CBS premiered The American Baking Competition last night, and I’m going to try really hard to not go the easy route and describe the latest entry into the reality-competition genre as half-baked. Oh, wait, I kind of just did. (I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.) (Okay, really, I’ll stop now.)
The show is built around the premise of gathering 10 great amateur bakers and tasking them with tackling three recipes per week: A “signature” dish they make at home for friends and family; a “technical” bake in which they receive ingredients and vague instructions — then have to rely on their own baking know-how; and a “showstopper” — where presentation sits in the throne alongside flavor.
The problem with the premiere episode, though, boiled down to simple math: 10 contestants x 3 recpies each divided by a 60-minute episode = not really enough time to focus on getting to know the players, getting a real insight into their baking philosophies, or even getting an “OMG that’s making me hungry” look into their various pies and tartlets.
Worse still, this week’s outcome was as predictable as the use of butter in a pie crust: I mean, no way were judges Paul Hollywood (that name!) and Marcela Valladolid going to send home firefighter Jeremy, a guy who makes his grandma’s sweet potato pie for his fellow bravest. Not when they could send home Carlo, the guy whose entire backstory could be boiled down in four words: “Italian dude from Connecticut.” Okay, maybe five more: “Dreams of pastry-shop ownership.” Not exactly a vivid portrait of the confectioner as a young man.
Nevertheless, the American Baking Competition premiere had a few sweet treats in store:
* Southern firecracker Francine, who made an unbelievably beautiful peanut-butter, chocolate and bacon pie that alternately terrified then delighted Mr. Hollywood. (Girlfriend’s chocolate-cherry tartlets looked like they came from a high-end restaurant as well.)
* Brian, a self-described “Male Martha [Stewart]” with a deep love of housework and a possibly scary competitive streak. (When the judges dissed his tartlet shells as tooth-shatteringly crisp, he instinctively snarled, “They don’t know what a pastry is!”
* The comic sadness of Carlo’s pastry-crust birds and the way he misguidedly compared them to the Sistine Chapel.
Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see if American Baking Competition finds an audience — and whether future installments might take a few tips from various Food Network competition shows and put a little more emphasis on the actual dishes. After all, if dessert truly is the best course, then shouldn’t this show put more cakes, cookies and pies on viewers’ plates?
What did you think of American Baking Competition? Did you want more emphasis on the actual food? Did any contestants emerge as your favorites? Could you see Carlo’s exit from a mile away? And will you go back for a second helping? Grade the premiere episode in our poll below, then sound off in the comments!