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Shows We're Watching: Rachel Allen Bake! on the Cooking Channel

"I loved the inclusion of a purely informational segment. Not many cooking shows have the confidence to shift the camera from the face of an engaging star."

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Rachel Allen in action. [Photograph: Rachel Allen's website]

Last week the much-awaited Cooking Channel launched, and along with this new network comes a whole slew of new shows and stars. We thought we'd introduce you to some of our favorite new shows, starting with Rachel Allen: Bake!

Rachel Allen has actually already been a cooking show host for some time on BBC, not to mention her work as a food writer and cooking instructor at a culinary school in Cork, Ireland. The premise of her new Cooking Channel show is easy, approachable baking. As she says in the beginning of this episode: "So many people are intimidated by baking, but I want to show you that it is far easier and quicker than you might think."

Sounds like a pretty typical approach to baking for novices. But already charmed by Allen's gentle Irish accent and pretty smile, I was hoping she would take this mainstream concept to a higher level.

The first segment is direct, eyes-to-camera recipe preparation. The pace of the cooking instruction is fairly quick. She wastes no time in prepping her first recipe, an Apple Tart Tatin. It comes out beautifully, and I believe her insistence that this was indeed a simple pastry. Lots of glamor shots of caramel-drenched apples didn't hurt the appeal of this recipe.

The second segment features Allen giving instruction to a class of cooking school students. Again, the pace was quick—but it was nice to break up the traditional cooking-show format by having other people participate in the baking. At times I wasn't entirely sure that the students were keeping up with Allen's rapid-fire comments, but her airy smile and check-ups kept them on track. Everyone's "lovely, luscious" chocolate cake batter ended up in the oven.

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Showing a student how to make yummy cake. [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

Then, we move into the hills of Calandar, Scotland, to visit with baker Tom Lewis, who shows us his traditional methods of bread-baking. I learned a lot from this segment. Apparently, "Scots like a tinned loaf", as opposed to those crazy formless European loaves. Also, there was a somewhat unaccounted-for comment by chef Lewis that "when you're a baker, you drink at odd hours!" Alrighty then.

In any event, I loved the inclusion of a purely informational segment. Not many cooking shows have the confidence to shift the camera from the face of an engaging star. Allen is well able to share the stage, and seems to understand that hosting is about teaching as well as shining.

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Allen and Louis smell some tasty, tasty white bread. [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

The concluding segment shows the students frosting, assembling, and feasting upon their Chocolate Cakes with Chocolate-Buttercream Frosting. This scene was somewhat reminiscent of the typical Giada de Laurentiis end-of-episode revelry, but less self-indulgent.

Overall, I loved that Allen was able to take a backseat to her product, her students, and her guest—while still clearly driving the car and keeping a glowing smile on her face. This was a promising show. I'll be watching again!

Did anyone else catch Allen's new show? What did you think?

Check cookingchanneltv.com/rachel-allen for the show's air times.

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