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

We arrived at the semi-final stage, in which we had three hours to prepare two types of canapes (12 of each)  using rough-puff pastry, and three and a half hours to come up with our showstopping version of the famous Opera Cake.  Keep in mind that in that same week of preparation we needed to design the bakes for the Final episode also. One of them involving 3 kinds of mini-desserts. When I look back at that week of my life, I realize I was stretched to the very limit, and I am sure all my baking buddies were also.

Taking a small detour again (should I call them Sally’s ramblings?)… In the Great British Bake Off, the contestants who are eliminated are done with their homework. That means that those who advance get a pretty nice dose of what I see as “good adrenaline” to keep them going. They know they are designing bakes for the chance to overcome one more hurdle towards the Final. I will admit that by the week we had to get these four sets of recipes ready, I was pretty burned. I kept telling myself that chances were I was not going to be in the final two episodes, so would  I really need to to work so so hard?  Of course, I did my best, but particularly for the final episode, I was not overly confident. But we’ll get there soon. For now, let me show you what I had planned for my signature bake.

Signature Bake
Chicken and Heart of Palm Squares
& Mushroom Puffs

This was a very tight challenge as far as timing is concerned. Do I seem to be repeating myself? Yes, I am sure, because it is the modus operandi in the tent. Three and a half hours to produce well-laminated dough, make fillings, roll the dough out and bake. With semi-final pizazz. Not easy at all. I actually made a blog post after coming back form the UK, in which I share a variation of the recipe I hd designed for the show. Of course, I could not tell you about it then, but now you know.  Visit my post with a click here. I wanted to bring one canape’ with Brazilian flavors. The combination of chicken with hearts of palm is a classic back home, in empadas, pies, and even pasteis. For my second canape’, I wanted a vegetarian option. Duxelles are delicious components of Beef Wellington and with a bit of truffles added to the party, I thought I would be in good shape for that challenge. Of course, disregarding tent-factors that might turn the best laminated doughs into a leaky package of melting butter (sigh).


Operetta Cake

This cake was fun for me to design, because when I made the traditional version for the very first time a couple of years ago, I was ecstatic about it. Cakes in general were still a bit tricky for me, but somehow following the detailed instructions of Colette Christian in her online class at Bluprint, I managed to come up with a version that pleased me quite a bit (click here for the post).

For the show, I chose a matcha-flavored sponge soaked with lemon syrup, filling of matcha-ganache and lemon buttercream. The cake would be coated with a shiny white chocolate glaze and decorated with tempered white chocolate. I made the full cake once, and a smaller version just to practice getting more filling in between the layers. The photo shows my first attempt, with a regular size cake. I loved the flavors, and everyone who’s tried it was very complimentary of it.  I knew I had to practice it one more time in the hotel if I was going to be in the semi-final, because I wanted to get absolutely uniform thickness of each sponge layer.  That can be tricky even at home (double sigh). The more I look at it, though, the more I think it was a bit too monotonous in the color scheme. I intend to re-make it but include a layer of some kind of berry in it, perhaps a blackberry-buttercream. To bring some contrast.

I don’t know how the bakes I planned would have worked for Paul and Sherry. I am aware that Paul is not wild about matcha, but I like it a lot and with the lemon and the white chocolate I thought the flavor worked well. I have the feeling Sherry could enjoy both the canapes and the Operetta Cake. But as we know, I wasn’t there, I was just in the hotel waiting for Alex, Dana, Brother Andrew and Marissa to arrive back.

Star Baker in the Semi-Final was granted to Dana, she simply rocked her way through each of the challenges, with her always serene and focused approach. She made ricotta from scratch, produced perfect souffles for the technical, and her Opera cake was a real showstopper, with three different cake layers. Congrats, Dana!

The real painful goodbye involved the one and only Alex…

I was in the tent for only three episodes, but I was pretty much counting on Alex being present in the Final. If you’ve been following the show, you probably thought so too. The guy is FAST. Meticulous. Artistic. Great with flavors. He actually told us that he’d practiced at home with speed in mind, and I must say that’s pretty clever, timing is the major factor that can kill you (or at least hurt you badly) in the tent. Alex’s approach was to work very very fast in the beginning to get all his components ready, so that he would have enough time to gild the lily in the end. That worked every time. Remember his highly decorated sweater sugar cookies? You could give me one extra hour, and I would say, thanks, but no thanks.  The sweaters might end up bright pink, but they will be very plain…

I can tell that Alex will have a bright future ahead, he has the will-power to do anything he sets his mind to, which is obvious when you see him in his “other hobby”, acrobatics. You don’t get to be that amazing without a ton of effort and commitment. And to top it all? A very kind and sweet personality, a pleasure to be around. When I was eliminated, I was pretty crushed. As I got to my room, I see a text message from Alex, and it was like a warm hug, just what I needed to hear at that moment. I was very surprised to see him go, but sometimes the tent plays tricks on you.

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



So let’s start this big party, shall we? The Great American Baking Show premiered yesterday and I am so excited to finally share with you a little bit about my experience in “the tent.” If you have not watched the show yet and do not want spoilers, save this post to read later.

Like many people who love to bake, I’ve watched all the Great British Bake Off shows available to us in the US, and all the American Baking Shows more than once. Some seasons that are dear to my heart (Chetna, Val, Nancy, Tina, Kim Joy, Amanda, Nadyia, Selasi, I am talking to you!) I’ve watched twice or more, and never got tired of them.  When I first applied to the show in 2018, I was a bit disappointed about my performance in the final audition, so I wanted to try it again. Much to my amazement, not only I got all the way to the final audition phase, but they selected me to be in the show! I remember very well where I was when I got THE phone call. First the adrenaline rush, and later that nagging question inside me “am I really tent-worthy?”

From the phone call to finally going to London, life gets turned upside down, as you get assignments for each episode and the tension keeps building up and up. It is a very unique experience, and pushes your baking skills to the limit. We all have things we are good at, and things we are not, as far as baking is concerned. Come to think of it, as far as ANYTHING is concerned… Getting ready for the show means designing recipes to potentially impress Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard, even if you feel insecure about laminating dough, or if baking macarons sounds like the last thing you’d like to face in front of the cameras. By the time you step on the plane, you’ve already been through  countless hours of baking, a roller coaster of emotions, from self-doubt to bliss, from fear and panic to BRING IT!  And then you get to meet your fellow bakers, and realize you can finally interact with people who have been through the exact same roller coaster you did. It is a bonding experience that starts from the minute you gather in the hotel lobby. It is one aspect of this adventure I will cherish forever.

But nothing quite prepares you for that first look into the tent. I was in a complete daze,  and remember someone telling us… “Did you know more people went into space than baked in this tent?”.  Not sure what was their intention with that casual remark,  but it made my stomach a tad colder, and the butterflies inside it a lot more noticeable. It was a beautiful sunny day, I felt happy and grateful for being there although it felt so unreal. I was also anxious to get that first bake done. Cake. Yours truly, a former self-professed cake-o-phobe about to step in a famous tent, with dozens of cameras around, two demanding judges and two adorable hosts to bake for. Mind blowing, my friends. Mind blowing.



I adore yuzu. I could not bake with the real fruit, maybe they could find it in London but there was no way I could practice with it at home, so I opted for the bottled juice. More consistent, anyway. Once you get a certain brand, you know what to expect. I paired the cake with a caramel scented with sobacha tea, taking my assignment into a clear Japanese territory. Japanese patisserie fascinates me because they tend to make things that are not overly sweet, and often bringing unusual ingredients together. A little decoration with caramel and that was my plan for the very first bake under the spotlight. I practiced this cake three times at home and felt reasonably confident about it, my only fear was unmolding it. Bundt pans can be very unforgiving. I can tell you my heart was beating at 120bpm when I flipped that baby out of the pan, and I could feel the adrenaline rushing out of my system once it was all smooth sitting in front of me.  Of course, they had the cameras right there as each baker unmolded their cakes. Would you like some stress with your cake?

My main take home lesson from this bake is that all flavors must come through. The ginger was not prominent enough, so I should have either tried to work a bit more into the cake and glaze or simply left the yuzu alone. I will tweak the recipe again and once I’m absolutely happy with it, I will share with you.

Technical Challenge 


My very first technical challenge! I was cautiously optimistic when they announced it, because I’ve made Angel Food in the past and I knew the main details that matter in its preparation. I was a bit more worried about the curd, as it needs to have a smooth texture and proper consistency. The process of making a channel in the cake was a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest with you. I felt I was butchering the poor cake and not quite sure I had enough curd to cover the crime scene. As I placed the cake behind my picture, I remember feeling good about it, but never expected to be first in the first technical.  It was absolutely thrilling!  I will never forget the feeling…

Plus, it made going into the showstopper challenge next day a lot less stressful. Speaking of it…



My first showstopper challenge! I baked this cake three times during practice, changing little details in the preparation. Chocolate sponge with mascarpone-chantilly-raspberry filling, and chocolate buttercream icing. The thing I was most excited about was the brigadeiro topping, because I wanted to add something Brazilian to my concoction. Much to my surprise, Tanya – who was baking just behind me in the tent – had planned brigadeiros for her decorations too!  Can you imagine?  We immediately called ourselves Brigadeiro Babes, because… how could we not? Knowing she was making a Brazilian delicacy right behind made the whole experience even more special and fun for me.  Her little pine cone decorations over the top of the cake were in fact little almond-covered brigadeiros.  Super clever and cute.

I was also a bit worried about tempering the chocolate in the tent for the decorations. It was the last thing I had to do, and kept me a bit anxious throughout the 3 and a half hours of the assignment. Which go by like 30 regular minutes, I kid you not. It turns out tempering was ok, but not the piping. I did not have the exact piping bag I had at home, and the opening was a bit too big even when I cut it as small as possible. My trees, that were so cute at home, looked a bit like odd fish creatures, as Sherry Yard brought to my attention. She was 100% right, I am sad to admit. But at least the brigadeiro component was good.  With that bake we completed the first round of the Great American Baking Show, and one of us had to say goodbye to the tent.

The baker leaving on that first day was Helen. I should tell you that sitting in those stools waiting for the knife to hit the chopping block is beyond stressful. I knew I was safe that day, but the idea of ANY of the others being eliminated was too hard to face. Watching the shows on TV over the years, I often wondered if the emotion they show is real. The cynic in me would sometimes feel that it was not possible to show so much affection for someone you just met. Well, it is not fake. When you meet those people, you spend A LOT of time together. You talk, you share a lot, often in moments in which you are most vulnerable. When they said Helen’s name, I know the sharp pain I felt inside was the exact same pain felt by the other 9 bakers, and of course even more sharply by Helen herself. No one wants to be eliminated first, and the fact that she was, has ZERO impact on her quality as a baker.  She took it with a smile, very gracefully. With the unique sense of humor she has, and that you can get a taste of by visiting her blog. Her writing is fun, to the point, and charming. Several of us made her brownies. Absolute winner. Give her recipe a try, and thank me later.

We were crushed by Helen leaving the tent, and if I could change one thing in the show, it would be this: no one gets eliminated on the first episode. You get that as a warm-up round. Producers, are you reading me? Anyone? Anyone?

That wraps up Cake Episode.  I will be back in a couple of days with the round up of BREAD, which hopefully you already watched.  It was a nail-biter for yours truly…

ONE YEAR AGO: Broccoli Souffle

TWO YEARS AGO: Panettone Time!

THREE YEARS AGO: How the Mighty Have Fallen

FOUR YEARS AGO: Festive Night at Central

FIVE YEAR AGO: The Perfect Boiled Egg

SIX YEARS AGO: Light Rye Sourdough with Cumin and Orange

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Homemade Calzones

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Plum-Glazed Duck Breasts

NINE YEARS AGO: Holiday Double-Decker

TEN YEARS AGO: New York Deli Rye


Dear friends, I’ve been keeping a secret from you for a long time. But finally I can share some super exciting news… Remember when I was a bit disappointed because I went all the way to the final audition for the Great American Baking Show 2018 and was not selected to go to the show? Well, well, well… persistence paid off. I am here to tell you that I WILL BE A CONTESTANT THIS YEAR!!!!  Can you imagine? I mean, I myself could not quite believe it. For a long time I walked around in a complete daze, unable to tell anyone, unable to have a “normal reaction” to the idea. It’s been an incredible adventure, for sure the biggest adventure of my life, but finally ABC Network announced the contestants, and yours truly is one of the ten who walked into that dreamy tent. Who baked for Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard. Live. In real time. I know, crazy, right? I am so, so excited to share the news, and hope you will have a chance to watch the show. It airs December 12th!  I guarantee you it will be awesome. Get it on your schedule…

THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Cake and Bread Week” – On your marks, get set, bake! Cake and bread are on the menu when 10 aspiring bakers from around the country step into the famous white tent to tackle the challenges of cake and bread in the two-hour season premiere of “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition,” THURSDAY, DEC. 12 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon)