Great British Bake Off star Josh Smalley talks about the skills and ingredients that led him all the way
to the final of the beloved baking show: perfectionism, composure, and a PhD in chemistry, which he put to great work in its famous white tent…
The 27-year-old currently works as a Chemistry Researcher at the University of Leicester, the place where he earned both his undergraduate degree and PhD.
Leicester born and bred, he enjoys playing for Syston Rugby Club and is credited with winning his local ‘Great Birstall Bake Off’ five years in a row—an achievement of which he is rightfully proud.
However, last year Josh stepped it up a notch by appearing in the real thing and making it all the way to the final of the show’s 14th series.
Despite claims that he was ‘robbed’ after finishing as a runner-up, Josh has only good things to say about his time on the Great British Bake Off—an experience he describes as “an honour,” and something he can look back on with “huge pride.”
“It’s definitely been the best experience of my life ever and also the toughest. But I absolutely loved it,” he told Pukaar.
“ It’s surreal to have been on the show, and I’m so proud of all the bakes I made along the way—from my sunflower
pies through to the biscuit burger I made in the second week. That was a real highlight for sure… ”
The incredible bake earned Josh a coveted ‘Hollywood Handshake,’ and he was named ‘Star Baker’ twice throughout the course of the competition, impressing the judges with his ‘Lemon and Blueberry Spiced Buns,’ as well as his ‘Perfect Pudding Financiers.’
He drew praise for his cool focus, attention to detail, and incredible ability to stay calm under pressure. His methodical way of working is something he puts down to ‘the scientist in [him],’ he says.
“I’m used to being very focused in the lab—I know exactly what I need to do and what I’m capable of doing in the time available, so that experience definitely comes in handy in the kitchen.
“There are so many parallels between baking and chemistry. They definitely go hand in hand,” he went on to explain.
“At the end of the day, doing chemistry is just following the recipe; putting things into a pot, stirring or heating them, and getting a product at the end. I obviously can’t eat what I produce in the lab, but it’s the same kind of premise!”
Aside from baking, Josh also enjoys drawing in his spare time. His artistic talent and perfectionism are something that also helped him achieve results in the Bake Off tent, he says.
“Whether it’s playing rugby or being in the lab, I want to be the best,” he said. “I’m quite a determined and self-motivated person.
“I’m quite artistic as well, so I bring that creative flair to the decorative finish. That’s what drives me on a bake. I want to work quickly and get to the end so I have time to do the decoration at the end. I did that with all my showstoppers on the show…”
Josh’s final showstopper was dedicated to his late Nan—the person who encouraged him to apply for the Great British Bake Off—a show which they both enjoyed.
She passed away in 2021 but was a huge support throughout his life and especially when it came to his baking.
“Whenever I did a bake, my Nan was always the first to taste it fresh out of the oven,” he said. “She only lived about 100 metres up the road, so as soon as I’d baked something, I’d rush up the road and take it to her.
“She’d be sat in her conservatory and would always have a cup of tea ready. Whatever I made, she never said no, and always said it was lovely! She was my biggest champion really, as she was for all her grandchildren…”
Asked about his motivation for baking, Josh said that he enjoyed the positive effect that it has on people, and the way it brings them together.
“ I love to make people happy, and baking does that. Even on the show, all the contestants were so supportive of
one another. It was an honour to be baking in the company of so many lovely, amazing people,” he said.
“On the show, I made 11 new baker friends, who are more like family members now. The show has given me so many things. It’s pushed me to take my baking to the next level and given me so much confidence. An incredible experience that I’ll treasure forever.”
By Louise Steel