- I tried to complete three technical bakes from season 11 of “The Great British Baking Show,” including the pineapple upside-down cakes, rainbow bagels, and Danish cornucopia.
- My pineapple upside-down cakes took more than 90 minutes to complete, but they were delicious.
- My rainbow bagels were far from perfect, but they were pretty tasty despite their odd texture.
- The Danish cornucopia famously tripped up semifinalists — and I struggled to make it, too.
- Overall, I made some delicious desserts but I don’t think I’d make it very far on “The Great British Baking Show.”
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One of the best parts of “The Great British Baking Show” is the technical challenges, which require every competitor to make a specific recipe with limited instructions.
Each challenge should be perfect in the eyes of judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, and there’s very little room for error if you want to earn the honor of Star Baker and avoid being sent home.
But what is it like to make these recipes off-screen, in a messy home kitchen sans a crew of professionals who will clean up after you wreak havoc with the flour and sugar?
Read on to see how it went.
The pineapple upside-down cake recipe looked straightforward, but there was a lot going on at once
Announced during Cake Week, this was the first technical challenge of the season. Still, it required timing the steps out perfectly and rushing to finish six beautiful miniature cakes in just 90 minutes.
I had to make a simple sponge cake, caramel sauce, and whipped cream, plus cut fresh pineapple slices. As for tools, I swapped the pudding molds for a jumbo muffin tin.
I tried to take a shortcut but ended up making things harder on myself
After quickly reviewing the instructions, I thought I could speed things up by making my sponge-cake batter and prepping my pineapple before trying to make the caramel syrup.
The cake batter came together quickly and my tiny, round pineapple slices were looking good.
Unfortunately, I failed to read that the syrup needed to simmer on low for about 20 minutes, so I had to rush to pull it together.
I lined my pan with fruit and syrup, then added my cake batter. As I waited for these to bake, I became increasingly nervous that the cake would stick to the muffin tin, even though I generously greased it.
When my baking timer went off, I checked for doneness with a metal toothpick, which came out spotless.
I let the tin cool for exactly four minutes, then quickly flipped it over onto a cooling rack. All six cakes came out without any trouble — nothing got stuck to the pan.
Overall, this bake took me an hour and 46 minutes to complete. The contestants had only 90 minutes, so I really blew past the time limit here by 16 minutes.
Had I made the syrup first instead of trying to take a shortcut, I think I would’ve finished my bake in time.
Aside from some melting whipped cream, these cakes looked quite uniform and perfectly golden
My pineapple upside-down cakes looked great. They were evenly golden and pretty uniform in size with slightly crisp edges.
In an attempt to speed up the cooling process, I’d popped my cakes in the fridge for 10 minutes before decorating them.
This just wasn’t long enough to keep the neatly piped whipped cream from sliding off the tops. But nearly all of the contestants on the show also dealt with melting cream.
The taste and texture of these cakes were incredible
I was worried about the cake texture here because I had to mix my own self-rising flour (there wasn’t any available at the grocery store). But the cake was soft, fluffy, and moist, and the caramel syrup soaked through just enough to add extra sweetness.
The bites of caramelized fruit were also delicious, and the whipped cream helped balance out this sugary dessert.
Next time I make this recipe, I’ll probably swap out the bright-red maraschino cherries for Italian-style maraschinos, which are much darker in color and have a less artificial flavor.
My next task was to make the dough for the rainbow bagels
This colorful bake took place during Bread Week, and I had to start by swapping out a key ingredient.
With instant yeast hard to find these days, I had to stray from the recipe by switching to active yeast.
It was hard to find any accurate information on how much active yeast to use instead of the recipe’s 5 grams of instant yeast, but I decided to try one packet of active yeast, which I then let prove in warm water mixed with sugar.
From there, I was easily able to make a rough dough, then knead it until I had a smooth ball.
So far, everything looked as it should. But things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Adding the food coloring proved to be incredibly difficult
The next step involved dividing my dough into balls, slowly adding food coloring to each, and kneading them until they looked bright and uniform.
No matter how much food coloring I added or kneading I did, these dough balls looked marbled.
I tried both liquid food-coloring drops and gel food coloring, and neither would incorporate into the dough as they were supposed to.
I could imagine Paul Hollywood’s icy look of disapproval from across the tent. I did my best, but I felt like I had more food coloring on my hands than I did on the dough.
During the episode, competitor Sura Selvarajah talked about how was difficult it was to get the color incorporated into the dough, which made me feel less alone.
Next I let the dough prove for 45 minutes. I was nearly an hour in, so I knew I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to have finished bagels within the allotted time.
This Bread Week challenge allowed the bakers two hours and 45 minutes, so as long as I could shape my bagels quickly, I would be set on time.
Shaping the dough was easier than I expected, but my bagels looked really thin. I hoped a second prove would make them look more like the fluffy bagels I’m used to.
I didn’t have proving bags, so I covered the bagels with plastic wrap and let them sit in my warm kitchen for 20 minutes.
As the proving time neared an end, I started boiling water and preheating the oven so not a minute would be wasted.
Although my bagels didn’t look quite as they should, I was so happy none of them fell apart when boiling.
At last, it was time to bake them.
I popped them into the oven at 395 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.
My bagels didn’t look quite right, but I was happy they at least resembled what the judges were looking for
It took me a total of 168 minutes, or two hours and 48 minutes. If I had boiled two or three bagels at a time instead of one — my pot was smaller than the ones used on the show — I think I would’ve finished just in the nick of time.
Since I wasn’t able to get my dough as vibrant as it should’ve been, my bagels started to brown in the oven, which made the exterior colors a bit dull.
Although my bagels were too large (very “Hula-Hoop-like,” as Hollywood described contestant Peter Sawkins’ bagels) and far from uniform, they had a slight puff to them and felt hollow.
I definitely think they needed to prove for longer in order to achieve the dome-like rise most bagels have.
They tasted fine, but their texture was too tough
It was a bit tough to cut into the bagel since the exterior and the bottom were slightly overdone. The inside was slightly soft, but the bagels were so narrow that I didn’t get enough of that soft bite to balance out the chewy exterior.
Although the texture wasn’t quite right, these tasted like bagels. Still, I’d totally be at risk of going home if I served these to the judges.
For my final bake, I tried the challenging Danish cornucopia from Patisserie Week
Completed during Patisserie Week, the Danish cornucopia threw the semifinal contestants for a loop. But with a full set of instructions, an idea of what the final product was meant to look like, and my ingredients ready to go, I was feeling optimistic.
It took just nine minutes to fully mix the almond-flour dough, then I covered it and let it chill in the fridge for two hours.
From there, things quickly got more difficult.
The cornucopia-assembling process was just as challenging as it looked on the show
I had to weigh and shape 10 segments of dough, then carefully bake them to the point that they are “firm on the outside, but chewy on the inside,” according to the guidelines.
Weighing, shaping, and baking the dough pieces wasn’t as tough as it appeared on TV.
The steps that came next were more difficult, especially since they each overlapped with one another.
While my dough cooled, I whipped up a quick icing. I also melted some dark chocolate, put it in a piping bag, and made the decorative scrolls.
Unfortunately, I piped my first batch too thin and they all broke when I tried to remove them from my tray. I had to pipe them all over again.
When the dough felt just slightly warm, I piped the icing onto each cookie.
I remembered that the judges wanted to see the icing piped further down the rings on contestant Hermine’s cornucopia, so I took care to drag my icing down each cookie.
My piping was pretty unsteady and ended up looking rushed.
Next I made the caramel, which I’d be using as a glue to assemble my cornucopia.
The recipe says I should not stir the sugar at all while it’s on the stove, only swirl the pot. I still swirled the pot too often, which caused my sugar to crystallize.
To remedy this hiccup, I added a bit more water and cranked the heat, letting the sugar melt again and caramelize.
I then carefully dipped each ring into the caramel and attached my cookies, which was tough because the caramel hardened almost instantly.
In my rush, I didn’t curve the horn as much as I should have, and it couldn’t stand up on its own. I used a metal container to prop it up as I added my chocolate scrolls, which began melting as soon as I removed them from the fridge. It was just too hot in the tent — erm, my apartment.
On this episode, the contestants were given two hours and 15 minutes. This took me an hour and 39 minutes of work, plus the recipe’s recommended two hours of chill time in the fridge.
The recipe also states that you can chill the dough overnight or for 30 minutes in the freezer. Had I been on the show, I would’ve chilled the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes, which means I likely would’ve taken about two hours and nine minutes to complete this technical bake.
My cornucopia didn’t look amazing, but I took solace in knowing that many of the semifinalists also had messy results in this challenge
My Danish cornucopia was a bit of a flop, but at least I didn’t set it straight up and down as competitor Dave Friday did (and, spoiler, he was a finalist).
My piping work with the icing left much to be desired, and my horn needed to curve inward much more for better balance.
I nailed the texture of the rings, and the flavor was surprisingly good, too
Although the dessert didn’t look the way it should have, I was impressed with my first bite.
The cookie ring was slightly crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. It wasn’t overdone or underbaked.
The caramel was a bit too chewy for me, but it definitely held everything together pretty well. Although the chocolate scrolls became a melted mess, the bites with chocolate were so delicious.
Overall, I probably wouldn’t make it very far on ‘The Great British Baking Show’
Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a Star Baker or earn a Hollywood Handshake, but it was still fun to test out the recipes at home.
I’m not too skilled in the delicate art of making bakes look beautiful, but for the most part, my attempts tasted pretty good.
I don’t plan to try to create that cornucopia again, but I’d definitely give the bagels one more go. The big winner is those delicious pineapple upside-down cakes, which will become a regular dessert in my home.
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