The untold truth of The Great British Baking Show

On your marks... get set... bake! If you've listened to those familiar words, certainly you've watched The Great British Baking Show a time or two. 

The show launched in 2010 and has been a wildly popular sensation ever since. The first episode of the 2019 season peaked at over 6 million viewers tuning in (which was actually low compared to their usual numbers), so there's obviously something that hooks people in with this reality baking drama. 

The show features 12 contestants, all vying to be crowned the season's winner. Each episode requires bakers to showcase a Signature Bake, a Technical Bake, and a Showstopper each week, and what they produce on the show is truly impressive. And, just like most reality cooking shows, the baking show comes jam packed with plenty of drama, doubts, and mistakes along the way. 

But is there more to this show than just your average cooking or baking show? You bet. From the lame grand prize, to how all of the dishes actually get done, this is the untold truth of The Great British Baking Show.

The Great British Baking Show has two different names

If you've ever heard your friends talking about The Great British Bake Off, then yes, it's the same show as The Great British Baking Show

The show first aired in Britain, under the name The Great British Bake Off, and incorporating the term 'bake-off' was very much on purpose. Because this is a competition, producers needed something to convey the cut-throat nature of the show. Sure, everyone on the show is lovely and sweet as pie, but at the end of the day, only one winner can prevail.

As the show made its way to the United States, bake-off was already being used, taken by the Pillsbury Bake-Off since it first started in 1949. PBS didn't want there to be any confusion in the market or issues with copyright, and, quite frankly, Pillsbury was not open to sharing the name. 

But don't worry. The show plays just the same. There's just a difference in name, depending on where in the world you're watching it.

The prize on The Great British Baking Show isn't really that grand

Certainly you've heard of MasterChef, where the prize purse is $250,000. Or, perhaps the $10,000 contestants have the chance to take home on Nailed It! Well, The Great British Baking Show offers none of that cash. 

As it turns out, the only physical prize the contestants on the show are vying for is a bouquet of flowers and a cake stand. Yep, that's it. Sure, it's a beautiful, big bouquet and an etched glass cake stand, but wouldn't you think their hard work would earn them a little something more? 

Luckily, there is still quite a bit of notoriety that comes along with it. Previous contestant Martha Collison told The Sun that part of it is becoming a "national treasure just by doing it, because everyone in Britain loves the Bake Off so much." 

And that press and popularity has certainly paid off for many of the previous winners, helping them to move forward in their baking career with speaking engagements and cookbook offers along the way.

There's a reason for the tent on The Great British Baking Show

At first glance, the setting of The Great British Baking Show is pretty similar to any other cooking show, with stations set up for each contestant. It's a lovely decorated kitchen, with plenty of light. But unlike other cooking shows, those stations are actually set up in a giant tent, pitched on the lawn of the notable Welford Park property in Berkshire. And really, that's exactly how it was intended. 

The show's creator and executive producer, Anna Beattie, wanted the feeling of a rural baking competition, set in a village fete

Fete is a British term to describe a public gathering, which is typically held outside or in a tent, featuring games, entertainment, and the peddling of wares and plenty of things to eat. The tent gives the feeling of a large festival, allowing contestants the opportunities to present their bakes for judging.

The Great British Baking Show has a dedicated illustrator

If you've watched The Great British Baking Show, you've surely seen the stunning illustrations featured throughout the episode. As a contestant's creation is described, noting its flavors and decorations, a beautiful illustration accompanies it, giving viewers a look at what's to come. And that artwork is all thanks to one man — Tom Hovey. 

Hovey has been the illustrator for The Great British Baking Show since the beginning, and he's now illustrated over 1,000 cakes, with intricate details along the way. Hovey told BBC that he gets the photos from each of the bakes after an episode is filmed, and then he gets to drawing. 

He has honed his craft over the years, delivering the final illustrations for each episode within about a week of receiving them. He draws each of the illustrations by hand starting with an outline, and then he scans them and colors the pieces digitally to provide a finished product before the episode airs.

One of the stars of The Great British Baking Show made a comment fans didn't like

Ah, Paul Hollywood. In addition to having such a fun, recognizable last name, Hollywood is also an expert baker, and he has been with The Great British Baking Show since its inception. Hollywood is a world-famous baker, having held positions at some of Britain's top hotels, owning his own bakery, along with writing several baking books. 

He's been one of the most prominent players in the show, but some fans are not too happy with him after a comment made during Season 10.

During a judging tasting, trying a gâteau saint honoré, which features puff pastry, plenty of cream, and caramel, Hollywood remarked that it looked like "diabetes on a plate." And with that remark, those with Type 1 diabetes sure weren't happy, taking to social media to give Hollywood a piece of their mind. 

During the judging session, Paul's counterpart Prue Leith seemed to note that the bake was worth every calorie, perhaps to lighten the scene, but it didn't stop those offended from speaking their mind against his comment, posting notes to Hollywood on social media to please refrain from joking about the disease.

The Great British Baking Show won't promote a specific brand for free

Often cooking shows utilize a certain brand of appliance or ingredient throughout an episode or season, showcasing the brand name along the way. Typically, this in-show, subtle advertising is thanks to a sponsorship from the brand, but The Great British Baking Show doesn't take part in any promotion of a specific brand — at least not without being paid to do so. And they're pretty strict on those guidelines.

The BBC specifically states in its corporation guidelines that a show cannot accept a free or cheaper product in exchange for any on-air mentions, and that any brand wanting to be promoted on the show must pay to do so —regardless of any services provided. But during the 2012 season, there was a bit of a slip. 

The show had taken a loan for Smeg brand refrigerators, but had not been paid any extra money for the brand to appear on the show. The logo was seen a number of times throughout the episode (one person counted 27 times), and viewers definitely noticed. One viewer even wrote to the Radio Times to shine a light on the "blatant product promotion." 

A spokesperson for BBC said that the show is working on making the guidelines a bit more clear so shows don't break their strict guidelines again. 

If you want to compete on The Great British Baking Show, you can't be a professional baker

With the slew of competitive cooking and baking shows out there, it's tricky to keep their qualifications straight. And generally, most shows like to utilize chefs or bakers who have some sort of experience in the industry, whether they're looking to start a business, or they're already the head chef of a restaurant. But that certainly isn't the case for The Great British Baking Show

Applications for the show are only open to bakers who have not worked as a professional chef or baker, or to contestants that hold no professional catering qualifications in the last 10 years. They need to be passionate, at-home bakers, and they can't earn any income from commercial baking. 

In addition, the show is open to any UK resident ages 16 and over. Once someone fits all of those qualifications, they may apply by starting with a long application, moving into several screening tests and auditions, and they even complete an interview with a psychologist to make sure they're cut out for the pressure of filming.

The ovens are tested before each filming of The Great British Baking Show

Any baker knows that half of their success in baking is thanks to their oven. Traveling to a friend's house or baking for the family at mom and dad's house for the holidays can certainly yield different results than what you practiced at home. And that's the exact challenge that contestants on The Great British Baking Show face. 

The contestants have to get used to a new oven, but the producers level the playing field by testing every single oven before they begin to film each season, and before any bake enters the tent. 

One employee on the show, Georgia May, told The Guardian that each of the ovens is checked by popping a Victoria Sponge Cake into the oven to test for consistency. May says they have a runner at each station with their cake mix ready so all cakes are going in at the same time, ensuring they're property tested for timing, temperature, and levelness. 

The Great British Baking Show contestants go through a ton of ingredients

There are quite a few ingredients required to accomplish the types of baking creations these contestants are tackling on The Great British Baking Show

Typically, a baked good incorporates sugar, flour, butter, and eggs, with the addition of liquids like oil or milk, depending on the recipe. These basic ingredients create the base, but when you're doing such elaborate recipes as what's seen on this show, that list gets way longer. 

According to The Guardian, the show went through over 440 pounds of flour, 198 pounds of butter and 2,000 eggs just in Season 4 alone. But, the contestants certainly don't have to go buy the ingredients on their own — at least for what they bake in front of the cameras. 

Bakers submit their shopping lists for each episode, and there's a runner ready for grocery shopping at the beginning of each round, just in case a contestant decides that adding something else from their previously submitted ingredients list would really set their bake apart. 

Crews on the show shop for the ingredients based on the contestants' brand requests, and then they're de-branded to be sure they're still following BBC guidelines. 

The Great British Baking Show tent is a difficult space for baking

Baking is a pretty specific hobby. For some people, just baking a cake at home can be grueling enough, so can you imagine what it would be like to do it on television, among competitors, judges, and then throw in a tent? It's a tough challenge. 

Not only do contestants on The Great British Baking Show have the constant chatter of other competitors and cameras constantly in your face, but baking in a tent means they have no control over the temperature, and temperature can dramatically affect baked goods. 

Chief Home Economist for the show, Faenia Moore, told BBC that the temperature is probably the biggest challenge on the show. According to Moore, the weather changes often, making some of the bakes much more of a challenge. If the bakers need warmth to proof the dough for bread, it's usually too cold, but when they're working with chocolate, it's normally too hot and its melting. It's a constant battle with temperature and distractions to make sure they're still presenting their best possible bake to the discerning judges. 

The Great British Baking Show contestants wear the same clothes two days in a row

Unlike many other shows, The Great British Baking Show is filmed on the weekends. This is due in part to allowing contestants continue to work their day-jobs while competing, since none of them are professional bakers. 

A resident of the Welford Estate, where the show is filmed, told The Sun that it actually only takes three days to set up the tent, add some flooring, and put together each kitchen station. The set isn't utilized throughout the week, but once the weekend hits, it's game on. 

And while it's wonderful to film over the weekend, allowing the bakers to sleepily continue living their normal lives during the week, there's one caveat to the filming process. Former 2013 contestant and winner Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan that contestants actually have to wear the same clothes for two days in a row to maintain consistency throughout filming. Contestants get a new apron to change into for the second day of filming, but otherwise, outfits are all the same.

There's no dishwasher on The Great British Baking Show

If you've ever baked at home, you know putting together an elaborate cake or even a loaf of bread comes with a whole slew of dishes. So can you imagine what the situation looks like in The Great British Baking Show tent for the dishwasher? Certainly the show's crew just pops everything into an industrial washer and leaves it to wash, right? Oh, no way. 

Chief Home Economist Faenia Moore told BBC that there's no dishwasher on set in the tent, because it would be way too noisy for filming. Plus, plenty of the ingredients used in the bakes, like sticky caramel, don't normally come off in just one wash of a dishwasher. That's where crew member Iva Vcelak steps in. 

Vcelak is tasked with washing all of the dirty dishes from each of the baking rounds by hand, taking care of everything from bowls of colored frosting to caramel laden pots and pans. And it's no easy feat. Vcelak goes through 1,000 dishcloths, 80 sponges, and 8 gallons of dish soap each season to get the job done. Thank goodness for Iva!

One of The Great British Baking Show's hosts played a surprising previous role

It's hard to believe that one of the key players of the show played a role as a swamp man early in his career, but hold on, because it sure is true. 

In 2018, the show switched things up and the original cast of Paul, Mary, Sue, and Mel was no more. Paul Hollywood stayed, but a new cast was introduced with Prue Leith as his judging partner, along with Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding as hosts. 

And while you may notice Fielding is a bit of an oddball on the show, with his boldly patterned outfits and goofy jokes, this role is nothing compared to what he was doing in his previous life before the show. If you feel like you recognize Fielding while watching, it's probably because you've watched him in his wildly popular role as Old Gregg. Old Gregg was a viral video from 2008 featuring a part-man, part-fish character that's seen 9 million views and counting. His role as a merman was part of his involvement in a British comedy troupe called The Mighty Boosh, and Old Gregg's character was quoted in households across the globe.

None of the treats from The Great British Baking Show go to waste

There's a ridiculous amount of flour, sugar, butter, and other ingredients going into the tent to be turned into delicious breads, pastries, cakes, and more. Each item is judged, and there's certainly a slice or two taken from the finished bake at that time, but where does the rest of it end up? Don't worry. Every little crumb is enjoyed. 

Chief home economist Faenia Moore runs the behind the scenes logistics of the tent, and she has the wonderful job of dispersing the leftover goods. According to Moore, everything certainly gets eaten, but it must be dispersed in an orderly fashion. "It's important for the bakers to eat what they've slaved over, so after each challenge I make up a 'baker's basket' to go to their lunchroom," Moore told BBC. But once the bakers get their fill, the rest of the leftovers go to the crew to be enjoyed. Talk about a sweet employee perk.