March 2, 2024

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I tried recreating 3 recipes from ‘The Great British Baking Show,’ and I don’t have what it takes to be Star Baker



The technical challenges on 'The Great British Baking Show' are not easy.


The technical challenges on ‘The Great British Baking Show’ are not easy.

  • 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.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One of the best parts of “The Great British Baking Show” are 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 honour 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?

I decided to attempt three technical bakes from season 11 — the pineapple upside-down cakes, rainbow bagels, and the much-feared Danish cornucopia — using instructions from Hollywood himself.

Read on to see how it went.

The pineapple upside-down cake recipe looked straightforward, but there was a lot going on at once



a group of people sitting at a table eating cake: The pineapple upside-down cake is from Cake Week.


The pineapple upside-down cake is from Cake Week.

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 batter was looking good.


The batter was looking good.

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.



a pan filled with food: I layered my fruit in the bottom of my pan, per the instructions.


I layered my fruit in the bottom of my pan, per the instructions.

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.



a close up of a plate of food: After baking, the cakes looked pretty golden to me.


After baking, the cakes looked pretty golden to me.

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.



a doughnut sitting on top of a metal rack: I was relieved that my cakes didn't fall apart when I flipped them.


I was relieved that my cakes didn’t fall apart when I flipped them.

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 have finished my bake in time.

Aside from some melting whipped cream, these cakes looked quite uniform and perfectly golden



a piece of cake with fruit on top of a table: The example on 'The Great British Baking Show' (left) and my attempt (right).


The example on ‘The Great British Baking Show’ (left) and my attempt (right).

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



a piece of cake on a plate: I'm pretty proud of how these cakes turned out.


I’m pretty proud of how these cakes turned out.

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 caramelised 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 colour and have a less artificial flavour.

My next task was to make the dough for the rainbow bagels



a man and a woman sitting at a table with a cake: The rainbow bagels are from Bread Week.


The rainbow bagels are from Bread Week.

This colourful 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.



a bowl of food sitting on a pan: I had to carefully knead my dough.


I had to carefully knead my dough.

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 colouring proved to be incredibly difficult

The next step involved dividing my dough into balls, slowly adding food colouring to each, and kneading them until they looked bright and uniform.



a piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden cutting board: It seemed like no amount of food colouring was enough.


It seemed like no amount of food colouring was enough.

No matter how much food colouring I added or kneading I did, these dough balls looked marbled.

I tried both liquid food-colouring drops and gel food colouring, and neither would incorporate into the dough as they were supposed to.



The colours seemed vibrant, but I wondered if I added enough colouring.


The colours seemed vibrant, but I wondered if I added enough colouring.

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 colouring 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 colour 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.



a blue bench: Eventually, I cut my dough stack into strips.


Eventually, I cut my dough stack into strips.

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.



a person lying on a beach: Rolling and twisting the dough didn't seem too tough.


Rolling and twisting the dough didn’t seem too tough.

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.



a group of colorful balloons on a table: I had to let the bagels sit for a bit.


I had to let the bagels sit for a bit.

As the proving time neared an end, I started boiling water and preheating the oven so not a minute would be wasted.



a blue bowl filled with water: The bagels looked pretty as they boiled.


The bagels looked pretty as they boiled.

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.



a tray full of colorful food: The bagels looked decent going into the oven.


The bagels looked decent going into the oven.

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



a colorful glass with a blue umbrella: The example on 'The Great British Baking Show' (left) and my attempt (right).


The example on ‘The Great British Baking Show’ (left) and my attempt (right).

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 have finished just in the nick of time.

Since I wasn’t able to get my dough as vibrant as it should have been, my bagels started to brown in the oven, which made the exterior colours 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



a hand holding a donut: The bagel's texture wasn't great. They looked pretty, though.


The bagel’s texture wasn’t great. They looked pretty, though.

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



Paul Hollywood et al. sitting at a table with a cake: The Danish cornucopia is from Patisserie Week.


The Danish cornucopia is 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.



a close up of a bowl of food: The dough seemed to be pretty simple.


The dough seemed to be pretty simple.

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.



diagram: The template made it a little bit easier to shape my dough.


The template made it a little bit easier to shape my dough.

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.



a pan of food on a grill: The cookies had a few problems.


The cookies had a few problems.

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.



a close up of a sign: This was my second attempt at making chocolate scrolls.


This was my second attempt at making chocolate scrolls.

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.



a donut on a grill: I very carefully piped on my icing.


I very carefully piped on my icing.

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.



The caramel didn't come together as I had hoped.


The caramel didn’t come together as I had hoped.

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 have chilled the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes, which means I likely would have 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



a wooden cutting board with a cake: The example on 'The Great British Baking Show' (left) and my attempt (right).


The example on ‘The Great British Baking Show’ (left) and my attempt (right).

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 flavour was surprisingly good, too



food on a table: The cornucopia needed some help.


The cornucopia needed some help.

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.



a hand holding a piece of food: The cookies tasted pretty good.


The cookies tasted pretty good.

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’



a woman holding a piece of cake: Let's be honest, Paul and Prue would probably send me home early on.


Let’s be honest, Paul and Prue would probably send me home early on.

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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