10 Lessons I Learned as a Contestant on Great British Bake Off

published Mar 19, 2022
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Credit: Courtesy of Crystelle Pereira

Being a part of your favorite TV show isn’t something that just happens every day, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I competed on — and somehow reached the final in — the 2021 season of the Great British Bake Off. And I’m still recovering from the shock. It’s like a strange (but incredible) immersive experience: It’s as if you’re watching Bake Off, but then you suddenly realize you’re in it. Mind-boggling, right? The whole experience felt like such a blur at the time, but now, having had time to reflect on the mad dream, I’ve collected and collated my thoughts, and want to share with you 10 uplifting secrets that I learned from my time in the iconic white tent.

Crystelle Pereira’s Bake Off Lessons

1. Nothing is impossible.

This may sound far-fetched, or even cheesy, but it’s true. GBBO fans will know that the show isn’t just about your ability to bake — it’s also about your ability to construct, engineer, and use every inch of your imagination to come up with wacky and creative ideas. After the shock of getting on, and having to call the producers to double check that I hadn’t misheard the news, I then received the briefs for the weekly challenges. When I found out that I had to make a cake that defied gravity for my FIRST EVER showstopper, I genuinely thought it was a joke. And then I slowly realized that it wasn’t a joke, and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up there and then. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that dramatic, but you get the idea. The point is that I hadn’t even heard of most of the challenges, nor would I have ever attempted to make them (joconde collar layered dessert, interactive biscuit toy, entremet display, sugar dome … I mean?). But Bake Off has taught me is that when you have a passion and a love for something, it really does push you to achieve things you never thought you’d ever be able to do.

2. You never feel alone.

Deciding to bake on TV with the risk of having your cakes collapse and having millions of viewers laugh at you is pretty scary. And to do this during a pandemic, meaning we had to leave home, say bye to our families and move into a COVID bubble, was even scarier. And I don’t know about you, but on TV, the tent looks pretty empty — just 12 bakers surrounded by pots and pans. However, what you viewers don’t see are the cameras and producers, all over the tent, who are all so lovely and friendly, and make you feel so comfortable. They’re the ones who keep you chatting away, asking you questions about your bakes and why they mean so much to you. So the tent is a very busy (and often chaotic) place, but definitely not empty! And of course, whilst I was worried about leaving my very close-knit family, I ended up moving in with a new family of bakers. Having 11 other people with you, all going through the same emotions and experiences, just means that you never ever feel alone in there, despite this being such a new experience.

3. Don’t be put off by unfamiliar ingredients and equipment.

I don’t know about you, but there are certain things in the baking world like gelatin, isomalt, immersion blenders, or candy thermometers that have always freaked me out. I’d never used them before, and the prospect of using them scared me. I guess I’ve always hated the unknown. But I’ve learned that you have to get over it — all ingredients are very useable, and instructions on how to use them are EVERYWHERE. Google is your best friend. And also, equipment is just there to help you, not hold you back. Candy thermometers have now changed my life, and I can’t believe I never bought one just because I was intimidated by it! 

4. Baking is emotional.

GBBO fans will have seen too many bakers cry over a cake, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you thought we were overly invested in our bakes. Honestly, I never used to understand why bakers would shed tears over a cake either, but now I get it. Basically, every creation you make in that tent is like your child — you create it, put your heart and soul into the recipe, and when it goes in the oven, you just hope and pray that it comes out right. So when something goes wrong (like a raw focaccia … ) your heart just BREAKS. It’s even worse when you don’t know why something went wrong. On the flip side, when something goes right, it also brings tears of joy — especially if the bake has some sentimental value, or is dedicated to someone. For me, when a bake went right, I would just picture my family jumping up and screaming for joy, and it would bring tears to my eyes. So, yeah, baking is emotional business. Always bring your tissues.

Credit: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions

5. The tent is actually a tent.

I know you’re probably thinking “WOW, SHOCKER,” but I thought that the tent would be a studio, and that, when I looked up, there would be an empty ceiling full of studio lights, and the whole thing would be fake. But no … thankfully, I was proven wrong. It is a proper, authentic white tent, propped up in a lovely green field. No heaters, no air conditioning. So it basically acted like a greenhouse — cold in the morning, and as soon as the sun came out, we would all feel sweat dripping down our faces, and watch our beautifully tempered chocolate melt before our very eyes. Delightful (but I wouldn’t have it any other way).

6. Baking is a form of creative expression.

I always used to bake without really thinking about it — it was just a hobby, a way to experiment with new flavors, and de-stress from work. However, Bake Off taught me that everyone has their own creative baking style and it becomes so much more apparent the more time you spend with bakers. From certain flavor profiles to decorating styles, I could now very easily identify a cake made by one of the 11 other bakers who were in the tent with me without knowing who made it. So, know your baking style and own it, honey (miso, cardamom, buttercream flowers *cough cough*).

7. The innuendos will never get old.

We all love a good innuendo, don’t we? As soon as someone uses nuts in a recipe, or has a long, sausage-shaped bake, you know an innuendo is on the horizon. And I can’t get enough of them. Everyone has a giggle, forgets about the stress of the tent for a minute, and we’re all reminded that even Dame Prue can be a bit naughty sometimes. What’s not to love?

Credit: Courtesy of Crystelle Pereira

8. Matt and Noel are a welcome distraction.

So many people have asked me if I just wanted Matt and Noel to go away every time they came to chat to me during the challenges, but they are actually a breath of fresh air. When things get stressful, and you start to panic, having them over at your bench, cracking a few jokes and making you laugh honestly takes the stress out of the challenge and reminds you to relax, not take things too seriously, and enjoy the process a bit more. They also reminded me of my sisters at home, who basically used to do the same thing when I was baking in the kitchen, so it was nice to have people to fill in their shoes for a bit!

9. Don’t put a sugar dome on a sticky surface.

I’m still scarred from that sugar dome challenge, but one thing I know for sure is that I will never make a sugar dome again, let alone put it on a sticky surface. The tent makes you do silly things sometimes — I feel like my brain occasionally left my head (especially during those technical challenges). But even when things weren’t going my way, I still enjoyed every second in the tent, and now I watch those episodes with a huge smile on my face.

Credit: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions

10. Mistakes WILL happen, and you have to embrace them.

I told myself going into the tent that things were going to go wrong, so I mentally prepared myself for that, and I’m glad I did. To be honest, I mentally prepared myself to go out in week one, but the point is, it’s really important to accept that things will never be smooth sailing, especially when it comes to baking. And when things do go wrong you have to accept it, embrace it, and just start again. The worst thing to do is to dwell on a mistake and panic, because that often leads to you giving up and we don’t want that. GBBO fans don’t want to see bakers giving up! So learning to keep a clear head and start again is so important.

If only I could’ve started that last focaccia again … but hey, I’ve learned to embrace that mistake. I still don’t really know what happened, but what I do know is that you can make something 99 times and it will come out perfectly, and on the hundredth time something will go wrong and you just can’t explain it. But that’s baking, and that’s OK! We’re only human, and we’re also amateur bakers. We can’t expect things to work out perfectly all the time, so as long as we keep going and doing what we love, that’s all that should matter.