Like many individuals craving a bright spot of stability in our hectic lives, I’ve become addicted to British reality TV. We’re talking “Escape to the Country, "we’re talking “Grand Designs," and of course, we’re talking about the mother of them all: "The Great British Baking Show," which most of the people I know call “The Great British Bake-Off” in a hopeless effort to make it sound more like a competition.
I like the calm, genteel atmosphere of the show. I appreciate the support of the hosts and judges – except the male judge. I enjoy watching ordinary people cook delicious food that I would devour in a heartbeat, even though I’m the textbook definition of a "picky eater."
There’s only one problem: “The Great British Baking Show” makes me feel terrible about myself.
If I were a contestant on the show, the urge to trash-talk and sabotage my competitors would be unbearable. Cameras manned by upright British citizens would catch me swapping sugar for salt, turning off ovens or cranking the temperature up to the maximum, and devouring other people’s bakes before they could be evaluated.
I’m an American, dammit. I seek tension, drama, betrayal — and yet, I’m enthralled by the peaceful baking commune depicted on “The Great British Baking Show”. Given that each episode’s an hour or so long and I can power through three or four episodes at a stretch, I’ve had ample time to consider why such an unassuming show makes me feel like a piece of garbage.
Part of it is that I do genuinely love to bake, but I don’t do it as often as I’d like. I rationalize this by saying that I’m busy with school (true), and the kitchen in my apartment is less than ideal (also true), or that I don’t like baking very much after all (false). The contestants on the show put each one of my excuses to shame. Contestants practice stretching phyllo dough in tiny student apartments; they come home and practice complicated recipes after a long day at work; they manage to craft intricate desserts while their children cling to their legs.
So it’s not that I don’t have the time or the equipment to cook regularly; I just don’t have the willpower.
My baking skills also leave something to be desired. Despite patient and not-so-patient instruction from my mother, who spent part of my childhood as a professional cake baker, I still can’t frost a round cake. When a recipe requires too much patience or too many fiddly steps and instructions, I start throwing the instructions (and occasionally the ingredients) to the side. I’m easily frustrated. Being easily frustrated and disliking complex recipes are not a good combination.
I need to achieve a kind of Zen about my (relative lack of) baking prowess. It’s only when I’m not scrutinizing everything I make, even the things I make with too little time on my hands and flagrant disregard for the recipe, that I actually enjoy the process.
Contestants on “The Great British Baking Show” get flustered, too. Sometimes they drop their cakes, sometimes they cry, but they almost always pick themselves up and keep going. Even I can learn something from that.
In the meantime, I’ll continue watching the show and trying not to think about how my last batch of cupcakes turned out to be criminally underbaked.