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This cannot be a completely objective review of this season of The Great British Bake Off. I’ve watched every episode since the show began in 2010, and am embarrassingly full of trivia about baking despite being no more than a novice myself, so I always have a lot to say about a new series. But in 2021 I found myself surprisingly empty of criticism. Sometimes I don’t think they’ve got the casting right; maybe they’ve changed the layout or colour palette of the tent and I don’t like it, or perhaps I’m feeling particularly bitter about the fact that Paul Hollywood is still allowed on this show. Whatever my past complaints have been, I was shocked to discover that season 12 of Bake Off has been one of the most engaging, dynamic and memorable seasons since the show has been with Channel 4. I’d like to pull out a few key moments that made this season so memorable.

“What Bake Off does best is remind audiences that it’s literally just a show about cake”

Gone but not forgotten, Jairzinho was in the tent for just two episodes this year. But his laid-back attitude and incredible flavour combinations caused me to compare him to Selasi Gbormittah, a baker from season 7 who still lives in the hearts of all Bake Off fans. Jairzinho’s incredible ‘Tall Ship’ showstopper from biscuit week was something of a trainwreck, but I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. And his awe-inspiring taste in dad shirts genuinely rivalled Noel’s wardrobe (maybe that’s the real reason he was kicked off so soon).

A standout low from Dessert Week was Maggie’s devastating decision to not put flour in her sticky toffee pudding technical challenge. I hadn’t loved Maggie as much as others, but seeing her face as she realised just how poorly she had done really made my heart crumble. It speaks to the ethos of the show that nobody ever wants anyone to do badly. Even the more competitive contestants want to do well on their own merit, not at the expense of others, and that’s an attitude that is increasingly hard to find in real life (especially at Cambridge, where some degrees still award classes based on rank). Bake Off is the best of reality television because it is unlike any other; it has never really pitted contestants against one another, and this was reinforced this year by the fact that all of the cast and crew were in a COVID-safe bubble. They hadn’t seen anyone else for two months, and it shows.

A quick shout-out to this year’s Pastry Week episode, which I would argue is one of the most perfectly-crafted episodes of The Great British Bake Off in recent years. An hour and a quarter of nail-biting television that me and my friends were genuinely talking about for days afterwards, it featured one of the best baking innuendos of all time (https://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-great-british-bake-off/on-demand/70301-006 37:26) and a truly devastated George looking up to the camera and whimpering “soggy bottom” about a terrine pie. What Bake Off does best is remind audiences that it’s literally just a show about cake, while framing its contestants as sympathetic and relatable; they care about cake, and so we care about cake.

“But overall, season 12 of The Great British Bake Off recaptured the magic that might have felt to be waning over the last couple of seasons”

And the show’s producers have done a pretty good job of moving with the times in terms of the contestants they’re telling us to care about. This season there was no white British-born person in the final or even semi-final. Queer representation has been quietly but joyously incorporated for years now, and Lizzie’s Free-from Week showstopper bake celebrated her neurodivergence in a way that struck a chord with everyone watching. You could argue that in this context, having someone like Paul Hollywood remain a judge is counterintuitive, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. There was definitely something sour about everyone but Jürgen being awarded a “Hollywood handshake” in the semi-final signature bake, and tweets like this one made me think about how Hollywood positions himself as more influential than Prue Leith, his fellow judge.


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Paul Hollywood gets his handshake and Prue has no equivalent boffo thing. She even mentioned it this time. What a phallocentric power trip — Trash Night Heron (@hyphy_republic) November 24, 2021

But overall, season 12 of The Great British Bake Off recaptured the magic that might have felt to be waning over the last couple of seasons. (Spoilers!) Guiseppe’s victory felt truly legitimate, even if one could claim that he wasn’t at his best in the finale, and as the first Italian to win the title, he is a reminder of the beauty in diversity that we should be celebrating as a nation. This show is a reminder to those of us who might feel disenfranchised or disconnected from Britain in the present day that, sometimes, you can just eat cake and feel connected to those around you.