If you haven’t binge-watched all three seasons of The Great British Baking Show, then you have some work to do this weekend. As far as reality cooking competitions go, it’s quite civilized—Gordon Ramsay isn’t throwing flaming spatulas at anyone—and actually educational with all of the baking tips. There is even a staggering number of bakes that you can pass off as breakfast recipes. What the show doesn’t do is define a lot of their British and otherwise obscure baking terms for its American audience. The show debuted on the BBC in 2010 as The Great British Bake Off, and was such a hit that PBS syndicated seasons four, five, and six as it appears on Netflix as The Great British Baking Show. Its success in Great Britain spurred what is lovingly referred to as “the Bake Off effect.” Whether it’s due to the harsh yet playful demeanors of the two judges—renowned baker Mary Berry and deeply critical sliver fox Paul Hollywood—or the endearingly bushy-tailed amateur bakers, the show gave British baking a serious face-lift and Americans another reason to stay on the couch.
The most important lesson I learned from the show is if these bakers whipping together sweet buns, eclairs, and three-tiered cheesecakes in a couple hours are “amateurs,” then I fall somewhere in the “can barely crack eggs” category. So, I hunkered down with my laptop and re-watched all three seasons in two days and picked out all the baking terms I didn’t know. Here is a comprehensive glossary of baking terms you probably don’t know.
Meringues and Creams
This is the light, airy meringue you are most familiar with. Egg whites and sugar beaten into a white glossy fluff, and then it’s baked.
This meringue tends to be silkier and denser and involves beating the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over boiling water until it reaches 120 degrees, and then it is beaten until stiff and cool (i.e. more complex).
The most complex of all the meringues, it’s used to frost cakes. It involves beating the whites, then drizzling 240-degree sugar syrup into the whites, and continuing to beat until satiny and cool.
Crème pâtissière (also called crème pat)
In English, it’s translated to “pastry cream,” so basically it’s just a thick, creamy custard used to fill cakes, pastries, and tarts.
A.k.a. English cream, a thin, liquidy custard used mainly for dessert sauce.
Commonly known as German buttercream, it’s simply a pastry cream whipped with butter, giving it that light, mousse-y texture that is often used to frost cakes.
Commonly called Bavarian cream, it’s a mousse-y pastry cream that has been thickened with gelatin instead of flour or cornstarch, and sometimes flavored with alcohol. It’s also usually eaten as a dessert, much like mousse.
Not to be confused with marzipan, frangipane is a spreadable cousin to pastry cream made by enriching an almond-paste base with sugar, butter, and eggs.
This sponge is almond-flavored and made with whole eggs rather than the whites and yolks being beaten separately like other sponges.
This sponge is made with more fat than usual and was said to be the favorite of Queen Victoria.
This sponge gets most of its fat from the eggs which are leavened using the foaming method. The eggs are gently warmed over a pot of simmering water and beaten until foamy and thick.
It doesn’t have a leavening agent, so it’s often used as the base of a tart, quiche, or pie during baking because it doesn’t puff up.
It’s a soft, more elastic dough that is traditionally used for steamed and boiled pastries, both sweet and savory, like dumplings and mincemeat.
Puff yields a flaky light pastry, like a croissant, because it is made with several layers of solid butter folded into the dough.
The shorthand version isn’t as pretty, but It takes half the time and still tastes delicious. Instead of laboriously folding the butter between layers of puff, the butter is mixed into the dough and then the dough is folded a few times to give it some layers.
This is arguable America’s favorite pastry: It’s only made with butter, water, flour, and eggs and is used for things like cream puffs, eclairs, churros, crullers, and beignets.
Hot water crust
It’s a stiff, sturdy pastry mixed together while piping hot and is used for deep dish, savory pies.
It’s a traditional Cornish pasty is filled with potatoes, beef, and turnips, kind of like a British empanada. Not the things you stick on boobs.
This is basically just a roll, you know like in a sandwich shop.
This is really any dessert that is baked in a square or rectangular tin and then cut into individual pieces… think brownies and blondies.
Plait (pronounced "plat")
This is literally just a braid. Like British people don’t braid their hair, they plait it.
These are cookies. Not crackers. Not the buttery, flakey Southern kind that come with gravy. Although they can be savory.
Pudding (also called puds for short)
This translates to any type of dessert, not the viscous dessert made popular by Snackpacks.
Traditionally it’s a dessert made with baking powder (very important) so that the cake mixture and the “sauce mixture” separate in the oven, with the heavy sauce sinking to the bottom. On the show, a number of bakers also made lava cake-esque puddings (fondants) where the sauce was contained in the center.
These are lava cakes. Not the hard, sugary icing that no one enjoys eating.
These are like the less American version of cupcakes. They’re made with a lighter sponge and topped with a glossy icing rather than mounds of buttercream.
Hundreds and Thousands
Sprinkles. Jimmies. Whatever you call them.
This is just molasses syrup.
This means rising. On the show, contestants put dough in proving drawers which are heated to accelerate rising.
This just means “broil,” which is that setting on your oven that you never use. The heating elements are on the top.
Meaning spelt or whole grain, you know like the kind at grandpa’s house (I guess)?
This is simply just checkered cake.
This cake looks like a brain and is made by lining a form with slices of Swiss roll and filling it with a mousse or custard.
Similar to the other Charlotte, but instead of lining the filling with sponge, it’s lined with ladyfingers. Very different from the store in the mall.
This is a rectangular, French pastry made up of alternating layers of thin, flaky puff pastry and piped crème pâtissière.
These little joys are like little fluffy, cake-like tea biscuits topped with a Jaffa orange jelly and a coating of chocolate. (They’re also my favorite thing ever.)
A 17th-century favorite, they are small round pastries made with puff pastry and filled with courants.
Popular at 1970s cocktail parties, these are small cylinders of puff pastry hollowed out and filled with meat or fish in a creamy, mousse-like sauce.
Entremets are small, multi-layered mousse-based cakes.
Similar to an apple turnover, this is simply just a pocket of puff pastry filled with something—usually a fruit compote.
Not to be confused with a cooley (a euphemism for butts), it’s a thin purée used as a sauce.
It’s typically a ring-shaped cake like a bundt, but it’s made with yeast and soaked in liqueur syrup.