With The Great British Bake Off between seasons and viewers hungry for more, it’s no surprise that the BBC commissioned a patisserie focused spin-off to keep audiences satisfied until Paul and Mary’s return. Cooking shows form a crucial foundation of the network’s programming, so combining the pastry delights of Bake Off with the more skilled focuses of Masterchef should have been an easy slam dunk. Unfortunately, Bake Off: Crème de la Crème seems oblivious to what made its predecessor so charming.
I’ve talked before about my love for Bake Off, with its charming warmth and rejection of the well-worn tradition of meanness on reality TV. It’s a show that’s perfectly content to be pleasant, uninterested in producer orchestrated drama, contrived rivalries or exhausting sob stories. After over a decade of Simon Cowell style panto-villain dramatics, moving further than ever from the concept of reality, Bake Off’s commitment to the simplicity of its concept was a breath of fresh air. It’s about nice people who make cakes that are sometimes great and sometimes not so great, yet what’s important is that they tried, and we love them for it. Paul Hollywood may have amped up the practiced stern-face with each season, but Mary Berry’s optimism and the Carry On style goofiness of the hosts Mel and Sue ensured that the tone remain one of true positivity and delight.
That’s where Crème de la Crème fails. The concept – a competition to find the most highly skilled patisserie team in the country – is a novel one, and there is real joy in seeing the intricate delights these professional chefs create, yet the optimism has given way for elitism. While I understand that the point of the show is to focus on true craftsmanship on the level expected of experts in this field, there’s something almost agonising about watching a woman with a ruler measure slices of cake while the other judges sneer about lack of ambition or boring flavours.
It’s unfair to expect an exact replica of the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry between Bake Off’s judges and hosts, which they’ve had several seasons to hone, but it’s also difficult to ignore how uncomfortable Crème’s judges are in comparison, and how their criticisms and comments veer between nitpicky and downright mean. The mood conveyed is one totally devoid of passion for the food at hand: These exceptional culinary talents craft the most beautiful sweet treats under tight time constraints for a panel that seems to genuinely dislike cakes!
The elitism of Crème is what has turned off most viewers, including my own mother (“Who the fuck does she think she is with that ruler?”) Bake Off is a show for amateur bakers who love their hobby enough to spend countless hours worrying about proving their dough long enough to make the perfect bread. Crème obviously has different standards to set – the contestants work in teams of three, are professionals in their field and don’t have to worry about blind technical challenges – yet this shift seems to have sucked away all the charm and humour.
Bake Off’s inimitably British mood, with its double entendres and groan inducing puns, lulls in viewers with its unpretentious charisma. By turning its cameras to the world of professionals, Crème has become too serious, and unwilling to mould the format to something more suitable. 3 hours is clearly not enough time for the teams to craft a centrepiece that stands up to the judges’ standards, so why not make it longer? Viewers enjoy the snark free zone of Bake Off, yet Crème cuts to its teams quietly judging one another in a manner that feels too glossily engineered to be accidental.
Ultimately, the problem with Crème de la Crème is that it’s just not Bake Off: It bears a closer resemblance to Masterchef. Indeed, if it had been billed as a Masterchef spin-off from the beginning, viewers may not have been put off as aggressively from the show as they have. The name Bake Off carries with it certain expectations, and Crème just can’t keep up with them. While the cakes are delightful and the skill evident, it all just leaves you yearning for some baguettes in a tent and a few dirty jokes.