We’re heading back to the tent, folks.
A portrait of the four hosts of Great British Baking Show
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Great news: A new season of The Great British Baking Show is coming. Arriving on Netflix on September 24th, the upcoming ninth collection (or series 12 in the U.K.) will again bring amateur bakers together to compete in a series of challenges with the hopes of impressing judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, who are returning alongside hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas.

Ahead of the new season, EatingWell got the chance to chat with Hollywood and Leith. Read on to learn more about what it was like filming the new season, the challenge they enjoy judging the most and more. Ready, set, bake!

What Filming in a Bubble Was Like

Similar to last year, this season of the competition was filmed in a production bubble; i.e., the cast and crew remained together throughout filming to minimize risk during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While it was definitely hard work to keep 130 people together for seven weeks, Leith says filming was "just a fantastic achievement" despite the weather not being as good as last year (particularly because Leith says she enjoys sunbathing during her downtime).

The success of filming definitely translates to the episodes. Hollywood says, "This year's baking show in particular was exceptionally good," and he thinks that will be clear to viewers from the very first signature bake.

Why the Technical Challenge Is Fun (for the Judges, at Least)

For fans of the show, it might be challenging to choose a favorite among the signature, technical and showstopper challenges. For Hollywood and Leith, though, the technical challenge is their pick. Leith says, "I'm really interested in the technicalities of baking" and says that as someone who's more of a cook than a baker, the technical challenge has allowed her to learn a tremendous amount. She also appreciates the bakers and their deep understanding of the science behind baking—from the chemistry to the physics, Leith says she's fascinated by it all.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is a fan of the technical challenge because of its blind nature. While the judges taste each dessert without knowing who made it, the contestants are left in the dark about what they're making until the challenge is announced. Compared to the signature and showstopper challenges, which the contestants can practice beforehand, the technical challenge forces the bakers to read a pared-down recipe and produce it on the spot. Hollywood calls it "the most challenging challenge" and says it's his favorite to judge.

So how does the show select these challenging, and oftentimes obscure, bakes? (Anyone else remember the Cumberland Rum Nicky from the fifth collection?) Hollywood says that a team goes through his and Leith's numerous cookbooks and shows and comes up with a list of potential bakes. Then, he and Leith help decide which bakes to put in front of the contestants. One part that Hollywood particularly loves is the moment when the bakers learn what they're making. Although Hollywood is on the way out of the tent, he can't help but glance back to see the contestants' reactions, which are often stressed and dumbfounded (in our video interview, Hollywood recounts the reactions by saying, "Noooo" with his hands raised).

Why Bread Week Is a Favorite in the Tent

Each week's challenges revolve around a different theme, like pastry or cake, and when bread week arrives, Hollywood, an expert in the field, is excited. While the contestants are often nervous about the potential disasters that could happen, that's actually one of the reasons why Hollywood looks most forward to judging the week. From under-proofing a loaf to not getting enough flavor in the dough or the dreaded "soggy bottom," there are so many factors to control because the bakers are dealing with a living organism. While Hollywood knows that bread is one of the hardest disciplines in baking, he says he would win Star Baker if presented with the challenge (and we wholeheartedly agree!).

Meanwhile, Leith enjoys bread week because the flavors are often savory. Although fans like myself can only dream of tasting the gorgeous desserts, the sugar can quickly become overwhelming, so Leith says bread week is "a relief from too much cake." As Hollywood describes, "Sometimes when there are 12 people and they're making two tiers of something, you're looking at eating 24 small bites of something, which equates to a huge cake." Sounds like having your cake and eating it too can add up!

On the Past Contestants Who Could Be Judges

If Hollywood and Leith added another seat at the judges' table, they think a few past contestants would be up for the job. First, Hollywood thinks Nancy Birtwhistle, winner of series 5, would be a great addition because "her depth of knowledge was very, very good." Meanwhile, Leith thinks Terry Hartill from series 9 could join the judges. Although he didn't make it past week five, Leith says a judge needs "to be somebody who really knows the subject" and Hartill knows a lot about baking and food.

Aside from Birtwhistle and Hartill, though, Leith also thinks a contestant on the upcoming new series could become a judge. Although she wouldn't give away too many details, Leith says, "When you watch [the series], you will know exactly who I mean when you hear Paul and him talking."

Catch the new season of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, premiering new episodes weekly starting on September 24th (and see if you can figure out who Leith is talking about!).