Whether you watch on Channel 4 or use Netflix, The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show in the US) is often a highlight of your week. Since 2010, twelve bakers have entered a tent on the gorgeous grounds of an English estate to see which of them is the best amateur baker in the United Kingdom. Unlike some reality shows, GBBO almost goes out of its way to highlight camaraderie and support rather the focusing on cutthroat competition, which makes it uplifting viewing for many. The content is judged by experts Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, and early on by Mary Berry and has been presented by a number of comedians such as Mel Gidroyc, Sue Perkins, Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding, and Matt Lucas. If you wanted to know more about one of television’s most feel-good series, sink your teeth into these ten facts.
A Different Flavor of Title
The show is called the Great British Baking Show in the United States and the Great British Bake Off in the UK because of a trademark issue in the States. Starting in 1949, Pillsbury had its own Pillsbury Bake Off competition that aired on TV in the US. Since 2002, the Pillsbury competition has been on various cable networks, but it still preempts GBBO in getting to use the term “Bake Off” on this side of the pond.
Auditioning Your Bake
The auditioning process is quite a grueling one and for good reason. On average, GBBO gets 12,000 applications from across Britain. The application itself is a fairly long one (seven pages) that requires a great amount of detail of your baking experience, personality, and background in order to deter less-series applicants. For the first audition, applicants have to get on the phone with a researcher for 45 minutes, bring two bakes to the audition in London, then a screen test and interview with a producer. If they get past the first audition, the second audition requires them to bake two recipes in front of cameras and an interview with a psychologist to make sure they’re up for filming 16 hours a day.
Keeping Your Show Ingredients Separated
It may seem like Paul and Prue/Mary have a lot of interaction with the contestants, but that’s all the magic of television. In reality, the judges are kept separate from the contestants for most of the filming to maintain impartiality, only coming into the tent to do a “royal tour” to talk to the bakers about their bakes for the camera. The judges also stay in a separate hotel from the bakers during filming.
The Dreaded Technical
Just about every baker fears the Technical challenge, which is usually set by Paul or Prue/Mary based upon one of their very own recipes. While the Technical challenge certainly seems challenging, it could be a lot harder if not for one person in the production crew. The show has a food researcher who makes sure that the judges’ selection for the Technical is actually possible to do based on the ingredients, instructions, and available time.
Well before they became the first hosts of GBBO, Mel and Sue were a comedy partnership. The two were approached together to host for the first series in 2010 and left together in 2017 when the show jumped from the BBC to Channel 4. Later presenters Noel, Sandi, and Matt have often worked together on other projects, but don’t have the same history as the show’s original presenters.
The episodes for the show are filmed over the weekends for 12-13 weeks and up to 16 hours per day. Bakers, presenters, and judges are required to wear the same clothes all weekend. The Signature and Technical challenges film on Saturdays while the Showstopper films on Sunday. For the 2020 season, filming was done in half the normal time (about six weeks) due to COVID and the contestants had to live in a “bubble” during filming for safety reasons.
Planning Your Recipe in Advance
With the exception of the Technical challenge, the bakers are told of the various challenges in advance and have to send their proposed bakes to the producers in advance for approval.
Just as coveted as the Star Baker award given out each week is the so-called “Hollywood Handshake”. Paul Hollywood is well-known for his high standards, so it’s considered a great honor when he shakes a baker’s hand over the job they’ve done. So far, Paul has given out 44 “Hollywood Handshakes” since the show began in 2010 (out of a total of 3,600 challenges).
The Also-Dreaded “Soggy Bottom”
A soggy bottom occurs to a bake that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly enough, resulting in a cake or crust that is very moist and thus too soft on the bottom. The term was coined by Paul and Mary during the first series and has become something of a running joke for contestants and fans alike.
The Most Important Part of the Bake—The Oven
Production crew actually bake a Victoria sponge cake in the ovens every day to ensure they’re functioning properly. Bakers have to call a camera crew over every time they’re ready to put something into or take it out of the oven. This is because the show producers want to have good footage of every stage of the bakes.