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A taste for cooking shows recently

As I've been going about my packed schedule, I've been using a favorite coping tactic of mine, where I listen to television like radio on my iPhone. I do this a lot, mostly with TV I've already seen and so doesn't require a lot of my attention, but lately all I've been wanting to take in this way are cooking showing. Netflix has a handful of shows I like, but the new one I've gotten into based on the recommendation of friends of Twitter has been the Great British Bake Off.

It's a really adorable show, with talented, enthusiastic contestants who are positive and supportive towards each other, tough but fair judging, and a minimum of manufactured reality-show drama. Everyone's so happy to be there, practicing their favorite craft and getting a chance for critiques from baking experts Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, who they clearly all idolize. Plus I love the panoply of British accents on display. I'm not that much of a baker myself, much more of a cook, but I'm fascinated by the techniques by which they make so many delicious breads, pastries, and desserts. There's only season five currently available, but I really wish there were more.

I find myself also very interested in the differences between American and British bakery terminology. I already knew that "biscuit" tends to mean "cookie" in the UK, while what we call a "biscuit" they call a "bun," but it also seems to sometimes maybe mean "cracker." I'm not totally sure of the distinction there. As another example, they seem to use the term "sponge cake" differently than we do. I'm having a hard time phrasing the question to Google such that it delivers me the answer I'm looking for, but here in the US, I believe "sponge" has a fairly specific definition for a particular kind of cake, leavened with egg foam. It seems that the British use the term to encompass any kind of non-yeasted cake, whether made by the foam or the batter method, which we would call a "pound cake." I'm not certain, though, and I would welcome explanation from someone who knew the specific difference in meaning.

Amusingly, another thing that struck me was the absence of peanut butter. In America, peanut butter is one of the most popular flavors for, well, everything, but especially in dessert making. I can only think of two instances in season five where peanut was incorporated by anyone into anything, and I noticed in the first one it was referred to as "peanut" flavored, not "peanut butter," and in the second it didn't seem to be all that well-received. Judge Paul Hollywood complained it sealed his mouth shut. I've heard that nowhere on Earth is peanut butter as ubiquitous as it is in the States, but I was surprised it seemed to be such a niche thing for them.

I'd watched the Great British Sewing Bee a while ago, which is a spin-off idea from this and which I totally loved. The only criticism of that one I had was that it wasn't quite as creative as, say, Project Runway, the only other reality program I ever followed with any attention. On the Sewing Bee they mostly made thing from fairly standard patterns, and design was not a huge element of the challenge. By contrast, on Project Runway they are expected to design everything from scratch, push for originality, and draft or drape everything themselves. But I loved the positivity and emphasis on craftmanship the Bee had, plus the absence of all the interpersonal bullshit. The Bake Off, though, eliminates that problem by asking the contestant to bring in recipes of their own design, so I feel like the creative element is balanced with the technical. I really enjoy that about it.

I hope they post more seasons. I will watch the hell out of them. And of course it makes me want to bake more. Not the best impulse when one is on a no-processed-carbs diet, and God knows I don't really have the time right now. But perhaps I can do it for other people. I made Alton Brown's puffy chocolate chip cookies for my lit class the other day, and that was fun. Nothing makes people smile like baking for them!


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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2015 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, peanut butter (which they've finally started calling that--it used to be ground groundnuts, which is just not tasty sounding) is mostly not a thing in the UK. When we lived there, chocolate chip cookies were just catching on--people were having cookie-baking parties and there were trend articles in all the mags.

Biscuits are round, flat things, either sweet or savory. Many of the things that serve the function we give to cookies are very much like our graham crackers, but round and often faced with chocolate. Those are generally referred to as "bikkies" and eaten with tea.

I can't help you on the sponge cake question.
Oct. 21st, 2015 05:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks for that! I find that very interesting!
Oct. 21st, 2015 06:32 pm (UTC)
One of the things I often say about living in England is that it can be deceptive. Just about everything is just a little different (I was just noticing, again, that they say "dressing gown," where we say "bathrobe") so it lulls you into a sense that you understand it all pretty well, but over time those little differences build up and the sense of alienation can suddenly smack you over the head.

They don't have "blocks" for heaven's sake!
Oct. 21st, 2015 05:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we discovered the show last month -- we're watching Season 4 on PBS, and planning on catching via Netflix. It's a fine reminder that such shows can actually be fun to watch, when the contestants aren't being treated like it's a bear-baiting match...
Oct. 21st, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean! I get that drama is conflict, but I don't watch those shows for the drama!
Oct. 21st, 2015 06:39 pm (UTC)
Yaas. Indeed, I've found that this is one of the better predictors of whether I'm likely to like a "contest" show. The relatively positive ones, that promote a sense of camaraderie among the contestants, I usually enjoy a lot. (My personal favorite being So You Think You Can Dance, where the competitors are literally putting themselves in each others' hands on a regular basis.) OTOH, the Survivor-type shows, where it's all about creatively stabbing each other in the back, and the producers do everything they can to create (often fake) drama, annoy the heck out of me.
Joshua Nudell
Oct. 21st, 2015 06:31 pm (UTC)
PBS online is your friend
GBBO is, hands down, my favorite show on TV right now. I highly recommend using the PBS app to keep current with the present season available in the US, but there are some wonky issues (partly stemming from the name) in terms of making more of it available here.

As someone who does bake, though, I just have to say that some of the contestants are pretty spectacular bakers (others are really, really, really good, but have made mistakes that I've been able to catch along the way).
Oct. 21st, 2015 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: PBS online is your friend
Ooooo, thanks for the suggeston! I will try that!

Cool to hear the perspective of someone who understands. I wish I had more context for everything they do, so I find myself wanting to study up!
Oct. 21st, 2015 07:24 pm (UTC)
I heard a story once that when considering how to send aid in the form of food to Africa, peanut butter was considered an ideal candidate. Shelf stable without refrigeration, calorie and nutrient dense, easy to eat with any (or even no) utensil, doesn't mind being flown around or dropped from the air to places that roads don't go, and looking at GWCarver and our own culinary experiences, has a wide variety of uses and applications.

But so foreign that it would generally be ignored or wasted. So they switched to something else.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

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"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
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