Savor ‘Bri­tish Bak­ing’ while you can

Orig­i­nal cast’s exit may stir up show’s recipe for suc­cess

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Kelly Lawler @klawls

Mary Berry thinks some­one’s Ge­noese sponge cake is too dense, and it’s very com­fort­ing news to hear. The Great Bri­tish Bak­ing Show re­turns to PBS Fri­day (9 p.m. ET/ PT, times may vary), for what’s be­ing billed as a fourth sea­son. But it’s re­ally the seventh sea­son of the show, known as The Great

Bri­tish Bake Off in the United King­dom, where it aired last year. These 10 new episodes mark the last fea­tur­ing the show’s orig­i­nal cast, in­clud­ing Berry and fel­low judge Paul Hol­ly­wood, and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. The show is mov­ing to a new chan­nel in the U.K, with only Hol­ly­wood re­main­ing.

No of­fense to Hol­ly­wood and his im­pos­si­ble-to-read stares, but the show sim­ply won’t have the same magic with­out Berry, Giedroyc and Perkins.

But state­side view­ers won’t have to face that re­al­ity for a while: PBS is ex­pected to air an ear­lier ( but still un­seen) sea­son next year. And the knowl­edge that the show will soon lose three of its most es­sen­tial el­e­ments makes the magic of the four­some stand out even more.

While the con­tes­tants and chal­lenges may change, the show’s ba­sic recipe re­mains con­sis­tent. Each week kicks off with a “sig­na­ture chal­lenge.” A “tech­ni­cal chal­lenge” in­volves ob­scure pas­tries and cakes. The “show­stop­per chal­lenge” pro­duces beau­ti­ful (or dis­as­trous) cre- ations. At the end, there’s a “star baker,” and some­one must go home.

The con­tes­tants are al­ways di­verse, pas­sion­ate and kind, help­ing ri­vals in a jam (in­clud­ing jam-re­lated jams). Each sea­son fea­tures a sim­i­lar crop: An older, tra­di­tional baker; one who’s still in school; and a baker who’s es­pe­cially am­bi­tious with de­sign. This sea­son’s most en­dear­ing par­tic­i­pant is Val, de­scribed as “a re­tired head­mistress, grand­mother, Keep Fit fa­natic and Ed Sheeran fan.” She dances aer­o­bi­cally while she bakes, and is truly the hero we need.

The new sea­son also re­minds us what the hosts and judges add to that com­fort­ing con­sis­tency. Giedroyc and Perkins will al­ways be there for the baker who suc­cumbs to pres­sure. Hol­ly­wood re­serves his hand­shakes for the very best bakes. Giedroyc will al­ways be de­lighted by re­ally wellde­fined “lay­ers” in the cre­ations.

Perkins misses an early episode, and her ab­sence is keenly felt. It makes you won­der who else can open a show by singing an a cap­pella two-part har­mony about bak­ing? Prob­a­bly not new hosts Noel Field­ing and Sandi Toksvig, though surely they’ll give it their best ef­fort.

For some view­ers, new episodes are pre­cious, even though some stream on Net­flix. But the show has al­ways been more about the de­light­ful jour­ney than the des­ti­na­tion. (Win­ning bak­ers don’t even win any money.)

At least in the U.S., we have a lit­tle more of that jour­ney left. And it’s worth sa­vor­ing ev­ery morsel.

MARK BOURDILLON, LOVE PRO­DUC­TIONS

The lat­est sea­son of The Great Bri­tish Bak­ing Show is the last fea­tur­ing the orig­i­nal cast.

TOM GRA­HAM

Bak­ers cre­ate pas­tries to com­plete the weekly “sig­na­ture,” “tech­ni­cal” and “show­stop­per” chal­lenges.

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