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The Great Canadian Baking Show Is The Series We Deserve

Though the original British version has grown nicer, its challenges can't hold a candle to Canada's.

By all accounts, The Great British Bake-Off Baking Show has been a kinder, less Paul Hollywood–dominated series this season. The removal of Matt Lucas, the elimination of international theme weeks, and the addition of broadcaster Alison Hammond, GBBO's first Black co-host, have brought a lighter air to the program's 14th season. Hollywood has been generous with handshakes, the program is paying more heed to culinary legend Prue Leith, and things have bounced back from the dreariness of recent seasons.

But across the Atlantic, GBBO is being eclipsed by its sibling, The Great Canadian Baking Show. (In North America, the British and Canadian programs have to end in "show" because Pillsbury holds the rights to "bake off" here.) Week after week, the Canadians are demonstrating innovation, sophistication, and an even warmer atmosphere than the O.G. baking program, although both hail from Love Productions.

The version from Canada—nicknamed CBC Baking because it airs on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation—can use the same topics and theme music, but it also has the leeway to go beyond the British parameters. That has definitely been the case during the seventh season. While it doesn't have a streaming outlet beyond Canada, episodes are popping onto YouTube within minutes of airing in Canada, allowing American viewers to see them almost in real time.

On The Great Canadian Baking Show, creativity rules

CBC Baking's judges are Bruno Feldeisen, a French chef based on the West Coast, and Kyla Kennaley, who grew up in Ontario, ran a pastry shop in Toronto, and is now based in London. The co-hosts are comedians Alan Shane Lewis, a Second City alumnus, and Ann Pornel, whose hairstyles and colorful clothes have become her signature.

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The bakers come from across Canada, and while the show often nods to their home towns, CBC Baking has moved far beyond Canadian baking classics such as butter tarts and maple-filled sandwich cookies. It's normal for the show to ask bakers to give their take on international flavors and to push them to go well beyond the basic versions of each week's challenges.

During Cookie Week (no fancy "biscuits" here), bakers were instructed to craft cookies that looked embroidered, which required them to pipe intricate patterns onto their baked goods. That led to baker Heather Allen crafting cookies that resembled her grandmother's black shawls. Loic Fauteux-Goulet designed cookies inspired by Arts and Crafts era designer William Morris, while Niv Saberi's cookies resembled a Persian rug.

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CBC Baking’s innovative technical challenges

The technical challenges regularly send me to Google to research what the judges have devised. So far this season, the bakers have been tasked to make an intricate Algerian cookie called Kaak Nakache, which none of them was able to nail perfectly; Rosca de Reyes, a Mexican bread akin to New Orleans King Cake; and Thousand Layer Mooncakes, a Chinese treat eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival with a puff pastry top and taro paste filling.

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If those aren't enough, the group's showstoppers have really been a surprise. To wrap up Cookie Week, the bakers were instructed to make a multi-layered cake from cookie layers. While everyone else went sweet, Kathy Neiman crafted a savory concoction using her own home-cured gravlax. Old School Week called for kitsch cakes, decorated with as much icing and piping as the bakers could layer on.

In the most recent showstopper, the bakers were asked to craft an architectural wonder out of spice cookies. Andrew Evers came up with a three-dimensional windmill while Camila Garcia-Hernandez crafted a colonial building in her native Bogotá, Colombia (she emigrated to Canada at age 23). Fauteux-Goulet designed a sailing ship, and Candice Riley a view of downtown Toronto, complete with the CN Tower.

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Kindness permeates the tent

Given the show's avid audience in Canada, you'd think the attention might be going to the heads of judges Feldeisen and Kennalay, who are among the country's most recognizable broadcast personablities. Instead, week after week, the pair deliver heartfelt compliments and gentle critiques to the bakers.

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Kennaley has been moved to sentimental tears this season by the bakers' results, while Feldeisen doesn't shy away from talking about his traumatic childhood, which has led him to be active in anxiety causes. Each episode features at least one scene in which the two light up with happy smiles when a baker truly delights them.

Like their British co-host counterparts, Lewis and Pornel are heavy on quips, but they take the role seriously. Both provide support to the bakers throughout the chaotic production process, and they're often avidly rooting for contestants to get good mentions from Feldeisen and Kennalay.

This Sunday (November 12), the show holds its semi-final episode, with bakers Evers, Garcia Hernandez, Riley, and Fauteux-Goulet still in the hunt. All but Riley have won the crown as Star Baker during episodes this season, so choosing a winner is tough.

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If I had to guess, I'd say either Evers or Garcia Hernandez might have an edge. But Riley, a mom of three who works in tech, and Fauteux-Goulet, a native of Quebec who is a teacher, have an equal shot.

So, pour yourself a cup of tea, open up your YouTube account, and enjoy watching the flour fly (Robin Hood flour, by the way, the show's most prominent sponsor). You'll wonder why you haven't been watching this one alongside GBBO marathons all along.

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