It’s that time of year again when Britain implodes with cake-induced excitement because The Great British Bake Off is back on 24th August. Although it seems impossible to us cake lovers, there are people out there who don’t know and love the show. If you’re not familiar with the concept of GBBO, here’s the essentials to give you a head start – because boy oh boy will you need them to get through the next few months of small talk in your student accommodation opened with, “so did you watch Bake Off last night?”.
The innuendo-fuelled wonders that are comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins host GBBO. Mel and Sue have arguably the best job in the world and act pretty much how anyone would when surrounded by yummy baked goods – by eating them all the time. Sue will usually cause havoc by eating something she is not supposed to mid-way through a bake, whilst Mel provides the contestants with moral support when it all goes wrong. They do have the tricky job of delivering the name of the eliminated baker each week, but are best known for their catchphrase: “On your marks, get set, BAKE!”
Legendary TV baker Mary Berry and her silver-fox side-kick Paul Hollywood, affectionately known as Bez and Paul, are the judges on Bake Off. Mary, despite frequently reminding you of your gran, is as cheeky as they come with a wicked sense of humour. She is generally more forgiving than Paul, but if she is disappointed after her famous side-bite into a biscuit the bakers are saddened beyond words. Paul’s steely blue-eyed gaze sends even the most composed bakers into a frenzy. Bread is his specialty, but he won’t hold back if he doesn’t like your profiteroles either.
The contestants are all amateur self-taught bakers, with twelve being whittled down to one winner over the course of a series. By the end of the show, you will feel like you know them all personally after seeing little snapshots into their day-to-day lives and joining them on the emotional rollercoaster that is GBBO. You will have a favourite from early on, and each week’s elimination will become a hotly debated topic. Last year’s winner Nadia Hussain has become a household name and national treasure for being a brilliant baker and a lovely person.
Where to begin – from cookies to macarons, gateaux to plaited loaves, if it can be baked it is bound to feature on the show. Even if you have never made a pork pie with hand raised hot water pastry, you will become a self-proclaimed expert after just a few episodes. Key factors that Mary and Paul look for in all the bakes are a good balance in flavour, techniques used and appearance. Prioritise one above the others at your peril.
Almost as famous as the host and the judges is the venue – the Bake Off Tent. The tent houses the entire competition and is the church at which GBBO super fans worship. It protects our beloved bakers from all the extreme weather of a British summer and is annexed by Paul and Mary’s judging marquee/chill out tent. Packed with all the latest cooking gear and ingredients, the tent is the arena for the British equivalent of a gladiator battle to the death.
The most important rule is that the bakers must be amateurs. Aside from that, the format of the show is: three bakes per week, the signature bake, the technical challenge and the showstopper (in that order). The bakers open the show with their own interpretation of a bake suggested by the judges. Then comes the infinitely trickier technical challenge, where the bakers have no idea what is coming. Mary and Paul exit the tent as the contestants frantically try and make sense of a recipe that usually has parts missing to add to the drama. Their bakes are then judged blind and ranked. Finally, the big one – the showstopper. This one does what it says on the tin, and more often than not acts as last chance saloon for the bakers that have been having a shocker that week. Be prepared for something special here, from cakes shaped like peacocks to bread lions.
If all that has left you feeling a bit overwhelmed, have no fear. For a few months, Britain becomes a better, fluffier, cake-filled island with Bake Off around. The atmosphere both on and off the show is a tense, funny, joyous celebration of all things cake – all taken with a pinch of salt because at the end of the day, a bad bake isn’t the end of the world.
You will be able to watch series 7 of The Great British Bake Off, tune in to BBC 1 at 8pm on 24th August – and with a lovely 32" TV in your accommodation to watch it on, why wouldn't you? You might even feel inspired to create your own culinary masterpiece in your fully equipped kitchen.