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FOODIE CHATTER: THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF (A POTTED HISTORY)

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I am a huge Great British Bake Off (GBBO) fan. I have watched every single series (there have been thirteen so far) and I have many a fond memory from each of them.

I was a little unsure whether I would follow the programme over to Channel 4 when it moved across in 2017 as I just loved Mary Berry, Mel and Sue and couldn’t imagine the programme without them. But FOMO was too much for me to deal with and off I cantered with the programme to its new home and new presenters. And I’m still here, six years later, counting down the days to series fourteen πŸ™‚

The 2023 series of GBBO brings with it a new presenter in the shape of Alison Hammond. She is replacing Matt Lucas, who bowed out at the end of series 13 in 2022. This won’t be Alison’s first time in the tent. Those of us who also watch The Great Celebrity Bake Off (for Stand Up 2 Cancer) will remember her from series three in 2020. Possibly the most memorable moment from her appearance was when she thought she had lost the oven door on her bake station. Turns out she just hadn’t realised that the ovens in the Bake Off tent have retractable doors 🀣

As I write this, the date for the 2023 series of The Great British Bake Off (series 14) has yet to be confirmed and we don’t yet know who this year’s contestants are. So I thought I would manage my impatience and excitement for the start of the new series by having a look back at the history of GBBO, its past winners and some of the most memorable moments (thinking BinGate anyone?)

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF: A POTTED HISTORY

The Great British Bake Off first appeared on our screens in the summer of 2010. On BBC2 (imagine!) Two presenters (Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins) got ready to simultaneously distract, cajole, encourage and boost the confidence of ten contestants lined up in a tent to face three challenges on which they would be judged (by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood). These challenges were a signature challenge, a technical challenge and a final challenge (later to become known as the ‘showstopper challenge’).

THE SIGNATURE CHALLENGE

The first of the three bakes on GBBO has always been the signature challenge. The judges choose a particular bake for the contestants to put their own stamp on. It’s a way for us to see their personality, baking style and creativity and the kind of flavours they like to work with. The bakers are told in advance of the programme what these signature challenges are, giving them time to develop and test them at home.

Signature bakes over the years have included everything from cakes and biscuits to pasties and quiches.

THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE

The second of the three challenges – and arguably the toughest – is the technical challenge. Set by either Mary or Paul each week (and since 2017, Prue, who replaced Mary when the show moved to Ch4), it is presented to the bakers with minimal instructions and they have no advance knowledge of what it will be. The finished bakes are placed behind a picture of each contestant (which we can see but the judges can’t) on the infamous ‘gingham altar’ and are judged blind. The bakes are ranked from worst to best as the bakers sit on stools facing the judges, awaiting their fate.

Technical bakes over the years having included varying degrees of success in baking pork pies, Victoria sandwich cake, jammy doughnuts, baguettes, soufflΓ©s, eclairs, malt loaf and more.

THE SHOWSTOPPER

The final challenge each week is always the showstopper, where the contestants really get to go to town in showing off their creative flair, their baking prowess and their ability to bake under pressure!

We have seen some absolutely magnificent showstopper bakes through the years, which have been based on themes including anti-gravity cakes, bread art, wedding cakes, pie sculptures and 3D biscuit creations.

THE STAR BAKER

Introduced in series two, every week a star baker is chosen by the judges from all the contestants. If you have a strong performance in the technical challenge, the chances are your name will be in the mix for star baker that week.

The bakers sit nervously on their stools in front of the judges and the presenters awaiting their fate. The star baker is announced by one of the presenters while the other one has the unenviable task of announcing which baker is going home that week.

THE HOLLYWOOD HANDSHAKE

The Hollywood Handshake first came about in series three (2012) and is arguably as sought-after by the bakers as the star baker accolade! At the end of each round, the contestants’ bakes are subjected to ruthless inspection from the judges who prod, poke, taste and analyse the bakes. If Paul is super impressed with your bake, out comes his right hand offering the handshake of success. Much to the delight of the baker on the receiving end of it.

If it was me on the receiving end of that, I would seriously have to fight the urge to stick my hand out then quickly withdraw it, put it up to my nose, waggle my fingers and poke my tongue out at him.

But that’s just me πŸ™ƒ

In that first year, we watched on each week as the contestants handled (or otherwise) the pressure of baking under the watchful gaze of a TV production crew and had their bakes judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. And each week a baker was sent home (often in tears) until we reached the nail-biting final and the first ever winner of The Great British Bake Off was crowned. And after just nine weeks of hour-long baking jeopardy, the nation was hooked 😍

MY FAVOURITE BAKE OFF MOMENTS

I utterly love Bake Off and so trying to choose a favourite GBBO moment is a bit like being asked to choose a favourite child. Or pet.

That said, there are some standout moments. There are the obvious ones like BinGate and CustardGate, the collapsing cake and the accidental cake swat (instead of a fly). But while I get that these are some of the most talked about moments of the show and part of what keeps people tuning in, I don’t terribly enjoy watching the bakers in distress – probably because I am a baker myself and know all-too-well how that feels!

For me, it’s the moments that make me laugh out loud, or have my jaw on the floor at the bake that one of the contestants has baked that resonate most.

NANCY AND ‘THE MALE JUDGE’

Nancy Birtwhistle was a contestant in series five and was crowned Great British Bake Off Winner of 2014. By far my favourite moment in this series was when Nancy referred to Paul as ‘The Male Judge.’ Ego check, much? 🀣 Although she did confess in the final to having a secret crush on him.

VAL STONES, A KINDRED SPIRIT

Val dances while she bakes and says her cakes sing to her. I mean, hello soul sister! Val was in series eight (2017, the first one on Channel 4).

JANUSZ AND HIS WEEK ONE SPOONERISM

In week one of series thirteen (2022) Janusz Domagala won star baker and expressed his happiness by calling home and exclaiming: “…I won star caker in bake week.” And in that very moment a nation of GBBO fans fell head over heals in love with Janusz. Me included.

CAROLE’S HAIR

Carole’s hair. Oh how I loved Carole’s hair. Is it because it was pink and purple and totally on brand, Vicky? Yes, quite probably! Carole had an infectious energy and enthusiasm, which I adored, and she talked to her cakes through the oven door. What more can I say? Carole was a contestant last year in series 13 (2022).

JURGEN THE GERMAN

Straight-talking, no-nonsense, technical wizard Jurgen. Oh how we loved him. And just when we thought we had no love left to give, he told us that he practised his bread kneading technique on his train commute from Haywards Heath to East Croydon. Baking geeks of the world rejoice!

Jurgen Krauss was in series 12 (2021) and got sent home in semi-finals week. The nation was justifiably outraged.

JAMES AND THE BISCUIT BARN

Sometimes when you’re baking, things don’t go according to plan. And you have to think on your feet. Especially when you have a camera crew breathing down your neck. In the quarter finals of series three (2012), James Morton saw disaster unfold in front of his eyes as his biscuit barn started to collapse. In what I consider to be a moment of creative genius, he decided to change his architecturally sound barn to a derelict one and set to work making sugar cobwebs. Winning at life! But sadly not at Bake Off that year as he was beaten to the title by John Waite.

SELASI. JUST SELASI πŸ’•

Unquestionably the most chilled-out baker ever to have graced out screens. Selasi Gbormittah looking stressed was like pretty much all of the rest of us being the most relaxed we have ever been while baking!

And his ability to blag his way through some of his less than triumphant bakes was second to none! He made it to the semi-finals in 2016 (series seven).

THROUGH COMPETITION, FRIENDSHIPS ARE MADE

One thing I have always loved about GBBO is the warm glow that emanates from the tent – and not just on those stinking hot days! Even though it is a competition, the contestants really do seem to form great friendships and they look out for each other in their moments of need when their bakes aren’t going according to plan.

Remember series eight in 2017 when Henry Bird was sent home on pastry week at the quarter finals stage? And his fellow bakers all started off semi-finals week wearing ties in tribute to his departure?

See, baking brings out the best in people πŸ’•

*THAT* BREAD LION

I have coeliac disease. Bread is my nemesis. And yet bread week is one of my favourite weeks. And just to make sure I never changed my mind on this, along came Paul Jagger and Cecil the Bread Lion in series six (2015). Just wow!

MARY-ANNE’S SPELLING MISTAKE

I loved Mary-Anne Boermans right from the start of series two in 2011. Her laugh was infectious and I loved the way she baked. And she brought a lump to our throats in the final when she inadvertently wrote ‘Sacha’ instead of ‘Sachertorte’ on the top of her technical bake. Sacha is her daughter’s name πŸ’•

AND SAVING THE BEST ‘TIL LAST: MARY BERRY πŸ’•

I love Mary Berry (you’d be hard-pushed to find a baker who doesn’t, I surmise!) She is so very knowledgeable and clearly loves what she does. She is always happy to help people to learn from their mistakes and take their baking to the next level. And she is a master of delivering the ‘sh*t sandwich’ when it comes to feedback on a baking disaster.

I was really sad to learn that she wouldn’t be moving with the show over to Channel 4. And although I still watch – and still very much enjoy the show – I still miss her.

πŸ’• All hail Her Baking Highness: Mary Berry πŸ’•

So over the last thirteen years of GBBO there have been thirteen winners crowned Bake Off Champion and we are now getting ready to watch the 14th winner emerge. It is safe to say that not every year has been without controversy. On occasions, some sure-fire finalists have been sent home earlier than anticipated (think Cat Dresser in series three in 2012 who looked a dead-cert. for the final (if not the crown) but actually went home in quarter finals week).

And let’s be honest, sometimes we were outraged at someone leaving the show not because we hand-on-heart thought they were the best baker, but because we simply loved having them in our living rooms once a week (think Norman Calder of series five (2014) fame.

THE WINNERS*

Series one (2010): Edd Kimber – in the final with Ruth Clemens and Miranda Gore-Browne
Series two (2011): Jo Wheatley – in the final with Holly Bell and Mary-Anne Boermans
Series three (2012): John Waite – in the final with James Morton and Brendan Lynch
Series four (2013): Frances Quinn – in the final with Ruby Tandoh and Kimberley Wilson
Series five (2014): Nancy Birtwhistle – in the final with Luis Troyano and Richard Burr
Series six (2015): Nadiya Hussain – in the final with Tamal Ray and Ian Cumming
Series seven (2016): Candice Brown – in the final with Jane Beedle and Andrew Smyth
Series eight (2017): Sohie Faldo – in the final with Steven Carter-Bailey and Kate Lyon
Series nine (2018): Rahul Mandal – in the final with Kim-Joy Hewlett and Ruby Bhogal
Series ten (2019): David Atherton – in the final with Alice Fevronia and Steph Blackwell
Series eleven (2020): Peter Sawkins – in the final with Dave Friday and Laura Adlington
Series twelve (2021): Giuseppe Dell’Anno – in the final with Chigs Parmar and Crystelle Pereira
Series thirteen (2022): Syabira Yusoff – in the final with Abdul Rehman Sharif and Sandro Farmhouse

* Source: Wikipedia

Many of the Bake Off winners have gone on to further their careers in baking, some with their own books, TV shows, celebrity appearances and more. Nadiya Hussain (winner in 2015), for example, has many books to her name, her own television programmes and her own bakeware collection. She was also commissioned to make the [now late] Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday cake.

But it’s not just the winners who have found further success. Liam Charles who was a contestant in series eight (2017) and went home in quarter finals week, is now the presenter of Bake Off: The Professionals and a judge on Junior Bake Off (amongst other things!)

MY BRUSH(ES) WITH BAKE OFF

Given my obsession with all things GBBO, it is often suggested to me that I should apply for the programme. Thankfully, professional bakers are not allowed to enter the show, which rules me out. And I am more than OK with this as I am quite happy being on the sofa side of Bake Off than the tent side!

I was, however, lucky enough to get tickets to Bake Off Extra Slice during series six (2015).

BAKE OFF EXTRA SLICE

On 9th October 2015 I headed into London with Mr Happiness, my niece Helen and my good pal Heidi to be in the audience for the recording of Extra Slice, hosted by Jo Brand. We had an absolute blast!

While the three of us ‘olds’ were relegated to the cheap seats at the back, Helen, who had been up most of the night before baking for the show, got a seat on the studio floor and we actually got to see her on TV. And her bakes, too! Which was a plateful of hamburgers that were actually biscuits. Squeeee! Proud Aunty moment πŸ’•

The recording of Extra Slice is actually for the week before the one that is broadcast, so you have to sign a form as a condition of entering the studios confirming that you will not discuss the recording with anyone prior to it airing.

MEETING A FORMER GBBO CONTESTANT

In November 2016, I attended the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2016/7 held at Northamptonshire County Cricket Ground as a finalist in the New Local Product of the Year award.

I was very, very lucky to be seated for dinner next to Deborah Manger, a contestant in series four of GBBO (2013). She was a thoroughly lovely person and a joy to spend the evening with. We laughed. A lot.

And to top it all off, I won my award category and received my trophy from non other than Michel Roux Senior!

BAMBOOZLING THE TEAM AT BBC RADIO NORTHAMPTON

Over the course of the past 13 series of Bake Off, I have chatted with the team at BBC Radio Northampton either over the phone or in person in the studios.

In 2019 (series ten), I went in to the studios during pastry week to talk about the series so far and the contestants left in the show (by this stage it was just Alice, David, Henry, Rosie and Steph).

I completely foxed them by taking in a pie with salad, which was actually a chocolate cake with sugarpaste decorations. I recall Andrew Radd (reading the news that day) saying how his head was really struggling with the fact that his eyes were seeing a pie but his mouth was tasting chocolate.

If you have never had one of those ‘looks-like-one-thing-but-tastes-like-another’ moments, take it from me (and Andrew), it properly makes your head wobble!

So although we still await (some of us more patiently than others) the date when episode one of The Great British Bake Off 2023 will air and the release of the biographies of this year’s contestants, I hope you have enjoyed my little potted history of The Great British Bake Off through the years. I wonder if any of your favourite moments are the same as mine?

SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE: While most of the content of this article is based on my own memories and social media posts through the years, Wikipedia has served as a great GBBO memory-jogger for which contestants appeared in which years and when the episodes were. If you’re a GBBO geek hungry for more nostalgia, check out the vast amount of information over on Wikipedia for yourself. Just make sure you have a few hours to spare!

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