Classic British Cake
A British classic, coffee and walnut cake has an irresistible flavor combination of dark, rich coffee and nutty, slightly bitter walnuts offset with sweet buttercream. This was the final showstopper challenge for the 2015 season of The Great British Bake Off, and the bakers were asked to make a multitiered cake. The judges were looking for classic British cakes, and all the tiers had to be the same flavor. (Interestingly, none of the contestants stacked their tiers, opting to display them on multilayered stands instead. So I did the same.)
A Chocolate Centerpiece
Moby Dick’s Bubble Bath, my chocolate centerpiece, consists of a white chocolate whale (made of modeling chocolate) sitting in a chocolate gingerbread bathtub, surrounded by towers of dark chocolate bubbles. The bathtub is filled with molasses popcorn (the same mixture used to make old-fashioned popcorn balls), providing structural support and a surface for the whale to sit on. Finally, I used food coloring mist spray in the color pearl to give the whale and bubbles a little shimmer.
Religieuse a l’ancienne
Translated “old-fashioned nun,” the religieuse a l’ancienne is a towering feat of patisserie consisting of three tiers of éclairs stacked vertically, with disks of shortcrust pastry supporting each tier. On top are two cream puffs, one atop the other, representing the head of the ancient nun. As an architectural exercise, it was quite a challenge. My flavors included blueberry pastry cream–filled éclairs with lemon icing and cherry pastry cream–filled éclairs with chocolate icing. They are all “glued” together by hot, melted caramel and decorated with American buttercream.
A winning combination of flavors and textures, this Charlotte Russe features chocolate ladyfingers enfolding a mango Bavarian cream topped with a layer of passionfruit jelly. The ladyfingers are like delicate brownies, which complement the sweet, creamy bavarois and the sharp, tangy jelly.
Vol-au-vents are delicate shells of puff pastry that can be filled with almost anything your tastebuds fancy. Some of these are filled with succulent beef tenderloin and horseradish sauce, and the rest with melted brie and cranberry chutney.
Dairy-Free Ice Cream Roll
You’d never know this rich and creamy frozen dessert is dairy free! The pistachio ice cream is made with coconut milk and coconut cream. The hurricane roll is flavored with purple ube. And sandwiched between the two is a thin layer of blackberry jam, all topped off with luscious, marshmallowy Swiss meringue, which, when brûléed, gives the whole thing a retro, Baked Alaska vibe!
For my three-tiered cheesecake, I chose three different flavors with a different cookie-crumb crust for each: Pumpkin spice cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, rhubarb ripple cheesecake with a speculoos (a.k.a. Biscoff cookie) crust, and lemon poppyseed cheesecake with a shortbread cookie crust. I topped the pumpkin spice cheesecake with a whipped cream/sour cream mixture, and the lemon cheesecake with brûléed lemons. The rhubarb ripple cheesecake needed no topping; the ripple gave it a pretty, two-toned appearance and provided a burst of tangy, juicy rhubarb in every bite.
3D Bread Sculpture
The sun portion of this bread sculpture is made of turmeric-basil rye bread. The turmeric gives it a nice sunny yellow color, and the basil mellows the flavor with an herby earthiness. The moon is made of a dark rye bread, which uses a little cocoa and molasses to deepen the color and give it a rich, complex flavor. The sun’s rays are rolls filled with pesto and fresh mozzarella.
An Edible Biscuit Box and 36 Biscuits
This gingerbread Mad Hatter’s hat is filled with 36 Queen of Hearts Linzer Tarts, perfect for an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party. I used ground pecans in my cookies and filled them with raspberry jam. The cookies, when freshly made, are crisp and nutty with a tart jam filling. If they last more than a day, they soften up but are no less moreish.
Black Forest Gâteau
Black Forest cherry cake is made of multiple layers of chocolate cake filled with cherries and whipped cream, garnished with additional cream, cherries and chocolate. My retro interpretation incorporates a chocolate chiffon cake and dark sweet cherries with the traditional German flavor of kirschwasser.
The pièce montée was the pièce de resistance for the 2014 season of the Great British Bake Off. I dubbed mine “The Magic of Halloween.” The bottom tier is a dark chocolate cake with a dark cherry filling. On top of that is a pumpkin cake baked in a Bundt pan to elicit the shape of a pumpkin. The chocolate cake is decorated with pumpkin-shaped macarons, and the pumpkin cake is encircled by gingerbread black cats. For the croquembouche, I wanted to evoke a witch’s hat, so I made a round base of gingerbread (tinted black), and mounted the cone-shaped croquembouche on top of that. The profiteroles in the croquembouche are filled with blood-red orange pastry cream, drizzled with dark chocolate and spiraled with spun sugar to give it a magical aura.
Entremets are desserts with multiple layers of different flavors, textures and colors meant to show off the pastry chef’s prowess. My Chocolate Cherry Bombes feature cherry gelée sitting atop a chocolate genoise base, surrounded by chocolate mousse, covered with a red mirror glaze, topped with a chocolate-covered cherry and garnished with a little edible gold leaf. My “Twofer Tea” Blackberry-Pistachio entremets feature a pistachio joconde sponge with matcha polka dots surrounding a filling of earl grey panna cotta and blackberry ganache topped with pistachio cremeux and garnished with a blackberry and a mint leaf.
Doughnuts have strong ties to Americana, from the Donut Dollies of World War II to the invention of the automatic donut-making machine. So my doughnuts are inspired by another slice of Americana — the state fair. Invoking flavors of local produce and home-baked goods, these are my maple-bacon doughnuts and sweet-corn doughnuts with spiced apple filling!
This challenge was to make 24 éclairs — 12 each of two different flavors. I chose to make Key lime éclairs topped with toasted Swiss meringue and chocolate éclairs filled with a stracciatella cannoli filling. The Key lime éclairs really packed a punch, with a burst of zesty lime and marshmallowy sweet meringue in every bite. The stracciatella éclairs didn’t disappoint, either, with the deep chocolate outer shell balanced by the mildly sweet but not overpowering cannoli filling.
Dobos torte is generally made with five to seven thin cake layers filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. My coffee and walnut Dobos torte consists of two tiers of six layers each, one filled with coffee buttercream and one with praline buttercream. The cake is flavored with finely chopped walnuts and covered in chocolate ganache.
Three-Tiered Pie Tower
This challenge was to create three pies that could be stacked on top of each other. The inspiration for my three-tiered pie tower comes from the turducken, which is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. While the turkey pie is the epitome of comfort-food-in-a-crust, the duck pie is a gourmet feast of flavors, duck legs braised in red wine sauce with bacon, shallots, carrots and peas. The chicken curry pie offers a nice contrast to the other two — the warmth of curry offset by a slightly sweet mango chutney.
Originally called Omelette Norwegge by the French, Baked Alaska was renamed this side of the Atlantic to mark the purchase of the Alaskan territory by William Seward. My Baked Alaska was inspired by the frozen Italian treat spumoni and features a pistachio joconde sponge, chocolate ganache and cherry almond ice cream, all surrounded by a soft, pillowy cloud of Swiss meringue. I served my Spumoni Baked Alaska with additional ganache, warmed and drizzled over each slice. This impressive dessert takes cake and ice cream to a whole new level!
A Filled Centerpiece Loaf
This tear-and-share loaf features the Mediterranean flavors of my favorite pizza — pesto, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers — with a side of roasted tomatoes, feta cheese and balsamic reduction that can be used as a dip or spread. The caramelized tomatoes and balsamic reduction add a note of sweetness to the pesto-filled bread. The artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers give their own Mediterranean flair, giving your tastebuds a party in your mouth!
A 3D Biscuit Scene
The brief for this showstopper challenge was a 3D biscuit scene, so I decided to make something reminiscent of my childhood, The Sledding Hill. Using gingerbread for the base, I covered it with fondant and meringue “snow,” then added gingerbread people and nutty shortbread trees. This is a bake that allows you to let your creative juices flow and make it your own.
Miniature Classic British Cakes
Thanks to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, lemon and elderflower cake has become a modern British classic. These petite cakes have lemon zest and elderflower cordial baked into the batter, but the flavor is enhanced by drizzling more cordial over the warm cakes and sandwiching the layers with fresh, bright lemon curd. The elderberry comes through nicely without overwhelming, and the lemon curd is a lovely complement. Overall, the flavors balance nicely — moist without being heavy, these cakes taste like spring!
A Three-Tiered Wedding Cake
With changing leaves and sweater weather come fall treats like caramel apples, chai tea and spicy hot chocolate! My three-tiered cake is an homage to my favorite flavors, ranging from praline and coffee buttercream to spice cake with a salted caramel drip! I’ve dubbed it my Falling in Love with Fall Flavors Cake, and the beauty of it is that you can make one, two or all three cakes separately. You could also mix and match the fillings, if you want. The possibilities are up to you! (Read on…)
Watergate Opera Cake
The inspiration for my opera cake came from the popular ’70s dessert, the Watergate cake. My interpretation of the Watergate cake in operatic form was to make a pistachio joconde sponge brushed with a pistachio syrup and layer it with coconut Swiss meringue buttercream and pineapple filling studded with pecans. I finished it off with a thin chocolate glaze. (Read on…)
A Dairy-Free Novelty Cake
The brief for this challenge had three components. It had to be completely dairy-free, it had to be a vegetable-based cake (think carrot or zucchini) and it had to be in a 3D novelty shape. Mine is a red velvet beet cake in the shape of a coconut cocktail on a sandy beach. The beauty of a red velvet beet cake is that the beets lend their natural scarlet hue to the batter, as well as additional moistness and a healthy serving of vegetables. (Read on…)
Because the week I made these fell toward the end of Wisconsin strawberry season, I wanted to celebrate this short but oh-so-flavorful season with strawberry-themed pastries: strawberry mille-feuilles with basil-infused mascarpone cream, strawberry Nutella turnovers and chocolate pecan palmier “butterflies” with strawberry hearts. (Read on…)
Sweet European Buns
Two different types of sweet European buns. That was the brief for this technical challenge. I chose saffron-infused St. Lucia buns and poppy seed snails, known as Mohnschnecken. (Read on…)
A Biscuit Tower
I really wanted to capture the essence of a treasure box with this biscuit (i.e., cookie) tower, or the delight a young child gets upon opening her mother’s jewelry box — all those glittering beads and sparkly jewels! I used a different flavor in each of the three shortbread doughs: lavender, earl grey and jasmine green tea. (Read on…)
A Filo (or Phyllo) Pie
Is it filo or phyllo (or, even more esoteric, fillo)? No matter how you spell it, it’s still a light and crispy, flaky pastry that can encase any number of fillings— sweet, savory and anything in between. This showstopper challenge was for a filo pie, either freeform or baked in a tin, and could be either sweet or savory. My pie is based on the flavors in an Indian samosa. (Read on…)
Petits Fours (Take 2)
This challenge for the bakers in the Great White Tent was to make 24 petits fours: 12 sponge-based and 12 biscuit-based. I decided to make mini Bakewell tarts and tiny tiramisu cakes, using some components I already had on hand, since we’re in the middle of the 2020 coronavirus stay-at-home order and some ingredients are hard to come by. (Read on…)
A Decorative Loaf
The challenge for this episode of The Great British Bake Off was to make a decorative loaf of any shape or flavor. For my decorative loaf, I decided to make star bread. To twist things up a bit (pun intended), I chose to use two different fillings, raspberry jam and a chocolate almond cream cheese. (Read on…)
A Chocolate Cake
I guess I’m still in a Christmas mood. When I saw that this week’s challenge was a chocolate cake, all I could think of was a Bûche de Noël. I used a classic chocolate genoise sponge recipe as the basis for my showstopper, but I put my own take on the rest, with a coffee mousse filling and forest-floor-inspired decorations. (Read on…)
The challenge seemed simple enough: Bake a chiffon cake. My plan was to create a yin-yang cake, contrasting the traditional flavors of a black forest gâteau (dark chocolate and cherries) with a lighter version featuring amaretto and almond flavors: a black-and-white forest gâteau. This is a cautionary tale of the cake that almost wasn’t. (Read on…)
A Choux Pastry Gâteau
Only the French would name a pastry after a bicycle race, but I messed with their tradition a bit. Originally, the Paris-Brest was filled with praline cream. I decided to mix it up and make a fruity variation, with mango curd as the base layer, followed by mascarpone cream and blueberries. (Read on…)
A Gingerbread Structure
This challenge was the final test the bakers in the Great White Tent had to pass to get to the semifinals: a showstopper gingerbread structure. Paul Hollywood said he was looking for architectural genius, but it had to have a good flavor as well. I chose to make a gingerbread Eiffel Tower. (Read on…)
An Enriched Celebratory Loaf
For my “enriched celebratory loaf,” I chose to make a king cake. I used a babka-like dough, and my filling was inspired by the colors traditionally found on top of a king cake: green for faith, purple for justice and gold for power. Combining lemon, lavender and pistachios with a poppyseed filling gave it an almost Middle Eastern quality. (Read on…)
When I think of the thin, flaky pastry surrounding a strudel filling, it reminds me of one of my favorite hors d’oeuvres served at fancy cocktail parties: spanakopita triangles! So I decided to make a strudel with a very similar filling—the fresh flavors of sautéed spinach, leeks and onions seasoned with lemon zest, nutmeg, fresh basil, thyme and a little bit of dill. I also used a combination of feta, parmesan and ricotta cheese. (Read on…)
An American Pie
Wanting to impress the Paul and Mary in my head, I sought to produce the “subtlety of flavors” that Paul was looking for and a pie that would achieve what Mary wanted—that “every single slice will look beautiful on the plate.” I decided to create a sweet crust pastry shell with crushed lavender, fill it with coconut cream, top that with a thin layer of lime curd and garnish it with lavender-infused mascarpone whipped cream. (Read on…)
Layered Meringue Dessert
This was a complicated challenge. The brief was to create a four-layer meringue dessert with “exciting fillings,” in the words of Mary Berry, “that will complement the meringue.” Once I had decided on the elements of my dessert, I laid out my plan: Two layers of dacquoise alternating with two layers of chocolate French meringue separated by coffee buttercream and fresh, whole raspberries. (Read on…)
Showstopper Fruit Tart
I decided to make the best fruit tart I could muster using the building blocks of some of the best pastries on the planet—pâte sucrée for the base, crème patissiere for the filling, and beautifully arranged and gorgeously glazed fresh fruits and berries on top. (Read on…)
For my sweet bagels, I went with one of the more complicated recipes I found, but it gives very detailed instructions with lots of photos, so those of us who are novice bagel bakers can tell if we’re doing it right! I did alter the recipe from plain bagels into cranberry orange spice bagels, but I’ll note all the ingredients I added as “optional” so you can vary it to your own tastes. (Read on…)
Hidden Design Cake
I’ve been thinking about making this cake ever since I first watched this episode of the Great British Baking Show (2012 season, episode 1). You might even say it was my initial inspiration for this blogging adventure. I love a challenge, and figuring out how to embed a design inside a cake in such a way that it would be visible in every slice is something I’d never thought of before. What design could I make that would be unique but simple enough for me, an amateur baker, to pull off? I thought of the goose that laid the golden egg. (Read on…)