Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

Handling criticism is hard. Regardless of whether the feedback you receive is constructive or destructive, listening to someone’s honest opinion about your work is never easy. If you’re a creator of anything, from art to poetry, music to prose, photography to food, you know the courage it takes to submit your work to the inspection and judgment of others.

Last year, I personally learned how challenging it can be to receive criticism. For six months, I worked to craft a short story I believed worthy of admiration. I then entered it into a contest in which a judge would provide me with feedback and I would have the possibility of winning the grand prize: publication alongside four other contestants. Waiting for the results, I told myself repeatedly that I would not be upset by the outcome. However, no amount of positive self-talk could have prepared me for the crushing blow that was dealt: no grand prize as well as negative feedback from the judge. I even missed out on being named an honorable mention.

I brooded quietly for several months after, dejected and full of self-pity, wondering why I had even tried. Then one day, as I was watching one of my favorite TV series, The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS), I got to thinking about what it means to properly and professionally handle criticism. If you have ever seen this wonderful show, you know just how brave those twelve bakers are to submit their creations to the judgment of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Their often ruthless and unforgiving assessment of the contestants’ bakes can sometimes leave me cringing in my seat, but the way in which the bakers handle this feedback is always something worthy of praise.

After watching nearly every season of TGBBS, I have learned five valuable lessons about how to handle criticism.

  1. Remember that everybody has different taste buds.

Just because one person dislikes your creation doesn’t mean everyone will! There have been many times on TGBBS when bakers receive criticism from the judges on a bake that their family or co-workers adore and eat regularly. Other times, Mary and Paul disagree on the quality of a bake depending on how much alcohol the baker adds. Still other times, bakers graciously accept the judges’ criticism but share with the audience that they personally enjoy the bake. The fact is, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating food; similarly, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating art, literature, or anything else creative. Never let the criticism you receive from one person or one group of people dissuade you from sharing your creation with others.

  1. Accept when something you made is stodgy.

The ability to see your creation from another person’s point of view and accept his or her criticism is the sign of a truly confident and mature creator. It’s never easy for a Great-British-Baking-Show contestant to hear the dreaded word “stodgy,” but I have never once witnessed a baker who didn’t accept the evaluation with grace and dignity. In fact, many of the bakers are so self-aware that they approach the gingham altar knowing a poor critique is imminent and justified. Is this willingness to concede to the judge’s point of view a sign of weakness? Quite the opposite! Accepting criticism is the first step in growing to become a stronger, more experienced creator of any art form.

  1. Find your Mel and Sue!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from TGGBS is that you can’t make it on your own as a creator. Just as the hosts of the show, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, encourage the twelve bakers through thick or thin, so you must find the people in your life who will lift you up when you hit rock bottom. Much like the delicately balanced flavors of a cake, making it in this world as a creator also requires balance between the criticism you receive from judges offset by the encouragement you receive from friends and family. Only then can you truly be successful as a creator.

  1. Don’t be afraid to cry.

There’s no shame in tears; they show that you care passionately about your creations. Oftentimes on TGBBS, bakers come away from a harsh critique with tears in their eyes, asking themselves why they’re so terribly upset. “It’s only a cake, after all,” they state rationally. “Am I really crying over a biscuit?” others ask themselves, laughing through the tears. But the fact is, it isn’t just a bake, or a poem, or a painting, or a song. It’s what each of those creations represent: the hard work, time, and care put into creating it. Never be afraid to mourn a failure so long as you do not lose the will to try again!

  1. Live to bake another day.

Winston Churchill, a remarkable Brit much like the twelve Great-British-Baking-Show contestants, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” While the criticism that many bakers receive from Paul and Mary is often harsh, not one of them walks away from the experience lacking the will to continue growing as a baker. This lesson, although simple, is perhaps the hardest to put into action, but it is also the most important. Criticism is hard to handle, but we must, and we shall, so that we too can live to create another day.

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Written by Meredith

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Summer Salvation

My usual summer morning consists of the following: almost dying on my morning run due to the sweltering Texas humidity, jumping into a freezing cold shower to cool off, and then hiding in the air conditioning for the rest of the day to avoid all unnecessary bug bites, sunburns, and sweat. Although this may be a slight exaggeration (don’t worry, I always shower), I often avoid summer’s baking temperatures by baking in the air-conditioned comforts of my own kitchen! Although the oven tends to heat up the house, the extra warmth is totally worth it as I savor each delectable bite of a newly-baked creation.

One of my favorite desserts to bake fruit_pizzaduring the summer season is Pinch of Yum’s Fruit Pizza. This absolute showstopper of a dessert appears extravagant but is surprisingly simple to make, and it consists of a cream cheese frosting (think pizza sauce) spread over a soft sugar cookie crust topped with a plethora of sliced summer fruits. Impressive but simple, this desert makes the perfect addition to any summer gathering and is sure to please both the health conscious and the sugar obsessed! (Fruit is healthy, right?!)

INGREDIENTS 

FOR THE CRUST: (You could even purchase pre-made sugar cookie dough if you’re in a hurry!)

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • assorted fresh fruit cut into slices

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and mix until just combined, about 30 seconds. Chill the dough.
  2. Preheat oven to 350. Roll chilled dough into one big cookie and place on a round baking stone. Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons sugar. Bake for 17-20 minutes. Let cool; chill in fridge.
  3. Mix frosting ingredients together and spread on chilled cookie. Chill again to set and thicken the frosting.
  4. Top with fresh fruit. (I suggest blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and kiwi!) Cut into slices and serve!

Written by Leah

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