On Your Marks, Get Set, Bake – September Column

“On Your Marks, Get Set, Bake!” Those words from co-hosts Sue and Mel start every timed contest on the Great British Baking Show. Cooking shows are nothing new – not since Julia Child, anyway. But this one has home cooks as contestants, and they are all incredibly talented but unbelievably humble. They start with 12 contenders and one goes home each week until the three finalists battle it out.

Sometimes they’re baking something I’ve made before – a cake or cookie. At other times they’re making things I’ve never even seen referenced in a cookbook and if I had I would have immediately decided they were too complex. Part of the fun is that contestants sometimes haven’t heard of them either.

Paul and Mary do all the judging. Paul is less warm but no more demanding than Mary. Each episode finishes with a “showstopper” where the home cooks morph into pastry chefs with mad skills and create amazingly beautiful things out of food.

And they do it all in a tent. Yes, a tent. We accept it as completely normal that a tent would hold a dozen kitchen stations, although no one knows why they’re not in a building with climate control. We can often see and hear rain and the contestants worry about the humidity. Conversely they comment on the heat that is affecting whatever they’re working with. One could begin to believe climate control has not yet reached the English countryside, but I know this is not true.

These beautiful kitchen stations come complete with proving drawers. I confess I didn’t know there was such a thing as a proving drawer, but now I desperately want one. Never mind that I make a yeast bread at most once a year, it now seems a proving drawer is as essential as a mixer. Maybe if I had a proving drawer I’d make bread more often. See how that works?

The season ends with a tea on the grounds, with that season’s contestants and their families and friends. You knew it would have to end with a tea, right? The winner gets a crystal cake plate. There’s no big monetary prize. There are congratulations and tears all around. You realize they’ve spent their weekends baking like maniacs for the pleasure of it. How can you not love that?

Here’s something you and I can make in our kitchens, no proving drawer needed. If you want to set up a tent and bake there instead, I’ll leave that to your judgment.

Heavenly Hash Brownies

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup margarine, melted
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Combine eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla. Melt margarine and add cocoa. Add that mixture to the flour mixture and beat well. Add nuts. Bake in a 9 by 13 pan at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

When out of the oven, cover with marshmallows and return to oven briefly to melt. Pour the frosting over that. Let cool before cutting.


1/2 cup margarine
1/3 cup milk
3 T cocoa
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla