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Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on “The Great American Baking Show”

The British Bake Off Phenomenon Returns Stateside with Holiday Special and New Series on Roku

Dec 02, 2022 Photography by The Roku Channel Web Exclusive
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Ready – set – BAKE!

The global hit competition series The Great British Baking Show—or, Bake Off, in the U.K.—will be making a return to this side of the Atlantic with a new series of The Great American Baking Show, which will premiere on The Roku Channel in 2023. But ahead of that, they’re helping us make the season merry with The Great American Baking Show Celebrity Holiday Special, which debuts today as a Roku Original.

The festive special brings together six celebrity contestants—Joel Kim Booster, D’Arcy Carden, Nat Faxon, Chloe Fineman, Liza Koshy, and Marshawn Lynch—and puts them through the same battery of tests that America’s and Britain’s best amateur bakers are asked to undertake in each episode of show. It’s a raucous twist on the beloved Bake Off recipe—one celebrity contestant admits to it being the first time they’ve ever baked—but one that longtime fans of the show will delight in. Just like the upcoming season of The Great American Baking Show, the special is judged by Bake Off icons Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, who are joined by comic hosts Ellie Kemper and Zach Cherry.

Watch a teaser for the special below:


The show introduced many American viewers to a different, more comforting take on the competitive cooking series. For those of us who had unwittingly grown accustomed to heaping scoops of trash talk from our TV show contestants, it was a breath of fresh air to watch bakers on The Great British Baking Show rush to each other’s aid in times of cake crises, and even forge genuine friendships before our eyes. The show’s feel-good vibe is boosted by its various hosts, who frequently goof around with the bakers as the wait for their doughs to rise—and in particular by its judges, whose use their vast expertise in all things yeast, sugar, and flour-related to provide friendly, constructive criticism of the bakes presented to them. When you combine these ingredients, the resulting recipe is a show that’s as warm and welcoming as the smell of baking bread that so often fills its tent.

It’s no wonder that so many viewers from around the globe have found the Bake Off shows so irresistible.

Baker, TV presenter, and cookbook author Paul Hollywood has been with Bake Off since its very beginning. Having grown up in his father’s bakery, dough is in his blood. After serving as the head baker in several of Europe’s most exclusive hotels and resorts, Hollywood started his career as a food television personality. One of Hollywood’s other passions is classic cars and motorcycles: when he’s not baking or presenting one of his food-centric travelogues, you can sometimes find him competing in a 24-hour circuit race.

Next to her co-judge’s twelve-year tenure on Bake Off, author, chef, and restaurateur Prue Leith is the show’s relative newcomer. She joined the series in 2018 after serving as a judge for eleven years on BBC Two’s Great British Menu. She grew up in South Africa but discovered her calling in the food industry while studying in France. After finishing cooking school and launching a high-end catering business, Leith opened the Michelin-starred Leith’s restaurant in London in 1969, which she owned and operated for more than 25 years. An industry trailblazer, Dame Prue Leith has founded a school for chefs; been appointed to high positions related to food, education, and the arts; and written as a columnist for all of London’s biggest papers. On top of all of this, she’s published numerous novels.

Ahead of their new holiday special, Paul and Prue took some time to answer our questions about their favorite seasonal dishes to bake out-of-season, some of the differences between American and British competitors, and what happens at Bake Off when the cameras aren’t rolling.

The Roku Channel
The Roku Channel

Under the Radar: The holidays are now upon us, and you’ve just released a delightful special to celebrate the season. I’m curious: are there any traditional holiday dishes you think might be unfairly confined to the holidays, which you think should be baked year-round?

Paul: Well, that’s a tricky one because you’re asking a Brit about American baking around the holidays, so that’s not fair. I would say Christmas pudding is something I think you should have year-round. It’s one of my favorite things. [Laughs] You see, fruitcake in the U.K. is quite a big thing, but that’s dying off now because normally around Christmastime people are having chocolate cake, vanilla cake, any cake they wish. So, it’s quite difficult to tie down a fruitcake than a traditional cake to Christmastime or the holidays.

Prue: I’d say a yule log. Funny enough, I’m in America at the moment and yesterday morning I was on Good Morning America. They asked me to demonstrate a British Christmas thing in three minutes, so I did a yule log because it is so easy. All it is a chocolate Swiss roll covered in butter icing so it looks like bark, with chocolate holly leaves on top. It is the most delicious thing, and it’s lovely for pudding. It’s great for dessert. It’s great as an afternoon tea cake, and it’s great as a Christmas cake. A lot of kids don’t like Christmas cake because they don’t like all of that packed fruit—I love Christmas pudding, but, mind you, I like pretty much everything—but I think a yule log is great.

Paul: I made a yule log last week and I’m making one tomorrow on This Morning, weirdly. [laughs]

Prue: They’ll think you stole my idea, Paul.

This special will be followed by a new season of The Great American Baking Show on Roku. Obviously, bakers learn techniques that originate from all over the world, but there are differences in British and American baking that arise from having different traditions, and there being styles and flavors one’s more likely to have encountered than the other. I’m curious if you find that there are any aspects of the competition that an American baker might find more challenging than a British one, or vice versa?

Prue: When I think of American baking, I don’t think so much of cakes—although, they do make lots of wonderful cakes. I think of pies. Cherry pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie. I think Americans are really great at what we may call a flan, or an open pie. I had Thanksgiving dinner with an American family last week and I thought they’d have pecan pie or pumpkin pie, but they had an apple pie. But it would have to be a pie. I think that’s very different.

Is there anything, Paul, that you think Americans would have a struggle with from us? Perhaps a steamed pudding would be a struggle. [laughs]

Paul: I think some of the steamed puddings, yeah. Obviously you have to look at the migration from Europe into the States, and originally into New York. The idea that you had the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the English, the Irish, the Scots, all bringing their own recipes into this new land. They all met in New York, and they thought “I’m gonna do this,” and “I’m gonna do this,” or “I’m gonna do this.” But what they quickly learned was that they could cross-pollinate ideas. So what you have in the States, which may have originated in Scotland or Ireland or Wales, Italy, or Belgium, is slightly different than the original one that came two or three hundred years earlier. But I like that, though. I think that’s a good thing.

The thing about New York is that New York breaks all of the rules—they make their own rules. There’s such a mixture of ingredients coming in together to create these unique bakes from the States, and they’ve made them their own. As they moved through areas of the country where they have huge amounts of pecans, for instance, the pecan pie came about. I love that: they celebrate what they can grow on their doorstep. And so, it’s very difficult to pin it down to one specific thing. It’s very, very difficult, because it is unique.

Prue: There’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ve just spent two months in America, and I think if I had to say that there was one real difference between our palates, it’s that Americans do like more sugar than we do.

Paul: There’s definitely more sugar, yeah. And the portion sizes are massive! [laughs]

Prue: Yes, the portion sizes are huge. [Husband John Playfair] and I just order one dish and share it. That’s very mean, but honestly you could never eat the size of some of these portions.

I had lunch one day in the middle of Texas at one of those places where they basically deep fry everything. It was chips, deep-fried chicken tenders, everything was brown. I said, “Do you have any green vegetables?” And the girl looked, first of all, very puzzled, and then she suddenly lit up and said, “Oh, yes! We’ve got green beans.” What she then produced were green beans out of a can, but in a sweet, syrupy goop. [Paul laughs] But anyway, that was the middle of Texas.

The other thing I’d say that Americans are generally much better at than we are is chilies. I mean, we just think of chilies as jalapenos and that’s it. But, they really know about all different kinds of chilies. They also have more tolerance for heat than we do. It’s not just in Tex-Mex, which is often not so strong, but I think it’s because they’re close to Mexico and they have a big Mexican influence, they’ve gotten more used to chilies than we have. They can stand more heat than we can… and they can stand more sugar than we can.

I’ve always wondered about how you prepare for a day of Bake Off judging, knowing that you’re going to have to taste a couple dozen rich desserts…

Paul: It depends on what week you’re dealing with. If it is cake week and we’ve got ten people in the tent, and then we’ve asked them to make a three-tiered cake, that’s thirty bites of cake. That’s a lot of cake. I often have this sugar rush when I leave Bake Off, and I have to go and find the nearest fast food place to suck down a bag of chips. I need that salt, I crave the salt.

It’s not easy, actually. When you’ve got a lot of people and you have to try a lot of things, what we try to do when the challenges are being formulated is try and reduce down the flavor options that they can add so that there’s only one, rather than three, in a dish. Because in that case, we’d have to try all three. So we try to reduce that down so it’s not such a big number, so that we’re not eating as much. And then we’ll go for a ten mile walk. [laughs]

Prue: I’ll tell you what – Paul is much better at this than I am, because he is much more disciplined. At the beginning of the day I don’t eat breakfast, because I know what I’m coming in for. So I’ve had no breakfast, and the first time we get to taste something it’s probably about half past eleven in the morning. They’ve just made their signature challenge, let’s say. If it’s something absolutely delicious, I cannot resist a second teaspoon. Next time you watch, watch Paul. He never, ever has more than one teaspoon of whatever it is he’s tasting. He hardly ever goes back and tastes it again. Sometimes I try to force him to, but he won’t do it. I try not to, but I’m too greedy, and I’m hungry!

If you only have a teaspoon each and if, as Paul says, the challenge isn’t so complicated that there are three different cakes you need to taste for each contestant, then you can get away with maybe 1500 calories in the day made up of teaspoons. So, if you don’t have much and you don’t have breakfast, and you try to confine yourself to 500 calories for supper—which, for me, is a couple of glasses of wine, I have to tell you—then you’re alright. [laughs]

There’s a moment in every episode right after the show stopper where you discuss which bakers are at the top and bottom of the week’s standings. After that, the cameras and the hosts are dismissed so you can make your decisions. We never get to see those discussions. I’m curious if you ever have disagreements, and how you settle them?

Paul: Not really. We might have an arm wrestle to settle it.

Prue: Which I always win, by the way.

Paul: [laughs] To be honest, we’re normally spot on. We might do slight markings on the signature, which we’ll write down independently. When we come together, we’ll find that they’re actually pretty close and we’re pretty much in agreement. It’s pretty easy from that point of view.

Sometimes it will come down to flavors, and it’s very difficult sometimes when you judge flavors because that’s a personal [preference]. If a flavor is a favorite of mine and not of Prue’s, I’ll tend to lean towards it and Prue wouldn’t. You have to disassociate yourself and look at the bake itself: What is the texture like? Did they achieve what they set out to do? But 99.9% of the time we agree on everything.

Prue: Quite often on camera we will be discussing something and Paul will say, “This is slightly under baked,” and I’ll think, “Actually, I quite like it.” It will look as if we’re disagreeing, but then when you look at the marks I might give it a seven and he’ll give it a six. Or, he’ll give it a seven and I’ll give it a six. I don’t think we’ve ever been more than one point away from each other, and we’ve never had a disagreement about who was coming in first, second, or third. We always know the order, which is wonderful, really. One of the things that made me nervous when I came in was exactly that. Because before, I used to be on Great British Menu, and I’ll tell you what—those two boys [Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton], we disagreed all the time. [laughs] But Paul and I manage to get on pretty well.

Moving outside the tent for a moment, I’m curious if you can share what you personally do to set the mood when you cook at home? Do you put on music to set the vibe in the kitchen?

Paul: If it’s a proper meal that I’m cooking, I’ll have a bottle of wine and I’ll probably end up with wine in the sauce, or in the dish somewhere. It’s normally from that bottle that’s open, and I may have a glass or two of wine. Listening to music? Not so much. I don’t like too much noise. A bit of peace and quiet is good for me.

Prue: I occasionally have the radio on or something, but I agree with Paul. I usually like to be alone—actually, that’s not true, because I like to cook with my grandchildren, or if a friend is there I’ll cook with them—but I’m very happy being on my own in the kitchen, in silence. If I’m ever feeling slightly anxious or grumpy or anything, then cooking is, for me, the therapy that fixes it.

Paul: Or she’s “hangry.”

Prue: I’ll roll up a big ball of dough and punch it. [They both laugh.]

My mother used to say something to me, actually. Do you know how you might say to a friend, “You need to go have a walk in the garden,” or “You should have a swim,” or “You should get a good sleep,” you know, when they’re getting grumpy. My mom would say to me, “You need an hour in the kitchen.”

In recent seasons you’ve had a few very young competitors who first started baking because of the show. I love that Bake Off is so family-friendly, and it’s wonderful that it gets parents into the kitchen with their kids. I know you both have children and, Paul, that you literally grew up in a bakery, so perhaps you can speak to both sides. Do you have any advice for parents who watch the show with their young children, and how they can help foster that love for cooking?

Paul: When you’re baking with children you can’t have a recipe that goes on for six hours. They don’t have the attention span for that. You’ve got to make and bake and, preferably, eat it within an hour. So then you’re limited to things like scones, or you may do a cream scone, a sponge, or maybe a little Victoria sandwich. Keep it small, you know. A chocolate brownie, something that they can engage with. Pick recipes that are ready to come out of the oven and eat within an hour and a half, and I think that will tick all of the boxes.

I think baking is something that is good for children, because then they’ll understand what goes into their cake, good and bad. They’ll also understand that they can alter that once they have mastered the recipe, so it’s very important.

Prue: I would just add that if I was giving advice to parents, I would say “Don’t think that baking has to always be sweet.” What you don’t want is children getting addicted to sugar. I would like them to make cornbread, or pizza, or bread. Children love making bread, and you can make something simple like flatbread, which you can serve almost immediately. It’s not sweet, but there’s nothing nicer than a piece of flatbread straight off the griddle. It’s lovely.

After the cake stand trophy, the Hollywood handshake is the rarest prize given out on Bake Off. For those of us (like myself) who are no real threat to become one of America’s best amateur bakers any time soon, are there other ways that we can earn a Hollywood handshake? Let’s say I did a really great job detailing your car, or something equally impressive but not baking-related.

Paul: If you detailed one of my bikes or cars and did a really good job, yeah, you will certainly get a handshake. [laughs] Certainly if the bill wasn’t too high!

It’s a strange thing, the Hollywood handshake. It was just to congratulate someone, to say “Well done, you’ve done a good job,” but it’s really spawned into something else. I like to give out handshakes and I want to praise people, but I’ve always been constructive with my criticism. I don’t want to be destructive. I’ve always backed it up with, “Well, if you’d done this, it would have been better,” but that doesn’t always make the edit. But, yes, it’s grown into something massive.

I’ve had builders come around to do work with me and then they’ll hold out their hand, and I’ll look at them and say, “Where’s my cake? When you bring me a cake, you’ll get a handshake.” [laughs]

Prue: I think the Hollywood handshake is something so special. You just have to watch the bakers’ faces light up. Paul will often be quite solemn when he calls the baker up, and they’ll just stand there thinking, “Oh my god, what have I done? He’s going to be horrible to me.” He’ll look quite stern, and then he’ll put his hand out. The bakers’ faces are a joy to see, because they just love it.

People will often say to me, “Why don’t you develop a Prue pat?” Or a hug, or something. And no, I think that handshake is too special. Paul says it’s just a way to say congratulations, but to the bakers it’s something almost better than getting star baker. I think it’s wonderful, and he should stick with it.

***

The Great American Baking Show Celebrity Holiday Special is now available to be streamed, for free, on The Roku Channel, along with more than 150 past episodes of both the Great British and American Baking Shows.



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