The Great British Bake Off: Classic UK Treats

The Great British Bake Off, affectionately known as GBBO, has captured the hearts of audiences in the United Kingdom and around the world with its charming display of baking prowess, the delightful chemistry of its presenters and judges, and the fierce yet friendly competition among amateur bakers. This popular TV show has not only entertained millions but has also revitalized interest in classic UK treats, many of which have been featured in the catch-up segments and challenges on the show. Let’s explore some of these tasty treats and learn more about their history and significance in British culture.

Victoria Sponge Cake

The quintessential British dessert, Victoria Sponge Cake, named after Queen Victoria, who was said to have enjoyed a slice with her afternoon tea, is a staple in UK bakeries and a frequent star on the GBBO. It consists of two layers of light and airy sponge cake sandwiched together with a delicious helping of strawberry jam and sometimes cream.

To make a Victoria Sponge, the key is to use the “weighing method,” where the weight of the eggs in their shells determines the amount of flour, butter, and sugar. The ingredients are then mixed to create a smooth batter, which is divided into two tins and baked until golden. Once cooled, the sponges are spread with jam (and cream, if desired), then dusted with powdered sugar for the finishing touch.

Recipe Basics

– Equal weights of eggs, self-raising flour, unsalted butter, and caster sugar
– Strawberry jam (preferably homemade)
– Optional double cream
– Icing sugar for dusting

Cooking instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5).
2. Grease and line two sandwich tins.
3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a bit of flour with each.
5. Fold in the remaining flour gently.
6. Divide the mixture into the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.


Another British classic featured on GBBO is the scone, an essential component of the traditional cream tea. Whether you prefer them plain or dotted with raisins, scones are best served warm with clotted cream and jam. The debate continues on whether the jam or cream should be spread first, a regional argument between Devon and Cornwall.

Scones are relatively simple to make, with the key to success being in handling the dough as little as possible to keep them light and fluffy. Made with flour, raising agents, butter, sugar, milk, and sometimes eggs, the dough is rolled out, cut into rounds, and baked until risen and golden.

Recipe Tips

– 225g self-raising flour
– 75g butter, chilled and diced
– 30g caster sugar
– 150ml milk
– A pinch of salt
– Optional: 75g sultanas or raisins

Cooking instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (Gas Mark 7).
2. Mix the flour and salt, then rub in the butter.
3. Stir in sugar (and sultanas if using).
4. Gradually add milk to form a soft dough.
5. Knead lightly on a floured surface, then roll out to 2cm thickness.
6. Cut out rounds with a cutter and place on a baking tray.
7. Brush with beaten egg or milk for a glossy finish.
8. Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding is a rich, moist cake laden with dates, smothered in a luscious toffee sauce, often served with vanilla ice cream or custard. Its origin story is somewhat murky, with multiple claims to its invention, but it undoubtedly became prominent in the 1970s. Despite its relatively modern inception, this dessert has earned its status as a beloved classic, routinely appearing in the GBBO tent amidst approval from judges and contestants alike.

The allure of Sticky Toffee Pudding is that complex combination of a deeply flavored sponge with a sumptuously gooey sauce. The dates are crucial both for texture and taste, and while the recipe seems indulgent with its generous dollops of butter and sugar, the result is undeniably worth it.

Making the Perfect Pudding

– 175g dates, stoned and chopped
– 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
– 75g unsalted butter
– 175g caster sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 175g self-raising flour
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– For the sauce:
– 115g unsalted butter
– 75g light or dark muscovado sugar
– 140ml double cream

Cooking instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4).
2. Place dates and 300ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
3. Add bicarbonate of soda, then set aside.
4. Cream butter and sugar, then gradually add eggs and vanilla.
5. Fold in the flour and date mixture.
6. Pour into a greased baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes.
7. For the sauce, combine all ingredients and stir over low heat until smooth. Serve poured over the warm pudding.


Although traditionally Scottish, shortbread has been wholeheartedly adopted by the whole of the UK and features regularly in GBBO’s biscuit week. This buttery, crumbly biscuit is critically judged on its snap, texture, and taste. Premium quality butter is the heart of classic shortbread, which is simplicity at its best with just three main ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour.

The process is simple but requires precision. The butter must be at the right temperature for the perfect creaming, and the dough must be handled with care to avoid activating the gluten, which would make the shortbread tough. Once baked, the shortbread is usually scored while warm, then cooled to achieve that characteristic snap that is music to a biscuit lover’s ear.

Shortbread Essentials

– 125g unsalted butter, softened
– 55g caster sugar, plus extra for finishing
– 180g plain flour

Cooking instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5).
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth.
3. Stir in the flour to get a smooth paste.
4. Turn onto a work surface and gently roll out until 1cm in height.
5. Cut into shapes and place on a baking tray.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pale-golden.
7. Cool on a wire rack and finish with a sprinkle of caster sugar.

As evidenced by these British classics, The Great British Bake Off has done a remarkable job promoting traditional UK treats and encouraging budding bakers to step into their kitchens and recreate the magic. These recipes have stood the test of time, charming people with their comforting flavors and simple ingredients.

Finishing Thoughts

GBBO has truly become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring a renaissance of home baking and renewing love for British classics. The show has taught viewers that baking is not only about following a recipe but also about bringing joy, creativity, and a touch of nostalgia into the mix. It is a celebration of baking and the recognition of the rituals and traditions that go along with it, all while presenting the warmth and charm that has made the Great British Bake Off a cherished part of British television and a bearer of the country’s culinary heritage. Whether you’re in the UK savoring these treats with a cup of tea or elsewhere in the world, tuning in to watch the bakers whip up these classic confections, one thing is for sure – the love for the Great British Bake Off and the timeless treats it features is universal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Great British Bake Off?

The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), also known as Bake Off or Baking Show in some countries, is a popular UK television baking competition where a group of amateur bakers competes against each other in a series of rounds, attempting to impress a group of judges with their baking skills. Each week, a contestant is eliminated, with the winner being crowned ‘Britain’s best amateur baker’.

How do I apply to be on The Great British Bake Off?

To apply for The Great British Bake Off, you will need to fill out an application form from the show’s official website when applications are open. Applicants must be over the age of 16 and be a resident of the UK. They also need to have a passion for baking and be amateurs, meaning they can’t have worked as a professional chef or baker.

What are some classic UK treats featured on The Great British Bake Off?

The Great British Bake Off often features classic UK treats such as Victoria Sponge Cake, Bakewell Tart, Scones, Eccles Cakes, Cornish Pasties, Battenberg Cake, Welsh Cakes, and the traditional Christmas Pudding.

What is a Victoria Sponge Cake?

A Victoria Sponge Cake is a traditional British cake consisting of two layers of light and airy sponge cake, sandwiched together with jam (often strawberry or raspberry) and whipped cream or buttercream. It is named after Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy a slice with her afternoon tea.

How do I make a Bakewell Tart?

To make a Bakewell Tart, you’ll need to prepare a shortcrust pastry case filled with layers of jam (usually raspberry), frangipane (an almond-flavored cream), and topped with flaked almonds before baking. Once baked and cooled, it is sometimes finished with a layer of icing and a cherry on top.

What distinguishes a Cornish Pasty?

A Cornish Pasty is a traditional baked pastry, originating from Cornwall. It is a D-shaped pastry, crimped on one side, not the top, filled with beef, diced potato, turnip (swede), and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper. It is famous for being a portable meal for tin miners and fishermen.

Why is Battenberg Cake checkered on the inside?

Battenberg Cake has a distinctive checkered pattern on the inside, which is achieved by arranging pink and yellow sponge cake cubes in a checkerboard pattern and holding them together with apricot jam. The cake is then wrapped in marzipan. The checkered pattern is revealed when the cake is sliced.

Can I make Welsh Cakes at home?

Yes, Welsh Cakes are relatively simple to make at home. They are small, round, and flat, made from flour, butter or lard, currants or raisins, eggs, and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Welsh Cakes are traditionally cooked on a bakestone or griddle, and best served warm, dusted with sugar.

Is there a trick to perfecting scones like the ones on GBBO?

To perfect scones like those on The Great British Bake Off, ensure your butter is cold and work it into the flour quickly to avoid warming it up. Don’t over-mix the dough to keep the scones light and fluffy. Also, when cutting out scones, don’t twist the cutter, as this can affect how they rise.

What’s the significance of Christmas Pudding in UK culture?

Christmas Pudding is a rich, boiled or steamed pudding made with dried fruit, nuts, and spices, often soaked in alcohol such as brandy, which is a traditional part of Christmas dinner in the UK. The pudding is often made in advance, and it is customarily stirred by each family member while making a wish. It is also traditionally served flambéed, with a sprig of holly on top, to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns.