Week 1 Cakes Recap: The 2018 Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge

Season 5 of The Great British Baking Show kicked off with CAKES! In the premiere episode, the 12 new contestants were challenged to bake three delicious creations: Upside Down Cake, Rum Babas and Hidden Design Cake.

For the second year in a row, The Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge kicked off, too! In the spirit of The Great British Baking Show, we asked our Wisconsin bakers to select just one of the three cake types to tackle in our kick-off challenge. More than 90 bakers from across Wisconsin – and one from Brooklyn, NY – took this week’s challenge! Let’s recap the episode and see how our local bakers did.

If you have not watched this episode yet, SPOILER ALERT!

And don’t forget to read to the bottom to find out who our six featured Wisconsin bakers are!

Season 5 bakers. Courtesy of © Love Productions


Before we dive in: Meet this season’s bakers here.

Season 5 kicked off with a classic — an upside down cake. The judges asked for a simple sponge topped with any fruit. A classic upside-down cake requires that the cake is flipped after cooking so that the top becomes the bottom, so firm fruit is a must. “It mustn’t all fall apart!” warns Mary Berry.

Cathryn started out on a bad foot. She’d forgotten to eat breakfast, so her hands were a bit shaky as she was peeling apples for her Apple, Hazelnut and Calvados Upside Down Cake.  Paul Hollywood stopped by to make her even more nervous, stating that her cake seemed quite busy.

Ryan decided to not use a traditional sponge for his Kumquat Upside Down Cake, opting for polenta instead. He was the only baker who stepped outside of the spongecake box.  Mary and Paul looked dubious.

Most bakers used a simple caramel to keep their fruit in place at the bottom of their tins; Manisha was worried about the clock, so she opted to use a caramel substitute – golden syrup.  She hoped the syrup would add a golden-brown hue to her Vanilla, Peach and Raspberry Upside-Down Cake.

While many bakers went the traditional route, Natasha, James and Stuart chose some alternative bottom (soon to be top) layers for their cakes. Natasha chose pineapple and passion fruit,  James selected parsnips and Stuart – who made it clear that he wants to win – opted for tomatoes.

The Disasters: Stuart forgot to put his tomato jam on his cake before putting it in the oven, so his creation became a rather bland cake with some tomato decorations on top. Danny and Sarah-Jane’s cakes were overbaked, but Mary was just glad that there were no soggy bottoms.

The Highlights:  Even though her start was shaky, Cathryn knocked it out of the park with excellent texture, flavor and crunch. Victoria managed to retain the pear flavor in her cake, which impressed Mary Berry. Manisha’s design came out beautifully, and despite her alternative caramel, her cake had just the right amount of sweetness.

The Takeaway:  Sponge is the best bet for upside down cakes; the judges weren’t wowed by polenta. Flavor, texture and color are the most important factors in these bakes.


Karen from Niagra crafted a Rose-Scented Rhubarb-Apple Upside-Down Cake, inspired by “both the rhubarb growing next to our house and by the rediscovery of rosewater in the back of the spice cabinet.”

Sarah from Suamico made an Apple Cherry Upside Down Cake using fruit from local orchards. “I combined a vanilla yogurt cake with the apples and cherries and covered it with a cinnamon-spiced caramel.”

Heidi from Reedsburg decided to try a Tomato Upside Down Cake. “I attempted a pineapple upside down cake and it was an epic failure … This was Day #2 and a new attempt.”

Michaleen from Portage embraced her Scandinavian roots with Strawberry, Cardamom, Lingonberry Upside Down Cake. “I wanted to use the fresh strawberries I’d picked earlier this week and thought, what better thing to bake with!”

Common themes: We noticed that rhubarb was a popular choice in this week’s upside down cakes. Bakers including Harmonie, Ruth, Lauren, Jo-Ann, Cindy, Kevin, Joshua, Vivyenne,  Ethan, Laura, Alice and Sarah all chose this seasonal favorite as their addition of choice. We love that our bakers value local, seasonal twists!

One of our favorite Upside Down Cake challenge stories this week came from mother-daughter duo Annette and Vernette. “My name is Annette. I am entering two submissions, one for me and one for my mother, Vernette. My mother is 94 and lives in a nursing home. She has arthritis but her mind is good and she has cooked for a long time. She isn’t a fancy cook but what she did cook was memorable. She doesn’t have a lot of things that excite her these days but when I told her about the baking challenge, it really lit her up. I told her we can discuss what she would submit each week and I would try to make it as close to her specifications as I could. ”

Annette and Vernette even shared their recipe with us!



The Technical Challenge took us back to the ’70s! The judges instructed the bakers to use Paul Hollywood’s own recipe for their babas, which had to be perfectly formed, filled with chantilly cream and topped with fruit. The baba is believed to be descended from babkas, and it’s unusual because it uses yeast as a rising agent.

The Disasters:  Paul’s recipe simply told bakers to bake their babas “in a hot oven.” Pretty vague, Paul. Natasha’s babas stuck to the pans and came out quite messy. Brendan had some dough issues, leading Paul to say “I’ll talk to this person later …” and John’s dough was salty (he dusted his tins with salt instead of sugar … whoops!). Overall, a number of babas were declared over-proofed and overbaked.

The Highlights: Let’s be honest: Brendan showing off his groovester moves! And Peter’s “smoke and mirrors” sugar cage presentation techniques were quite impressive, even though Paul seemed to think it was insulting. In the end, Sarah-Jane’s baba landed in the first-place spot!

The Takeaway: Paul – if you’re going to be so picky about the contestants following your recipe, give the poor bakers clearer baking instructions! Poor Natasha.


Hey, we’re in Wisconsin! Our bakers loved putting an Old Fashioned spin on their babas. Catherine from MadisonNicole from WausauCatherine from Marshall and Mitchell & Maddie from Madison all made beautiful Old-Fashioned themed babas.

Some of our other bakers also drew inspiration from cocktails. Team Shlimder from Madison crafted a mojito-inspired baba (and please note the photo-bombing cat in the picture)! And Alaina from Milwaukee opted for a Dark & Stormy Rum Baba Cake.

Kandy from Edgerton crafted Maple Baba Suzettes. “My parents have hunting land in central Wisconsin where they grow a number of fruit trees and make their own maple syrup. I used maple instead of sugar for the syrup. The recipe also called for an apricot glaze. I decided to incorporate mom and dad’s plum jam right into the fresh whipped cream instead. Turned out delicious!”


The Show Stopper was literally full of surprises! The bakers were asked to bake a cake that reveals a hidden design when cut. This challenge requires meticulous planning. “This has got to be perfection,” says Paul.

The bakers prepared by pulling out blueprints and diagrams. Most bakers opted for a Victoria sponge mix. Although Victoria herself decided to make a pie-cake hybrid.

The Highlights: James helped Natasha open a bottle. This is why we love this show! Peter’s Union Jack design was jaw-dropping.

The Disasters: It wasn’t technically a total flop, but James’ cake was too huge and too heavy. As the judges noted, it was the first Great British Baking Show cake that could be seen from outer space! Natasha’s rose-decorated cake was absolutely gorgeous on the outside, but the inside was absolutely raw, oversoaked and strange-textured.

The Takeaway: Secrets can be a good thing, at least where cakes are concerned!


Creativity and Wisconsin twists were abundant for our kick-off week! We saw rainbows, checkerboards and lots of local spins on hidden designs.

Nicole From Wausau crafted an ode to the Northwoods with her Northwoods Magic Cake.  “This cake was a huge roller coaster for me. I kept hitting roadblocks but managed to pull through and finish the cake.”

Jill From Hollandale’s Lumberjack Plaid Cake was inspired by Wisconsin’s logging industry.  Josephine From Madison made a Wisconsin Winter Cake complete with ice-fishing gummy bears! And Ruth From Oshkosh’s Green and Gold Wisconsin cake slices to reveal the shape of Wisconsin.

Our youngest bakers were busy this week, too! Like 11-year-old Zander From Gillett, who made a Rainbow Heart Cake.

We loved Amanda From Madison’s Bucky’s Surprise Cake this week.  “I was asked to bring the dessert to Father’s Day dinner with my in-laws. My mother-in-law said, ‘it doesn’t need to be fancy.’ I decided to take on this cake! It actually kind of looks like Bucky! I’m no artist and I probably should have used a different piping tip for the outline, but I’m proud of it.”


Star Baker: Victoria (pie-cake for the win!)

Kicked Out of the Tent: Natasha. We saw this coming. But it doesn’t mean we’re not sad to see her go!

Our Six Featured Wisconsin Bakers:

Rebecca From Madison
Rebecca’s Rhubarb Cardamom Upside Down Cake features a beautiful design made from garden-fresh rhubarb stalks; cardamom and a star motif offer a nod to Scandinavian heritage.

Bren From Green Bay
Bren’s Rhubarb Cherry Almond Upside Down Delight came together after one failed cake batter, some intensive historical research and the aesthetic eye of her daughter, Em. 

Stephanie From Stevens Point
Stephanie tackled two challenges: Baby Babas and Strawberry Upside Down Cake. She also utilized lots of local ingredients, including Heath Rum from North Woods Distillery in Coleman.

Meghan From Green Bay
Meghan’s Brandy Old Fashioned Babas, inspired by her family’s love of Old Fashioneds, came out well-formed and garnished like a proper Wisconsin drink – despite some initial dough troubles. 
Joni From Manitowoc
Joni’s Flag Day Baby hidden design cake was made to celebrate her son’s birthday and features the colors – and flavors – of Wisconsin strawberries and blueberries. 

Elizabeth From Madison
Elizabeth’s Up the Hill cake, inspired by American Players Theatre in Spring Green, is a chocolate bundt featuring trees that celebrate the woods the theater sits in – and a miniature of the theater itself. 

We hope you will join us for our Week 2 Challenge: Bread! If you need inspiration before prepping your dough, you can watch this upcoming episode of The Great British Baking Show online now.

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