The Great British Baking Project





Like many people, my consumption of TV shows has skyrocketed during the COVID19 pandemic. One of the things we found ourselves watching a lot of was the Great British Bake Off, or if you are watching it on Netflix like we are, The Great British Baking Show (referred to in the blog henceforth as GBBO).

We started with the most recent season, then I started going back to the beginning, and have now almost caught back up. We talked a lot about making many of the recipes we saw, which slowly morphed into a plan: to bake all of the Technical Bakes from the show, in order.

I picked the Technical Bakes for two reasons. One, all the bakers are making the exact same thing. With the Signature Bakes and the Showstoppers, they are all doing their own thing (within theme), so I’d need to choose one, or make my own, and having the structure of an assigned bake makes the most sense. And two, it seemed like it would be fairly easy to find the base recipe, since they say who the challenge came from (this turned out to be mostly true). 

With that decided I sat down and started a spreadsheet listing all the episodes, what the theme was, and what the Technical recipe was. Here, I ran into the first hurdle. As simply as I can tell it, the show started off on one of the BBC channels. It then moved to another BBC channel (being a Yank, I have no clue on the differences here). Finally, it moved to yet another channel, that doesn’t seem to be BBC affiliated(?).  At some point, some of these shows appeared in the States on PBS. And now, they appear on Netflix (still available on PBS). Simple enough… except the first 2 seasons (series, as they call them), are not available at all in the US. The third is available on Netflix, titled “The Beginnings”, then the rest are on the main Great British Baking Show series, on Netflix… but the ordering is weird. So, to summarize:

  • Series 1 (2010) & 2 (2011): not available in the US.
  • Series 3 (2012): Available on Netflix as “The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings”
  • Series 4 (2013): On Netflix, “The Great British Baking Show: Season 2”
  • Series 5 (2014): On Netflix, “The Great British Baking Show: Season 1”
  • Series 6 (2015): On Netflix, “The Great British Baking Show: Season 3”
  • Series 7 (2016): On Netflix, “The Great British Baking Show: Season 4”
  • … and then in logical order for the rest, up through Series 11 (2020), Netflix season 9.

Since I can’t get Series 1 & 2, short of ordering European region DVDs and getting a player for them, or possibly getting the Canadian DVDs, I’ve decided to officially start with 2012’s Series 3, “The Beginnings” on Netflix. This will allow me to watch the show, and at least know what I am getting into.

This will be the biggest difference: I’ll have the full recipe available to me, as well as being able to see how they did, what the end product SHOULD look like, and see how any mistakes the bakers make affect the final product. 

I plan on getting a few under my belt and notes taken before I start publishing my results. But I did do the first two of Series 1 (2010) before I changed my mind on where to start, so I may write up those (disappointing) results before I start 🙂

Practice – GBBO 2010, Victoria Sandwich

Victoria Sandwich

Mary Berry 

Finished cake



Before I finalized my plans for this project, I was originally going to start at the very beginning. Finding that I had no easy way of watching the original 2 seasons, I ended up changing plans, but by that time, I’d already baked the first two recipes. This is the first, a challenge from Mary Berry for “Victoria Sandwich” aka Victoria Sponge.

It’s a simple 2 layer sponge cake, with buttercream icing and homemade raspberry jam, finished with confectioner’s sugar. Link to recipe.

For this recipe I didn’t require any new equipment. But I got some anyway: a set of nice 8″ round cake pans, and a set of cake pan strips, which help the cakes bake up with a nice flat top.

In this recipe we run into our first experiences with needing translate English to English. The recipe calls for “Self Rising flour”, which must be more common over there, as I couldn’t find any here. To recreate it, for every cup (120g) of flour, add 2 teaspoons baking powder, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Also, basically every kind of sugar has one name in the US and another in the UK: icing sugar = confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar; caster sugar may be known as baking sugar; and finally what Brits call jam sugar, we apparently call “gelling sugar”. I couldn’t find any gelling sugar, and substituted an equal amount of caster sugar, adding ⅛ teaspoon pectin and a pinch of citric acid. When I finally made the jam, it didn’t set as well as I would have liked; if I were to do it again, I’d bump the pectin up to ¼ teaspoon.

Finally, with all the terms deciphered, it was time to make it!

This wasn’t terribly difficult, if you’ve ever made a cake, jam, and buttercream, there are no big surprises. 

The layers fell a little bit, next time I would cool them upside down.

Time to assemble
Time to assemble the cake.

As I mentioned earlier, the jam did not set as well as I would like. Next time, if the jam was still too liquid, I would pipe a circle of buttercream around the edge of the layer, to make a dam for the jam. In addition, the recipe made WAY too much jam, I’d cut the amount in half.

Once assembled, it was time to taste:

A slice of Victoria Sponge
A slice of the finished cake.

Unfortunately, neither S. nor I were very impressed by this cake. The sponge itself looked nice, and had a decent flavor, but was not sweet enough, and was dry and somewhat crumbly. This could have been saved by the jam, but the jam was overpoweringly sweet, especially with the buttercream and extra confectioner’s sugar on top.

All in all, I don’t think I’d make this again, without heavy modification. Kids verdict: well, it all got eaten, and not tossed in the bin, so let’s call it a “satisfactory”.

S1E1 – Victoria Sponge Recipe

Finished cake

Victoria Sponge

For the sponge

4 eggs, large, free-range

225g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

225g self-raising flour 

1 tsp baking powder (+1Tbl to recreate self-rising)

(¾ tsp salt to recreate self-rising)

225g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing


For the jam

200g raspberries

250g jam sugar


For the buttercream

100g unsalted butter, softened

200g icing sugar, sifted

2 Tbl milk

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 180°C (356F). Grease and line 2 x 20cm(8”) sandwich tins(cake pans): use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking paper.

Step 2

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and soft butter.

Step 3

Mix everything together until well combined. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency.

Step 4

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Step 5

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

Step 6

While the cakes are cooking, make the jam. Place the raspberries in a small deep-sided saucepan and crush them with a masher. Add the sugar and bring to the boil over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into a shallow container. Leave to cool and chill to set.

Step 7

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

Step 8

To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack. Set aside to cool completely.

Step 9

For the buttercream, beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the remaining icing sugar and one tablespoon of the milk and beat the mixture until creamy and smooth. Add the remaining tablespoon of milk if the buttercream is too thick. Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.

Step 10

To assemble, choose the sponge with the best top, then put the other cake top-down onto a serving plate. Spread with the jam then pipe the buttercream on top of the jam. Place the other sponge on top (top-side up) and sprinkle with caster sugar to serve.

The Great British Baking Project: The “rules”

These are my “rules” for myself for this project. None are carved in stone, and of course I retain the right to change, ignore, or modify them as I see fit 🙂

  • I’ll attempt to bake the Technical Challenge of a given week, using the most authentic recipe I can find for it (almost always the one given on the BBC GBBO website.
  • I’ll attempt these in roughly chronological order, both by series, and episode, starting with 2012 (BBC Series #3, Netflix “The Beginnings”). 
  • Before each season, I’ll post a preview of what’s to come, including any equipment I had to buy.
  • Before I start the bake, I’ll re-watch the relevant show. It’s possible some commentary will appear about the show itself.
  • While I do the bake, I’ll attempt to get some photos documenting the process to some degree or other. Don’t expect a graphic step-by-step process.
  • When done, the post will include:
    • The recipe
    • Discussion of any changes that needed to be made, including translation of terminology from British to American.
    • A pic of what they expected, and a pic of what I produced
    • Discussion of the process, things I would change, and opinion on how it turned out
    • Possibly discussion of the episode itself, up to and including “What the hell was that that Noel was wearing?”

Again, this may change, and I’ll update this post if I make any major changes.