It’s that time of year—you know, the time to put on The Holiday and The Family Stone on repeat. The period of time when watching every Rankin/Bass holiday special is socially acceptable. The holiday season, when the only thing louder than Bruce Willis fighting baddies is your family arguing over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (It is.)
But there might be one department of festive entertainment you’re missing out on entirely: holiday reality TV. No, we’re not talking about a Christmas episode of The Kardashians or a voyage to the North Pole on Below Deck (though both sound highly entertaining). We’re talking about The Great British Baking Show, which, in recent years, has produced a spinoff episode of their traditional English baking competition every holiday season.
This year, GBBS brought back a quartet of its most beloved bakers—including two of my favorite: sweet Rowan and Hermine—for The Great Festive Baking Show. The stakes are low, although being back in the tent surely feels stressful for the bakers. Instead of a whole 10 episodes of baking frenzy, they compete in the usual three rounds before declaring a holly jolly winner.
Rowan is one of my favorite GBBS bakers of all time. For folks who don’t remember, he competed two seasons ago in Collection 8. Rowan is a wise, old music teacher and, in his season, never understood the time limits of the series. He’d present grand bake ideas to the judges, only to fall flat with his execution. He’d aim to bake a French noble with curly hair; instead, he’d half-bake a peasant with paper curled around the noggin instead of fondant. Delish!
Sadly, he went home around halfway through the competition, though I’d have preferred him to stick around and continue baking his delightful little monstrosities for the entertainment value. I loved hearing Paul Hollywood’s condescending tone, “Rowan, are you sure you have time for that big of a bake?” paired with Rowan’s chipper, “Absolutely! Well, we’ll see…” Thank goodness we get to hear this goofy banter again.
Except, this time around, Rowan came ready to brawl. In the special, he nails his first two bakes, heading into the showstopper with great odds for winning. He does, however, drop a bit of vanilla while donning an outfit fit for Santa’s elves, a reminder that our old, disastrous pal is still in there somewhere. And, yes, Paul visits his station to ask if he’s practiced—he hasn’t. Yes, another gaudy Rowan spectacle is on the way. (Spoiler alert: He nails it, finally!)
Then there’s Hermine, who was wrongfully eliminated ahead of the final round in Collection 8 (this seems to be a GBBS curse), and gets a chance to throw down in the baking tent again. Hopefully, this means Jürgen and Janusz our favorite teddy bear contestants who were eliminated too early, will return for future holiday specials.
Kim-Joy is also back, with one of the cutest showstoppers in Baking Show history: Paul Hollywood as a shortbread polar bear, Prue as a penguin (with red glasses), Noel as a melting snowman, and Matt as a panda. The baker’s detailed work, as fans may recall from Collection 6, is an impeccable feat to watch. The final gingerbread challenge works to her strengths, with a final product that could be a prop in Disney World’s Christmas decorations.
“I am delicious!” Prue quips as she takes a chomp out of her penguin self.
We won’t spoil the ending—we’re not Scrooge!—but it’s not a spoiler to say that all the contestants are neck-in-neck in the very end. That’s how any good competition should be, too. Although The Great British Baking Show failed us this season, with controversies galore, The Great Festive Baking Show is what the holiday season is all about: rekindling relationships with old pals and enjoying spiced biscuits.