What skills do you need to win the Great British Bake Off? Determination, imagination, creativity – perhaps all of these might come to mind, as well as actually knowing how to bake.
However you will also need to use a lot of maths skills in order to succeed in the tent, and if your maths comes unstuck then your baking will do too.
Here are 9 maths skills which could help you:
1. Divide and conquer
If you are faced with 2kg of cake mixture and need to make 24 perfect miniature Victoria sponges then how do you do it? You can’t just guess like you do at home - instead you need to use division to calculate how much mixture to use in each sponge.
In series 7, dividing 900g by 12 caused competitors Tom and Candice problems in the Dampfnudel technical. Luckily Sue Perkins stepped in with some accurate pen and paper long division. No calculators allowed in the tent!
2. Fractions galore
During one technical challenge when contestants were asked to make Tudor biscuits, Paul Hollywood gave the instruction to: “take of your dough and divide it into 6 biscuit balls”. Had the contestants paid more attention to working out how to calculate a fraction of a quantity, then this would have been a doddle. Instead they scratched their heads losing precious time.
3. Follow those formulae
Who would have thought that formulae and algebra could be useful in baking? If you are making puff pastry then there is a formula for calculating how to make the correct number of layers:
=Number of layers in the puff pastry, = Number of folds, = Number of turns (rotating the pastry)
In series 7, contestant Benjamina used this formula to calculate how she should create puff pastry with 27 layers – in the meantime other contestants looked confused and had to work much harder in order to choose the correct method.
4. Engineering skills
Many of the competitors’ creations are more like mini pieces of architecture than cakes or biscuits. Some competitors even build their own moulds requiring them to use area and volume calculations in their constructions. During Biscuit week in Series seven, Rolls-Royce engineer Andrew demonstrated just how useful his precise engineering skills were by constructing a free-standing biscuit model using 37 separate pieces. Normally he uses mathematics to design aircraft engines, whereas during Bake Off he transferred those skills to a more edible purpose!
5. Pi can come in handy too
It’s not just pies which are important on the show – finalist Ian Cumming from Series 6 used the formula for the area of a circle to help him construct his final showstopper bake. On Twitter he later wrote: “Pi r squared. It isn't tasty … but so glad I knew all about it for making that final showstopper!” If you are making anything round and complicated then this formula will be vital.
6. Get the right angle
In order to impress Paul and Mary you will need to be able to produce flawless showstoppers, and contestants are often seen calculating angles and even using protractors to attain perfection. In Series 7, Tom said of his biscuit pyramid: “You can blame my Year 9 maths teacher – I have worked out the angles and it should stand up as a perfect pyramid…” The good news is that the pyramid did stand up, while some other contestants’ creations fell flat.
7. Scaling up and ratios
Being able to scale up or down a recipe is a crucial skill during Bake Off, as you will usually be baking at an entirely different scale from your recipe book. If your book gives you the recipe to make ten iced buns, you may well be asked to make a batch of 24 buns in the show. Can you scale up your recipe correctly?
8. Time calculations
Some of the bakes are enormously complicated, with the showstoppers taking three or four hours and frequently involving the production of lots of different components all at once. One Bake Off winner Frances Quinn used over 120 ingredients in her final showstopper!
All competitors come armed with a time plan which they have written themselves and therefore they need to be able to convert minutes into hours and add up timings on the spot. One of the greatest hazards of the Bake Off is getting timings in a muddle and therefore being able to calculate with time is a skill you can’t be without.
9. Measurement skills
During the competition you will need to measure all kinds of substances using all kinds of containers. While your weighing scales might be digital, you will also be using measuring jugs, thermometers, and even rulers when measuring the height of your creations.
Being able to read a scale is a vital skill – get this wrong and your cake will be too dry or your icing too runny.
Even if you don’t make it onto a show like the Great British Bake Off, then you will still need maths when cooking and baking at home. Next time you put on your apron try and look for all the places where you need mathematics – you have probably been using it much more than you think!
Article by Hazel Lewis 2016