I Baked 17 Cakes from the Great British Bake Off Cookbook
At the tail end of 2020, I set off on a dubious self-made quest to bake every recipe in the 2016 Great British Bake Off tie-in cookbook.
It was a mission born of too much time lying around on the couch watching Great British Bake Off, steeped in years of daydreaming about my very own Julie & Julia-esque project. At last, the whim became more than an idea and turned into an actual project. I wrote about it on my blog, and everything.
So far, it’s been nearly four months of one bake every single weekend (with a few exceptions). The book is divided into various sections, each comprising a particular theme. The first — cakes.
Since the inception of this scheme, I have baked a total of 17 cakes in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Loaves, mini, tiered, and single layered, to name a few. In taking on the challenge, I hoped to learn a bit about baking. As with most things, I also learned a little bit about myself and about life, as well.
1. Don’t be afraid to try new things
When I flipped through the first few recipes in the cake chapter, I worried my new project was doomed to fail. The first several cakes involved lemons, and others boasted flavor combinations I couldn’t even picture, like a mango loaf cake with bananas.
I’m not entirely a picky eater, but there are certain combinations I can’t quite get my head around, and a few of these cakes seemed downright odd to me, in spite of having no frame of reference for whether they’d be good.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t quit on week one, and so I baked the lemon loaf and the mango cake and promised myself I’d try every recipe. I liked some of these cakes about as well as I expected to, which is to say, not much.
But that lemon loaf I dreaded? It was absolutely delicious.
Branching out in the kitchen in this way reminds me to branch out in other areas of my life, too. You never know when you’ll find something you didn’t expect to like.
2. Lining your cake pan with parchment paper is a baking game-changer (and other baking tips)
On the rare occasions I baked cakes prior to this challenge, I’ll admit I greased the pan by rubbing it with a cold stick of butter or, on some occasions, spraying it with Pam. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my cake often left a few bits of itself behind.
Needless to say, I’d never taken the time to trace a cake tin onto parchment paper and cut it to size. This method of lining a cake pan is a go-to step for recipes in this book, and after trying it for the first time, I’ll never go back. It isn’t as time-intensive as it sounds, and it’s incredibly effective for easy removal.
In those instances where parchment paper can’t fit to size (i.e. Bundt pans), melted butter works way better than cold. My cakes have been flying out of the pan and it’s a game changer in the kitchen.
Other baking-related tips I took away from my cake weeks are:
- Food scales make everything easier — particularly when using recipes written in the UK
- Fresh caramel is hot and it will 100% burn you if you aren’t careful
- Pre-prepping ingredients really is worth it
- You can, in fact, buy self-raising flour in the United States and yes, this is different from all-purpose flour
3. Food is a phenomenal source of connection
One of the biggest surprises from the challenge (aside from enjoying a lemon loaf) was the reaction on my social media. Along with my weekly blog write-up, I would post stories to Instagram during each bake as a way to let folks watch along live.
I am no social media expert, so I didn’t expect much from this aspect of the project. What I discovered, however, is that people really enjoy connecting around food and baking. I got more responses to these stories from friends and acquaintances than I ever imagined, which naturally made it a lot more fun.
Each week, moreso than the cakes themselves, I looked forward to hearing other people’s tips, tricks, and mishaps in the kitchen. As I posted questions or considerations, I learned about what others have tried and learned in the kitchen.
This year, it’s been a real delight to discover a way of connecting with people around food that doesn’t require going to a restaurant to do so. All it took was a little bit of talking to myself in the kitchen on camera.
4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
If there’s anything trying (and failing) to create the perfect Genoese sponge has taught me, it’s that you can’t take yourself too seriously in life.
I had hoped to get better at cake as the weeks went by, and in some respects, I certainly did. I learned a great deal about weighing out ingredients and working with them to make something delicious.
I also learned that I am very bad with eggs. Specifically, with using them as the primary source of volume in a cake. I tried a number of different approaches throughout the 17 weeks of cake baking, and yet cake 17 was quite possibly the worst of them all.
I could’ve easily been devastated that my final showstopper of a cake was a complete disaster. I could have given up numerous times as sugar crystallized or my buttercream split, but I didn’t. I took photos of the disasters and laughed it off, pressing on to create a final product that was… not good.
But I took a photo and posted it anyway, choosing to laugh with my friends about how sometimes, through no clear fault of your own, things just do not go according to plan. And that’s okay.
If there’s anything we can all relate to, it’s knowing that sometimes things just don’t quite work out as we hope. And if we can come together and laugh about the world’s ugliest cake, or about using six hours of your weekend to create a garbage cake, then that makes life a little bit easier for all of us.
My seventeen weeks of cake baking may not have turned me into a master baker, but I still think it was a worthwhile endeavor that taught me a little bit about cakes and a little bit about myself, too. You might not be planning to bake a cake every week, but you can still remember what I learned from taking on the task:
- Don’t be afraid to try something new
- Some genuinely good baking tips — use parchment paper to line your cake pan, buy a food scale, and do not drip hot caramel on your hand
- Talk to your friends about food — it’s a great conversation starter!
- Don’t take yourself too seriously — learn to laugh at your mistakes and move on, rather than agonize over them
Next up, I’ll bake my way through biscuits and teatime treats, which I have to say will be a welcome reprieve from taking eggs to the ribbon stage.
Thanks for reading! For more of my food adventures, I recommend this article about my sourdough bread obsession:
If you want to help cover my weekly Fresh Market trips for ingredients as I move into the next phase of the project, consider Buying Me A Coffee.