Week 4 Desserts Recap: The Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge

July 16, 2018 Susannah Brooks Leave a Comment

Last week showed off pastry prowess – and flavors that went flop. This week’s episode went from wobbly to wondrous, as bakers were asked to rise to the occasion in the Desserts challenge and tackle Torte Cake, Crème Caramel and a Four-Layer Meringue Dessert.

In the spirit of The Great British Baking Show,  The Great Wisconsin Baking Challenge asked our bakers to select just one of the three dessert challenges.

Before we get started: 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!

All Season 5 contestants pose in front of the tent


Mary says: “When making a torte, it’s got to look special not only from the outside, it’s got to look good as you cut that wedge out. It would be nice if it had layers of different flavor(u)rs, but they’ve all got to complement each other.”

The Disasters: Nearly everyone makes a chocolate ganache – some more successfully than others. John is feeling the heat, both on his body (hello, chest hair) and in his cream (breaking the ganache). And then there’s his spelling. “How do you spell ‘noir’? N -O… that doesn’t spell anything, does it?

And Stuart… oh, Stuart. “Just using the scraps to make the final layer.” You think they’ll notice?

The Highlight: Few have confidence in Danny’s use of potato flour; Paul says, “I tend to avoid it like the plague” and Sue is convinced it will be like “jammy jacket potato.” But Danny’s Blackberry (etc. etc.) Torte rates a “You clever girl!” from Mary, both for its lovely layers and tempting taste.

“I have a tendency to overelaborate the presentation,” says Brendan, but his beautiful chestnut sponge surprises Mary – in a good way. As for the ’70s-esque color scheme, some like it more than others. “I think it’s a flourless antidepressant,” says Sue. “Cheered me right up.”

The Takeaway: Did you know you can listen to your bakes? John lifts it to his ear to hear the bubbles “sing,” so he knows it needs more time in the oven. The More You Know!

As always, time is of the essence. Cathryn says, “I think I’ve just not given myself a hectic amount to do,” so she’s nothing but calm as she creates a simple but spectacular “printed” decoration for the top of her bake. And this sense of serenity also extends to the “gorgeous, subtle flavours.”


We had 36 entries attempting the Torte Cake Challenge, making it the most popular option of the week.

On a somber note, two entries paid tribute to the people of Sun Prairie who were affected by last week’s gas leak and explosion, especially the family of firefighter and business owner Cory Barr, who died as a result of this tragic incident.

Cammy and Ainsley's torte photo includes a message of support for their community.Cammy and Ainsley dedicated their bake to “our hometown of Sun Prairie, the SPFD, SPPD, Captain Cory Barr’s family, the many business owners and residents who have been impacted by the explosion on Tuesday. #sunprairiestrong”

Marie's Good Neighbor Torte is ringed with whipped cream and blackberries and contains J. Henry Bourbon“I had my three layers cooling on the counter when the blast happened,” writes Marie, who lives a quarter mile from the blast site. “We were quickly evacuated shortly after. We are grateful that our family and house are safe and so very saddened at the loss our community has felt, not only in a fallen firefighter, but also the landscape of our neighborhood, a neighborhood I have called home for more than 30 years. In the days since, this community has come together in support of one another in a way I could never have predicted! My cake is dedicated to all the “Good Neighbors” out there!” This includes her “good neighbor,” Chris, who supplied the delicious blackberries.

Several more bakes paid tribute to someone special this week. Maureen, from Arkdale, put a twist on a family recipe, “saluting the Wisconsin family I married into 42 years ago and all the great Wisconsin family traditions I’ve learned so much about over the years.” Jean, from Madison, chose a Passover torte recipe, “an acknowledgment of Madison’s vibrant and proud Jewish community.”


Many things could go wrong with this dish, a French treat with analogs in many cultures. The bakers used only milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla to make six individual crème caramels in two and three-quarter hours. Failure to be precise will leave this wobble wanting.

The Disasters: Explosions everywhere! Manisha and Stuart (uh oh… I’m detecting a pattern…) see their custards break apart – who told you to take out the egg whites? – while Cathryn’s ramekin itself falls to pieces as she tries for a smooth removal.

Sadly, Ryan learns the hard way that a Crème Caramel with no real caramel ranks just above a custard puddle.

The Highlight: Some call him old-fashioned; we call him The Stig experienced. Brendan knows how to make a wobble that works, and it shows.

The Takeaway:  Now we know: a “not bad” from Paul means “nearly perfect” from Mary – and a second-place finish for Danny. Write that down in your dictionary.


Only 15 entrants tried the Crème Caramel, perhaps because they knew of the potential for ruin with such a simple recipe. Many found success with Mary Berry’s own recipe, and many used raspberries as the topping and/or garnish. Sounds good to me!

In the “win” column, Lara and Tom, of Sheboygan, realized that “Crème Caramel is essentially baked ice cream with caramel sauce.” (I wish I had your serendipity…) They ended up with homemade ice cream as well as “the Creme de la Creme of Glacial Gardens” – named for Lara’s parents farm, the source of many ingredients.

Annette – half of a dynamic mother-daughter duo! – had never tried melting sugar, despite her fond memories of watching Julia Child. “My mom and I were both devotees of her show; she always did something fascinating.” The results weren’t ideal, mainly because Annette got sidetracked by trying to bake three things at once and reduce the hot oven time on a scorcher of a day.

Such is life in Wisconsin! Annette and Vernette, we salute you and your ambition.


Call it a pavlova, a meringue or whatever you like: the bakers were required to make a four-layer meringue dessert, surrounded by fillings and toppings of their choice. The timing is key for both baking and cooling – and, as our local bakers found, a hot day can lead to ruin.

The Disasters: “This is supposed to be a showstopper?” says Mary, of Stuart’s Chocka Blocka Mocha. Ouch. It’s mushy and hard to cut, yet still manages to make a thump on the plate.

Again, much like Ryan’s not-so-caramelly caramel, Sarah-Jane found that you can’t get high points for a Leaning Tower of Meringue (okay, maybe that wasn’t its ACTUAL name) if it’s, y’know, short on meringue.

The Highlight: And it’s Brendan in front again, as his pear, chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise came out “lovely, delicate and very well done.”

The Takeaway: Keep it simple, silly! Ryan and Stuart suffered from a not-so-pleasant muddle of flavors and textures – and that doomed one of them to banishment from the tent.


23 entries went for layered goodness – including lots of memories of classic Wisconsin Schaum Torte. (I didn’t realize this was a thing!)

Rebecca's Meringue Cake features spikes of caramel on top

“Mary Berry’s advice to avoid stirring the caramel while it cooked was spot-on,” writes Rebecca, of Madison. “I also learned that putting caramelized hazelnuts on a cake will cause my friends to ignore any other imperfections.”

We were charmed by an olde-tymey entry from our friends at Old World Wisconsin, who went simple with a recipe for marshmallows. Just marshmallows. No argument here! They hearkened back to the sweet treats that might be enjoyed by the Ketola family, Finnish immigrants in whose 1910s-era home the facilitators cooked this week.

Our not-so-local baker Jordan, from Queensland, Australia (who found us on Instagram!), created a still-yummy-looking Mandarin Meringue Mess. “My meringues were too brown on the outside and too soft on the inside because I assumed the recipe I was using that said ‘200 degrees’ meant Celsius (since I am Australian) but it should have been Fahrenheit!” Oops.

Still, “I remember having custard when I visited Wisconsin, so I used a chocolate custard as the primary filling.”

Aww, bless. Works for me.


Star Baker: Brendan! The ’70s are back, baby!

Kicked Out of the Tent: So long, Stuart. Your Showstopper was more of a doorstopper.

Our Six Featured Wisconsin Bakers:

We especially loved the family ties that inspired Madelyn, from Plymouth. She created her Chocolate Cherry Delight torte to tempt her sister, who is going gluten-free, and drew on the tradition of going to a beloved cherry orchard to pick out the ingredients for her mousse. “My grandpa has been taking me there since I was three years old, so this is my eighth year.” Nice work!

Madelyn's Chocolate Cherry Delight features four layers and lots of chocolate.

Nicole, from Wausau, made an Almond Joy Torte that turned out sweet in multiple ways. The layered coconut adds to a true Almond Joy taste, recalling both the candy bar and the close friends who supply Nicole with delicious Almond Joy martinis. The celiac-friendly bake also meets these friends’ gluten-free needs.

Bonus points for Nicole’s chickens, who came through with eggs for all three of her bakes!

Four shots of Nicole's Almond Joy Torte

Julia, from New Glarus, let her ambition get the better of her, but the result still makes us smile! With four layers of meringue shaped into the four wings of the Capitol – and a four-pawed supervisor keeping watch – her Four-ward Thinking Meringue still succeeds, thanks to the combination of basil-infused cream and strawberries.

Julia's layered meringue dessert resembles the Capitol... mostly.

Wynde, from Eleva, made Wisconsin Cherry Berries on a Cloud – red and white and Wisconsin all over! Starting with a favorite family recipe, she piped the meringue into the shape of our state, added cherry pie filling and garden-fresh berries to honor the Badgers, then topped it all off with a black cap berry. Nothing says “home” like marking the precise spot where it was made.

Wynde piped meringue into the shape of Wisconsin and marked Eleva with a blackberry.

Ruth, from Oshkosh, has experience with meringue, and it shines through in her Raspberry/Chocolate W Peaches and Cream. She incorporates unusual ingredients such as freeze-dried raspberry and peach powder.

Despite mouthwatering results, she won’t be enjoying all the fruits of her labor; she assembled the raspberry/chocolate meringues for the staff of Oshkosh’s own EAA AirVenture. “With the air show one week away,” she writes, “I know a special dessert can be a nice surprise in the middle of the chaos.”

Ruth's meringue is piped into the shape of the Badgers' Motion W and filled with fruit.

Becky, from Chase Township near Green Bay, presents an Almond Milk and Honey Caramel, English Breakfast Tea Crème that delights the eyes as well as the heart. She researched technique and history, tracing custard from Rome through Europe and Latin America. Her English Breakfast Tea flavo(u)ring complements the less common almond milk.

She recalls her first taste of flan at the home of her high school Spanish teacher. “That’s my Wisconsin twist,” she writes, “commemorating our Wisconsin educator among all Wisconsin educators.”

Becky displays her creme caramel with a teapot and a Green Bay visitors' guide

And we would be remiss if we did not mention a bonus Star Baker: our own colleague and GWBC co-creator Jonna Mayberry! She’ll be taking a break from culinary recaps for a while, as she tends to her own perfect creation: a baby boy, born on July 14. Congratulations!

"Baby Boy" cake features a blanket-draped baby with toes peeking out.

We hope you will join us for our Week 5 Challenge: Pies! If you’re looking for ideas – from British hand pies to “American-style” delights – the next episode of The Great British Baking Show is available to watch online now.

Ryan's Key Lime Pie showstopper


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