredients are turned into a feast. I tried once. There was too much yelling and my anxiety went through the roof and that is not what I need between now and November 8th.
Here you have two hosts, Mel and Sue, full of bad puns and mild snark, and two judges, Paul, who despite his shockingly blue eyes, I’m quite sure was a lounge singer in a past life, and Mary, who looks a lot like that fourth grade teacher you loved despite the fact that she gave you mountains of homework.
Pleasing Paul and Mary is the raison d’etre of the show.
The contestants are tasked with fulfilling the baking requirements in less time than it would take on a normal day, assuming your version of a normal day includes spending four hours creating a Spanische Windtorte. Tension soars as the time countdown is announced and looks of anxiety are painted on the faces of the contestants. Okay, “soars” is a bit of an overstatement. The show manages to drum about as much tension as whether Meryl Streep will leave her husband for Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County.
And yet, you are drawn into their stakes. Will the Madeira cake have a proper crack on top? Will the chunks be evenly dispersed? Will the boiled frosting drizzle just so?
Here is why I love this show. There is no glee in the fallen. If a cake fails, everyone seems genuinely horrified. There is no insulting. No scheming against their fellow contestants. More like a group of students collectively trying to survive boarding school.
Easy to chalk it up to British politeness, but we’ve seen over the last few weeks how that myth was destroyed. The show may be designed to reinforce every British stereotype, to convince us that members of the ex-empire still know how to behave, a lesson to the rest of us, but I don’t care.
When Mary says, “It’s sad that when we haven’t had even layers of cinnamon,” I am sad. When Paul cocks an eyebrow at underproofed bread dough, I am crushed along with the sad-eyed baker.
Who wouldn’t rather watch a grown man make a tiger out of three different types of bread than listen to how the world will end should one candidate rather than the other be elected.
The show is so benign as to be well, a significant sedative, but truly, with 3 ½ months to go until our silliest season ends, with the mud slinging and divisiveness guaranteed to go through the roof, I need step away for an hour each week and watch a group of lovely people create something delicious, pull for each other to succeed, and teach me a thing or two about making pastry. Sometimes, I need to care about nothing more than the proper crack in a Madeira Cake.
Watch episodes of the Great British Baking Series here and forego that second glass of wine. You won’t need it!