The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘The Great British Baking Show’ recap, Ep. 5: Pitta patter

Bodybuilder Ugne’s got “guns,” sure enough. But she often misfires. (Love Productions)

Spoiler alert! Read at your own risk

As PBS is airing two new Season 3 episodes this week, we’ve recapped both but published them separately for your reading convenience. Find previous ones here; the program airs in the Washington area Friday evenings on MPT and WHUT and Sundays on WETA. It also streams via the PBS app and on the PBS website. For tweets, use #PBSBakingShow.

This week’s pro commentator is Brian Noyes, co-owner of Red Truck Bakery, with Virginia locations in Marshall and Warrenton. To his credit, he spots potential for danger at Ugne’s station right away. He is not the type that talks to his television set, we can tell; still, when he does have something to say, it rings true.

“Alternative Ingredients”

STILL IN: Mat, Ian, Paul, Flora, Nadiya, Tamal, Ugne, Alvin


It’s “free-from” week, and that’s no reflection on charming Sandy’s exit. The bakers must execute sugar-free cakes and gluten-free pocket breads and ice cream rolls with wheat-free flours and dairy-free ice cream. It sounds like the episode all those subscribers to Living Without magazine have been waiting for! But we’re thinking nobody will get a book deal based on any of this show’s recipes. Brian finds the show sweet (and so say all of us), even as Nadiya utters the closest thing to smack talk we’ve heard yet, with regard to Ian’s Star Baker streak: “I would like to knock him off the top spot. Who wouldn’t?”

>> Jump ahead to this week’s recipe

The contestants are given 2½ hours for the sugar-free signature challenge, and the go-to alternatives are mainly agave nectar and honey. Tamal once again deploys a hypodermic needle to inject his polenta cake with grapefruit-blood orange syrup, and judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry cheer him on. Nadiya uses basil seeds, a chef-y ingredient that adds simultaneous moisture and bits of crunch. Paul squeezes extra moisture out of the cream cheese for his frosting (so say NONE of us). Ian decorates with violets, Flora with ribbon and madeleines. Ugne the Healthinator goes not only sugar-free but also gluten-free and a little meshuga, as a Yiddish-speaking aunt might say. The baker’s overreaching tendencies get the better of her once more and yield a heap whose gaping bits are disguised with non-edible flowers. Looks like chocolate soup in a bucket, says Brian — and he’s being kind.

While others fuss, Alvin sits. His pineapple upside-down cake is cooling. Too simple? Too — dare we say it — American? Brian’s missing the gobs of brown sugar that would have helped caramelize those rings of fruit, but the judges aren’t. Things could be looking up for the earnest fellow.

“Pitta” is how they pronounce it; wan examples of pita are what we see judge Paul trying to defend as judge Mary tags him for more unnecessary roughness in a technical challenge. The bakers are given gluten-free bread flour as well as a packet of psyllium husk powder — the very same mucilaginous fiber swirling in Metamucil commercials, Brian points out. The bakers automatically begin to knead their sticky doughs, and soon enough, some of them recognize the futility therein. Lots of proofing with a “v,” not enough rolling as thin as possible or baking as long as they should. Alvin’s in last place, sigh, and Nadiya wins her first technical challenge, producing “pitta” with a proper pocket. Judge Mary’s alliteration has us aching to hear her continue with “picking a peck of pickled peppers.”

In the ice cream roll showstopper challenge, all bakers use coconut milk and/or cream as their ice cream base. They must produce “golden sponges” and include a homemade jam. Judge Paul says he expects to see magic! Flavor-wise, he’s not disappointed: mango-ginger ice cream, mango-lime-coconut ice cream and mango-passion-fruit ice cream all sound good to us. The funniest exchange of the day happens between judge Paul and Ugne, re: her peanut butter ice cream-grape jelly combo. He is not convinced those flavors will work together. Ha! No, wait. … Is this more un-American snobbery? You can’t get more red, white and blue than the ol’ tan and purple. Turns out, it’s a good match, although it does not outweigh another Ugnerrific design. We want to pass along the Coco Chanel “take one thing off” maxim to the bodybuilder baker. Or three things, in this case. But we know it’s too late.

All bakers but Mat manage to wrap sponge around their ice cream logs. He goes the Swiss roll route, and Brian, who has been silently observing with his arms crossed, quickly and correctly diagnoses #fail: There won’t be a lot of ice cream left by the time Mat is done, as he’ll either push it out or allow it to soak in. Paul’s fondant ode to the British sunbather, à la cake-topper, seems creepy-cute until a judge’s knife heads for her midsection. Nadiya’s henna-inspired design and spoke-wheel presentation made for a beautiful ice cream roll, not to mention her chocolate ice cream and strawberry-lime mousse.

(However, we must mention it, because after several tries at re-creating that nondairy chocolate ice cream, we had to throw in the dish towel. Details to come in the separate Ep. 6 recap.)

Brian calls it: Ugne is Politely Asked to Leave. Her cake looks like she dropped it from 10 feet, says judge Paul. She goes home so upset she can’t bake — or go to the gym! — for a week. She later announces a book deal via her blog. Brian drops the mic.

Brian’s lessons for bakers at home:

* When you’re baking one item right after the other, be sure to let the oven temperature come back up to where it needs to be before each subsequent bake.

* Always rotate the pan front to back halfway through baking — even if the recipe doesn’t say to do so.

* Don’t bake puff pastry when it’s raining outside.

Next week: Victorian and Patisserie, with pastry chef Padua Player.

Scale, print and rate the recipe in our Recipe Finder:


20 to 24 servings (makes one 9-by-13-inch cake)

Click the highlighted text for additional background information.

This looks like the classic, easy American cake you know, but it’s made with agave nectar instead of sugar — as seen on the “Alternative Ingredients” Season 3 episode of PBS’s “The Great British Baking Show.” A quick scan of other pineapple upside-down cake recipes on the Web shows that they call for significantly more grams of sugar than this one, yet the agave nectar version tastes sweet enough to us.

In testing the contestant’s recipe as it appears on the BBC website, we found it did not generate enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan and the fruit, so we doubled the cake batter amounts. This makes for a very rich, moist dessert. The original recipe included a maple custard sauce, which we tried; it’s nice but could be gilding the lily here, so feel free to opt out.

MAKE AHEAD: If you make the optional sauce, you may have some left over, even after serving the whole cake. The sauce can be refrigerated 5 to 7 days.

Adapted from a recipe by “The Great British Bake Off” contestant Alvin Magallanes.


For the cake

Scant 1 1/4 cups (14 ounces) agave nectar, plus 4 tablespoons for the top and bottom of the cake

8 pineapple rings (from one 20-ounce can of pineapple slices in juice), drained and patted dry

8 fresh, pitted cherries (may substitute frozen)

Generous 4 cups (21 ounces) flour

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (30 grams) baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

42 tablespoons (5 sticks plus 2 tablespoons; 21 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

10 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the optional sauce

2 1/2 cups whole milk

Scant 1/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean (pod reserved, if desired, for another use, such as vanilla sugar)

6 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (1/2 ounce) cornstarch


For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use baking spray to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (with sides at least 2 inches deep; or a round pan with a 14-cup volume equivalent) and line the base and sides with parchment paper.

Use the back of a spoon to spread 2 tablespoons of the agave nectar over the parchment on the base of the pan, then arrange the 8 pineapple rings in the pan. Place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, then add the melted butter, 1 1/4 cups of the agave nectar and the lightly beaten eggs. Fold the mixture together gently to form a smooth batter. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit, smoothing it with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula and being careful not to dislodge the arranged fruit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then gently invert the cake onto the rack, releasing it from the pan so the fruit is on the top. Discard the parchment paper. Drizzle the cake with the remaining 2 tablespoons of agave nectar; let the cake cool directly on the rack.

For the optional sauce: Combine the milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract and vanilla bean scrapings in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook just until the mixture begins to steam and a few early bubbles appear on the surface.

Whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch in a mixing bowl until smooth.

Gently temper the egg yolk mixture (to prevent curdling) by adding the warm milk mixture to the bowl one ladleful at a time to raise the temperature of the eggs, whisking constantly. Do that a few times, then pour the remaining milk mixture into the bowl.

Pour the combined egg yolk-milk mixture back into the saucepan; return to medium heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens to the consistency of brown gravy and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat; transfer to a large glass jar or liquid measuring cup. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Cool, then refrigerate until ready to use. The yield is 2 1/2 cups.

Serve the cake atop small pools of the sauce or with the sauce poured over each portion.

NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS: Per serving (based on 24, not including the sauce) 360 calories, 5 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 14 g sugar

Recipe tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to