Tube Talk: A bite out of the competition

By Paula Hendrickson
Television Columnist

“The Walking Dead” is back on Sunday nights, opposite “Downton Abbey.” It might seem hard to believe, but there are some of us who love both shows. But the recent Sunday night series I’ve been addicted to is “The Great British Baking Show,” which airs immediately before “Downton Abbey” on PBS.

For the past several weeks, amateur bakers ranging from a 17-year old student to a couple of grandparents – even a construction worker – have been tested with some of the most difficult baking challenges possible. (Last week the show stopper round involved making phyllo dough from scratch, something very few professional bakers even do.)

Each episode starts with a signature  challenge where contestants use their own recipes to create a specific type of baked good. Next is the technical challenge, in which  the bakers must make the exact same recipe from one of the two judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

The twist? Whatever it is  that recipe is always incomplete. The baking temperature or time might not be given, or a fairly complex process might be summed up with a simple instruction like, “make glaze,” leaving the contestants guess about measurements, consistency, and perhaps even what type of glaze. The incomplete recipes are designed to test the bakers’ skills and knowledge.

Sometimes that recipe is for something the competitors have never even heard of or seen a photo of, so in effect they are baking blind.

The third round of each episode is the showstopper challenge. That’s when the bakers have more leeway to create an edible masterpiece that should impress the judges. They use their own recipes, tried and tested at home. Flavor, texture, consistency and appearance all come into play, as does originality.

This week, three contestants remain to compete in the finale:

Richard, the construction worker, is probably the baker to beat. The modest builder has won more Star Baker titles than any of the other bakers. But Luis combines an artist’s eye for detail with technical precision. And don’t discount Nancy, a home baker extraordinaire whose “bakes” might not always look as precise and pretty as those of the other finalists, but she typically gets high praise for the flavors of her creations.

Any one of them could win. But the real winners are probably the judges, who get to sample every delectable dish.

“The Great British Baking Show” finale airs Sunday at 6:30-8:00 PM CT on WTTW and WHA.

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