Every month me and several of my friends who shared the amazing experience of baking “in a certain tent” face a little group challenge. This month our challenge was set up by Marissa, a finalist in the Great American Baking Show. Her brief could not be simpler: BAKE YOUR STATE. We could do pretty much anything in all areas of baking, but the theme would be the state we grew up or live in. I coupled the state where I live with my usual state of mind. And the outcome was obvious: Macarons!  Kansas is The Sunflower State, so a bit of sunflower seed “flour” went into the shells. And black walnuts grow wild here, so the filling was a black walnut buttercream. A little dressing up, and here’s my contribution for this month:

(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

For the shells:
200g Icing/powdered sugar
100 g almond flour
15 g sunflower seeds, ground to a fine powder
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
green food color (I used green, brown and black to get a forest type green)

for the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese (half a regular package), softened
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon black walnut extract (or vanilla)
225 g powdered sugar
1/3 cup ground Black Walnuts

to decorate:
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder

Make the decorations, the day before. Beat all ingredients with a KitchenAid type mixer and the paddle attachment for about 7 minutes. Let the icing rest for 10 minutes, adjust consistency if needed. For piping rosettes, it must be thick but soft enough to squeeze through a small piping tip.

Color most of the icing yellow, color a small amount brown.  Use a small leaf tip to make the petals. Add the center with a small icing tip. Pipe your shapes over parchment paper and allow to dry. If desired, brush some of the petals with bronze dust.

Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla and the food color. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.

For the black walnut buttercream: Add the cream cheese, butter and vanilla to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and beat until very smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar,  whisk until smooth and fluffy, then fold in the black walnuts.

Assemble the macarons: match two shells similar in size and add buttercream to the bottom of one of them. Place another shell on top and gently squeeze to take the filling all the way to the edge.

To decorate the macarons, add the Royal icing flowers on top using melted Candy melts or royal icing. Store the macs in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I tried using exclusively sunflower seed as the component of the shell but it did not work. So I went with Plan B: added a small proportion to my regular recipe. It does bring a very interesting and noticeable flavor, I liked it a lot. As to the filling, black walnuts can be a bit of an acquired taste. They almost have a perfume quality to them. I am not too wild about extracts, but this one from Beanilla had nice reviews and worked well in the buttercream. If you cannot find or do not like black walnuts, use regular ones, slightly toasted.

The decorations were a lot of fun to make, although I realize the sunflower “look” is quite elusive. I used a very small leaf icing tip (this one) to pipe the petals, and a small icing tip (Ateco #2) for the center. It would be very hard to make the flowers without a little gadget to hold and rotate as you pipe. I made a template with parchment paper, clear acetate over it, and then glued squares of parchment on top with double-stick tape. Make a bunch of squares and have them ready, so you can pipe many flowers and then choose the best ones. Some will look like cabbages after a rabbit attack. Those you don’t use.

I find that the hardest part is getting the consistency of the Royal Icing right. It needs to be thick, but soft enough to flow smoothly without breaking, so it might take a few trials. Be patient. Once you get it all going, it’s quite mesmerizing to see each flower shaping up.

Marissa, thanks for choosing such a cool theme!  Amazing that we are publishing this on the 1st year anniversary of each of us stepping on a plane to the UK to start that incredible journey…

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends baked for their states of choice… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: Curry Turmeric Sourdough

TWO YEARS AGO: Black Olive Tapenade and Deviled Eggs

THREE YEARS AGO: Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Bundt Cake

FIVE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes and Avocado

SIX YEARS AGO: Strawberry Coffee Cake

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Brownies

NINE YEARS AGO: Salmon Tacos

TEN YEARS AGOCinnamon Turban Bread

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin


We just passed Summer solstice. It always makes me sad, knowing that days will be getting shorter and my beloved sun will stay around less and less time each day. Covid-19 is showing its ugly face again, adding more uncertainty to a year that has been full of it from the beginning. But for every yin there is always a yang, and the month of June also brought another group challenge by the tent bakers. This time Alex Tent Baker Extraordinaire came up with the theme, and he was quite straightforward with it. Laminate something. That was his  brief. A brief brief. I loved it! I had quite a few options dancing in my mind, but quickly settled on a Brioche Feuilletée, because it is all about the lamination, no distractions from it. So, without further ado, my assignment is here for you.

(recipe from Matt Adlard’s Bake it Better)

for the dough:
415g all-purpose flour
8g salt
50g sugar
85g eggs
153g whole milk
42g soft, unsalted butter
9g instant yeast

for the butter block:
250g unsalted butter

(simplified version, original recipe is copyrighted)

The dough is prepared using all the ingredients and allowed to proof for one hour. It is next transferred to the fridge overnight. At that time, the butter block is made with dimensions of approximately 7 x 8 inches and also placed in the fridge.

Next day the butter block is enclosed in the dough and three folds are performed. First a double fold, the other two single folds. The dough is rolled out and cut into four strips, about 2.5 inches in width. Each strip is rolled and placed inside a loaf pan for a final proofing of 2 to 2 and a half hours.

Bake in a 325F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until deep golden. Remove from the pan and allow it to cool completely.


to print the recipe overview, click here

Comments: If you want to know all the details and tips that make this recipe easier to follow, you will have to join Matt Adlard’s site. It would not be fair to publish his detailed instructions here, plus his video is a great help. I’ve been a member of his online group for a few months and highly recommend it for those interested in all areas of patisserie. I will write a full blog post about it in the near future. Not only you learn a lot, but you get to interact with a lot of cool, baking-fanatic folks. See what they bake, follow their progress, share failures and victories.

Matt bakes it in a slightly different way. He adds a baking sheet and a heavy weight to the top of the pan, so that as the dough rises during baking, it gets squished on top, ending in a cool rectangular shape, laminated on all sides, but flat. I did not have a pan with the appropriate dimensions to achieve that effect, so I went with the regular baking in which it all freely explodes upwards.

No matter how you bake it, the result will be the same: layers of buttery goodness that you roll out and enjoy. Nothing else is needed, as the bread is quite rich and indulgent as it is, but if you want to spread it with jam, more butter, clotted cream, you will not hurt my feelings. And I bet Matt will not mind a bit either.

Alex, thanks for a great challenge this month… It is hard to believe that one year ago   we were all frantically practicing for the show in our own homes, wondering  who were the other bakers, how would we get along…  Good times.

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends laminated this month… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2019

TWO YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen – July 2018

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2017

FOUR YEARS AGO: Secret Recipe Club: Falafel and a Bonus Recipe

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Baked Coconut and “The Brazilian Kitchen”

NINE YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

TEN YEARS AGO: French-Style Rolls

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Chicken Breasts, Coffee, and Serendipity


Another month in this crazy year is coming to its end. For May, the Bakers Collective challenge was set up by Bianca (check her site with a click here). I love how she shook things up a bit. We had to bake something savory but not using yeast. It’s a nice change from sweets, and getting yeast out of the equation makes it a tad more challenging. I settled on my choice almost immediately, because I’ve been flirting with soda bread for a long time. Perfect opportunity to give it a go.

(from Nadiya Hussain)

for Panch Phoran mix (all as whole seeds):
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp nigella
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black mustard
1 tsp fennel seeds

for bread:
250g whole-wheat flour
250g bread flour
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp panch phoran (made from mixture above)
400ml buttermilk

Heat the oven to 400F.

Mix all seeds in a small bowl (you will have mixture leftover).

Put the flours, salt, baking soda and 1 tablespoon of five-spice mixture into a large bowl and mix well. Make a well in the center and add a little over half the buttermilk. Bring the dough together by hand, adding more of the buttermilk if needed (I used the full amount).

As soon as all the flour is absorbed and the dough comes together, lightly flour the work surface, tip the dough onto it and roll into a neat ball. Place on the baking tray. Using a sharp knife, make a cross cut almost all the way down to the bottom of the bread, but do not separate the pieces.

Bake on the middle shelf for 30 minutes, until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Allow it to cool completely before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here


Comments: Soda Bread does not get high marks in the beauty department, I admit. It takes rustic to unprecedented levels, but I promise you Nadiya’s version is very tasty. That mixture of spices is perfect. You can buy packages of the mixture, but it’s really quite simple to prepare it yourself, and I happened to have all those seeds already in my pantry. I had fun browsing amazon and reading the comments from people who bought the mix. Some were furious because “it does not have nearly enough fenugreek.” So if you want to make sure to use the authentic “five spice mixture”, make it yourself. I actually loved so much the flavor of this bread, that I intend to make a sourdough version using those spices. Stay tuned.

Although quick breads leavened with baking powder and with little fat in theory do not stay good for more than a day or so, I was surprised by how good the bread tasted after FOUR days once toasted. We froze half of it because with just the two of us there is a limit to how much bread we can consume. But I know I will be making this and other versions in the near future.

Bianca, thanks for such a cool challenge that made me bake something I had never baked before. I am no longer a Soda Bread Virgin!

To see what my tent-baker friends came up for their challenge, visit the Home Bakers Collective site…. (post might take a few hours to show up, so keep that in mind)

ONE YEAR AGO: Purple Star Macarons

TWO YEAR AGO: Smoked Salmon, Fait Maison

THREE YEARS AGO: Kouign-Amann, Fighting Fire with Fire

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, Yin and Yang

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Baked Coconut and “The Brazilian Kitchen”

NINE YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

TEN YEARS AGO: French-Style Rolls


For the past year or so I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group for fans of The Great British Bake Off. It is a very nice online community (almost 20 thousand participants) that at the present time is not accepting new members. Recently Christine, the moderator, asked me to make a video with advice for people interested in submitting an application.  I decided to share it here also, one never knows if some of my readers have been flirting with the idea of baking in the tent. Remember, it all starts with a little thought in the back of your mind… what if? why not?

For the application online, click here

In case you missed my write-ups about all episodes of Season 5…  here they are

Episode 1…

Episode 2…

Episode 3…

Episode 4…

Episode 5… 

Episode 6…





If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

So many conflicting emotions as I sit down to write this post. Nothing can truly prepare you for what it’s like to be on the show, and now that it is over, the many alternate scenarios of what “could have been” seem to haunt me with full force. Would I do it all over again? Yes, no doubt. But there is a lot of sadness and regret in the  background. I am speaking exclusively for myself, but I imagine that the feeling hits some of my baking buddies also. The Path of the Tent is not smooth for anyone, winner included. In every single season you can go back and realize that the winner was at risk of elimination before, sometimes more than once. So the what-iff’s hit them too, probably, although obviously in a much more subtle (and less hurtful) way.

But the title of this post has a different reason. It’s not some type of a self-centered description of what could have been better for me or others eliminated early.  I want to talk about bakers who enter the group in a very strange category, they are “alternates.”  In every season the producers need to make sure 10 bakers will enter the tent. Stuff can go wrong, though. People can get sick, people can get into some panic attack and realize they just cannot deal with it. So they need to have backup contestants ready to step in (literally). Their identities must remain a secret. They go through the exact same preparation we all went through. They fly to London, they go to the tent on filming day one. Ready to join if needed. Then, once filming starts, and all the ten bakers are settled in, they fly back to the US. In complete anonymity. Can you imagine the feeling? The struggles, the anxiety? To just go back, unable to tell anyone about it, unable to get anything “publicly” out of the experience.  I want to say to the two alternates I had the chance to meet, you are amazing to me in every single aspect. You were pure joy to interact with and any of you two would be pretty hard to beat in the tent. In awe, I wish you the best of luck in whatever adventure life brings you.

Without further ado, I share with my readers what I had planned for the finale.

Signature Bake
Choux Buns

We were supposed to make two versions, one with a craquelin topping and another without, but with a glaze of our choice. For my craquelin version I chose a filling of Tonka bean creme patissier, very aromatic and flavorful.  For the plain version, lemon filling and a blueberry glaze. If you watched the show, you know that Dana forgot to add the craquelin before sticking her batch in the oven. Well, guess what? I did the exact same thing during practice. I was so concerned with rolling the craquelin topping with the right thickness, cutting the right diameter needed to cover the piped little blobs. But for optimal results, the little topping needs to be frozen. And once I put the little rounds in the freezer, they were “out of sight, out of mind.” Contrary to Dana, when I realized my mistake there were some choice words flying around the Bewitching Kitchen… Words that, in the tent would prompt an army of cameramen to gather around “Sally, do you mind repeating that for the cameras? But please, skip that initial expletive, ok? Or use Portuguese, how about that?”  So I understand exactly the shiver Dana felt, and how she was left with a very tricky decision. Start all over? Or quickly add the craquelin component? Tough choice. I would have done what she did, hurt a little the bake but not compromise completely the cruel timing of the game. They do not give you enough time for do-overs.  Which brings me back to Bianca and how fiercely she fought on cake day. Remember?

Technical Challenge

Such a classic cake, I’ve made it once but not with the tricky topping of strawberry jelly, it seemed like a very stressful maneuver to do right at the end, not only they had to center the jelly-containing pan perfectly on top of the cake, but make sure to heat it uniformly and hope that it would fall without breaking. Probably if you do that a couple of times in your life you get the hang of it, but in the tent, with the cameramen at the ready to zoom in? Not that easy, my friends. Not that easy. Add some tempering of white chocolate to that equation and they had a real challenging task on their hands. Remember, we were not baking during winter. It was hot in that tent. Dana got first place in the technical, and Marissa got third.

Showstopper Final
Individual-Sized Dessert Display
(three desserts, 12 samples each)

The brief said not to repeat any bake previously made during the competition, and that desserts could not involve cupcakes or choux buns. All options must contain a baked element and be sweet. Easy, right? Oh, sure, in 4 hours and 30 minutes, including cooling time. Yeah, piece of cake. Literally.

I tell you one thing, I had a very hard time with this challenge, and my last dessert (the mini pavlovas) materialized around 5pm of the very deadline day. We had until midnight to send all recipes in the proper format. Did I ever mention to you that composing the recipes the way they need to be takes quite a bit of time? I was truly fit to be tied when I hit “send email.”  And not at all confident in my choices. Which were…

Reveillon Mousse Cakes, decorated sponge layer surrounding a white-chocolate coconut mousse and strawberries, plus a strawberry jelly on top (made with agar-agar).

Cappuccino Panna Cotta over a brown sugar cookie base, topped with chocolate-orange ganache. Once again, I resorted to agar-agar, an ingredient that is not very common, but when used in the right proportion, confers perfect texture and sets a lot quicker and more reproducibly than gelatin.  I intend to share posts on the blog about it in the near future. For the tent version I would use scalloped edged cookie cutters (I had them on order at amazon).

Last, but not least…

Candied Banana Mini-Pavlovas, inspired by the caramelized banana my Mom used to make when I was young.  I had originally played with the idea of making “Quindim”, a very traditional and unusual Brazilian recipe with Portuguese origins, but stumbled on several pretty bad recipes that failed to deliver what they promised. That set me back a couple of days and really raised the stress level sky-high.  There were tears, there was despair, and there was a desire to quit at the very end of the preparation stage. Then I thought about mini-pavlovas, and decided to give that option one last go before admitting defeat.

After watching the show, I concluded my mini-cakes were a bit too big and did not have enough textural contrast. Maybe it is a good thing I did not have to serve them to Paul and Sherry after all…  I was reasonably happy with the other two desserts, although baking the meringue base for Pavlovas can be tent-tricky.

If I had any input on the organization of the show, I would allow 1 full week to prepare for the semi-final and 1 full week to prepare for the final. When you consider we had to come up with 8 different recipes (2 kinds of canapes, 1 Opera Cake, 2 choux buns, 3 individual sized desserts) in 7 days, with sophistication and “wow-factor” expected this late in the competition, I believe it becomes almost unrealistic. What it amounts to is, your first idea must be the one you pursue to the end, because no investment of baking time can go to waste.

There we were watching together… the Premier of The Great British Bake Off that started on our last week in the UK. Tanya was out in a theatre play with her daughter, so unfortunately she is not in the picture. Marissa took the picture, which explains her absence. It was  such a cool evening! We were screaming at the TV:  “Nooooo! don’t DO THAT, are you crazy???? It’s not going to work!!!! Wanna be eliminated????”  It was fun and emotional at the same time. We knew that a few months down the line people would be watching us and maybe screaming the same way…. “SALLY, this gingerbread house is not looking good…. OMG Sally, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Wanna be eliminated?”

As you know, there is no elimination in the final, but only one baker gets “the plate.”  That was Brother Andrew. Congratulations on making it to the final and being chosen as The Best Amateur Baking in the US, year 2019″. You had quite a ride, so enjoy the outcome!

Two of my dear baking buddies had the thrill of stepping in that tent for the Final together with Andrew, and they proved they had every right to be there.

Marissa… OMG she is just too funny and cool… I cannot help but think she would be PERFECT as part of the cast of a show like Saturday Night Live. Maybe you caught a tiny bit of her artistic flair when she impersonated Paul Hollywood during her bake. But she is just phenomenal imitating all kinds of accents and personalities. I never had kids, but I tell you, if I had, I wish they could be students in her acting class. She takes the funniest selfies and shares them with us in your texting group, I call them “The Many Faces of Marissa”, they are priceless. She is a fantastic baker, one who puts a ton of passion in her bakes. In the very early stages of the show, when we were hanging out in our “greenish room” (wink wink), she talked about how hard it is when you develop a recipe and feel very good about it, but then it gets harshly criticized. Why that happens? It is hard to tell, actually. The bake can go slightly wrong, or the ingredients might be a bit different, and let’s not forget, people have different tastes, and what you find amazing and delicious might not awe Paul and Sherry. Whatever the reason, the criticism hurts and you have to face it and deal with it, cameras right on your face. And try your best to put that behind you, so you can go on to the next task at hand. It is a psychological roller coaster, one that Marissa surfed with a lot of grace and wit.

She and her husband have been dealing with a benign brain tumor affecting Charlie, the cutest dachshund pup, something that came up as a seizure right when the first show aired. If you can help them with the expenses for the treatment, please do so with a click here.  It is a treatable condition with radiation therapy (that starts next week), and Charlie will have many more years of a good life together with them.

The other baker who stepped into the tent for the final was Dana. I share with you one of my favorite pictures of our time in the UK, taken in the hotel lobby.  What can I say? We clicked almost immediately. So many similarities between us… We are both not very tall (although obviously I beat her in the contest for The Vertically Challenged), we have three dogs, one of them is called Buck (!!!), we have two cars, one is a Tesla and the other a pickup truck. We love to exercise, we wake up at ungodly early hours, we do not drink, and we are in a slightly older age bracket than the other bakers (although I beat her by many years in that category too).  Of all the bakers in our group, I believed Dana had probably the best mindset to face the challenges. She is rock solid, and does not allow criticism or small setbacks to affect her. What you saw in the show, her focused approach to the bakes, was there from day one. She was doing in the tent what she loves to do and that was clear for all to see. In my mind, there was no doubt she would make it to the final, and quite likely be the winner. I cannot tell you how happy I am our paths crossed.

That is it, my friends. Eight episodes, eight blog posts. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and the first feeling I have, in that state in-between dream and reality, is sadness about how it all developed for me. Then it goes away, because I am so glad I had the chance to be part of it.

Dreams are for free. Maybe one day they will call some bakers to go back to the tent, give them a chance to bake their best one more time. Maybe they could mix British and American contestants… Maybe…. I tell you, I would go back in a heartbeat.. I need my handshake fix.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs