The great grandma bake off


Vivian Landis poses with her banana cake on January 15. Landis had the idea to recreate “The Great British Bake Off” with her grandmother’s recipe. PHOTO BY EMMA LANDIS

Sometimes the act of watching someone make food is more comforting than eating the dish itself. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of “The Great British Bake Off.”

“The Great British Bake Off” is a show that tests the limits of amateur bakers’ skills. Each episode consists of three baking challenges.

The first challenge is called the “Signature.” The Signature allows the bakers to show off recipes that they regularly make for their family and friends.

The second challenge is called the “Technical.” The Technical puts the contestants’ baking backgrounds to the test. The bakers are given a recipe with a set of brief instructions and must have enough baking knowledge to pull the bake off.

Finally, there is the “Showstopper.” In the Showstopper, the bakers are meant to show off their unique skills and get creative with their designs.

The Bake Off has brought an immense amount of joy into my own life. I was a bit late to join the fan club, only really getting into the show when quarantine first hit. My mom and I binged several seasons to pass the time. Together we gawked over the contestants’ baking abilities and their beautiful presentations.

As wholesome as Bake Off is, I’ve always seen it as being somewhat unattainable. I rarely bake, and when I do, things can get pretty messy.

The first and only time I attempted to make banana bread yielded quite interesting results. Parts of the outside of my bread were nearly burnt while the inside was still raw and runny. It ended up in the trash instead of on a plate.

Needless to say, there’s no way I’d ever qualify to go on “The Great British Bake Off.”

Despite my kitchen mishaps, there is someone in my family who would make a great candidate for Bake Off: my grandma Marsha.

I’ve been treated to my grandmother’s baking for my entire life. My family regularly goes over to her house for dinner and nearly every time she prepares dessert to accompany the meal.

My grandma claims that her baked goods never turn out the way she wants them to, but I think she’s just hard on herself. Her desserts range from cookies, cakes, pies, or bars. At the end of the day, she has a recipe for everyone to enjoy.

My grandma makes her work in the kitchen look easy. I can only hope to have her level of skill one day. However, if I want to amount to my grandma someday, I need to start gaining experience now.

The need to practice more in the kitchen sparked an idea. Why not create my own version of “The Great British Bake Off” with my grandma’s recipes?

I asked my grandma to lend me some of her recipes and convinced my sisters, Emma and Grace, to bake alongside me so that I could have some competition.

Though “The Great British Bake Off” has three challenges, I decided to limit myself to one. Having three different versions of three different recipes would lead to an excess of desserts.

It was a bit difficult to decide which recipe to recreate. Emma was convinced we should make peanut butter brownie bars, while my grandma wanted to challenge us with a pie. We landed somewhere in the middle and decided to make a banana chocolate chip cake.

The banana chocolate chip cake calls for 1 ½ cups of sugar, ½ cup of shortening, 2 eggs, 1 cup of bananas, ½ cup of sour cream, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and a handful of chocolate chips.

We rounded up our ingredients and headed over to my grandma’s house to bake.

The first step of the recipe is creaming together the sugar, shortening, eggs and bananas. When you “cream” something while baking you are typically mixing ingredients together, at a high speed, until they are blended and fluffy.

Emma and I filed suit, while Grace blatantly ignored what was written down.

More than once I told her, “The first rule of baking is to mix your wet ingredients together first.”

She shrugged the comment off, claimed she was going to win anyways, and continued to add in her dry ingredients.

I find creaming to be a time-consuming process. It can feel like you have been stirring forever, yet every time you scrape the bottom of the bowl there are still clumps of sugar. As my arm grew weary of stirring, my sisters were already pulling ahead of me.

Emma had started step two of the recipe, which consisted of adding in the rest of the ingredients one by one. Grace kept adding to her mixture as chaotically as she had begun.

Eventually, I retired from stirring and moved on to feeding my mixture. One by one I folded in the sour cream, vanilla, flour, baking soda and baking powder.

Emma and I held off on adding our chocolate chips until after the cakes were fully baked, so that they could melt on the top. Grace, on the other hand, simply threw the chips into her batter.

Once I was done making my batter and the oven had preheated to 350, all three cakes were put in simultaneously. Mine and Grace’s cakes resided on the bottom rack while Emma’s cake sat on top.

After approximately 30 minutes, we took our cakes out of the oven. Grace’s cake was ready to cool, but Emma and I overestimated how fast chocolate melts. We went on to bake our cakes for an additional two minutes with the chocolate chips on top.

After jumping that hurdle, we let our cakes cool for about 15 minutes before presenting them to the judges: our grandma, our grandpa George, and our dad Wade.

We labeled the cakes as A (Grace), B (Emma), and C (Me) so that all the bakers’ work remained anonymous, and the judging remained neutral.

Our cakes were judged on three criteria: presentation, taste, and texture.

My grandma was the most detail-oriented judge, my grandpa was most concerned with flavor, and my dad was very complimentary.

The presentation round started with a bang. Right off the bat my dad said that each cake looked lovely. My grandma was convinced he was trying not to show bias so as not to make his daughters mad at him.

Cake A and C received critiques from grandma for having batter splashed on the sides of the pan. My grandma also thought that Cake B lacked chocolate. Her final note was that Cake C was brown and crispy instead of the expected golden color.

Cake B received one vote for best presentation, coming from my dad. Cake A reigned victorious after gaining the two remaining votes.

Finally, it was time for the cakes to be served in order to judge the texture and taste.

The judges moved backward, serving Cake C first and finishing off with A.

Cake C was said to have good banana flavor. Both my grandma and my dad thought it was moist, however, my grandpa received a corner piece, so he thought it was a bit dry.

Next Cake B was served. The judges thought that, like the last cake, there was good banana flavor. My grandma thought it not as “chocolate-chippity” as the previous cake, while my dad thought the ratio of chips was good. Overall, the judges had a mutual consensus that the cake was a bit dry.

Cake A was served last. I could tell immediately that it was my grandpa’s favorite for he said, “A is good,” without being prompted to give feedback by his wife. It was the moistest of the cakes according to the judges with the most chocolate chips as well.

The texture and taste categories blended together as the judging came to an end. My dad and grandpa voted for A as their favorite cake while my grandma voted for C, making Grace the winner.

All my smack talk had amounted to nothing.

Seeing as though mine and Emma’s cakes both only got one vote, we tied for second place, meaning there was no loser.

Despite not winning I still had a fun afternoon with my family. It was nice getting to have a friendly competition with my sisters and amusing to see what my elders thought of my baking. I plan to take the joy I experienced during this baking trial into all the rest of the recipes that I try.

Emma Landis stands with her banana cake on January 15. Landis followed her grandmother’s recipe while baking.
Grace Landis holds her banana cake up to the camera as her baby, Arlo, naps on January 15. Landis baked her cake alongside her sisters, Emma and Vivian.