Tonight, The Great American Baking Show (the American counterpart to the British phenom) returns to ABC with a two-hour premiere for a holiday edition. Bakers from across the country will again compete to be crowned “America’s best amateur baker,” and you can bet gingerbread will be involved.
This season, for the first time ever, also sees a Seattleite competing. Bianca Jackson entered the fray with a little anxiety about cooking for judges like pastry chef Sherry Yard, who’s won three James Beard awards, and Paul Hollywood, who hosts The Great British Baking Show.
“I’m sure my heart was beating so fast the first time they came up to me to ask what I was making,” Jackson told me. “To have people who really know [baking] come and taste your food—it’s an honor.”
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Jackson spends her days as user experience designer at Pro.com, a Seattle startup. While she has plenty of food-based design projects under her belt, her love for baking is best showcased through her home-based bakery project, Bianca Bakes. Growing up watching her grandmother whip up various confections, Jackson now treats friends and family with Southern-inspired, edible works of art, from buttery biscuits to pistachio and dried fruit buns. Photos of colorful, graphic cakes with frosting shaped to look like textured oil paintings adorn Jackson’s website and Instagram.
With her creative spirit in tow, Jackson and the other contestants departed for a month-long stint in England to bake under the infamous white baking tent where the competition takes place. While there may have been debates on the cookie vs. biscuit issue, the most daunting roadblocks the bakers faced were the grueling Technical Challenges, in which contestants make a recipe on the spot, with vague instructions and no preparation.
Stressors aside and pastry chef knowledge fully engaged, Jackson says the whole experience “solidified her passion for baking.” Will we be awed by a Space Needle–shaped gingerbread tower? We’ll have to wait and see.
Updated on Friday, December 13 at 2:24 to reflect that Bianca Bakes is a project for family and friends, not a business.