From reality show rom-coms to literary dishes, books if you like “Bake Off”

Published November 12, 2022 12: 59PM (EST)


Group Photo of Bakers, Presenters and Judges on “The Great British Baking Show” (Photo courtesy of Netflix/Mark Bourdillon)

“The Great British Baking Show” is not having its best year. 

The long running reality show, once seen as a heartwarming escape, had a “cringe-tastic debacle” in Mexican Week filled with more microaggressions masked as unfunny jokes than sugar in the tent. On a less serious note, the more recent season of the series also did alarming things to s’mores.  

But it’s the cultural appropriation and flat-out misunderstanding of the food and language of other countries that has even longtime fans reeling. “Because of what’s happening in the culinary scene in London, people’s minds are being opened to what real Mexican food is, then ‘The Great British Bake Off’ comes and kicks that back 10 years. It’s almost as though no research or respect was shown to the culture and cuisine,” chef Nud Dudhia told The Guardian. Den of Geek writes,”For the last few years [the show’s] been slowly collapsing like Ruby’s vegan showstopper, and this year it’s finally gone splat,” citing the lack of actual baking on the show, staged drama and unimpressive finalists. 

Maybe you’ve had it with the show, or maybe you’re simply looking for another medium, a break from the small screen that still satisfies your sweet tooth. Salon has whipped up a list of books that might fulfill that particular “Bake Off” dish of tart, sugary and heartwarming. From fictional reality shows to settings as alluring as a chocolatey layer cake to books with baking, bakers, or recipes, here are some new or forthcoming novels to sate you.

What it’s about:  Eleanor Bennett leaves a strange inheritance to her two children: traditional Caribbean black cake. Her last request? To “share the black cake when the time is right.” The cake is a family recipe with a long history. Like all good recipes, it has a story that the two grown siblings must piece together as they patch up their differences and learn more about their mother. 

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch:  You won’t be able to read the title of this book without salivating for sweetness. But the details of this novel and its backstory are as rich as the most decadent dessert, evocative and sweeping. A black cake recipe by debut author Wilkerson included with the novel by book and treat box subscription Sweet Reads calls for one whole pound of dark brown sugar – but notes “Quantities are approximate. Eleanor never did write them down.”

What it’s about:  Eternal romantic Dev Deshpande is the producer extraordinaire of “Ever After,” the “Bachelor”-esque reality dating show that matches a Prince Charming with his true partner. However, disgraced tech giant Charlie Winshaw is hardly charming as he’s only come on to rehab his image. But when Charlie – who’s a robotic, closed-off mess with all the ladies – seems to open up to Dev, they might need to reconsider what a fairy-tale ending looks like.

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch: Alas, there are no sugary treats of the baked variety, but this does offer that competitive format and a sweet finish. In order for Dev and Charlie to get together, each must face their biggest emotional obstacles, have discussions about mental health and become vulnerable with each other. All of this adds up to an open-hearted and heartwarming story.

What it’s about:  Pastry perfectionist Simone Larkspur creates recipes for the exalted cookbook publisher The Discerning Chef, but a pivot to video throws everything into disarray. Not only is she now dealing with an opinionated producer obsessed with SEO but also a boisterous/obnoxious new kitchen manager Ray Lyton who somehow becomes a viral star while Simone is struggling to stay relevant.

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch:  Simone is an inspired baker, which means that there are many passages detailing how she ideates original recipes both at work and at home. The book nods at the competitive food industry in general, where celebrity chefs and social media can make or break a career. Conversations about queerness in the book are sometimes off, but well-intentioned, much like a certain baking show we know that insists on making tacos.

What it’s about: After her dream internship doesn’t go as planned, aspiring scholar Ann Stilwell is offered a summer position at the Cloisters, the medieval art museum and gardens tucked away in a verdant corner of Manhattan. Things are never what they seem, and the place has its secrets, as do the people working there in this dark academia, especially Ann’s boss and colleague, who are obsessed with ancient divination, tarot cards — and power.

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch: Although not set in the picturesque British countryside, this novel still captures a cozy, evocative feel in its richly described setting with ancient walled gardens, creeping ivory, medicinal (and poisonous) herbs and lush tapestries. You’ll be transported and comforted, at least until the eerie mystery begins to unfold. Then you’ll be riveted.  

What it’s about: Emily is a contestant on a “Bachelor“-esque reality show called “The One.” She applied out of desperation, having lost her job. Cast at the last minute, it soon becomes apparent, however, that she’s in the running for the winner — at least, if her producer has anything to do with it in this fun, fast-paced and literary debut novel.

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch:  We all know by now that the reality in reality shows is fake, or as carefully crafted as a cake. But “The One” manages to be entertaining in its examination of behind-the-scenes, and searing and true in its send-up of love.

What it’s about: In this deliciously fun rom-com, Rosaline Palmer is a single mum who’s facing financial troubles when she lands a spot on the country’s most popular baking show. But while she’s worrying over fallen souffles and soggy bottoms, she’s also torn between the suave and educated Alain Pope and gruff electrician Harry Dobson. Who will stand tall like well-whipped meringue?

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch: The competition that Rosaline takes part in is a very thinly veiled “Bake Off,” complete with three bakes per episode and outrageous puns. But it also gives a wry behind-the-scenes look at what we all imagine is really being said by the hosts and producers when the cameras are off. Also, no empty calories here; despite a sugary premise, Rosaline’s journey reconciling her feelings about identity and class, give this book a hearty center.


Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.


What it’s about:  Survival school teacher Mara, whose job is taking rich people out in the wilderness, is desperate enough to accept a role on “Civilization,” a reality show where Mara and her castmates have to live off the land. But the producers inexplicitly change the rules on them, and soon Mara, who grew up in a survivalist family, and the others have to fight for more than just prize money, but for their very lives.

Why it scratches the “Bake Off” itch:  This book will leave you very appreciative of your own baking skills, however rustic they may be — or for that manner, any food at all as Mara subsides on secret protein bars (which bear a heavy personal price) and boils a lot of nettles. Braverman appeared on the reality show “Naked and Afraid” and utilizes her extreme experience in both roughing it and unscripted television for this swift-moving, compelling story. 


Alison Stine is a staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels “Trashlands” and “Road Out of Winter,” winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

MORE FROM Alison Stine

Hanh Nguyen is the Senior Editor of Culture, which covers TV, movies, books, music, podcasts, art, and more. Her work has also appeared in IndieWire, TVGuide.com and The Hollywood Reporter. She co-hosts the “Good Pop Culture Club” podcast, which examines the good pop that gets us through our days, from an Asian American perspective. Follow her at Hanhonymous.

MORE FROM Hanh Nguyen




Trending Articles from Salon