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‘The Great British Baking Show’ “Mexican Week” is a Disaster on So Many Levels

I honestly don’t know where to start with The Great British Baking Show “Mexican Week”. As a long-time fan of The Great British Baking Show and devoted follower of its ups and downs, this particular week — with its offensive stereotypes, befuddled bakers, and layered tres leches cakes — threatened to undo all the good will the show has accumulated over the years.

But rather than rant about all the ways “Mexican Week” let Great British Bake Off fans down, I’m more curious about how this episode could have happened in the first place. I don’t think the episode’s sins came from a place of malice, but rather pure old-fashioned hubris. The Great British Baking Show “Mexican Week” is what happens when a quaint show becomes a global hit and eventually forgets what made the show so great in the first place.

When The Great British Baking Show first hit U.S. shores, it was a sweet slice of heaven. Compared to the reality competition shows of the day, it was slow-paced, sweet-spirited, and uniquely educational. Americans love to bake, but where we favor cookies and crumbles, apple pies and cake mixes from boxes, the Brits love their biscuits and puddings, meat pies and sponges. It’s a baking tradition inspired by centuries of English country cooking, French patisserie, and the occasional Viennese coffee shop. The challenges in The Great British Baking Show‘s early days were about pure technique with a dash of creativity. Judge Mary Berry was “good cop” to Paul Hollywood‘s “bad cop,” and the bakers had the moral support of life-long besties Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc as hosts.

Great British Baking Show Mexican Week Episode
Photo: Twitter/Great British Bake Off

Then the show became a global smash. In the UK, Channel 4 outbid original broadcaster the BBC for the show’s future rights. Mary, Sue, and Mel stuck with the BBC and Prue Leith entered the tent. Netflix wrestled the American rights for the show away from PBS and Prime Video. The show’s bakers became more social media savvy and the bakes themselves more visually stunning. The challenges in turn became far more complex. Soon it seemed that to win The Great British Baking Show, you had to be half-influencer, half-architect, in addition to a great baker.

I need to set this scene as it explains some of the reasons why this latest season of the The Great British Baking Show has been serving up such weird challenges so far. In “Bread Week,” an episode usually devoted to the nitty gritty of sourdough, kneading, and crumb texture, the bakers were asked to make pizza, the pastry pain aux raisins, and a Swedish sandwich cake. Why? Uh, I guess Paul wanted to challenge them? (Because bread alone is not challenging enough?!?)

Now I can sort of understand why the The Great British Baking Show‘s producers thought “Mexican Week” looked good on paper. Recent years have given us everything from “German Week” to “Danish Week.” Besides “Japanese Week,” all of these international forays have been decidedly European-centric. “Mexican Week” would be an opportunity for the show to diversify, be more international. The problem is that — in general — the Brits are woefully ignorant about Mexican culture.

Tacos on The Great British Baking Show "Mexican Week"
Photo: Netflix

The Great British Baking Show “Mexican Week” started with a cold open with hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas wearing poncho blankets and sombrero-esque hats (that were not technically sombreros). The made a cringe-worthy joke about how they shouldn’t make Mexican jokes that was in itself sort of offensive to Spanish speakers everywhere.

What was perhaps even more appalling was how the bakers themselves collectively comported themselves. Poor sweet Carole pronounced pico de gallo as “pico de gallio” and tried to peel the outside of an avocado with a paring knife. Tacos were treated as bewildering alien food. By and large, the bakers had zero knowledge of pan dulces and many of them flailed accordingly.

Because The Great British Baking Show is supposed to be a show where talented amateur bakers show off their skills, this level of absolute ignorance was horrifying to watch. I think it probably plays — like last week’s pizza challenge — a million times worse to American viewers, too. We’re used to feeling dazzled by the bakers’ knowledge of creme pat and meringue. Instead, this episode had us yelling at the screen, infuriated that we know more than these dingbats about how to make guac.

Abdul's slanted tres leche cake on The Great British Baking Show Mexican Week
Photo: Netflix

For all that Paul Hollywood can boast about recently visiting Mexico, he still made the mistake of asking the bakers to put refried beans on tacos. (Which a Mexican pal confirmed for me is not thing at all.) And while showstoppers are meant to challenge the bakers, asking them to layer tres leches cake — a dessert I’ve only ever seen baked in a single sheet pan — was setting them up for failure. As the bakers themselves pointed out, the very nature of tres leches cake, soaked through with a dairy mixture, makes it difficult to stack. (While I did text a Mexican pal about my taco confusion, I did not have the guts to call my cousin to ask if her Mexican husband’s family restaurant chain has ever even dared layer their famously popular tres leche cake…because that would be a dumb question! And guys, their tres leche cake — made in a sheet pan — is divine.)

The Great British Baking Show “Mexican Week” is what happens when a show simultaneously loses sight of both what makes it great and where it has glaring weaknesses. First of all, The Great British Baking Show should stop asking bakers to become international chefs. These savory challenges aren’t just embarrassing to watch, but they’re antithetical to the show’s mission statement. Second, The Great British Baking Show needs to remember that it is British. The Brits are great at many things: tea time, Shakespearean acting, colonization, making scones… But the Brits also have their blind spots and Mexican cuisine is definitely one of them.

If The Great British Baking Show can learn anything from the “Mexican Week” debacle, it should be that it needs to go back to its roots and embrace the sweet English countryside bakes that made the show so great. Oh, and to stay away from racial stereotypes as jokes.