Tuesday 28 August 2012

Behind the Scenes at the Great British Bake Off...

Great British Bake Off

An Interview with Cathryn Dresser

The week before the Great British Bake Off started, I stumbled upon a few of the contestants on Twitter. I always imagined that those brave enough to enter the Bake Off must have nerves of steel... I am a baker... hear my roar! After chatting with Cathryn and a few others prior to the first show, I realised they are actually just like us. They bake for their friends and family, and never imagined they would get on the show. Cathryn is a self confessed 'Last Minute Larry' and can often be found at the end of a trail of floury footprints!

The Great British Bake OffThis weekend I met Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. After suffering from a terrible case of 'Starstruckitis', I plucked up the courage to ask them both some questions about the Bake Off. Both made it crystal clear that the standard in this year's competition was higher than ever, and that anyone with designs on entering series four would have to seriously up their game in every aspect of baking. Mary warned that contestants must be able to 'bake an excellent loaf, a perfect cake and be original'.

Cathryn has been kind enough to answer some of the questions we are all dying to know about the show, including the audition process, filming and what it's like behind the scenes...

The idea of entering the Bake Off seems really daunting. Tell me about the selection process...
Baking and food is a huge part of my life and family. My mum is amazing and so are my aunties! We are all also massive GBBO fans. So, I sent in my application on a total whim thinking 'that'd be so amazing, but I'm sure would never happen, so hey-ho why not submit the application!?'

The audition process is a long, challenging yet exciting one. It all began with a phone interview, this alone was shocking enough as I had put the application right out of my mind. Then there are several more steps, including taking bakes (both sweet and savoury) to auditions, and a bit more 'grilling'. Although it was quite involved, it was an amazing experience and I told myself the application was worth submitting for the audition process alone. They definitely want to check the auditionees have plenty of knowledge and skill (but I certainly didn't...and still don't know even close to everything). I admitted to not having made every type of pastry and macarons but evidently this didn't pose too much of a problem. They really are looking for good amateurs, not professionals. The audition process began for me, not long after the end of series 2 and I didn't know I'd made it until a few months before filming commenced.

I was elated to have been chosen but the overriding feelings were that of shock and excitement. Right up until we had all began filming I thought 'bloody nora, what if I'm not nearly as good as the others, and really stand out as the worst/least experienced', the funny thing is, many of the 12 of us felt the same, there is a sense of entering the unknown and putting yourself in the spotlight!

Why do you think you were picked?The honest truth is....I'm not really sure! Maybe it's because they sensed my genuine love of baking for and with my family, plus I worked flippin' hard on the bakes that I took to auditions, and they turned out quite well... luckily!

What's it like behind the scenes at the Bake Off?
It is so hard to describe just how lovely EVERYONE involved was. The twelve of us bakers had such a laugh together. Everyone behind the scenes is so supportive and helpful, as well as hilarious. there is so much that goes on behind the scenes that you take for granted as a viewer (or at least I certainly did) so much time and hard work goes into making the show. We were so blessed with the location too, Harptree Court is the most beautiful, charming and luxurious setting and Linda and Charles who own it were so warm, kind and generous. It was amazing! But the main things that stands out from behind the
scenes at GBBO are laughter, chewing the cud and cups of tea! (or hot water if you were Manisha!)

What timescales are involved?
From the start of the audition process until the show finishes on telly is almost a year! Gosh only just worked that out!!! Each show is filmed over two days, filming starts early and is all day. I was truly shocked that I really really liked everyone, we got on so well, we went out for dinner together, had breakfast together between the two filming days and chatted whilst away from filming. I have made some proper lifelong friends. we really had such a fun time, playing silly games, teasing each other, sharing stories and in some cases making mischief or being outrageous and keeping us all entertained. They were a very fun, clever supportive bunch, I couldn't have got through it without them.

I didn't know what to expect from Mary and Paul, but they were both SO lovely. I was very nervous around them and felt pretty star truck most of the time. I wouldn't describe them as being particularly 'hands on', but they were really supportive and kind (although Paul is a tiny bit terrifying) and in general very fair and balanced in their judgements, which I should mention are all their own. (This is true, not just saying in-case they read this!)

There are no words for just how brilliant Mel and Sue are. It is not for the cameras either (which could be the case), they aregenuinely hilarious and fabulous ALL the time. They absolutely made it for me. They showed real concern, care and support for all of us, they kept us laughing when we felt like crying and cut the nervous tension at vote off with their warmth and jokes. THEY ARE WICKED!

Do you get chance to practice your recipes beforehand?

Yes, we know what we need to bake in advance and so do get time to practice, but your practicing lots of things at the same time to sharpen you knowledge and skills, constantly speculating what the technical challenges might be.

Was there anything that you were dreading making?
I dreaded making lots of things, but mainly things I'd never made...the likes of rum babas, I make lots of mistakes and mess at home too which was a worry!

Did you have skills in every area before entering the Bake Off?
I baked all the time before Bake Off, but just ordinary family home baking. I love trying new things but there were certainly gaps in my knowledge and experience. I learnt so much from all the research and practising that I did. I also learnt loads from the other bakers, the guys behind the scenes and Mary and Paul. We all shared tips and advice with each other.

What is your favourite bake?
Although they are not my favourite to eat, cakes are my favourite things to bake.

Are Mel and Sue as funny in real life as they are on TV?
Funnier! sometimes we couldn't start filming because we were all laughing so much, and sometimes the jokes were too rude to be shown at 8pm but real belly-laugh stuff from them all the time. I love them so much!

What are your lasting memories of Paul and Mary?
Mary is the kindest, loveliest, most elegant lady you could ever meet, the absolute Queen of Baking. Paul is intimidating, yet really supportive. He is honest and simply brilliant.

Which cookbook would you not be without?
This is tricky, I love lots but maybe Nigella's Feast, particularly at festive times of year!

What's the best dessert you've ever eaten and where was it?
My mum makes the very best lemon meringue pie, served fresh with cream, I'm afraid nothing comes close!

A massive thank you to Cathryn for giving us a sneaky peek into the world of the Bake Off and for taking the time to answer my questions.

Join in the chatter on Twitter every Tuesday night at 8pm using the hashtag #GBBO. 

Please leave your thoughts and comments below... x


  1. Great interview - lovely to get an idea of what it's like behind the scenes. I think part of the programme's appeal is that while it clearly some of the challenges are daunting, it looks as though everyone has such great fun on it. :)

    1. It's nice to know that they are not all baking super-powers too! Just normal people like us...

  2. Cathryn is def one of my faves this time around, especially since I'm a Sussex girl too! Cannot wait how she gets on this round :)

  3. Thank you for writing this! Cathryn is one of my favourites this season.

  4. What a lovely interview - Cathryn is so nice! I'm rooting for her - hope she goes all the way to the final!

  5. I really like Cathryn - I love the faces she pulls when she is nervous. What a sweetie! :) <3

  6. Anyone agree the BBC should commission a sit-com featuring Cathryn and Sarah-Jane. Written by Victoria Wood its a sure fire ratings winner


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