When it first hit Netflix in 2018, binge-watching The Great British Bake Off (or Baking Show, as it’s known stateside) was an absolute salve for our Trump-era nerves. The calming vibe of the tent, soothing British accents, and endlessly charming contestants were an instant hit in the States, a complete 180 away from intense cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef. But the intervening years have brought some Bake Off fatigue, thanks to repetitive baking challenges and increasingly inane stunts from the show’s hosts. But now there’s a new, totally refreshing riff on the format that makes it totally worth revisiting, if only for its cast of extremely adorable kid contestants.
Added to Netflix on July 29, the generically titled Junior Baking Show is easy to miss among the platform’s sea of content. For whatever reason, the show doesn’t air as Junior Bake-Off in the United States, and at first, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was actually a Bake Off spin-off. That confusion was immediately cleared up when the iconic tent appeared, though judge Paul Hollywood is nowhere to be found, at least not anymore. Hollywood and his GBBO co-judge Mary Berry were judges on the first season of JBO, but have since been replaced by former GBBO contestant Liam Charles and pastry chef Ravneet Gill. The format is also slightly different, with just two challenges — a technical that’s judged blind, and of course, the show-stopper challenge.
The only season of JBO available on Netflix at present is the sixth season, which aired in the UK in 2021. In the first episode, the eight contestants are tasked with making a “sky’s the limit fantasy bake” in just two hours, and the results are beyond impressive. Some of the attempts are, of course, a little messy, but there are plenty of grown-ups among us who wouldn’t be able to make a cake inspired by our wildest dreams in two freaking hours. These kids may not have the same polish as the competitors on a show like MasterChef Junior, but they’re absolutely brimming with heart.
As you watch through the show’s eight episodes, it’s impossible to pick a favorite among the contestants — you’re going to want to root for every single kid. There’s the supremely talented Reece, a 14-year-old who is capable of making a stunning ombre-frosted cake, a feat I, a 34-year-old adult, could not accomplish given any amount of time. Ten-year-old Fyn brings style to the tent with his personalized sweatbands, while 14-year-old CeCe manages to navigate each challenge with a supernaturally calm demeanor.
Admittedly, it can be a little anxiety-inducing to watch children struggle to make a caramel or get the cake batter just right, but when they succeed, it’s a total triumph. Watching these kids come together to help each other in times of baking crisis is enough to warm even the coldest, most cynical hearts. And there’s no denying that these contestants are very capable bakers, even as they struggle with the time constraints and being tall enough to carefully place their bakes into the freezer.
To be sure, JBO isn’t perfect. It seems a little ridiculous that the kids are only given two hours to complete their show-stopper bakes, a time constraint that would give even the most skilled baker agita. There’s also a pretty substantial age gap between the contestants — some are as old as 15, others as young as 10 — which does seem a little unfair at times. But overall, even though we’ve seen bakers make cakes and biscuits and breads countless times, the unpredictably creative nature of a kid’s brain makes these challenges somehow feel fresh again.
Rarely are the grown-up GBBO contestants completely happy to get their clothes completely covered in blue food coloring, or really let their imaginations run wild in deeply kooky ways. Across the eight available episodes, Junior Bake-Off brings back the elements of natural whimsy and fun that have been desperately missed in these last few seasons of the Great British Bake-Off. The show’s been on the air since 2011 in the U.K., and I’d be happy to binge-watch all those episodes as soon as Netflix makes them available.