15 Real Tips We Learned From The Great British Bake Off

Quick game of trivia:

 (Photo: Izy Hosack/Food52)

If you said the World Cup final, which aired in July 2014 and drew 20 million viewers, you would be correct.

But in second place came a television event that’s a bit less athletic but no less competitive: the October 2015 finale of , with a peak of 14.5 million viewers.

And even for the regular episodes, those not as riveting as the finale, “10 million Britons switch on their TV sets each Wednesday evening,” The Guardian reported. And that’s “to watch a baking contest filmed in a tent in the countryside.”

(Photo: Bobbi Lin/Food52)

G.B.B.O. has plenty of fans at Food52, as well. As Marketing Coordinator Catherine O’Donnell put it:

The Brits take all the competition and cutthroat nature of American baking shows and flush it down the loo! This is the happiest, most feel-good show out there. I wish I could be in that group hug.

(Photo: Bobbi Lin/Food52)

And while the show warms our hearts and makes us want to be better people (it’s true!), it also offers important, kitchen-applicable lessons about baking. “I am NOT a great baker,” said Director of Events Francesca Andreani, “and watching this show has actually taught me a ton. They don’t forgo the technical talk and advice for more drama, like so many other reality programs do.”

And so, the tips the bakers and non-bakers at Food52 have learned (so far).

1)

When the contestants in the 2014 season were assigned to bake kouign-amann for their technical challenge, not one person had even tasted one.

With bated breath, we, the doting audience, learned alongside the bake-testants: how to pronounce the name of this Breton pastry (queen-ah-mohn); how to laminate the dough; and how to incorporate the sugar (only on the top-most layer! Otherwise, it melts into and weighs down the pastry, making it more compact than flakey).

(Photo: Yossy Arefi/Food52)

Since the airing of the 2014 epiosde, kouign-amann has made an appearance at so many New York bakeries that Serious Eats published a ranking of the best in the city.

So would we try making kouign-amann at home? Only with the help of Yossy Arefi.

2)

In removing a finished tart from its pan, do you often find yourself wearing the outer perimeter as an awkward oversized bangle? There’s an easier way: Just put a large can underneath the pan and nudge the removable sides downwards, onto your work surface. Your creation will rest on the can and cool beautifully, just like that.

(Photo: Mark Weinberg/Food52)

3)

Merchandising Manager Hannah Wilken bought a pair after watching the show, and Creative Director Kristen Miglore has already professed her love for them.

(Photo: Ryan Dausch and James Ransom/Food52)

4)

With near-impossible time constraints (just five hours to make laminated doughs and viennoiseries that typically take multiple days from start to finish), the bakers are often tempted to use proofing drawers (or even microwaves) to speed up the rising time.

But when the rising process is artificially accelerated, heat is forced into the dough, which can damage the proteins and negatively affect the shape and structure of the final product. The butter in croissant dough, for example, will flood out before the pastries bake, resulting in a doughy, buttery roll rather than something with beautiful layers and flakes.

The key: Be patient. And wait ‘til everyone else is shaping their dough before starting on your own.

(Photo: Yossy Arefi/Food52)

5)

Otherwise, you’re looking at a sloppy mess. This is never more true than when you’re dealing with a Baked Alaska.

And if that Baked Alaska does end up more soup-like than cake-like, do not, under any circumstances, throw the whole thing in the trash. The judges—we mean, your friends—want to taste it anyway.

(Photo: James Ransom/Food52)

6)

“I tested this one; it’s true,” said Francesca. But . As Erin McDowell explains, the question of to stir or not to stir is answered by the specific recipe:

Recipes for soft caramel or caramel sauce that include large quantities of invert sugar or high levels of milk (including evaporated or sweetened condensed milk), butter, or cream can and should be stirred throughout cooking to prevent burning or sticking. Recipes that say never to stir during cooking will often have instructions to “stir in butter” at the end.

So, moral of the story: Don’t go rogue when you’re a beginner caramel maker.

 (Photo: Bobbi Lin/Food52)

7)

While pudding may mean one thing to us Americans—chocolate pudding, butterscotch pudding, other sweet and silky milk-based desserts—it means a whole lot more to Brits.

Puddings can be both savory and sweet, and the term can even be used to refer to the dessert course as a whole. “Pudding” also includes dishes, like treacle sponge and Christmas pudding, that we would normally refer to as steamed cakes.

8)

Fondant in American baking typically refers to fondant icing, a confection used to decorate and sculpt elaborate cakes (think Cake Boss and The Ace of Cakes). But when British bakers make “chocolate fondant,” they’re talking about individual molten lava cakes (think Valentine’s Day).

(Photo: Mark Weinberg/Food52)

9)

“I had never heard of her before,” said Catherine, “but quickly learned of her masterful tiramisu-making ways.”

Eighty-year-old Mary Berry has published over 70 cookbooks and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012 by the Queen. Her favorite cake to make is a ginger treacle tray bake.

(Photo: James Ransom/Food52)

10)

Especially if that person’s name is Mary Berry. And especially if you’re making a lemon tart. A thin crust is not just a matter of optimizing the eating experience, but the dessert’s appearance, too.

This is because : For cakes, your glaze better be even, your layers better be uniform (use a scale for this), and you must have a consistent amount of filling between each one. For yeasted breads, the crumb structure must be consistent all the way through. And for devilish entremets, every single one must be exactly the same.

11)

How do you describe a dessert or savory baked good that’s masterfully done in every way? That is neither under- or over-baked, with the correct texture and crumb, a perfect level of moisture, and a great flavor profile? You only need 4 words:

Gluten-free sponge cake(Photo: Emiko Davies/Food52)

12)

Victoria sponge, chiffon, biscuit, hot milk sponge… but Genoise is most definitely the hardest to execute.

13)

  • French meringue is fairly simple to make (beat eggs, add sugar, whip more), but produces the least stable substance of the three.
  • Swiss meringue—the smooth, somewhat dense basis of Swiss buttercream—is prepared by gently beating egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until the mixture reaches between 120 and 130° F, then taking the bowl off the heat and beating vigorously.
  • And then there’s Italian meringue, the preferred meringue of G.B.B.O. bakers. It’s made by drizzling 240° F sugar syrup (yikes!) into egg whites that have been whipped to hold firm peaks and produces a satiny and stiff mixture that can be used to frost cakes, top pies, or lighten ice creams and mousses.

14)

We say “scone” with a hard “oh” sound in the middle, but the Brits have a softer, gentler way: skahn.

(Photo: Winona Barton-Ballentine/Food52)

17)

And they look like this. “I still don’t really get them…” said Catherine.

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