Friday, August 31, 2012

Must Watch Friday: The Great British Bake Off

PHS Editor Michelle Styles explains about her latest Tuesday night addiction -- the Great British Bake Off

Like all addictions, it started simply. My daughter went to university and became involved in the Baking Society. I enjoy baking and wanted to support her so for Christmas, I got her the cookbook from the 2012 Great British Bake Off -- The Great British Bake Off How to Bake the Perfect Victoria Sponge and other baking secrets.  It would help her, I figured and I had vaguely heard of the programme. In the meantime unbeknown to me, my daughter watched all the episodes of GBBO and had become hooked on the finer points of baking. She came home spouting things like she wanted to make a croquembouche -- a pyramid of profiteroles (choux pastry) filled with cream and topped with caramel and wouldn't be great if she could make a coffee walnut battenburg cake. My daughter was also appalled that I hadn't watched the show as she was sure I'd love it. Normally I'm not a fan of reality television.
Over the Christmas period, they did show a shortened version with celebrities doing the baking for the Sports Relief charity. it was good fun but I wondered if they had made things easier for the celebrities.
I have waited until two weeks ago for the show to come back on the BBC to see if it is as good as people including my daughter were saying. And yes it is.
It is utterly addictive and makes you want to bake. Once you have seen it, you begin to understand why it is so popular. It is just pleasant and comforting but also educational.
 The Great British Bake Off is a reality television show where the 12 contestants face 3 challenges each week -- a signature bake, a technical challenge and a show stopper. They are given a general theme for the signature bake and the show stopper but they go into the technical challenge blind. The signature bake is supposed to be a tried and trusted family recipe where as the show stopper is supposed to be something that would be produced for a party. The technical challenges all have basic instructions but no hints.  Each week is a different aspect of baking from cakes one week to breads the next and tarts the week after as well as patisserie and meringues. It is not just about how things look but how they taste, their flavour and the quality of their bake. All the contestants are amateur bakers and  none do it professionally.
There are two judges -- Mary Berry who is the venerable Queen of cakes and baking in the UK (I have used her Aga cookbook for many years -- her recipes just work.Always.) and Paul Hollywood who is a master bread baker.  They both know what they are doing but are prepared to be surprised. Their expressions make the show. Paul with his deep blue eyes and Mary with her lip curl. Each week, one person is voted the star baker and another is sent home. This continues until someone is crowned The Great British Bake Off champion. Last year, the woman who won was a stay-at-home-mother who was doing this for herself. there are also a few masterclasses at the end of the season.
My daughter now goes -- I'm going to go all Mary Berry about this...when she eats anything baked.
After last season, British supermarkets suddenly woke up to the fact that people did bake. Rather than having a limited range, it is now possible to find all manner of baking things. The at home baker in Britain has never been as catered for as the in the US. (The size of packet for chocolate chips remains a sore point however.)
There are plenty of hints on how to do things and it is wonderful to see the contestants rise to the challenge (or not). Sometimes, it is seeing the proud humbled.  And there are the double entendres.
I have watched with my hand over my mouth, not quite believing at times that someone would do that. Or occasionally, knowing all to well what is about to happen and wincing in sympathy.
 In the opening episode, with the Rum Baba challenge, one lady decided to go for a bain marie. Her rum baba rings came up very limp and boiled, instead of looking like a baked doughnut. In the same challenge, a male contestant mixed up the salt and sugar and dusted his pans with salt which he then tried to shave off before it came time for the judges to taste. Mary Berry's face was a picture when she tried it.
 It was great fun last week, when another male contestant had forgotten to read the treacle tart recipe to the end and had about 100 ml of golden syrup left over (to his horror!). He did a running repair on the tart, pulling it out of the oven, pricking it full of holes and drizzling the sysrup over. Amazingly, the judges were very complimentary on it and he lived to fight on. The contestants are mixture of men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. One father of two turned out be fantastic at cake baking and presentation. He was less good at bread. The star cake baker from the first week who runs a charity fell down with her pastry cream.  And the  nervous young mother seems to be growing in confidence every week.
My youngest son has become very intrigued with the whole idea of baking. Suddenly baking bread is cool, particularly with an 8 plaited loaf is involved. He thought it would be easy, but soon discovered, after downloading the recipe and attempting the loaf, that it was actually quite difficult. Because the male medical student had a 8 year old sour dough starter which he nurtured, my son has started his own sour dough. I did explain to him that sour dough is not for the faint hearted (I once kept a starter going for several years -- pre novel writing days). He is now busy reading some of my bread books and wants to try the difficult ones.
It is just a very pleasant way to pass an hour. Watch it if you can or better still try the recipes.
And on Sunday Downton Abbey returns for its 3rd season....this is another addiction. It is also a programme which calls out for cake.
I understand that Call the Midwife will be on PBS this autumn. It is another feel good period piece and is sure to charm any fan of Downton or indeed medical romance. I was tempted to write about this programme BUT GBBO won out because it is just so much fun. It is a programme to watch with all the family.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance. Her next book Hattie Wilkinson Meets Her Match is published in November. You learn more about Michelle's books on her website She also bakes.


  1. Love. love, love the Great British Back Off. As for Paul Hollywood's eyes........that's inspiration for whole other story!

    1. Back off???how did that happen??

      Bake off!!

    2. Hooray there is another Bake Off fan!
      Paul Hollywood's eyes are great. I do occassionally have differences of opinions with him about how long sourdough takes to mature, and so reverted to screaming at the screen. BUT it is half the fun.
      I also didn't like his infamous foccacia recipe. I prefer Loccatelli's one.
      It is just a Must Watch, preferably with something baked to eat.
      last week we had cupcakes that my daughter made from her Cupcake Diaries cookbook -- I can understand why the queues are around the block in Georgetown for these cupcakes. The recipe was really worked!