One of my favorite hobbies is baking. I’ve always said that when I retire from medicine, I want to become a baker. However, when I’m at school and don’t have access to baking ingredients or equipment, I turn to the next best thing: watching the Great British Baking Show. Over the last decade or so, this show (which was originally called the Great British Bake-off and is colloquially referred to as GBBO), has become a global sensation. If you haven’t gotten into it yet, now is the time to start! In this post I will explain the layout of the show, how it differs from American cooking/baking shows, and some interesting facts for those who do watch the show.
Each season of GBBO takes place in Britain, in a giant white tent on an open field. The competition starts off with 12 bakers, and one is voted off each week until 3 bakers arrive at the finale on week 10. While the judges and hosts have been shuffled around throughout the years and different iterations of the show, the famously particular judge and baker Paul Hollywood has been a fixture since the beginning. Receiving a handshake from Paul Hollywood after he’s thoroughly enjoyed your food is almost as much of an accomplishment as winning Star Baker.
Speaking of Star Baker, at the end of each week, the contestant who did the best in that week’s challenges is named the Star Baker. Each week has a different baking theme, ranging from biscuits, to bread, to chocolate, to cake. Two challenges (the signature and the technical) take place on Saturday, while the third challenge (the showstopper) takes place on Sunday. In the signature challenge, the amateur bakers to show off their tried-and-tested recipes for bakes they might make for their friends and family. Next, in the technical, the bakers are all given the same recipe and are not told beforehand what the challenge will be. The finished products are judged blind and ranked from worst to best. They place their bakes behind the person’s photo. This challenge requires enough technical knowledge and experience to produce a certain finished product when given only limited – or even minimal – instructions. Finally, in the showstopper, the bakers must show off their skills and talent by creating a masterpiece bake based on the judge’s instructions and that week’s theme. It should have a professional appearance, but should also be outstanding in flavors.
Speaking of flavors, it is important is important to mention that GBBO differs from American cooking/baking shows in a few ways. One of the most striking for me has been the ingredients that the bakers use, as some of them are almost unheard of in baked goods in the United States. Examples include rosewater, bubblegum flavoring, passionfruit, lavender, Chaste Tree, treacle, cream soda flavoring, sultanas, sage, and many others that I can’t recall at the moment!
Another important difference in GBBO deals with an overall culture difference. American culture, and consequently, American competition shows, are highly based on fierce competitiveness, individualism, and the importance of the prize. Most Americans who begin watching GBBO are rather shocked to witness the bakers acting fairly calm, helping their competitors when something goes wrong, and even crying when a competitor they have befriended is voted off instead of them. Even weirder, the contestants go through a truly grueling application process and 10 weeks of competition, all for the prize of a glass plate. Of course, the real prize is being the best amateur baker, but it was quite the shock after watching all the money and prize-based shows in America!
In sum, if you’re feeling stressed or bored, I would highly recommend sitting down with a cookie and a cup of tea to watch this absurd, addicting, and highly enjoyable show.