Turning On The Bake Off.

posted in: Food 2
There are $100 bills inside each of these Welsh cakes. Photo: Wikipedia
There are $100 bills inside each of these Welsh cakes. Photo: Wikipedia

When I sew, I listen to podcasts or no-eyeballs-needed television.

I’m impressed by people who can sew and watch Empire at the same time. The last time I tried to stitch while watching television with a plot (a cheap plot, even!) was years ago. I got dizzy snapping my head up to see what was going on then snapping it back down to make sure I didn’t sew my hand. But like a bonobo ape, it’s good for me to see fellow creatures from time to time, even if I’m in isolation. So if I’m sewing for many hours I’ll use my laptop as a TV and watch Hoarders or Kitchen Nightmares or The Profit. These shows require nothing of me. They have no plot, the structure is always the same. It’s the visual equivalent of white noise and I like it.

Looking for something mindless but tired of The Biggest Loser, today I found The Great British Bake Off on the list of shows Netflix wants me to watch. I like baking. I like British people. I like shows where talented people compete against each other to make pencil skirts, houses, crudite, etc. I clicked on the show and semi-watched many episodes while I pressed and snipped.

The show is really adorable. It’s a reality gameshow that pits amateur British bakers against each other to see who will win the title of Star Baker. There are two lady hosts, a stern main judge (a Tom Colicchio-type from Top Chef) and the head/celebrity judge, legendary English baker Mary Berry. The contestants are all gentle and kind, just as bakers ought to be; no one is growling or rolling their eyes at their competitors. Everyone’s just trying their best in the Florentine challenge, hoping for a win in the savory biscuit episode. The show is filmed in a pretty bakery tent set in the English countryside, Union Jack bunting tied up with string, bobbing in the breeze. Nobody even talks about winning. Seriously, they just bake beautiful things. When someone is eliminated they’re very British about it and leave their rolling pin (or whatever it is) on the table and give a “Cheerio!” to us.

But Mary Berry is the best part. She’s in her seventies, I think. Coiffed to perfection. Expensive neck scarves. Perfect manicure. When she tastes a contestant’s work, she nibbles it, brow furrowed and then says things like,“You formed the dough ’round a tin, then? Perfect. Just lovely. It’s quite difficult to do pinwheel biscuits and get them tight ’round the center; bit like a Swiss Roll, isn’t it?” 

Or: “Bit soft in the middle, isn’t it? But good effort.” Or: “I think it’s enchanting and I love the brandy snaps she’s got there on the roof. Scrumptious!” 

I was glad I looked up when Mary learned a contestant had used store-bought fondant instead of making it himself. She positively darkened. The contestant is no longer in the running for Star Baker. The Great British Bake Off is going to be tough for me; it’s not something to which I want to give my undivided attention, but there’s too much frosting and spongecake happening on the screen to look away for too long. I’ll try again tomorrow evening and see if I can sew an accurate quarter-inch seam while it’s on.

And, in the spirit of sugar and bakery items, I am suddenly forced to confess that I keep a jar of Pillsbury FunFetti frosting in my fridge and frequently have to replace it. Because I eat it. With a spoon. Sometimes.

I like frosting better than cake!