‘Great British Bake Off’ Is a Strange Vehicle for Change
The show raises profiles of POC while symbolizing an implicitly white Britishness
When she first got the message asking if she’d be interested in writing a baking book, Benjamina Ebuehi thought it was a scam.
After reaching the quarterfinals of the “Great British Bake Off” in 2016 (and being defeated at the hands of a fiendishly difficult Tudor-themed baking challenge), she’d approached a few British publishers without success.
“There was just not much interest,” she explained over coffee in a North London branch of social enterprise Luminary Bakery, an initiative providing training and support for women who experienced gender-based violence, and for which Ebuehi serves as an ambassador.
So when Page Street Publishing offered her not only a publishing contract, but one that would allow her to write the book she’d been dreaming of — with the photography, styling, and design she’d always imagined — she was suspicious. “I sent it to my agent like, ‘Are these guys legit?’” she laughed. She remembered thinking that it all sounded too good to be true.
For those who are spun through the “Great British Bake Off” mill, those things that were once clearly delineated — possible, plausible, dream, and outlandish fantasy — begin to fold into one another as smoothly as beaten eggs into pastry cream. Baking presents itself as a space of endless opportunity when you have done well on perhaps the most well-known and -loved food competition ever to air.
But when you’re a pawn in a game this big, so much more is at stake in a Yorkshire pudding or a babka than there ever ought to be. During the fourth season, in which I appeared, fellow finalist Kimberley Wilson was branded arrogant and unlikeable, a judgment which seemed to condense around little more than the fact of her Blackness. “Are they gonna come for me,” Ebuehi recalled worrying, “for whatever reason, or for no reason at all?”
Her book, “The New Way to Cake,” bears no trace of its difficult conception. It is spare and…