As the holiday season approaches, we are blessed with many a festive Netflix special, my favorite of which is undeniably the Great British Baking Show: Holidays. It has all the cozy, innuendo-filled norms of the typical show combined with a fuzzy air of nostalgia that only comes with the holiday season. Although I urge all to enjoy, here is a collection of my own thoughts on the new series:
Season 2 Episode 1: The Great Christmas Baking Show
On the returning contestants:
Liam (Series 8): Such a cutie! I feel like he embodies the slightly uncomfortable, very British adjective “cheeky.” He was always a jokester in the tent yet took his bakes seriously, and I loved how pleased he got when he did well.
Flo (8): I feel like a fake fan because throughout this episode I found Flo incredibly memorable, yet I don’t…remember her?
Andrew (7): One sight of this perfect red hair and I knew I had someone to cheer for. Andrew is literally my favorite Bake-Off alum for one reason—the fucking color-coded, 5-minute interval spreadsheet he brought with him to the final showstopper of his season. I aspire to that level of extra. Speaking of red hair…
Jane (7): The runner-up from her season, Jane was the grandmother who consistently quietly slayed her bakes. However, one thing I have to mention—because I couldn’t stop getting distracted by it: the hair. If you watch it, you will know.
On the bakes:
The Signature: The challenge was to make 12 biscuits representing the 12 days of Christmas. Liam and Andrew went with adorable personal themes (the fact that Liam considers falafel wraps and glazed doughnuts among his 12 most important parts of Christmas indicates that he and I are, in fact, meant to be). They got full points for taste (“sick!” says Liam) but both had royal icing issues. Flo’s fondant-topped gingerbread looked beautiful but fell flat with its unfortunate proportions. Jane turned out utterly perfect Norwegian gingerbread biscuits with stunning freehand icing. Her peak-British humility just makes me more sad about my own lack of skills concerning everything in life.
The Technical: The plan was to make Icelandic Laufabreads, paper-thin fried snowflakes which honestly looked gross to eat but gorgeous AF. All of the bakers, other than Flo who just embraces chaos and continues on with no sense of urgency, did surprisingly well, with Jane again coming out on top. One thing I cannot get past—Paul at some point mentions that Laufas go well with a Boxing Day celebration if you are making a “turkey curry” as if that is normal. That’s so weird, I love British people. Also, I always enjoy watching the bakers try to do math(s) by oddly gesturing in the air until they convince themselves they have figured it out, although they probably haven’t.
The Showstopper: The challenge was to create a hidden surprise cake decorated like a Christmas present. So the hidden design is the gift, how punny. While watching this, I realized that Flo is none other than my soul sister as she decided to flavor her cake with an entire bottle of mulled wine. She lost both me and the judges with her blue cheese icing, but solidified herself as the slightly crazed grandma we all want in our life. Liam’s Speculoos and chocolate cake and Andrew’s hidden bauble cake both went over well with the judges (“get in” says Liam). But again it was Jane who came out on top of the challenge with her utterly adorable hidden penguin cake. The pure, childish cheer emanating from the contestants, judges, and hosts alike when the image was revealed truly embodies everything GBBO stands for.
Our Christmas episode concluded with a festival of horrifically-fake snow on the lawn, where I am positive people must have been sweating under the winter gear that they were clearly only wearing for the vibes. No surprises here—Jane earned her redemption and won the Holiday Baking cake stand.
Season 2 Episode 2: The Great Festive Baking Show
First of all, I was not aware that there was such a thing as New Year’s flavors. You learn something new from every episode. First thoughts on our returning bakers:
Steven (8): I remember Steven’s smile and voice, but not much else? He was a recent runner-up on Sophie’s season.
Candice (7): Now known as Cand-eese, instead of Cand-iss as she was called during season seven, which she won! She was one of the people Paul would always target for being creative; damn you Candice for wanting to make things look nice! There is no love lost between those two. The most memorable thing about Candice is her lipstick and the very exaggerated way she purses her lips throughout judging, iykyk.
Kate (5): I always loved Kate, she seems like the cool, reserved hippie aunt that gives you homemade pendants for Christmas. She was also a solid baker, that’s all I know.
Tamal (6): The cute anesthesiologist from Nadia’s season! Tamal was always a darling and a dark horse throughout his season, eventually ending up as a semifinalist.
Other first thoughts: Noel’s sideburns. He kind of pulls them off, but they are just worth noting.
On the bakes:
The Signature: The first challenge was to create a German festive bread loaf called a stollen wreath, which is laced with marzipan. I must confess this was automatically not my fave challenge because, for all the baked goods I love, I utterly cannot stand the grainy, almond extract taste of marzipan. GROSS. Anyway, the stars of this challenge were Steven’s stunning silver stag “Stanley” and Kate’s insane patience for piping. Both turned out stollens that earned Hollywood handshakes. Candice’s cinnamon bun loaf was delicious and rustically beautiful, but Paul was all too pleased to announce it was slightly underdone. Tamal earned a Prue pat for a revelatory pistachio marzipan, but his was also underdone.
The Technical: The challenge was to make four snow eggs, a too-fancy-for-its-own-good French creation of meringue and custard presented in fancy martini glasses. All contestants, except for Steven, cooked their meringues for around five times longer than intended, which I feel like is impressive in itself. However, Steven could not make a creme anglaise, so frankly none of the bakes turned out well. Steven ended up winning due to his relative meringue success, and Kate’s struggling caramel and rubber meringue landed her in last.
The Showstopper: On brand with the New Year’s theme, each baker was tasked with creating a 3D interpretation of their resolutions. Ironically, Candice had the resolution to wear more lipstick, and she made the unfortunate choice of making a giant pair of red lips. Personally I think that bold decision terrified the very British Paul and Prue enough to be biased against it (direct quote “crass”), and its flavor was not compelling enough to overcome the design. Tamal had the most inventive resolution, wanting to make his own suit to fit his “massive hips.” Yes, he shared this on television, and decided to make a dressform. His resolution itself ended up being the best part of the bake. My personal favorite bake of the entire season was Kate’s stunning pastillage restaurant cake, which was equally adored by the judges. However, it was Steven’s telephone table illusion cake that the judges deemed exceptional in both taste and look, earning the first ever Hollywood hug.
In the end, it was easily between Kate and Steven for the New Year’s crown, but Steven’s consistently top-notch performance throughout the weekend earned him the win. Although it was well-deserved, my heart hurt a bit for Kate, whose Showstopper alone merited equal praise. Regardless of the success of his weekend, Tamal continues to be the most relatable of GBBO alumni, as he ended his time in the festive tent with “I think I need a glass of something.” Same, Tamal. Same.