25 Great British Bake Off Terms and Bakes Explained

Victoria sponge cake

The Spruce

The Great British Bake off is surely one of the most popular cooking shows of recent decades. The Spring foray into the now-famous tent, keeps millions and millions of viewers glued to the TV screens when it airs in the Autumn. In Britain, it is almost a reason to wish the Summer goodbye as Bake-Off or GBBO (as it is warmly known as in the UK) begins. 

But this charming and utterly British venture is also watched around the world with many viewers scratching their heads at some of the terminology, techniques, and bakes used in the show. Some can be figured out; others need a little more explanation. And the British love of innuendo, at which Bake Off excels, is sometimes beyond explaining, so just allow yourself to sit back, laugh and enjoy the baking. 

Here we provide 25 of the most frequently used terms, techniques, and bakes; explained so that by gaining a better understanding of this quintessentially British pastime, you will hopefully have a more heightened sense of enjoyment. 

Bake - 101

It is imperative, before going any further, to make clear that in the quirkiness of British English Bake can be both a verb and a noun. Throughout GBBO the presenters, cooks, and judges will slip from one or the other, and it is important to keep up to grab the meaning. 

  • A Bake (n) - any dish baked in the oven and on GBBO will be a cake, tart, pasty, etc. You will hear it expressed as "Your bake should be..,"
  • Bake (v) - the action of baking and heard throughout each program as "You have (x) minutes so get ready and BAKE!" to begin each section. 

GBBO Misunderstood Technical Terms

There are technical terms flung around as haphazardly as flour on the benches on Bake Off. An experienced British Baker will understand most of these, but for the amateur of a non-British viewer, these can be very confusing. Below are six of the most used ones on the show.

  • Slack - a less flattering term when used to describe a person (meaning stupid) but for a bake, it represents the poor consistency of a batter, cream or custard. 
  • Temper - not a state of crossness when your bake has burnt but is the art of melting chocolate to produce a shine and a crisp crack when the chocolate is snapped. 
  • Soggy Bottom - not wet, but the undercooked base of baked pastry often on tarts and pies. 
  • Proving - not trying to convince Paul Hollywood you know what you are doing, but this is the term for the rising of the dough; usually bread or yeast goods are put to prove (rise) and if you are lucky enough to have one, in a proving oven. 
  • Grill - another term which in Britain means to pop under the broiler, a word or term not used here, and which is not the barbecue.
  • Gingham Altar - not a baking term; not even a common name in British-English. The term is only relevant to GBBO, as it is used to describe the covering of the workstation for each contestant for the technical challenge with a Gingham tablecloth. 

Ingredients, Equipment, and Foods

If the technical terms flummox you, then trying the ingredients and foods used if you are not a British baker can be confusing. Here are a few of the most common ones translated for U.S. viewers.

  • Golden Syrup - sweeter than, but similar to, corn syrup.
  • Dark Treacle - a hugely popular British ingredient, not dissimilar to Molasses.
  • Clingfilm - quite simply, plastic wrap or Saran Wrap.
  • Hundreds and Thousands - are Sprinkles, both charming names.
  • Scones - these are biscuits
  • Biscuits - these are cookies.
  • Fairycake - is very similar, but not as fussy as a little cupcake.
  • Sultanas - frequently mentioned on the show, and are known as Golden Raisins elsewhere. 
  • Baps - are the cause of many innuendoes on Bake Off as they are also a slang term for breasts in Britain. So, if you hear them mentioned amidst a lot of giggling, what they are talking about are small bread buns, not unlike burger buns.

Unique Sounding Cakes and Bakes

So, you get the meaning of the technical terms, the ingredients, and unique-sounding foods. Then along come the presenters, asking the contestants to bake, what is a classic bake, but to those outside the UK, many will not have a clue what they are talking about. Here are just a few names. 

  • Spotted Dick - (no giggling) this is a steamed suet pudding filled with fruits.
  • A Banoffee Pie - this is one of the best food inventions ever as it is a pie of bananas, caramel toffee, and cream - delicious.
  • Battenberg - this is a super sweet, cute cake made of different colored squares and wrapped in marzipan, only for the very sweet-toothed amongst you.
  • Dorset Knobs - this is a savory biscuit (not cookie).
  • Jaffa cake - this is not a cake, but rather a chocolate-covered biscuit. 
  • Hobnobs and Jammy Dodgers - These too are much-loved biscuits. 
  • Flapjacks - these are one which sends many an American into apoplexy as in Britain they are sweet, chewy oat and fruit bars and eaten by the ton. They are not pancakes. Pancakes are pancakes but resemble crepes, and if they are from Wales are known as Crempog. 

This list could go on and on and on, as, like many cuisines around the world, everyone has their names and understanding. Britain and the Great British Bake Off just seem to be able to make it more confusing than anywhere else. 

If you are in the mood to learn about more Unusual Sounding British Cakes and Desserts or would like to test out your knowledge of baking terminology with the English-to-American Food Translator, we fully support your endeavor!