Last December, I set out to make and film all the technical challenge recipes from the 2020 season of British Bake Off. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and there were definitely points when I was close to giving up, but I did it! I’m so glad I did.
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Why did I do this?
Mostly because I wanted to learn new baking skills, and this seemed like a fun way to do it. It was also 2020 and there wasn’t much else to do. Plus, I wanted a creative outlet. I’m a huge fan of Bake Off and most of these were recipes I wouldn’t normally make. It turned out kind of like going to a mini, self-taught version of pastry school. While I was making each recipe, my head started spinning with all sorts of ideas for how I could adapt it. It was also a great way to compare my results with other amateur bakers. Every time I finished making a recipe, I rewatched the judging for that recipe on the show to see how my creation stacked against the bakers.
What did I learn?
I learned so much more than I expected on this fun little adventure. Here are a few things:
- Don’t be afraid to improvise and go off recipe.
- Filming and baking at the same time is hard.
- Everything can be intimidating until you try it.
- Failure is the best learning opportunity.
- Recipe time estimates are often lies.
- Never trust a recipe’s difficulty rating.
- How to make bagels. I’ve even made them a few times since I tried Paul’s rainbow bagel recipe!
- How to make choux pastry. I’ve made this again too!
- How to make crepes.
- How to steam a pudding.
- 280ml pudding moulds are nearly impossible to find in the US. Key word: nearly 😉
- How to make ganache.
- Following a recipe is a great way to get inspiration for developing your own recipes.
- Three of these recipes did not require the oven, even though this is Bake Off. I guess if your oven is broken but you still want to “bake”, you can try these: matcha crepe cake, sussex pond pudding, jam and custard doughnuts.
- Three of these recipes have Jewish roots. I actually already knew this, but I was excited about it so I’m putting it here. Check out the coconut macaroons (a Passover favorite), rainbow bagels, and chocolate babka.
Which recipes tasted the best?
When you’re working with lots of sugar and butter and following directions, thankfully it’s hard to make something that tastes bad. As a result, I honestly didn’t dislike how any of these recipes turned out. But, obviously some came out on top. If I had to narrow it down to my top 3, I’d go with:
- Mini pineapple upside down cakes: The homemade syrup really makes this recipe. It soaks through the batter and is so delicious. These weren’t that hard to make either.
- The cookies from the Danish cornucopia: I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of making this sculpture again, but the cookie dough is super simple and so tasty. Also gluten free!
- Walnut whirls: The individual components of this recipe are the most unlikely best friends and pair so well together: walnut cookie, coffee ganache, marshmallow, tempered chocolate. Ugh. So good.
Which recipes were the most absurd?
After making all 10 of these, I discovered that many of them include small (and dare I say sometimes unnecessary) additions that are designed to complicate things for the bakers, like making an additional syrup or a glossy glaze, or decorative chocolate tempering. There were a few recipes that I found absurd either because of the end result or the process:
- Raspberry and salted caramel eclairs: This recipe includes a whopping, wait for it, 24 steps. I got so tired and close to giving up towards the end, but somehow I found the motivation to keep going. The instructions for the eclair choux pastry are actually fairly straightforward (steps 1 – 6) and I’ve even made this part again! But once you venture into step 7, things get ridiculously complicated. Make two different fillings. Attach a single hazelnut to a wooden skewer. Make a seemingly infinite number of toppings. After 5+ hours, I only had 6 eclairs to show for it. Oh well.
- Sussex pond pudding: This is an example of one of those recipes where I found the end result both ridiculous and hilarious. An entire lemon? Stuffed in a dessert? With the rind? Covered in a bizarre pastry called suet? Yes, all true. I was incredibly amused when I realized that mine worked and actually tasted good. I was also horrified when I read the nutrition facts on vegetable suet. I know none of these recipes are particularly healthy, but this took it to another level. That’s probably why the Wikipedia page for this dessert says this recipe “has gone out of fashion over the years, perhaps due to diet consciousness.” This recipe was an adventure and I’m definitely glad I tried it.
I’m still figuring that out, but I’d love your input! These recipes covered such a fun variety of baking skills that I might go back to previous seasons and keep making new ones. I also love doing detailed cake decorations and have recently started getting into developing my own recipes. You can see some of that on my Instagram.
Have thoughts on this series or ideas of what I should bake next? Let me know in the comments here or over on my YouTube channel!