Cardamom Apple Olive Oil Cake from the first challenge on the Great American Baking Show

The Great American Baking Show, Episode 1

***WARNING: THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW, Episode 1 SPOILERS!

This post contains Episode 1 spoilers so if you have not watched it, stop reading now and come back after you finish watching it!***

My road to the Tent

What can I say after all this time and hard work other than…I MADE IT TO THE TENT! The entire experience still feels like a dream. My husband, Jamie, convinced me to audition for The Great American Baking Show 3 years ago and I thought he was crazy. I thought that there was no way they would even look at my application and, even if they did, I hate being on camera, so baking surrounded by a film crew terrified me. And being judged by professionals? More than once, I imagined myself falling on my way to the judging table, face first into my bake, and making a complete fool out of myself.

After a lot of encouragement from my husband, I did apply. And they DID look at my application. The first time that I went through the audition process taught me so much. I learned that I am good at this baking thing but that I have so much more to learn. I met so many amazing people, paid close attention to the feedback, and tried again the next year. I did even better the second time I applied, making it as far as possible without actually being on the show. It was heartbreaking to be that close and not make it but, yet again, I learned so much about the process, about baking, and about myself.

After the disappointment of not making it twice, I decided not to apply a third time. They had their chance, I told myself. They didn’t like me enough to cast me the last two years, so why should I put myself through the rigorous casting process, only to be denied of my dream yet again?

But I couldn’t get my mind off the challenge. I wanted so badly to bake in the coveted tent. I knew that if I didn’t apply, I would regret it when the new season aired, and I had to watch the chosen few bake their way through the challenges. Besides, I had become so familiar with the audition process that nerves were no longer an issue!

So, I did it. I applied a third and, hopefully, final time. And now I am watching myself on The Great American Baking Show!

Episode 1

***AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am writing this Episode 1 Reaction in October 2019 and will post it the day after Episode 1 airs in December. I do not know how the episode and scenes will be edited together but I’m sure it will be interesting to watch. I still don’t like being on camera, but it is a necessary part of the process. I will add a recap to the end of this post after I watch Episode 1 along with you!***

Wow, I did it! I baked my way through three difficult bakes. And, boy, was it a challenge! First, I thought that I would be in complete control of my emotions and handle the problems and negative feedback like I normally do – without tears and with the mindset that I would learn from all of it, not be hurt by it. Didn’t work out that way, did it??

Emotional. Photo Credit: ABC

I am amazed at just how emotional this whole experience was for me. I normally don’t let people know how I feel about anything – my nickname in the Navy was Ice Queen! It is difficult to find the words to explain now why I was so emotional over a cake. I literally cried over a cake! It seems ridiculous but now, I think it shows just how passionate I was and still am about this opportunity.

In a way, I wish that I could’ve held back the tears. I didn’t want to be the one that cried over every disappointment, but I lost it during Episode 1! I know that there will be criticism about the tears. My only hope now is that people will understand the pressure and passion that brought on the tears. I went into this wanting to do my very best, even in the smallest of details. When my bakes didn’t turn out the way I expected and the judges didn’t rave about my baking skills, I felt like I let down every single person that has supported me through this very long process!

The Signature Challenge – Olive Oil Cake

So, Challenge 1, Olive Oil Cake. I nailed it at home. I nailed it in my rental flat the day before we began filming. Our brief was to make a cake with olive oil in the batter and a holiday feel. What could be more holiday than apples and cardamom/cinnamon?!

Signature Cardamom Apple Olive Oil Cake with Browned Butter Glaze and Pistachios that I made for the first bake on Episode 1 of The Great American Baking Show, Season 5.
Cardamom Apple Olive Oil Cake by Global Bakes

Prepping for this challenge was the first time that I had made an olive oil cake. I was surprised by the tender crumb and amazed by how long this cake stays moist. I will definitely be making many more in my future!

First, a shoutout to the first handshake! Sarita got a handshake with her stunning Olive Oil Cake! You go, girl! If you want to check out Sarita’s blog (trust me, you do!) go visit her at www.ritzymom.com.

HIT PLAY to see Sarita’s reaction to her handshake!!

But I had issues in the tent. The first was when I turned out the cake and saw the gooey mess that coated the cake with the Paul Hollywood STANDING RIGHT THERE!!!! I was absolutely mortified and embarrassed. I simply couldn’t believe that this cake that had looked so perfect at home came out such a mess in my first bake in the tent! I remember lowering the pan back over the cake, hoping that Paul hadn’t seen it or might go away while I did my best to fix it. No such luck! There is nowhere to hide in the tent!

I’m still not sure why the pan spray/flour stuck to the cake since I had made this exact recipe in the same pan 6 different times with great results. But, alas, it happened and I had to try to correct it with my hands shaking and my heart in my throat. The flour and pan spray had somehow formed a nasty gooey mess on the outside of my cake. I did NOT want to feed this to the judges but, with the challenge almost over, I had no choice but to do my best to clean it up.

Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard. I admire these two more than you could ever imagine. Photo Credit: ABC

I don’t know if I’ll ever be over the fact that Paul and Sherry’s first impression of me is that mess of a cake! I cleaned off as much of the ‘goo’ as I could and hoped to hide the rest with my glaze. I made the glaze and realized that it was not coming together the way it normally does. With no other ideas and the clock running out, I poured it on the cake and hoped it would hide some of my sins.

Well, another lesson for me that day was that icing sugar in the UK (confectioners’ sugar, powdered sugar, whatever you want to call it) does not have cornstarch in it. Cornstarch is a thickener and I have always unknowingly relied on it to help set up my icings and glazes. So my glaze was thin and looked curdled. Not only did it NOT hide the messy cake, it created an even messier look.

I was done.

After all the hard work and hoping to do well, I had completely bombed my first bake and I knew it. I hoped that the judges would love the flavor and look past the messy presentation, but Paul didn’t like anything about it! Sherry said it was a good holiday cake but not an olive oil cake.

Another lesson learned. I had read the brief and baked a cake based on my interpretation (with some problems along the way!) I just hadn’t interpreted the brief correctly. I fully intended to revisit every single recipe planned for future challenges as soon as we left set that day! The reality was that I went back to the flat and cried myself to sleep.

Time for the Technical – Angel Food Cake with Passionfruit Curd

On to the first Technical Challenge! I mean, how hard can it be? It’s cake week, right? I can make a cake. No problem! See challenge 1 recap above – reality check!

When I saw that our first Technical was an Angel Food Cake with a curd filling and fruit and whipped cream topping, I thought I had it! I had never made an Angel Food Cake, but I have read through the steps numerous times. Make each element perfectly, put them together, and job done!

Except that I got distracted. You see, I normally bake alone, in my own kitchen, when everyone else I know is asleep. Cameras and producers and the presence of the amazing Spice Adams and Emma Bunton provided so many distractions for me that I overfolded my cake batter!

I knew that this was a delicate cake. I knew that I needed to fold gently. But I talked and tried to be a little social when I should’ve been paying attention to my batter.

Another lesson learned. That tent is full of them.

I was disappointed with getting 9th in the first technical. Of course, I had visions of being first, but I knew when my cake was still in the oven that I would be lucky if they didn’t send me home.

After three years of hoping and trying, I realized that I was going out on the first episode. The end of Day One in the tent was over and it was a complete failure. I was devastated.

I talked to my husband on the phone after Day One was over and I cried so hard that I could barely get the words out. He couldn’t believe that it was actually me that he was talking to. He wasn’t used to these unbridled emotional outbursts. But he told me to pick myself up and kill it in the showstopper. Like always, he had complete faith in me.

The Showstopper – Chocolate Gateau

And so, I took his advice again. I had a few issues during the Chocolate Gateau Showstopper, but I overcame them. I focused on what I needed to do and I put out the best cake that I could. The issues cost me some time and I did have to modify my design a bit. It was much simpler than intended.

By the way, each contestant is expected to name their own bakes. I had a hard time coming up with names as well as recipes, decor, etc in the VERY short amount of time that we have to prep. So the title of this one is thanks to my daughter, Haley.

Fleece Navidad. I love it! (Hopefully, I accomplished something resembling a knitted pattern!)

My three-layer Chocolate Gateau with Coconut-Pecan Filling, iced with White Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream and topped with Brigadeiro Pinecones.
Brigadeiro Pinecones, studded with almonds and dusted with cocoa powder.

I was a bit disappointed that my Brigadeiro Pinecones were completely left out of the episode. But there is a lot to cover and less than an hour to fit it all in so I understand.

I was so excited that Sally and I were BOTH doing Brigadeiro on this challenge with no prior knowledge of each others bakes! They even filmed us playing around and coming up with the hashtag #brigadeirobabes .

Sally said that my Brigadeiro was perfect and that I am an honorary Brazilian! So proud!

The design seemed to go well except that Paul said it looked like his Nan’s wallpaper. Well, everyone loves their Nan’s house, so I decided to take it as a compliment. There would be no tears today.

So many tears!?!

Well, that’s not quite true. I did cry that day but they were tears of joy! And those tears were because Sherry loved it! She loved my cake and my presentation. She said I nailed the cake, I nailed the filling, I was brave in my choice of white chocolate buttercream and that it was the quintessential American cake. I impressed Sherry Yard and I couldn’t be prouder! The thought crossed my mind that I could go home and still be happy because Sherry’s comments were so positive! (I quickly squashed those thoughts – I was NOT ready to go home!!)

I was still worried about elimination even after the Showstopper went (mostly) well. It seems that several people had issues that I was oblivious to while I focused on my own bake. But I had done the worst on the first day and was definitely at the bottom. I am morbidly curious about the conversation between Paul and Sherry to decide who would go home. I know some of it will be aired but I also know there is so much more that won’t make the final cut!

In the end, it wasn’t my name that they called. I was awestruck when they said Helen’s name instead of mine and I still can’t believe it. I honestly wish that no one had to go home! Every single person in the tent that day is an amazing baker and an even more amazing person. We became so close in just the first couple of days together that we were like siblings by the end of Episode 1, eating off of each other’s plates and sleeping on each other’s shoulders between challenges.

Losing an Amazing Baker!

One hour of watching Helen is simply not enough. You won’t get to see her long enough to really get how amazing she is. Helen is a sweet and genuine person that comes across as controlled and down-to-earth. Then she says something sarcastic and shocks you with her wit and humor that you never saw coming. She is an incredibly knowledgeable baker. She is smart, beautiful, and gets along with everyone that she meets. She walks away from drama and laughs at her own mistakes. I am so lucky that she lives 45 minutes from me and that Helen, Sarita and I can get together for lunch or coffee or baking and cookie swaps.

Keep up with Helen on her blog at www.bakersanonymous.org . You will not regret it!

Helen Pantazis, Great American Baker! THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW, Season 5, on ABC. (Photo Credit: ABC/Mark Bourdillon)

I know that this is a competition. I know that someone will be sent home each week. But I honestly did not expect the camaraderie to be so strong. Each time another baker gets a handshake or positive feedback, I am elated. When someone’s feedback is not so good, I’m devastated for them. We were all honestly so supportive of each other and I am so glad to see that the friendly vibe you see when you watch the show is REAL! I am so glad that I hit apply just one more time!

I learned so much in the first few days in the tent. I learned about baking, yes, but I also learned that I have what it takes to get through anything if I just focus. I learned that every person on that set has our success at the forefront of their minds. I learned that these people always work incredibly hard to make this show and they do it with a smile on their faces. And I learned that the bakers in the tent with me will be some of my best friends forever.

So, episode 1 is in the books. I guess I can thank my husband for being so pushy, right??

Reaction after watching Episode 1

***December 13th – The day after the premiere – WOW! This was a hard one to watch! Those first two bakes were agonizing and seeing myself on camera is so difficult for me. I did redeem myself with the Showstopper but I was still sure that I would be in the bottom two. I was pleasantly surprised by the judges’ comments. I loved the whole show. It was so well edited. Of course, a lot was cut out of necessity but the feeling of the original British Bake Off is there. Bakers helping bakers, people supporting each other and lessons being learned.

My husband was adamant that we should host a watch party so we did. It was so nice to have everyone together and to share some of the bakes from Cake Week. Our friends offered up their Wedding/Reception Venue which is such a beautiful location. If you are looking for a venue, go take a look at WOW Event Center in Alton, Illinois!

Please watch The Great American Baking Show again next Thursday, December 19th at 8pm CST! There is so much more excitement in store!

10 Comments

  1. Thank you for your kind words! I didn’t cry in the tent but your post made me tear up. Go figure.

  2. Steve McQuillin

    Hi Tanya,

    First time visiting your blog, I am a (British ex-pat living in Florida) friend of Sally’s and she posted a link on Facebook that brought me over here. Great writing, and just wanted to tell you I was SO happy that you nailed the third bake and got such positive comments from Sherry. My heart was in my mouth after the first two and while you lament about becoming emotional in your post, it really came across that it was simply the enormity of the event and stresses of cooking in the tent for the first time that had thrown you slightly off your game. Can’t wait to see more! – Steve

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Steve, and also for visiting my blog! It was so stressful and I had worked for three years to get there. I guess when we are so passionate about something, the emotions are inevitable! I am trying to stay away from negative comments on the internet and your kind words are good to hear!
      Sally and I became fast friends and I just adore her! She is a fabulous person and a phenomenal baker! Meeting her and the other people in the tent is one of the best parts of this entire experience!

  3. Seeing you on TV and finally in that tent made me ecstatic! My whole family was cheering you on and we were devastated with your after the first bake because we know what a rockstar you are! And of course you knocked it out of the park in the showstopper.
    I LOVE getting this inside scoop! Especially hearing your thoughts as they were immediately after each episode!! Thank you so much for doing this! People, like me, who are living vicariously through you want every detail! Can’t wait to hear about that handshake!!!!

    • Thanks for being the ultimate cheerleading and support, Emily! I’ll do my best to share after each episode and I really hope that people like the inside scoop type of post!

  4. I’m looking forward to this series of posts. I get the sense that you and Sally developed a strong relationship while in the heat of the competition.

    Congratulations on getting on the show and surviving the first two weeks!

    • Thank you so much for checking out my blog and watching the show! Sally and I hit it off right away when we met in the hotel lobby. I think when I told her that I was making Brigadeiro in the first showstopper, we bonded immediately! She really is a special person and I love her to death!

  5. Tanya, what a WONDERFUL write-up! The final picture of YOU in the large screen TV is just enough to melt any heart! Look at you!!!!!

    Reading about it took me back right there – I understand so well what you went through, there is nothing that really prepares you to deal with “stuff” that does not go as planned. The emotion is overwhelming…

    looking forward to your next blog post…..

    • Thank you so much, Sally! It’s so good to know that I will have friends forever that were there with me and know exactly what it was like! Hopefully I’ll get a post after each episode….if the emotions don’t take over!

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