That’s a (Rough Puff Pastry) Wrap! The 2018 Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge

October 16, 2018 Sigrid Peterson Leave a Comment

The labor of the fall harvest – which in Wisconsin Public Television terms means the successful production of Quilt Expo 2018 in early September, the launch of brand new seasons (!) of Wisconsin Life and Around the Farm Table, and the premiere of our new documentary Hip-Hop U: The First Wave Scholars (loaded with digital extras) – means we regrettably left our buns in the oven way too long! We’re now circling back to our beloved Wisconsin bakers to celebrate their time, labor, creativity and achievements baking along all summer with Season 5 of the Great British Baking Show! Their patience and understanding call for a thousand thanks and pithiviers. . . say wah? Speaking of. . .

We rewind the egg timer to the Sept. 9 WPT broadcast of The Final across the Atlantic when Brendan, John and James entered Paul and Mary’s tent one last time to compete for the winning crown. All three gentlemen brought singular talents: Brendan a remarkable consistency in baking beauty and precision; John an unbending passion to learn new techniques and one day attend Le Cordon Bleu; and James an edge pushing him to innovate and take last-minute risks.

Our wonderful Wisconsin bakers were asked to deliver their final Wisconsin Twist – with an oomph –  adding to their bakes at least three local ingredients and turning the Wisconsin-ness up to 11!

In the spirit of The Great British Baking Show, The Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge asked participants to select just one of the three Wisconsin Week challenges: 1) a Savory Pithivier, 2) at least a dozen Fondant Fancies, or 3) a Chiffon Cake based on their favorite things about Wisconsin!

Don’t forget to read to the end to find out who our Wisconsin Week six featured bakers are. In addition, read about and give a Great Wisconsin Baking hand to our 33 stouthearted Star Bakers who baked along with us all ten weeks. You inspire us, friends, and we thank you from the bottoms of our ovens to the toppers of our cakes!

C’mon baby, let’s do the (Wisconsin) twist one last time!

All Season 5 contestants pose in front of the tent

Before we start: If you have not watched the final episode, SPOILER ALERT!


What’s that you thay? Pithivier (Pi – thiv – ee – ay)? This is a classic, French (typically sweet) decorative pie named after the northern French town from which it originates. Our Brits were asked to make a savory Pithivier: a round pie made of two discs of rough puff pastry sealing a dome of flavorful fillings. 

The Disaster: No disasters this round with Brendan, John and James bringing their A+ games for a possible win, but James’ Spanish Pithivier with Chorizo and Red Pepper did turn out with dread-of-all-dreads (hint: rhymes with “foggy autumn”). His face was so crestfallen each one of us shed a single tear. Poor James!

The Highlights: Between Brendan’s garlic-laden, vegetarian, alliterative Potato and Pepper Pithivier and John’s meatier, Italian Sausage and Roasted Vegetable interpretation there was no clear winner – both scored high marks with Mary and Paul. Once again, the judges found Brendan “meticulous” in execution and John’s taste of Italy on a perfect, crispy base “excellent.”

The Takeaway: Visible pride swelled from both Brendan and John. John shared the sober truth that all bakers delight in being appreciated for their work – they’re not above praise – a reminder to gush a bit more the next time a loved one bakes something special for you!


We’re thinking about last night’s Packer game and Lilly from Combined Locks puts the fancypants on Packer Tailgating with none other than “The Tailgater” Pithivier – say that fast three times! We’re hoping that her handheld puff pastries filled with brats, carrots, green beans, onions and garlic, simmered in Oktoberfest beer and beef broth spell a Green n’ Gold victory.

Savory Pithivier by Lilly from Combined Locks, WI

Crazy for cut-outs, Jill from Hollandale rounded out the summer harvest cutting two pumpkins and two acorns out of the top of her pastry. We adore her meditation: “This time of year, I give thanks for our Wisconsin harvest: the vegetables, the animals that give of themselves to us, and the feelings of accomplishment that another growing season is ending.”

And Jean carved out the Yahara River Watershed – including Lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa – in her savory “Madison Lakes Chain Pithivier.”

The editors here are suckers for the harvest and a purple carrot! Stephanie from Stevens Point gave us both as an autumn present in her stunning and savory “Desert-Purple Pithivier.” She calls this an “elevated pot pie.” To the top of the Himalayas, Stephanie!

Savory Pithivier by Stephanie from Stevens Point


ON THE TELLY | ROUND 2 | THE TECHNICAL: 25 Fondant Fancies 

This Technical put on its best suit, challenging the three finalists to 25 Fondant Fancies.  Fondant fancies are light square sponges (cake) covered in buttercream, then encased in and decorated with fondant. Fondant itself is a frosting that has a smooth and almost porcelain-like look made of a thick paste of sugar and water. Mary and Paul expected perfectly even and symmetrical squares of sponge topped with marzipan, then adorned with apricot jam, covered in buttercream on all sides and further covered in fondant. Aaaaaand then spun in chocolate.  All in. . . 2.5 hours! 

The Disaster: “Consider yourself chastised!” scolded Mary and Paul. While John’s tray was considered the “best,” the fact is no one rocked this challenge. Brendan’s application of buttercream and chocolate was messy, John’s fondant too wet and James’ fondant too thin. Yikes, guys.

The Highlight: We think the shared fail humanized our Brits. Even the finalists botch things up now and again – this is mildly comforting.

The Takeaway: Give yourself some dang time to make Fondant Fancies properly. And remember to keep the buttercream smooth. Sponge cake is so delicate that a denser buttercream will break the fragile squares.


Only two formidable bakers faced-off with Fondant Fancies. Nicole from Wausau delivered a “Grapefruit and Rose” variety plated like a frosty pink floral bouquet. Nicole shares: “These little beasties were extremely difficult to work – difficult to cut, difficult to frost and difficult to cover with fondant. I survived, though.” We’re so glad, Nicole!

Fondant Fancies by Nicole from Wausau

And Dorian from Madison interpreted her Fondant Fancies in the campfire S’more variety in honor of returning to her childhood summer camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

ON THE TELLY | ROUND 3 | THE SHOWSTOPPER: The Perfect Chiffon Cake 

Show hosts referred to the Chiffon as “baking’s most notorious and fickle sponge.” It has an oil and egg-white-based batter which produces a “cloud-like” texture. But it is volatile. Finalists were given full and free range to create any fillings and toppings they desired, as long as they made enough for the final community fête with season contestants, friends and family. 

The Disaster: James might have fallen to overweening ambition in his attempt to make 5, individually-flavored separate chiffon cakes united thematically together to emphasize that the (British) cultural ‘whole’ is greater than the sum of its parts. His central cake adorned with a Union Jack flag turned out far too dry. “It’s welding my mouth together,” said Paul. “The density is too much,” judged Mary.

The Highlight: Both John and Brendan soared. John made a “Heaven and Hell” dark chocolate and orange chiffon cake with a stunning presentation and perfect texture, overcoming the difficulty of adding a large amount of chocolate while preserving the structure of his bake. “You have a perfect slice of cake,” beamed Paul. Brendan’s “Family Reunion” chiffon cake supported the concept of healing broken family bonds. With a beautiful finish and elegant flavors of raspberry and almonds Mary said, “the sponge is like a cloud.”

The Takeaway: A successful chiffon cake is an intricate balance between flavor and structure. Extremely delicate, it is easily overpowered by flavor along with being vulnerable to sinking under any considerable weight.


Team Shlimder rounded out ten weeks of stunning bakes with a chiffon cake in celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Folding in a traditional autumn apple-picking adventure for their family, they write: “The sky was blue and the trees full of honey crisp apples. Rosh Hashanah began this evening (sundown Sept. 9). It’s tradition to celebrate the Jewish New Year with apples dipped in honey and this, and our WI apple picking adventure are the inspiration for this cake.” We’re late, of course, but Shanah Tovah (Good Year), Team Shlimder!

Team Shlimder from Madison Chiffon Cake

Sarah staged a mini-chiffon fruit parade and, as always, was so next-level with the Wisconsin Twist she’s next-level-next-level. Meta Next-Level, Sarah!

Lenor from Muscoda made a “Happy Birthday to My Husband” Apple Cinnamon Cake to celebrate her hubby’s 56th – Happy Belated Birthday, Lenor’s Hubby!

Janice from Eau Claire made a Chiffon that is Cider n’ Spice n’ everything nice – like cinnamon, maple syrup, brown sugar and buttercream frosting. Because that’s what Great Wisconsin Bakers are made of!

And if you wanted to experience Wisconsin’s four seasons in a singular, cloud-like Chiffon cake, Lydia from Plymouth is your go-to cake-makin’ gal!

Chiffon Cake by Lydia from Plymouth, WI


The Winner: A stunned John took the (whole chiffon) cake! The judges remarked on his intoxicating passion and ability to bake each week to “an exceedingly high standard.” Yearning for professional identity and purpose in life, a tearful John shared how happy he was that his mother was proud of him and that, “I feel like I’ve finally done something I wanted to do.” Bravo, John!

We Still Love Them So: We were heavy-hearted to see a striving, self-taught Brendan and a promising, delightfully charming James “lose.” But both appeared celebratory. James donned a wide grin sharing, “it does generally feel like everyone’s a winner.”


Barbie from Madison, WI
Barbie’s “Up Nort’ Pumpkin Chiffon Cake” is a dramatic and romantic depiction of autumn. The pumpkin puree cake is made without oil and then covered in a cream cheese buttercream frosting with intricately piped fall foliage. Barbie celebrates the birch and poplar trees of Northern Wisconsin. Stunning!

Vicki from Madison, WI
The autumn harvest and inspiration from Vicki’s attendance at the WPT 2018 Quilt Expo combine in her “Pithivier Fall Harvest Quilt.” This savory pastry is filled with delicious squash and sage. Vicki writes, “Soaking up some creativity from quilters [at the Expo in Madison] and applying it to this baking challenge is just another way to enjoy and learn from the programming of Wisconsin Public Television.”

Doreen from Manitowoc, WI
A  reformed George Banks in Mary Poppins sings to his children, “let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height, let’s go fly a kite and set it soaring.” Doreen obviously took his advice with her “Kites over Lake Michigan” chiffon cake with which she tries to capture the annual kite festival of the same name in Wisconsin  – one of the largest festivals of its kind in the Midwest.

Tammy from De Pere, WI
We learn about Tammy’s love for venison and her family’s sporting tradition in this “Hunter’s Favorite Pithivier.” Loaded with stewed venison meat, BBQ sauce and cheese curds, the pastry topper displays a decorative deer – a male buck with magisterial horns. Enjoy the season, Tammy!

Kevin from Viroqua, WI
Another autumn lover (we’re on board, too!), Kevin captures the striking colors of the season in his “Wisconsin Fall Chiffon Cake.” Flavored with fresh cranberries and maple syrup,  the cake is topped with an orange-infused icing. The decorative sunflowers remind us of the transition from summer to fall and how the beauty of that passage shines across the state.

Lara and Tom from Sheboygan, WI
The hustle to preserve the harvest from our gardens and farms in the fall drives Lara and Tom’s “Autumn Harvest Pithivier.” It’s a sweet and savory sunflower packed with apples and chunks of Sheboygan sausage, flavored further with onion, red pepper, mushrooms and garlic. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme make this a pithivier ready for Scarborough Fair. What a beauty!

 That’s a wrap – we hope one filled with sausage and potatoes! We extend warm thanks once again from everyone at Wisconsin Public Television to all the bakers, to our Star Bakers and to the producers, hosts and contestants of Season 5 of the Great British Baking Show. On your marks, get set. . . take a breather! Winter is coming, after all.

But wait! Keep your eyes peeled in November for a NEW digital engagement project on how we can connect to the diverse cultures of Wisconsin through food. Look out for the hashtag #FoodTraditionsWI on our social media channels and tell us about the diverse food traditions close to your family and found in your community! You’ll hear more from this MailChimp channel soon!


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