Most of us think of the Great British Bake-Off as an antidote to studying. It’s what we watch with our kids on a school night to relax in a world of flour, gingham, and the occasional joke about soggy bottoms.
But as geography teacher Alice has demonstrated this year, cake can be surprisingly educational. She uses her baking in her lessons to demonstrate coastal erosion, rock layers, volcanic activity and more besides.
Alice’s approach isn’t the only way to use baking as an educational tool. Indeed, it’s something our Director, Jemma Smith – a former school colleague of Alice’s – has used on several occasions to help boost students’ confidence. The fact that you get to eat something delicious at the end of the lesson doesn’t hurt. Here are some of the ways baking can teach more than you might expect.
A lot of baking is about ratios – flour to eggs, butter to sugar. While some bakers use estimation, others employ more precision and get the calculator out. With recipes using assorted different measurements (such as metric, imperial or cup measurements), conversions can also be required.
There’s a lot of biology in baking bread, as yeast enzymes catalyse the reactions needed for bread to rise. For a more complex version, try making your own sourdough starter, and exploring the science behind it.
Writing about food is deceptively simple, but few people can do it well. That makes writing about baking – whether it’s rewriting a recipe, or reviewing the end result – a great exercise in engaging senses such as smell and taste that we normally neglect in descriptive writing.
Bake-Off’s forays into history have often been mocked even by fans of the show, but there’s nothing like food to bring history to life. Try making a wartime recipe with powdered egg, or a medieval pie, and think about the lives of the people who would have cooked or eaten these recipes in the past.
Not just in the form of Alice’s bakes! Try out different bakes from around the world, such as Argentinian pastelitos or Middle Eastern flatbreads, and think about how geography – from colonialism to climate – has influenced what’s eaten where.
The structure of GBBO is not unlike an exam, with “seen” (the Signature and Showstopper) and “unseen” (the Technical) rounds, and challenging time constraints. You can learn from how some contestants manage their time well, and others end up struggling to finish.
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