GBBO . . . what’s happened to you?

What has happened to the Great British Bake Off?  Now in season 10 (or is it 9, maybe 8?) it has become a showcase of unattainable, unrelatable challenges.  No longer is it a baking show to which home bakers can think about, perhaps some day, challenging themselves to bake that irresistible, classic cake/pie/tart/bread/roll/pastry.  Now the contestants are asked to bake scenic ‘landscape desserts‘, pita bread on an outdoor  fire pit, and what in the world is a ‘Kek Lapis Sarawak‘ cake?  I completely understand that this is a long-running program and there is a need to have new “content” for each of the 10 episodes, but biscuit chandeliers? REALLY?

Has anyone else noticed that the bakers are younger, more stylish, and dare I say, more attractive?  In past seasons, there was a wide range of ages.  But not so much any more.  Where’s the Val, Diana, Brendan, Norman and Nancy today?  Is this home baker now too old for the commercial Channel 4 audience?  Also, these much younger contestants, with their perfect teeth, coifed hair and slim  bodies appear to be in ‘character’ now … much like MasterChef.

Season 1, which (unless you have a streaming service) we in the U.S. have never had the opportunity to see, featured 10 home bakers baking in the imposing tent which then moved around the U.K. to six different locations.  It was all about the classic bakes, ranging from puddings to breads to cakes.

The judges were Paul Hollywood, a seasoned bread baker, and Mary Berry, the Julia Child of Great Britain.  Together with comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as the sympathetic, caring, yet off-beat presenters who were always there to bolster a sagging souffle, the show was an immediate hit.  Let’s not forget the music.  Combining cellos, violins and a xylophone, the tension-building introduction perfectly set the mood of the show.

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc

The logistics of a roving tent must have been too daunting because in Season 2 the tent became permanently setup on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a 17th-century mansion house.  The number of contestants increased from 10 to 12 and a “star” baker was introduced.  It was official.  The Great British Bake Off was a huge hit!

Season 3, which here in the U.S. is referred to as Season 1, is when the rest of us fell in love with this charming baking show.  We were tired of the gimmicky, cut-throat, competitive, backstabbing drama which was so prevalent in our cooking shows.  We all fell in love with this simple format and with contestants who actually cared about each other, helping each other out when a crisis was imminent.

Ian dumping his bake into the bin.

Yes, there was one incident in Season 4 when Diana is accused of leaving Ian’s ice cream out of the freezer, which caused his bake to fail, and thus being eliminated.  Diana left the show because she said the program was edited to make it look as if she left the ice cream out when, in fact, she had put it back into the freezer.  She departed the show because of how she was portrayed.

The BBC series ran for six seasons, but when Channel 4 purchased the show, Mary, Mel and Sue left.  Paul Hollywood remained.  We were then introduced to Prue Leith as judge, replacing Mary Berry.  Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over for Sue and Mel.  Yes, they get the job done, but with gimmicks and slapstickish comedy, none of the clever, witty interplay we so enjoyed from Mel and Sue.

The first six seasons of this beloved show are constantly rerun on PBS, while Netflix has kept us up-to-date on the recent three.  Will I continue to watch?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t miss one episode.  But I do miss the eccentric, aging, snaggle-toothed, rural baker who is completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, but was such fun to watch.


Custard Powder?

As a Christmas gift one year, hubby received a ‘care’ package from home.  Among the Jammie Dodgers, Jelly Babies, Digestives and Cadbury Flakes was a bright yellow and red tin of “Bird’s Custard Powder”.   Idenbirdscustardtifying the other childhood favorites was easy, but what was this Bird’s Custard Powder?  Not only had I never heard of it, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

The tin of powdered custard sat in the cupboard for quite awhile until one very cold, snowy winter’s night, neither one of us wanted to go out, but were looking for a little ‘something’ after dinner.  Hmmmm, we had this Bird’s Custard Powder in the cupboard……

The directions were fairly simply ….
Mix 2 tablespoons of custard powder with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar (according to sweetness desired) in a bowl. From 1 pint of milk, mix a little milk into the custard powder mixture to form a smooth paste.  In a small pot, heat the remaining milk over medium heat and then slowly whisk in the powder mixture.  Continue stirring until custard thickens.  

We poured the hot creamy mixture into dessert bowls and set them into the frig to cool. An hour later, with a dollop of whipped cream, we decided to ‘try’ our powdered dessert.  It wasn’t bad!   It ended up being a long, cold winter and we eventually used all the custard powder for ’emergency’ desserts.

Little did I know at that time how popular this yellow and red tin was.   Many trips to Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Iceland and other U.K. supermarkets made me well aware of this ‘must have’ staple for most U.K. kitchens.   Not only can you make thickened custards (aka ‘puddings’ in the U.S. – Jell-O puddings, Royal puddings), but it is a key ingredient for trifles, pie and cake fillings, or as a pouring custard over desserts.  There are actually recipes based on using this as the main ingredient.

I asked many Brits what was this powdered substance.  Interestingly, no one knew ….. and were not the least bit interested in finding out, but I had to.

Custard in the U.K. is what we in the U.S. would call a “pudding”.  It is a mixture of milk, eggs and sugar which is heated until it thickens, and has been an important part of the British diet since Medieval times.   Food historians have credited the Romans as being the first to actually combine cooked eggs with other ingredients to create savory and sweet foods.  The earliest printed reference for custard/pudding is 1730.   As always, it was the upper classes who were able to enjoy these sweet concoctions.

Alfred Bird, a registered pharmacist, chemist and an inventor, was bobirds-tubrn in Nympsfield, England in 1811.  Alfred was the loving husband to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth had food allergies – one of which was an allergy to eggs (the other was to yeast).  As a concerned husband who wanted his wife to be able to have something sweet to pour onto her desserts, as was the style, without suffering an allergic reaction, Mr. Bird went into his laboratory.

Combining corn flour, sugar and flavorings, he created an egg-free, powdered substitute, which, when heated with milk, thickens and pours like custard.   As happens so frequently, at a dinner party the dried-custard powder, which was suppose to be served to his wife only, was also accidentally served to all his dinner guests. They overwhelmingly enjoyed it.  It was then that Alfred realized his ‘invention’ might have mass appeal.

It wasn’t long before Mr. Bird formed Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd. and opened a successful shop in Birmingham, England to sell his Bird’s Custard Powder. This was 1837.  Six years later, the creative Mr. Bird invented another item that would ultimately transform the baking indbirdscustardoldustry ….. baking powder.

His egg-less custard and baking powder soon became household staples, as did his other products – blancmange powder, jelly powder, and egg substitutes. Others saw the success of these products and the competition began, but they couldn’t compete with the savvy Mr. Bird.

As a talented businessman, Alfred realized the power of promotions and advertising, creating fun and memorable advertising campaigns. Being touted as a healthy and nutritious food, children were often featured in his advertisements.  Soldiers in WWI were provided with Bird’s custard as a healthful addition to their diet.  It wasn’t long before Americans began using custard powder and other cornstarch derivatives as thickeners for custard-type desserts.
From an advertisement in 1918 :  “At so small a cost as Bird’s Custard, there are few dishes in our daily diet which provide so much real nourishment and body-building material.

BIRD’s Custard is not only a delectable dainty, enjoyed by everybody, but is also a genuine whole-some food, which may be consumed freely by the children and grown-ups, with the confidence that, money for money, no better value is obtainable.

There is no shortage of BIRD’s Custard. There is plenty for everyone. We are working hard to supply the exceptional demands of the Military and the Public.”

Alfrbirds olded Bird died in his home in 1878 at the age of 67, but not before passing the company on to his son, Alfred Bird, Jr. who then passed the company onto his son.  In his obituary in the journal of the Chemical Society (of which he was a fellow), Alfred Bird Sr’s. skills and research were discussed at length, but never a mention of his other achievement, the famous Bird’s Custard Powder.

Bird’s was purchased by the General Foods Corporation, which was itself taken over by Philip Morris in the 1980s and then merged into Kraft Foods.  Kraft Foods sold the Bird’s Custard brand in 2004 to Premier Foods, the current owners.   Bird’s Custard can now be enjoyed by ex-pats around the World, from Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Germany, Austria, Sweden, India, Canada and the U.S.A.

The recipes using Bird’s Custard are too numerous to list. There are cookbooks and cooking websites dedicated to using this powdered custard as an ingredient.  Now I know what to do with this yellow and red tin.  How about you?

Pastry and Sweets for the Dinner & Supper Tables by Alfred Bird

85 Recipes online using Bird’s Custard Powder

Desserts using Bird’s Custard Powder

References:  The Food Timeline, Wikipedia, Bird & Sons,, Our

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