I’ll start at the beginning…
Last year I enthusiastically baked my way through every episode of the Great British Bake Off, tackling each and every technical challenge with glee.
Some bakes were easy and some were not, some I’d heard of while others baffled even the most seasoned cooks.
I made Wagon Wheels (the ultimate in squidgy goodness), Le Gateaux Vert (I still make this when I’m feeling flush – it uses £12 worth of pistachio nuts), naan bread with garlic ghee (an essential accompaniment to curry), raspberry blancmange with langues de chat (retro but delicious), Ma’amoul (an overrated middle eastern biscuity thing), Puits d’Amour (eating it was the closest I’ve come to a food-gasm), tropical vegan pavlova (absolutely not worth it), Aebleskiver (puffy little balls of Danish goodness stuffed with spiced apple), Torta Setteveli (it took a whole day to make) and campfire pitta breads (refreshingly down to earth).
Why did I do it? A friend of mine had started following the challenges and posted a photo online of her attempt at the first technical challenge – Wagon Wheels. The squishy-chocolatey-crunchy-biscuit reminds me unreservedly of my childhood packed lunches. The sight of this sent me straight into the kitchen and week by week I was glued to Bake Off and after each episode I was eagerly ordering the equipment and ingredients I didn’t have to hand in order to attempt the next challenge – I found myself on an unstoppable journey and I was hooked.
My journey through the ten weeks of Bake Off taught me an awful lot – it’s made me a more confident baker, I’m now keen to try new and adventurous bakes (whereas before I was too nervous to do so), I’ve learnt to take the positives from things that don’t go so well (and try again) but most importantly I had fun.
Friends would watch the programme and send me messages about that week’s challenge, predicting how my attempt would turn out. I enjoyed the fact that each week I had to try something new – it’s all too easy to get stuck in a cooking rut but following the technicals pushed me out of my comfort zone and filled the house with beautiful baked goods (most of the time).
Bouyed by the optimism the experience had given me – and enthusiastic friends – I decided to apply for GBBO 2019.
Well, anyone who has applied will know that even completing the application form is a task in itself – 10 pages, 38 questions – I completed it over the course of three days.
I religiously looked back at my camera roll on my phone picking out 16 photos of recent bakes to support my application – everything from brioche bread to battenburg cake and bakewell tarts to macarons.
The application asked for details on why I wanted to take part, who taught me to bake, how often do I bake, why do I bake, how does baking make me feel, how do I decide what to bake next, what’s my baking style, what’s my signature bake – the questions went on and on.
A large part of the form asked about my experience in all sorts of different areas – how varied is my repertoire, is there anything I don’t like baking, what is my experience of baking biscuits/cakes/bread/desserts/meringue/shortcrust pastry/puff pastry/hot water crust pastry/choux pastry and filo pastry. It then asked me to list examples bakes for all of the above – I was exhausted but not finished yet.
I then had to tell them about myself – do I belong to any baking clubs, have I ever studied any aspect of cookery, have I ever worked in the catering industry, have I ever entered a baking competoin, have I won any prizes for my baking – none of these were one word answers – I kept typing.
Now, I had to sell myself – hobbies, occupation, a typical day in my life before describing myself in one sentence – I was done.
I was adamant an interview wouldn’t follow, purely because I was sure there were thousands more people suitable than me – more experience, more knowledge and more confidence.
I sent the application in on the day of the deadline (I always do with any application – I work well under pressure), it was January 5th.
At about 5pm on January 6th I was finishing my working day at home when my phone rang – withheld it said – the umpteenth one that day. I’d been bombarded with spam calls all day. Here was another one. I answered.
Is that Kate they asked. Who wants to know I said.
Great British Bake Off they said.
I was stunned and immediately started back peddling to try and explain my abruptness – she got it and laughed – thank goodness.
Georgia was calling to interview me and she said they were very impressed with my application form – it felt like Christmas, I was giddy.
She asked to interview me then and there, I said yes thinking it would take 10 minutes.
She was utterly lovely and essentially went through my application form question by question. In my mind I thought I was doing ok, Georgia was laughing when I was trying to be amusing and generally sounded quite positive.
Now, she said.. I’m going to take you through eight technical questions – the same questions would be asked to all applicants being interviewed. If I answered a question correctly there would be extension questions.
Off we went.
I got the first one right (How can you tell if a bread dough has proved?) so I was asked the extension question (I forget what it was now).
Question 2: What’s happened if a cake has sunk in the middle? Give as many answers as you like said Georgia. I got it right and felt pretty good about things. I was asked an extension question.
Question 3: What’s the difference between joconde sponge and genoise sponge? Things went downhill rapidly. I knew that a genoise sponge uses foamed eggs to provide the volume, but joconde?! Help me here. Georgia pushed me for an answer. Almonds I said, a joconde sponge is flavoured with almonds. Yes she said. Where did that come from?
Question 4: How can you make bread more crusty? I didn’t know.
Question 5: What’s the difference between crème patisserie and crème diplomat? Obvious, right? Crème diplomat is a lighter version of crème patisserie with the addition of whipped cream.
Question 6: How do you stop choux pastry going soft? No idea.
Question 7: What’s the key to making puff pastry? I got it right – lamination, there must be lamination. I got a follow on question – what’s the difference between puff pastry and puff pastry used for croissants. My mind went blank.
Question 8: How do you temper chocolate? I mumbled something about heating and cooling slowly I think. The questions were over.
We went through the admin. Successful candidates would be contacted by 22 February and the next stage involved taking a selection of bakes to another interview. I was sworn to secrecy, I couldn’t talk about being interviewed in case I was successful.
We were done, 70 minutes had passed.
I was delighted to have gotten an interview so quickly but I was also annoyed at myself. I’d made choux pastry and puff pastry the previous week but in the heat of the interview I drew a blank when those questions were asked.
February 22 came and went and I wasn’t surprised but neither was I disappointed. I was really rather proud of myself to have gotten an interview at all.
Looking back, just going through that process was enough – I’m not sure I’d last a moment on the show. I’d be a big ball of stress with Sandi and Noel near me, a camera in my face, the heat of the tent and unfamiliar equipment surrounding me!
It made me realise I had lots more to learn, I needed to make more things with hot water crust pastry, more bread, more complex pastries. And I’m doing that, but the best bit is I still relish my time spent baking and long may it continue.
Good luck to the baker’s dozen on this year’s show, I have great respect for everything you’ve been through so far and the tent isn’t even open for business yet.
But now it’s time to attack the 2019 technical bakes – here goes, it’s cake week…