The Big Birmingham Bake review by Ning-ning Li

I have a confession.

Aside from seeing a segment here and there, I’ve never…ever…watched a Great British Bake Off series! I know I’m missing out on some fun British television with Sue Perkins in the mix.

My sins were repented at the weekend, the whole nine yards, as my best pal Lizze and I took to the kitchen top at The Big Birmingham Bake for an hour and a half session of creating that day’s bake of choice – Sweet Baked Pretzels!

When you arrive there’s an outside area with sofas and a bar where you can order a tipple and wait for the session to begin. You can even order a drink to your baking station anytime throughout the visit… sadly we couldn’t take advantage of this great feature as we got delayed in Pretzel land later and committed ourselves to the clock.

Each group is assigned to a station set out with everything you need; aprons and ingredients at the ready, and a corner in the front of the room, with shelves that are full of candy delights catches our eye. At this point, it’s pretty darn exciting to get dug into whatever dough-fuelled mission is ahead of you.

Our host talks us through the process and just like that we begin! We have the first 40 minutes to create our mixtures, before the boiling, baking and cooling stage. We start combining the ingredients whilst reading the steps repeatedly to make sure we’re doing them correctly. Everyone was guided to choose an essence from what we’ll call the candy corner, and encouraged to be creative with their choice of flavourings and future toppings. Lizze chose Butterscotch essence and we later added orange zest, which we were happy to find owned the flavour of our pretzels at the end.

I love doing practical things with Lizze as we always have a lot of fun and a good laugh together, this time being no different. The only thing was this time we were on a timed deadline and after proudly meandering our way through the first section, taking in the atmosphere, sipping our drinks and having a giggle along the way, we realised there was a second side to the recipe handout and the 40-minute marker was announced to the room. We had enjoyed our way into being behind! (Which made us laugh even more).

The downside? Time went by too quickly! Lizze and I made plans to bake together again and come back to The Big Birmingham Bake with friends.

(top tip from Ning & Lizze: we slotted the recipe instructions onto the QR code holder for visual ease)

Our energy shifted into full practical efficiency, showering our dough in affirmations as it patiently sat on the counter resting. Everyone started to choose their toppings, considering what the best fit with their essences would be. We chose white chocolate as a glaze and a mixture of autumnal-coloured sprinkles.

I loved that we were encouraged to be creative with the flavourings and toppings, each group having the freedom to make their very own unique pretzels. Putting yourself in experimental mode is exciting. Even as a non-avid cook myself, it was fun to figure those things out with your bestie, taking a chance and having no clue how it would turn out!

There were different options for pretzel shapes, most of us had gone for the classic bow although one group made a batch of flower shapes and won second place! After the boiling, baking and design of glaze and decorations, everyone had to pick 4 of their favourite pretzels to show off for the closing ceremony.

Seeing all the different pretzels together at the end was a sight to behold. Sprinkles, colours, shapes and all sizes. I’ll be honest, many of them I wanted to dig my teeth into – they looked so tasty.

After everyone had introduced their pretzel creations to the table, our host picked 3 winners and presented them with their winnings. And after that? The moment of truth: everyone had a good nibble on their pretzels!

It had been a whirlwind lesson of an evening, everybody went home feeling fulfilled not only with that soft dough but the special satisfaction from having made it with your own hands.

The downside? Time went by too quickly! Lizze and I made plans to bake together again and come back to The Big Birmingham Bake with friends.

The Big Birmingham Bake is a perfect gift for an occasion, be it birthday, hen or stag do, an activity filled date, or simply having fun in the kitchen learning new things with your mate. They change the recipes each month so you never know when you could be making a Classic Victoria Sponge or a Safari Choux Bun! With an ever changing variety to choose from every month, it’s something you’re keen to visit again and again without tiring.

Such a brilliant and different concept available on Birmingham’s doorstep, further enriching the liveliness of the city. It lights up that creative spark inside regardless if you enjoy cooking or not, and who knows where that spark could lead for some 👀

Words by Ning-ning Li @ningningli for Grapevine. *photos © by Ning-ning Li