The holidays and baking go hand in hand. It’s a festive time of year when we warm our kitchens and hearts with confectionary comforts shared with family and friends. With each bite, we recall fond memories and indulge in sweet, buttery, homemade delights as we appreciate the effort and care that goes into making them.
With that spirit, two Netflix baking shows have released a set of holiday episodes just in time to give you some sugary inspiration — or intimidation, depending on your culinary skillset.
First up is “The Great British Baking Show: Holidays,” a pair of holiday specials from the delightful British import in which bakers compete in increasingly difficult challenges that put their technical and creative skills to the test.
The episodes — “The Great Christmas Baking Show” and “The Great Festive Baking Show” — bring back eight fan-favorite contestants from previous seasons to whip up a variety of traditional and esoteric Christmas treats, including yule logs, mince pies, edible snow globes and a complicated Danish dessert called Kransekake.
The interplay between presenters, judges and contestants is what makes this show so much fun. Presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, both game comedians, keep things rolling and joking along as they help to put stressed contestants at ease.
While never stingy with a kind word, judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith are tough customers with discerning palates. Leith is especially skilled at the British art of making passive-aggressive comments that sound like compliments until you let them sink in.
Fortunately, the contestants — all of whom have been on the show before — can give as good as they get. There’s plenty of good-natured ribbing and sharp wit to go around, and everyone is clearly having a great time.
Of the two episodes, “The Great Festive Baking Show” is a bit more fun, since the contestants appear to be less skilled than the ones on the “Christmas” episode. Anyone who’s ever failed at baking will find their struggles immediately relatable.
For those of us who are accustomed to failure in the kitchen, “Nailed It! Holiday!” is the perfect palate cleanser for the showoffs on “The Great British Baking Show.” The series, in which three amateur chefs compete to replicate complex cakes and confections for a $10,000 cash prize, takes a puckish, screwball approach to the baking competition genre.
Each episode, co-hosts and judges Nicole Hyer and Jacques Torres are joined by a guest judge to determine if contestants “nail it”or “fail it.” (Spoiler: they almost always fail it.)
The fun of “Nailed It!” is its self-awareness and low-stakes. This is a competition, but it’s most often a race to the bottom. Contestants may try in earnest, but none are kicking themselves when their cake collapses or frosting breaks.
The challenges in this seven-episode holiday-themed season feature a variety of festive and intricate cakes, like a snowy mountain full of skiing, fondant-adorned chocolate penguins, a cake-pop nativity scene and a towering, multi-tiered Hanukkah cake.
The failures here are epic and entertaining. Watching contestants improvise and take shortcuts as they begin to flail is as funny as it is cringe-inducing. The end results tend to be grotesque and barely edible. Bless Hyer and Torres for always managing to find something nice to say — that cake-pop wise man might be too dense to stay upright, but it sure is moist!
While the goofy vibe on “Nailed It!” is not without its charms, I find the humor too hokey to endure for too long. The contestants, who spend a lot of time mugging for the camera, are proof that comedy, like baking, is best left to the professionals.
Both “Nailed It! Holiday!” and “The Great British Baking Show: Holidays” succeed at serving up sweet and silly helpings of holiday spirit that make for great binges over the next couple weeks, when you’re coming down from your own sugar high.