By no means am I the keeper of my culture, but when tacos are somehow deemed a “baking challenge,” there has to be some discussion. The fourth episode of The Great British Baking Show’s 13th season hit Netflix in North America this morning, with Mexican Week as its theme—and I have mixed feelings.
The introduction to the episode, which features hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas dressed in sombreros and ponchos, did not start things off on a high note for me. I genuinely didn’t mind the corny “Juan” bit (we shouldn’t even make Juan Mexican joke or people will get upset), because it fell in line with the usual humor of the show. The costumes, however, were somewhat more distracting.
Mexican Week sticks out at an odd angle from the rest of the season so far; either the writers and producers simply didn’t put in the effort of prior episodes, or they were confident in presenting the most stereotypical depictions of Mexican culture that they could. The promotions for this season, after all, featured the hosts fully decked out in elaborate Star Wars costumes. Why did Mexican Week’s introduction look like someone popped over to Party City and grabbed the first thing they could find?
Things didn’t get better from there.
For the signature, the bakers were tasked with making pan dulce, sweet bread in Spanish. There are many varieties of pan dulce, but quite a few bakers decided to make what I consider the most iconic: conchas.
Conchas are light, airy sweet bread rolls with a somewhat crunchy craquelin topping baked in a seashell-like shape. Many of the bakers couldn’t nail the textural quality, but they made some interesting flavor choices, such as corn with a coconut custard. Conchas aren’t typically filled with anything, but this is a baking challenge, so it’s understandable that the bakers would want to do a little something extra to show off their skills.
My only qualm with this portion of the episode was judge Prue Leith’s comment that a plain concha needs a filling. Conchas are beautiful in their simplicity, my dear Prue, with no need for a filling whatsoever.
Is the team at The Great British Baking Show simply tired of trying to come up with ideas for bakes? The contestants were told to make tacos—that is, tortillas from scratch, along with refried beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Tacos are a wonderful dish, but they make absolutely no sense as a technical challenge for a room full of bakers.
Listening to everyone say “pico de gallo” did help this portion of the episode from being a total disaster. No disrespect to Paul Hollywood or Prue Leith, but can someone point to what exactly makes them qualified to judge tacos? At one point Hollywood dings one of the contestant’s tacos because the tortillas have color to them, indicating to him that they’re overdone. The tortilla did have some darker spots to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s burnt. Tortillas with some dark spots are cooked tortillas, and the taco doesn’t suffer as a result.
More than anything, the tres leches cake showstopper challenged the structural integrity of many of the baker’s best ideas. But one cake stood out—and could have used less decoration.
Baker Sandro decided to decorate his spiced chocolate tres leches with colorful splatters and a giant mustache. Yes, a giant mustache. Is that the only image of Mexico that came to mind in all the prep work that goes into a bake? I wanted to rip that big ’stache right off that otherwise delicious looking cake. (It would have still worked just fine as a fiesta-themed dessert.)
Another baker, Kevin, decided to make an Aztec-style pyramid with his tres leches cake. When asked by Paul Hollywood whether it was Mayan or Aztec, Kevin said, “There’s a bit of overlap, isn’t there?” Everyone chuckled. I don’t expect Kevin or anyone for that matter to be an expert in Mesoamerican history or the cultures, but lumping them together dismissively didn’t leave everyone laughing. It could have been a good opportunity for the hosts to make a clarification, even a charming one, so that viewers actually stood to learn about the culture behind the theme.
While I’m glad the episode put a spotlight on Mexican cuisine—especially for an audience of UK viewers who might not be as familiar with the food as viewers in the United States—there were some definite misses in terms of how discussion of the food and its associated culture was handled. When asked whether they eat Mexican food, one contestant said she enjoyed nachos. Hopefully this episode leaves both the bakers and the viewers eager to learn more about the cuisine than this episode offered them.
It’s not the worst episode of The Great British Baking Show that I’ve seen, but it also was far from the best. Hands down the best part of the episode was hearing the phrase “wee concha” uttered by Scottish baker James. Thank you, James.