The best Great British Bake Off seasons to feast upon

The Great British Bake Off (called The Great British Baking Show in the U.S. and Canada) hardly needs an introduction. The baking competition is an absolute treat; each season puts a handful of amateur bakers through a series of themed baking challenges to determine the winner. The series won over the hearts of its viewers by focusing on bakers’ personal stories and skills, rather than sowing competitive chaos.

Though any of the seasons provide the ultimate comfort watch, some of them rise above the rest — much like the layers of a good bake. We’ve collected our favorites, including two holidays seasons, that we think are a must-watch. It’s worth noting the U.K. season 4 is the U.S. season 1. We’ll be going by the former. And if you’d like to stream them, Roku has U.K. seasons 1-7, while Netflix has U.K. seasons 8-13 (but calls them collections 5-10).

Season 4

From left to right Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Sue Perkins, and Mel Giedroyc sit at a table.

Image: PBS

Why we think it’s great: Series 4 was the second season that aired in the U.S., and it was the first that made me fall for the show. This was back in the halcyon days of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins hosting the show, with Mary Berry as Paul Hollywood’s better half on the judging side of things (helping rein in some of his more harsh criticisms or outrageous takes). I miss how Bake Off used to take the space to give some baking history lessons, or some context about the geography of where the bake is from. These sessions were actually informative and added to the experience of learning about baking as a science and an art form, rather than just admiring good bakes. In addition to the educational segments, Mary and Paul did “Masterclasses” where they took on the challenges that they gave the bakers, which gave great additional context to what we saw.

Favorite moment: I’d be remiss not to mention Ruby Tandoh. A teenager at the time of filming, Tandoh has gone on to publish great books and be a general presence of good in what can be a toxic industry. That’s less “one moment” than it is a “series of moments that have happened since the show aired,” but I’m happy about it anyway. —Pete Volk

Season 5

Mel and Sue stand to the left, in front of the bakers from Great British Bake Off season 5, standing in a line outdoors.

Image: Roku

Why we think it’s great: This is the sweet spot for GBBO: The bakes aren’t fussy or overly gimmicky. Mary Berry is here. Mel and Sue are at their silliest and filthiest. Paul has yet to become insufferable with his constant self-aggrandizing handshakes. The roster of bakers is also excellent, thanks to the late, great Luis; unassuming builder and tiny-pencil aficionado Richard; the charming, inventive Chetna; baking prodigy Martha, who is impossible to not root for; and ol’ Norman, who really tried! But it’s the reliable baking of Nancy Birtwhistle, who nailed flavors and execution — and who made chocolate-frosted donuts with faces on them during advanced dough week — and won through talent and perfectionism.

Favorite moment: Like Marie Kondo, I love mess and this season is messy. Season 5 is infamous for Iain dumping his botched baked Alaska in the trash, a truly memorable meltdown moment (that unfortunately resulted in fellow contestant Diana being targeted by online trolls) that clinched his departure. The show is similarly satisfying to watch knowing that Jordan, my arch-nemesis who is unaware of my existence, gets kicked off the show. I don’t care if this makes me sound mean! — Michael McWhertor

Season 6

The contestants for Great British Bake Off season 6 standing in a line outside the tent with hosts Mel and Sue to the right of them.

Image: Roku

Why we think it’s great: As one of the many self-taught bakers who propelled to culinary stardom via the series, few Bake Off contestants have ever been as warm and charismatic as Nadiya Hussain. Since appearing on the show, she has gone on to host a documentary, multiple cooking shows, and has generally become an entrenched presence in the British Baking Universe — and we’re all better for it. Other talented contestants like Tamal Ray and Ian Cumming were also charming, but let’s be real: This was the season of Nadiya. Bonus points for still being in the Mel and Sue and Mary era, Masterclasses and all.

Favorite moment: Alternative ingredients week. My household has dietary restrictions, and it was fun to see the bakers deal with the challenges we have to on a regular basis. —Pete Volk

Season 9

The cast of Great British Bake Off season 9 sitting in a row during the judging of a technical challenge where they were asked to bake wagon wheels.

Image: Netflix

Why we think it’s great: Bake Off seasons can run together. There’s only so many times you can be introduced to the shy, insecure contestant with flabbergastingly incredible skills before they blend together. But season 9, in which so many Star Baker titles went to the scene-stealing talent Rahul Mandal, is the standout of that particular genre of contestant.

Favorite moment: I don’t usually get emotionally invested in the outcome of the contest — may the best baker win! But in one of season 9’s cutaway scenes, it is revealed that Rahul has no family who can travel to the event, and so the special guests of this young, first-generation immigrant are simply the older couple that lives next door. In that moment I knew that I would simply die if he did not make the finale. —Susana Polo

Season 12

The cast of Great British Bake Off season 12 standing behind the hosts and judges.

Image: Netflix

Why we think it’s great: This season is a standout for its excellent contestants, all of whom I enjoyed watching make delicious bakes. I feel like GBBO took a minute to hit its stride again with the introduction of new host Matt Lucas (who has since departed). But I think we can all agree that the showdown between Italian engineer Giuseppe Dell’Anno and German physicist Jürgen Krauss was the season’s high point. Both of them were incredibly kind and understated, and ultimately incredibly fun to watch.

Favorite moment: I lived for every time the camera panned to Giuseppe and Jürgen each using protractors and rulers for their bakes. Jürgen also plays the trombone and though this isn’t in the season, I love that Japanese Breakfast invited him to perform with her in London. —Nicole Clark

Season 13

The cast of Great British Baking Show season 13 standing in front of the judges and hosts.

Image: Netflix

Why we think it’s great: This was another season of huge personalities, from Janusz’s witticisms to Carole’s optimism despite the frazzle. Though the season had its low points — let’s all forget Mexican Week happened — it was also a joy to see a season where the semifinal contestants were all people of color. All three were incredibly talented, through Syabira Yusoff consistently blew everyone out of the water in the season’s second half with her innovative ideas and delicious flavors. I just wish the judges stopped calling her palette “so unusual.”

Favorite moment: It’s a tie between Syabira being flabbergasted every time she won a Star Baker, and anytime Janusz was funnier than the show’s own hosts. (He’s on TikTok, by the way.) —Nicole Clark

The Great British Baking Show: Holidays Season 3, “The Great Festive Baking Show”

The cast of Derry Girls in Great British Bake Off’s famous white tent.

Image: Netflix

Why we think it’s great: This episode stars the cast of the best TV comedy (don’t fight me), Derry Girls. It’s hysterical because the cast is absolutely wonderful; it’s hard to determine whether they’re all in character or whether the show characters are just them, but that’s part of what makes it so funny. Shocking no one, Nicola Coughlan (who plays Clare Devlin) seems to have her wits about her the most, as far as baking goes.

Favorite moment: Can I say all of it? Bake Off contestants are usually extremely accomplished home bakers who give incredibly detailed explanations of their process and inspirations. When the camera pans to Siobhán McSweeney (who plays Sister George Michael), she says, “I have put my sponge into the oven, that is on. And I’m putting it in till it’s baked.” Detailed! We like it. If I truly had to pick one moment, though, it’s probably McSweeney reaching out to Paul Hollywood for a handshake only to have him glare and walk away. —Nicole Clark

The Great British Baking Show: Holidays Season 5, “The Great Festive Baking Show”

Contestants for The Great British Bake Off’s Holiday special, in its third season, standing around a table as confetti falls.

Image: Netflix

Why we think it’s great: The Great British Bake Off’s holiday episodes are absolutely underrated. I like them because they’re a very sweet check-in with some of the show’s best and most charming contestants. The Great New Year’s Bake Off 2022 episode, called “The Great Festive Baking Show” under the The Great British Baking Show: Holidays list on Netflix, is my favorite of the lot because it’s got two of my all-time favorite contestants, Hermine from season 11 and Kim-Joy from season 9.

Favorite moment: When Hermine gets a Paul Hollywood handshake for her apricot custard crumble breakfast buns — she was robbed in her regular season, and while this doesn’t make it right, it is satisfying to see. Throughout, too, Kim-Joy has made exceptionally cute desserts, but her showstopper is a marvel: It’s made out of cookies and stars polar bear Paul and penguin Prue, down to the judge’s signature red glasses. A Kim-Joy classic, there’s also a panda in the scene, too. —Nicole Carpenter

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