10 Things I've Learned from the Great British Baking Show

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Who doesn't love the Great British Baking Show? Not only is it persistently positive and mostly void of interpersonal drama, but it also inspires and celebrates home bakers. I've walked away from each season with new baking knowledge and skills that have greatly improved my bread, cakes, and fancy desserts. I once even attempted an apricot galette - which is basically a rustic French pie. And it was delicious. To celebrate my love for baking and to express gratitude for the only show that can successfully see me through pre-bedtime anxiety attacks, I give you, in no particular order of importance, the 10 things I've learned from the Great British Baking Show.

  1. It is the most wonderful experience in the world to let people surprise you with their hidden talents. Every season has had a contestant whose daytime occupation seemed in opposition to their baking hobby. These people, including a general contractor, an engineer, a prison warden, and a pediatrician I personally would assume to be too busy or completely disinterested in baking. And yet, those same people were skilled enough in baking to make it on the show, some of them even to the finals with their amazing bakes. You can't judge a person on their looks or their occupation. A lot of times their skills and talents overlap and play off one another in ways that directly contribute to their success. So, if you are one of those people who swing the giant balls that demolish buildings AND you love creating intricate little caramel decorations for your petite fours - freaking go for it! You're amazing.
  2. There is not always a right or wrong way to do something. A lot of bakers on the show make something in the way that their families or they personally enjoy eating. Though these bakes may not meet the judges' standards, it is easy to tell that a lot of passion, time, and consideration for their loved ones goes in to the creations we see on the show. There is absolutely nothing wrong with baking something with love. Sure, it may not make you THE Greatest British Baker, but it certainly makes you a great one nonetheless.
  3. I will never forget the time in season 1 that Ian threw his baked Alaska in the trash because he felt it wouldn't win the challenge. Even though the rest of his bakes were very good, because he had nothing to show for his efforts the judges had to send him home that week. It broke my heart to see him leave! But I learned an important lesson from watching. It is always better to try and fail than to not try at all. All the judges wanted to see was his best effort, but they never got to because he hid it away before they could judge him. That knowledge alone has encouraged me in my own creative pursuits. Keep trying, don't trash it, and give it your best.
  4. Apparent in the case of Ian's baked Alaska and a lot of other contestant's bakes is this surprising fact: It does not have to be beautiful to be good. So many creations have won challenges on merits of texture, flavor, finish, and the pure luck of just once being better than the rest. There have been beautifully decorated cakes, perfectly colored breads, and inventive chocolate delivery systems (looking at you, Season 3 Ian) that did not win challenges. On the flip side, there have been some downright ugly looking bakes that surprised everyone, sometimes even winning Star Baker! So, I think its important to remember that presentation is not always everything - its whats inside that counts.
  5. There is a good chance that someone will be better than you, even at your best thing. Don't let this discourage you! Try to see this as a learning opportunity. Your only job is to believe in yourself and give whatever it is it your very best anyway. Leave the comparison to the judges.
  6. Sometimes the difference between Star Baker and just another person in the tent is the willingness to accept and take criticisms to heart. Sometimes watching Paul Hollywood judge technical challenges makes me feel SO bad for the bakers. But what I do know is that the audience doesn't get to see is the time the judges make to teach and constructively critique the bakers so they can succeed in future challenges. Flexibility and the willingness to learn makes you a better baker (or artist, or writer, or parent, or.... you get the point).
  7. Paul Hollywood is infamous for his harsh critiques and high standards. Its no wonder contestants shiver and sometimes crack under his scrutiny. There have even been times where Paul just outright tells bakers that he doesn't think their bakes will be very good. One of my favorite PH quotes comes from season 2 when Paul didn't believe in Beca's chocolate orange cake and straight up told her so. In the end, it turned out beautifully. One of the most glorious moments in my television-watching life was hearing Paul say, "I annoyingly really like that." So when someone doesn't believe you, maybe even especially when its Paul Hollywood, don't let it stop you. Try anyway and surprise us all.
  8. Who you are is important and makes you special. I love watching contestants flavor their bakes and fillings with spices, meats, and fruits from their family's countries and childhoods. It makes the show interesting and above all, I can see in their eyes the excitement they have for sharing a piece of themselves with the judges. When something is meaningful to you, share it. It blesses everyone to take part in the simple joys of life. 
  9. Practice practice practice and then practice some more. You don't get good at anything unless you've tried and failed and tried again. Take notes. Experiment. Study. Ask for advice. Then practice again. I have a cinnamon roll recipe I've used for years and only recently have I started experimenting with different fillings. All that practice has paid off - it is by far and wide the best thing I can bake, and people are always excited when I do.
  10. Its okay to cry. I have seen so many tears on this show and it always touches me. These people love being in the tent and they want every opportunity to keep trying. Its okay to be disappointed, afraid, nervous, heartbroken, and devastated. Even over miniature meringue pavlovas. Its okay to let the things that are important to you be important to you. And simply because I can't choose one to eliminate from the 10...
  11. The experience is its own reward. There is no money prize for the winner of the Great British Baker title. They go home with a lovely bouquet and an etched glass cake stand.  I think this minimalist prize really drives home the real purpose of the show - to just simply be there and try your best. And that is a good approach not just on TV, but to life.

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