Why the Rainbow Bagel Challenge on the “Great British Bake-Off” Does Everyone a Disservice

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Great British Bake-Off
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

My Brooklyn-born mother taught me to turn my nose up at a bad bagel before I even possessed the words to express my opinions. As a tween, I watched in horror as my Long-Island-raised dad lectured an unsuspecting ski-lodge worker, likely on a gap year from Australia, on why the object labeled “a bagel” in the cafeteria was little more than a bread roll with a hole in it. (My father is actually Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it is not as funny as you think it is.) I do not come from folks who suffer subpar bagels — the disdain flows from my mouth as easily as Shabbat prayers — as a part of my Jewish birthright.

So last Friday when a new episode of the Great British Bake-Off featured rainbow bagels for “bread week,” it gave me pause. Rainbow bagels are, to borrow a word my late grandfather loved, meshugganah.

Paul Hollywood chose rainbow bagels for the technical challenge, saying, “The rainbow colors for me, although it originated over in the States, I think it represents the NHS.” The NHS, for those unfamiliar, is the United Kingdom National Health Service, and they have recently adopted the rainbow colors as a sign of “hope and peace” during COVID-19. This has understandably received some backlash from the LGBTQ+ community for co-opting an important symbol of pride.

But outside the politics of choosing a rainbow bagel for the challenge, the biggest issue I had with this week’s episode has less to do with trend versus tradition and more to do with good television. Sure, they got the Instagram-friendly version with the winners, the bright patterns in pretty circles. But I think viewers lacked the information to opine on the bagels themselves. Without the blank canvas of dough, I couldn’t tell the wrinkled skin of an over-proofed bagel from the microblistered and bronzed sheen of a perfect one. The rainbow obscured any depth perception for the audience, making it difficult to discern the texture on the inside (cutting them with a knife, rather than tearing them in the judging only made it more difficult).

In the end, the viewer was left only to judge the bagels by the bakers’ use of food coloring and Paul Hollywood’s opinions. And I’m as ready to trust a Brit about bagels as I’m ready to trust TikTok on citrus squeezing.