Full disclosure: I’ve never seen an episode of The Great British Bake Off. I know, worst British person ever. And to say I lack skills when it comes to baking is the understatement of the year. But, despite everything I make looking like it’s already been chewed up and spat out, I absolutely love it! So when the wonderful people at Love Pop Ups London invited me along to The Big London Bake, I jumped at the chance and decided it would be sensible to invite someone who had a) seen the TV show and b) was actually competent in the kitchen so I brought along my lovely friend Beth.
This was my first time venturing down to Tooting and the setting for The Big London Bake is out the back of the most adorable little bar;The Castle Pub.
If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend going down a little early and having a drink first because it really is so cute! I wish we had known about the pub before we arrived as we would definitely have spent more time there before the event started. Instead, we found one right next to the station, and while lovely, it didn’t have the gorgeous little igloos and roaring outdoor fireplaces that The Castle offered.
The event isn’t very well signposted (and this is my only gripe in an otherwise amazing evening) and we wandered in and out of the pub a couple of times before someone was available to talk to us and direct us out a door into the garden where the queue was waiting. Although the ticket does say the location is ‘The Castle, Tooting,’ having seen images online of the big white tent online we were really confused walking into this little pub, so I think a sign somewhere would definitely help.
We didn’t have to wait long before being shown inside (side note; alcoholic drinks aren’t allowed in the tent so make sure you finish them before it’s time to go in. They do say that you can nip out and have a break if you’d like to head to the bar but honestly, we were so involved in the task that time just flew by and we really didn’t need one! Plus I’m competitive AF and not about to waste valuable time on alcohol)
We got inside and each team of two were shown to one of ten baking stations in what (I’m told) is an exact replica of the GBBO tent and were introduced to our host for the evening; Eleanor. She explained that we would have 90 minutes to complete our bake and there would be professionals around throughout the evening to lend a helping hand should we need it.
We were there on the last day of Battenberg cakes (which I was a little disappointed about as I hate marzipan) but seeing as I am the worst friend ever, I completely forgot that Beth has a nut allergy (again, sorry beth) and so when she told our lovely bake-off host there was a bit of a mad dash to make sure procedures were put in place to avoid cross contamination and our marzipan was swapped out for icing sugar. (I know, I’m the worst. Please don’t be me. Call them in advance and let them know about any dietary requirements.)
The worktops were laid out with pre-measured ingredients and all of the equipment needed was in and around the station, so everything was to hand and easy to reach. At the front of the tent was a corner full of different flavourings, toppings and colours to add to your cake as well as cutters and moulds for decorations needed later on.
I headed off to nab some goodies while Beth got started.
The first section was pretty simple; pour ingredients from a small bowl into a big bowl and mix them up. Even I can cope with that. Then we separated the mixture into two equal sized bowls and chose our colours and flavours!
Having the biggest sweet tooth ever, I wanted a proper dessert persons cake, so we decided on a cookie dough flavoured sponge with vanilla icing on top, and to make our cake really pop we went for super bright colours: pink and turquoise. We added everything in and mixed it all up (predictably getting it absolutely everywhere) then popped them in the oven to bake!
Next we had to make the jam! I’m not going to lie, I was actually really excited about this part. I’m not sure why making my own jam seems like such a big achievement (especially when it’s literally just various berries that you crush and chuck in a pot with some sugar then and then leave to it) but I was very proud. We decided to be extra fancy and sieve it for a nice smooth consistency. Mary Berry eat your heart out, or what?
The buttercream was equally as easy, we literally just flicked a switch and kept an eye on it, but one of the hosts said it was the fluffiest buttercream of the night. So, you know, smashing it! Tasted good too!
Starting to stress slightly about the time, I removed our sponges from the oven, managing to burn Beth’s hand while in the middle of telling her to be careful (standard hurricane Turner) and then in, what I’m definitely considering to be a stoke of genius, placed the cakes on top of the gigantic fan to cool quickly. I did manage to knock the fan over and fall on my arse. But I saved the cakes because, priorities.
We rolled out the icing while waiting for our sponges to cool, opting for the same pink colour we had added to our cake mix, though using a quarter of the amount and kneading for only a little time to give a marbled effect. (I don’t know where this stuff came from either, but anyone who has played monopoly with me will tell you that competition truly brings out my worst side so we were going all out to win!)
With our sponge finally down to room temperature we started to assemble our cake, however, this part was seriously messy and our little sponge did not end up looking particularly neat. We sliced off the crust and cut it into strips, alternating the colours and sticking them together with jam for the chequered effect and wee had previously spread the buttercream on the icing rather than the sponge (pro tip from Eleanor) which definitely made it look a lot better but stupidly we (I) placed our crumbly, jammy mess in the middle, rather than the edge so when we wrapped it we ended up with a weird double layer on the bottom which looked kind of messy.
We decided to decorate our cake with roses and, once again, Eleanor came to our rescue. She showed us exactly how to make them, and remained super patient, even when both of my attempts at the roses ended up looking like a severely disfigured vagina and were subsequently not included on the cake, shocker.
We were just gluing the last rose onto the top when they called times up. I really wish we’d had just ten more minutes or so to finish decorating as it seemed a little bare but we definitely didn’t have time to make the leaves we had planned on.
Despite that, and the few mix ups we had whilst assembling it, we were pretty happy with how our cake turned out!
We carried them to the front where they were judged on taste, presentation and overall technique and the winner was presented with a wooden spoon and lots of applause! Amazingly enough, we came second and the cakes were all boxed up to take home so we were pretty damn happy!
We had a really fun night, if I’m being completely honest, far more than I expected to have and I’ll absolutely be back. Thanks to the detailed instructions, the baking was simple enough to complete without help but the time limit and competition meant that you definitely felt a little rushed, adding that little bit of panic and mild hysteria that resulted ion Beth and I covered in food dye and often collapsing into fits of giggles.
Next month’s bake is doughnuts (my fave) so I definitely want to go again and try them out. It’s the perfect event for girls night but would also make a really cute date night! They actually even have a ‘First Bakes’ event which is speed dating, mixed with baking. There’s a head chef and a professional matchmaker on hand to make sure both aspects of your evening run smoothly which will definitely result in a great first date story to tell the grandkids about should it go well!
The Big London Bake have very kindly given me a discount code to share with you all, so just use LETSBAKE10 for 10% off of your booking!
Let me know what you thought of it if you do try it out, and definitely share your creations in the comments!