Great American Baking Show Preparation – British Style

If it’s possible to prepare for the Great American Baking Show, I’m gonna do it British style; watch every British version and practice baking skills I never knew I had!

Great American Baking Show Preparation
Great American Baking Show Preparation

How Do American Contestants Prepare For The Equivalent Of The Iconic Great British Bake Off?

Truth be told, ‘There Is Absolutely No Full Proof, Practical Way To Prepare‘!

Allow me to tell you what I do know from experience; having been one of the ten contestants on the first season of the Great American Recipe on PBS, I asked myself this same question then. 

Having cooked all my life, having had a food blog for nearly ten years, having dabbled in all aspects of cooking from a loaf of bread to an artsy apple pie and dozens of savory options in between I planned to cook what I was most confident with, and bring a little bit of everything to the show. 

When the finale episode arrived and I was still cooking on set, making sure to showcase each cook as though it was my last, I was thrilled to realize that years of cooking and trusting my instincts in the kitchen paid off. 

But the British counterparts for a cooking competition? What was I thinking!

What Does The United Kingdom My Husband And My Own Kitchen Have In Common?

The answer to that question is wonderfully simple; The Great British Baking Show!

Being an American, married to a Brit while living in American, in and of itself is material for an entertaining Saturday Night Live TV show! 

Several years ago, while just dating, he wanted to show me his ‘flat’ in the Isle Of Dogs on the Thames, so we took a trip to the UK, where we got in engaged. 

Sure, everyone spoke English, but so much about it felt different. Words for simple things were often misunderstood; he would say biscuit, I say cookie, he says sponge while us American bakers call it a cake and the list spilled over into our everyday stuff; boot vs trunk of the car and on and on. 

Hubby speaks proper British english, having gone to boarding schools and being taught the ‘King’s English,’ and so even he was struggling to understand many of the British dialects.

Fast forward several years to our married life in America, an exciting fusion for us really started over our first episode of the Great British Bake Off one winter evening. 

We found such common ground, with lots to talk about, over food; history of areas of the UK, foods from various regions, and the variety of British accents!

English Though Different
English Though Different

Cooking In Front Of The Cameras

While I am no longer a rookie at cooking in front of cameras, having filmed all my own YouTube content, three Food Network shows and the eight episode series on PBS, I actually love the excitement of capturing great recipes and storytelling on film. 

Usually, however, cooking food I am familiar with.

So what was I thinking when I decided to toss my hat into the ring to cook in the big white tent across the pond!

Amateur bakers only, which I am, but come on… nothing created on either of the shows under that tent look like an amateur baker made them.  

How was I going to prepare for something as spectacular as this?

The Application Process Should Have Warned Me Then And There

Numerous applications have been sent from my computer to the exciting shows I have applied for, but none as long and detailed as the Great American Baking Show. 

By the time this opportunity passed my way, I had already seen every season, every episode of the British Bake Off and thought the application process would be a piece of ‘cake’! 

Two and a half hours, series of questions that required great detail to specific best recipes from my repertoire, and still a video to film as phase one of the audition process, really took me by surprise. 

American Audiences vs British Audiences 

When I entered the Great American Recipe, which was rooted from the same All3Media film production company as the Great British Baking Show, I wondered if there would be a cash prize for first place. 

British hubby thought for sure there would be because he said the American audience isn’t going to think winning a cake plate and a bouquet of flowers would entice folks to enter the competition. 


He was right, sort of; the winner of the Great American Recipe was awarded a recipe box and a bouquet of flowers, however each of the contestants were also awarded a cash compensation for each episode we appeared in. 

There’s Never Enough Time

No truer words are uttered than in that big white British tent. Toss a bunch of great American bakers in there for their first bake, jet lagged, new kitchen, ingredients that are distinctly different from American ingredients (we just don’t have luscious cream like the Brits have), and all you will hear whispered is ‘well that wasn’t a lot of time’!

Will things get better after a couple of days in the tent? They certainly didn’t after more than a week in the PBS barn! 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I haven’t even received that phone call yet!

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect!

In the Great British Bake Off, there are 10 Episodes, which means 3 different recipes to prepare for, per episode, 30 challenging bakes. 

Last week, when watching the first show of the new season of the Great American Baking Show 2023, much appeared different. 

  • The tent was definitely not the tent from the British version.
  • There were only 9 contestants instead of the 12 most often appearing in the British lineup. 
  • The challenges were also different, with only a few challenges that depicted British baking. 
  • Only 6 episodes for the Americans

Nonetheless, that is still a total of 18 different recipes to perfect before heading across the pond. 

Well, only 12 themes that are disclosed in advance, the dreaded technical challenge is always the mystery and true test of a great bakers prior baking knowledge. 

As for me, it is the showstopper challenge I fear most, and for that reason I have begun baking all the recipes I’ve never had to bake, or seek a great bake on, ever in my life. 

While Here In My Own Kitchen!

Where do I start? I’ve never been good with macarons, horrid at piping cake decorations, have cooked with phyllo and puff pastry all my life, but never had to make my own dough. 

Then we enter the unfamiliar world of French baking, at least for me. 

So… here I go!

Don’t judge me just yet, but I am going to fatten up all my family and friends as I bake, bake and bake everything I don’t know how to bake. 

Flavor is something I seek in all my cooking, while technique is something I’ve never been taught and have learned through trial and error. 

So, off to Sam’s Club to buy massive amounts of sugar, butter and flour!

Italian Meringues

Number one on my list of things to learn was an Italian meringue. I’ve always been timid about adding scalding hop sugar syrup to eggs; whites or yolks. 

Along with an Italian buttercream, which is hot syrup whisked into egg yolks, I’d eventually try my hand at, there is the fluffy marshmallow texture Italian meringues I needed to try. 

Practicing Italian Meringues
Practicing Italian Meringues

The plan was to make a French tart, which had three new components for me, the pastry, the lemon curd and the piped Italian meringue. 

I first started with the meringue, and wow was I impressed with the beautiful texture it produced, and no, I didn’t scramble the eggs!

Obstacle was that while I had produced a lovely meringue, I hadn’t yet tackled the tart itself.

Not wanting the meringue to just lay around in the fridge, I decided to bake them. 

Wow were they firm, crisp and lasted for a week, once baked. 

Baked Italian Meringues
Baked Italian Meringues

Laminated Dough

This was the one I think I dreaded most; butter, butter, butter is what makes laminated dough

The idea of working with butter or chocolate in a tent in July/August, in the UK, which can have all 4 seasons in a day, felt insane to me. 

Fold, chill, roll, fold, chill, roll is exactly what I did until I had an incredible dough to work with. Why have I not made these things before!

From the technique of a laminated dough I tried my hand at a Mille-Feuilles (thousand layers, so to speak), pastry that was delicious and pretty, though I found the dough went stale within a day.

Wonder if it was because a ton of butter seemed to melt out while baking?

Tried it again and they came out better, just needed to fold and press more layers into the dough.

Mille-Feuilles Preparation
Mille-Feuilles Preparation

Sfogliatella is a dough my son (a professional chef), challenged me to try. Yeah… that ended up in the trash!

First Preparation Of Sfogliatella Ended Up In The Trash
First Preparation Of Sfogliatella Ended Up In The Trash

Making a Vou le Vant (Vol Au Vent or Vu le Vant), was the favored of the laminated dough recipes I attempted, which brings me next to flavor. 

I can’t imagine how judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith can taste anything after repeated bites of sugar, sugar, sugar!

For this reason, I will (should I get the chance), focus heavily on memorable flavors that will stand out and get their taste buds attention. 

Puff Pastry

Since I was a teen, baking many traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods in my home, puff pastry and phyllo dough have been part of my cooking. 

While often used in dessert recipes, puff pastry has become in intricate part of making my Beef Wellington, a recipe with many steps my family loves, and the puff pastry is expected to hold it all together and look like a showstopper. 

Make my own? Well, I did and honestly, I will never buy it from the grocer/freezer again! What a beautiful and versatile dough. 

Homemade Puff Pastry For A Vou-le-Vante Is A Magnificent Pastry
Homemade Puff Pastry For A Vou-le-Vante Is A Magnificent Pastry

Swiss Chocolate Roll

The first Swiss Chocolate Roll I ever saw was back in the 80’s on a Julia Childs cooking show on TV, and was made into a Yule Log. 

I’m not a big fan of cakes, and so I’ve never made a cake rolled with filling inside, like… why?

Well, after my first attempt at this mostly egg white fluffy cake batter, easily rolled with a few pertinent tips, like roll that cake in a towel fast while it’s still hot, once filled, rolled and sliced, it’s the perfect amount of cake per serving!

A drizzle of chocolate ganache across the top (chocolate skills I have little of), and it was truly a hit with my foodie family!

My First Attempt At Swiss Chocolate Roll Cake Did Not Disappoint
My First Attempt At Swiss Chocolate Roll Cake Did Not Disappoint

Choux Pastry

Okay, so choux pastry was not too foreign to me since a family member’s catering company used to make these to stuff many a variety of savory fillings. 

However, it had been years since I had eaten them, much less try to make them. Delightful little pastries they are and oh so versatile!

Oh, and yes, an eclair is also made with a choux pastry technique. 

Choux Pastries Are My Favorite Base For Sweet Or Savory Fillings
Choux Pastries Are My Favorite Base For Sweet Or Savory Fillings

Pub Pies

Having spent a month in England several years ago (preferring the countryside to London), I fell in love with the huge variety of pub pies made throughout England. 

It was explained to me that the pub pie was actually created as the workman’s lunch, with anything and everything, often leftovers from a Sunday meal, tucked away inside of a drip proof pastry shell. Easily carted off to work for lunch in a variety of physical labor jobs and hearty to provide nutrients and energy. 

British Pub Pies
British Pub Pies

I suppose here in America we could call our chicken pop pie a type of pub pie, but I am more of a fan of lamb than chicken, so I will experiment a little with savory fillings from my heritage. 

American Savory Pies For The British Taste Buds
American Savory Pies For The British Taste Buds

Bread

Making bread was probably the first thing I learned to make as a kid; Syrian flatbread to be specific. 

Throughout my life I have lovingly embraced bread making, though not on a scale that could win me the coveted Hollywood handshake, just… bread. 

Since I love to grow many of the things I cook with, I’ve experimented with veggies in my bread dough and have come to love my beetroot bread, or spinach bread. 

However, if there is to be a bread showstopper episode, I’ve got to create a 3D whatever out of bread dough? Good Grief!

Practice, practice PRACTICE!

Preparation For 3-D Bread Is Absolutely Wild!
Preparation For 3-D Bread Is Absolutely Wild!

Macarons

Yep, still not great with Macarons (not to mistaken by macaroons), don’t like fake coloring, dang things don’t look like pillows, but I will keep on trying these until I get them right, though I may need to buy a laying hen!

Macarons Are Still Not Right
Macarons Are Still Not Right

Strawberry Babka

A babka dough, from a classic Mediterranean brioche dough recipe, with a delicious filling of strawberry jam, is simply better than chocolate babka, more traditional too!

This strawberry jammy sweet babka features a quick homemade strawberry jam filling twisted inside a rich brioche style yeast dough.

Finish the decadent early spring fruit loaf with freeze dried strawberries for an indulgence in strawberry flavor. 

Strawberry Jam Babka

See You Back Here One Way Or Another!

Apparently 2024 filming will take place in England for 4 weeks of July and August; hot!

Assuming the season will air in early 2025, contestants are not permitted to disclose their involvement with the show until given the green light to chat about it.

However, while all this wild baking practice that is going on in my kitchen now, and will continue until I hear ‘yea or nay’ is not going to be for naught!

None of the recipes I am teaching myself to make are on my blog, and so little by little I will be adding them for all to try and hear the BTS (behind the scene), scoop on each one!

Wish Me LUCK!
Wish Me LUCK!

 

Robin
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