Are you as in love with The Great British Baking Show (GBBS) as I am? Have you ever dreamed of being under the big white tent baking your heart out for Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry? Even now that Mary’s gone, I often imagine myself dreaming up new flavor combinations in hopes of wowing Prue and defiantly meeting Paul’s steely gaze.
Although I’d probably go down in the first week because I don’t know a Swiss meringue from an Italian meringue, every time I watch the show I can’t help but think about what I would do to put my own twist on a signature bake. I’ve even tried one or two of the technical bakes at home (albeit with the full recipe instead of the pared-down version the contestants have to deal with!).
So I’ve had a Julie & Julia moment. You know, the 2009 movie about the young woman who decides to spend a year cooking her way through Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking and blogging about it? Yes, that one. I’ve decided to embark on my own odyssey—my own Great British Baking Challenge—to attempt to create my own version of each of the bakes that the contestants have had to produce for the judges under the tent for every season—at least for the seasons they’ve let us watch in the U.S. so far. (For more details about which season is which, see this post.) And I hope that you will join me!
I’ve taken on this challenge because I want to improve my own baking skills, but I’m also hoping that you, my (soon-to-be, hopefully) faithful readers, will want to learn along with me. One of my favorite things about the GBBS is watching the participants cheer each other on and help each other out. So let’s create our own virtual tent, where we can test our skills and share in each others’ successes—and failures!
How the GBBS Works
As you know, each episode of the show has a different theme and is divided into three bakes (That’s a Britishism for “a sweet or savory food baked in an oven.”)—the signature bake, the technical challenge and the showstopper. An hour-long episode is filmed over the course of a weekend: On Saturday, the contestants start off with the signature bake, which is designed to showcase their tried-and-true recipes while fitting in with that week’s theme—be it cakes, breads, puddings, etc. That is followed by the technical challenge, a surprise recipe chosen by the judges and then pared down with minimal instructions to test the participants’ knowledge and intuition. On Sunday, they come back to the tent to create their showstopper, which is another creation of the contestants’ own choosing, but it must meet the parameters given by the judges, and it’s meant to both look and taste like something a professional pastry chef would make.
Because the participants get to go home during the week, they have the opportunity to practice both their signature bakes and their showstoppers. In fact, they are told about all the signature and showstopper challenges before filming ever begins, so they actually have many weeks to prepare. Only the technical challenge is a surprise on the day they enter the tent to make it.
How Will My Challenge Work?
I’m starting my Great British Baking Challenge with what PBS called Season 5—and Netflix is calling The Beginnings—but what was actually the third season in the U.K. (again, see the sidebar if you’re confused), partly because it’s the earliest one I have access to and I like to do things in order, but also because, as anyone who’s watched at least three seasons of the GBBS can tell, the challenges are getting harder! Paul Hollywood even admitted as much in a recent interview!
If you decide to join me on this adventure, we will have some distinct advantages, but also some disadvantages, compared to the actual GBBS contestants. Assuming we’ve all seen the episodes already, we know what the challenges will be, including the technical challenges, and we won’t have the pared-down recipes but the full recipes from the BBC and Channel 4 websites. We’ll also have the hindsight of seeing the results of each of the participants’ bakes and hearing the judges’ opinions, so hopefully we can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes.
On the other hand, I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to spend a lot of time practicing my bakes. While the real contestants can concentrate their efforts over a few weeks’ time, we will be fitting our baking time into our already busy schedules, meaning this challenge could take years to complete! So rather than trying a recipe multiple times in an attempt to perfect it, I will probably offer you, my dear readers, a glimpse at my first and, possibly, last attempt at any given bake, whether I fail or vote myself Star Baker!
Another advantage, for me at least, is that I won’t be timing myself. Bakers on the GBBS are given a time limit to complete each challenge, depending on the difficulty and the time required for each one. This is partly because of the limitations of the show, since they only have a weekend to film each episode, but also to add to the drama of trying to create some pretty elaborate bakes in a limited amount of time. I’d rather take the time needed to learn the techniques and do the best I can without the artificial time constraints put on the contestants.
As for disadvantages, I won’t have access to all the special equipment the contestants on the GBBS are provided for their bakes, and I’ll bet you won’t either (Anyone have a madeleine tin I could borrow?), so we’ll either have to buy them or make do with what we already have. We also may not be able to find all the ingredients required for some of the technical challenges (I’d never heard of mastic and mahleb until Season 6!), so let’s do our best and maybe put an American spin on some British classics!
And one more disadvantage … I won’t have anyone to clean up after me! Apparently on the show, as soon as the participants are done with their bakes, they go outside and wait for the production crew to clean up their work stations before coming back in for the judging! There’s even one person that does all the dishes by hand because automatic dishwashers would make too much noise! So unless you have a live-in maid or super-obedient children or a Stepford partner, I’m guessing you’re in the same boat.
First Challenge: Upside-Down Cake
Starting next week, I plan to embark on my Great British Baking Challenge with the first signature bake—an upside-down cake.
I hope you will join me in this challenge. Even if you don’t try every bake (And I don’t blame you if you don’t—half of me thinks I’m crazy for trying this!), you can learn along with me as I attempt new recipes, try out novel flavor combinations and hopefully master some of the techniques every home baker should know. Comment below and let me know if you want to give it a try, and as Mel and Sue (and now Sandi and Noel) would say, “On your marks, get set, … BAKE!”