Hold on to your whisks, a fresh batch of bakers are returning to our screens today for a new series of The Great British Bake Off.
As usual, this year’s contestants are an eclectic range – from seasoned pros who have most likely whisked more eggs than you’ve had hot dinners, to Gen-Z fresh faces.
Thankfully not even a national lockdown could stop this year’s show from going ahead. Previously, the show has been filmed on weekends over a 12-week period, giving bakers the chance to go home to practice, but also carry on with their day jobs. But this year things were slightly different.
Not only did the contestants have the challenge of impressing the judges in the hope of a Hollywood handshake, but they also had to enter Channel 4’s very own “bio-secure bubble” where the cast, contestants and crew (including Prue’s dogs) lived in Down Hall Hotel in Essex for seven weeks in order to make filming conditions Covid-safe.
The bubble isn’t the only new thing about this year’s series – Prue Leith, Paul Hollywood and Noel Fielding are joined by a new presenter, Matt Lucas, who we think will make a promising replacement for Sandi Toksvig.
While the traditional spot in Welford Park was abandoned, the famous white tent and feel of the show remains the same, so we expect that you’ll be as inspired as ever to craft your own showstoppers from home. And in our opinion, there’s really no better time to give it a go because baked goods really are the ultimate comfort food.
Ahead of this year’s series, we asked previous contestants David Atherton, Briony Williams and Jane Beedle for their advice and favourite tools to help you on your way to becoming a star baker. From powerful hand whisks to fool-proof cookbooks, here’s everything you need to nail your next showstopper and join in on the weekly challenges from home.
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David Atherton: Winner of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ 2019
“Bake what you love to eat. Start off simple so you get some early successes and learn about ingredients. Once you understand ingredients you can learn to substitute or create your own recipes,” is the advice last year’s winner, David Atherton, would give to you as an aspiring star baker.
“Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet: The Best of Home Baking (Blackwell’s, £17.99) is my baking bible. All his recipes work so well, and he’s thought so intelligently about how recipes work and how to improve old favourites.”
Lepard is the country’s foremost baking guru, so this book will guide you through flatbreads and gluten-free loaves to cake frosting and caramel sweets.
When it comes to his kitchen accessory he cannot live without, it’s his “food processor. It’s so good to ground nuts to flour, blend root vegetables to add to cake mixes, pulse soaked chickpeas into a falafel mix. I use it every day.”
In our guide to our guide to the best food processors, this Magimix cuisine 5200XL (Nisbets, £314.99) came out as top owing to its extra wide chute and ability to do well with nuts and herbs – a frequent shortcoming of many others.
There are 13 accessories included – three different-size bowls, an egg whisk and a citrus press, all of which come in a handy storage box. It works quickly and quietly through large quantities of ingredients, so you really can’t go wrong.
Finally, Atherton recommends that any aspiring star baker should have a Microplane grater (John Lewis & Partners, £17.50) in their kitchen.
He uses his for practically everything, including “zesting citrus fruits, mincing garlic, and also filing down biscuits,” making it a seriously versatile piece of kit.
Briony Williams: Semi-finalist of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in 2018
Briony Williams told The Independent that her advice is that “even if it goes wrong don’t give up, the only way to get better is to keep practising.” So, in order to help you keep practising, she recommends first and foremost you have a “good set of mixing bowls”.
“I’ve got one of my nan’s 50-year-old Mason cash mixing bowls that I still use today, and they’re still going strong”.
Mason Cash has been producing its traditional kitchen products for more than 200 years – coming in a range of colours and sizes there’s a lot to choose from. But this 26cm cane mixing bowl (Amazon, £17.50) is the ideal size for bread, cakes, cookies and pastries.
After you’ve secured this, you’ll need an electrical whisk, “it doesn’t have to be a stand mixer, a powerful hand whisk will do the job and help take the hassle out of whisking. In the Bake Off tent, we had the KitchenAid hand mixer (Lakeland, £109.99), which I love.”
With nine speed settings and an LED indicator, it’s an advanced model that will comfortably fit into your hand. Plus, it comes with a handy storage bag for the included attachments – wire whisk, mixing rod, dough hooks and turbo beaters.
“It’s not cheap though,” says Williams, so for something a little kinder to the pocket, she recommends this Kenwood hand mixer (Currys PC World, £21.99).
Designed to be easy to use and practical, this model will perform well when mixing and aerating.
“What’s the point in baking if you don’t have great cake tins?” An essential for every aspiring star baker, she advises that you invest in three 6in, three 8in, and three 10in tins, so you can do multiple layers or create a tiered showstopper.
Of her vast collection of cake tins, her favourites are her silicone ones from Lakeland, “which are brilliant – they look brand new despite being four years old”. Sadly these particular ones are no longer available, but this MasterClass smart silicone round take tin (Amazon, £11.95) looks just as good.
Next up, “my favourite thing that I discover two years ago, and has since saved my life, is pre-cut parchment paper that you can get from Lakeland or Amazon”. On this recommendation, we love the look of this 100-pack of 20cm circle parchment liners (Lakeland, £5.79)
“They make lining cake tins easy and hassle-free,” says Williams, but these also wipe clean, meaning they can be reused time and again – helping to make your baking a little more eco-friendly. With so many different varieties – you can choose from squares or circles, all in different sizes. A real game-changer.
And finally, when it comes to her favourite cookbooks, “I love Liam Charles’s two books Cheeky Treats (Amazon, £15.98) and Second Helpings (Blackwell’s, £15.99). They’re both fun, innovative, and very modern.”
Jane Beedle: Contestant of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in 2017
For Jane Beedle, “aside from the obvious oven, hob and microwave, I couldn’t live without this silicone spatula (Waitrose & Partners, £6)”.
“I must use half a dozen a day, and you really can’t have too many. I use it for mixing, stirring, bowl scraping and slapping stuff on a cake. It’s so versatile and doesn’t melt when I get them too close to a heat source, which happens all too frequently, they come in all sizes and qualities but these never let me down.”
“ Another versatile piece of equipment is this KitchenCraft stainless steel hand balloon whisk (Amazon, £5.99). I hardly use a sieve but instead whisk dry ingredients together to remove lumps from sauces and curds.”
When looking for a balloon whisk, Beedle advises that it should be “good quality and stainless steel otherwise the handles come off after several trips in the dishwasher and plastic just doesn’t have the strength.”
Her final recommendation you need for your next showstopper is a Magimix le micro processor (Magimix, £55). “I use it every day, it’s small and sits by the kettle so doesn’t take up much space,” says Beedle.
“I use it for making breadcrumbs, pesto, chopping nuts, small amounts of pastry – the list is endless. It’s affordable too. I’m just about to buy six for my cookery school.”
And finally, as for her favourite cookbook, she loves Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (Amazon, £12.89). “There are so many wonderful cookbooks to choose from both old and new but Delia never lets you down whether you want to make a custard or boil an egg,” says Boyle.
If you are a confident cook or a complete beginner you can always trust Delia’s recipes.
Beedle’s final words are that you should: “Always read the recipe, allow plenty of time and get all your ingredients ready to go. It’s so easy to forget something fundamental to your bake.” She also runs online baking classes via Bake With a Legend and her own podcast The Bake Down reviewing each The Great British Bake Off episode, so you’ll find more top tips there.
Now you’re equipped with the knowledge from previous star bakers, it’s time you flaunt your show-stopping masterpieces on one of these cake stands and take a look at our baking section for further inspiration
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