Skip to main content


Great British Bake Off finalist champions the importance of everyday maths

8 Oct 2015

The Great British Bake Off finalist Ian Cumming was awarded star baker three weeks in a row, and wasn’t afraid to take a risk on new flavour pairings. He impressed the judges with his technical precision, home-grown ingredients and homemade measuring contraptions.

Ian spoke to National Numeracy about why he thinks it’s important to stay positive about maths and how it contributed to his Bake Off success.

Ian Cumming

Was maths the secret to your success on Bake Off?

"It was definitely up there as a contributing factor. When you think about it there is everyday maths behind so many of the tasks, from working out how long to leave something in the proving drawer to making sure that you produce ten sponges of the right proportions."

Why is maths important to baking?

"There is more maths involved in baking than you might expect.  When you look at some of the things which went wrong for me, you could definitely put that down to a lapse in maths. At one stage I had to use Pi in the final showstopper to calculate the area of the cakes."

Do you do maths at home with your kids?

"I think it’s really important to be positive around kids about maths, even if you don’t know exactly how to work out a problem. It’s about showing a positive attitude and not giving up. Never say ‘I can’t do maths’ in front of them or it might rub off!"

Three ways Ian uses our Essentials of Numeracy in baking 

1. Keeping track of time

When you’ve only got 2.5 hours to make the perfect chocolate tart do you focus on making it taste perfect or look beautiful?  It’s important to be able to get things done in the amount of time available and allow for things to temper, cool and set, without having to subject your masterpiece to an emergency stint in the freezer! 

2. Measuring ingredients

Getting the right proportion of flour can make the difference between an éclair tower standing tall and an epic collapse, not to mention the resulting taste. When you’re experimenting with a new ingredient you’ve got to think about adding just the right amount without going overboard. 

3. Calculating portion sizes

Understanding ratios is actually not as complicated as you think. If you’re baking regularly you are probably doing it as second nature. Ensuring your puff pastry goes far enough to make 12 cream horns, or that you have enough icing left for every layer of your cake can make or break your finished result. 

Improving your maths

“We’ve all been there when we want to make extras of our favourite recipe and had to work out how much of each ingredient you need to feed everyone, or had to budget for ingredients and say ‘I want to make this but how much money will it set me back?’", said Mike Ellicock, CEO of National Numeracy. "Bake Off is full of examples of how we often use maths every day without even realising it”.

Good numeracy skills are essential to following recipes properly, understanding food packaging, managing household budgets and making informed decisions. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free resource to help people across the UK develop their numeracy skills and feel more confident about handling numbers. 

Take the National Numeracy Challenge

Find out more about Ian on BBC's The Great British Bake Off