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The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Wastes Time, Thyme In Botanical Week

A perfect iced drizzle cake, presented on the show.
Screenshot via Netflix

Welcome to the series called The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, where Kelsey and Chris attempt to complete the technical challenges from the newest season of The Great British Bake Off in their own home kitchens, with the same time parameters as the professional-grade bakers competing on the show.

Botanicals! You know we love them! But what are they? Merriam-Webster defines "botanical" as "of or relating to plants." When The Great British Bake Off, the long-running and enormously popular British television series, announced that week six of this season would be dedicated to botanicals, you simply had to be excited. Truly there is nothing more thrilling than baking something "of or relating to plants." How it ignites the imagination!

They've tried Botanical Week before, without a lot of success: Back in the fourth season, bakers were asked to make a fougasse, which is just a flat kind of Provençal bread, but to make it, uhh, with herbs in there. The challenge had nothing to do with herbs; it had to do with whether or not you know how to make bread. The judges were so out of their depth constructing challenges for this theme that for the Signature Bake they asked the contestants to make a fruit meringue pie. For the Showstopper Bake they had them make a three-tiered cake of any flavor at all, but to give it some "flower theming." So this idea never had much juice. Turns out Botanical Week might just be a way to shoehorn some normal-ass bakes into a show that requires a different theme for each episode.

This week was no different. For the technical bake the contestants were asked to make Prue Leith's Lemon and Thyme Bundt, which is a very normal bundt cake but which derives some of its flavor—only some! certainly not all!—from thyme, which as we know is an herb. It's a drizzle cake, which means it would be soaked with lemon-thyme syrup, and it would be decorated with lemon icing and crystallized lemon and thyme. This is approximately as botanical a cake as a banh mi is a botanical sandwich.

But that doesn't mean it's easy. For one thing, the instructions are as punishing as any we've ever been given:

“Be bold with the botanicals.”“Make a beautifully decorated lemon and thyme drizzle cake: A cream sponge that is soaked inlemon and thyme syrup and decorated with a sprinkling of crystalized lemon and thyme.”90 MINUTES1. Make the cake mixture.2. Bake3. Make the lemon-and-thyme syrup.4. Crystallize the lemon peel and thyme (you can use your proving drawer).5. Soak the cake with syrup.6. Decorate the cake with a lemon glaze icing and the crystallized lemon peel and thyme.
"Make the cake mixture." Rude!

For another, bundt cakes are tricky. You can get everything right—everything in the ingredients, everything in the ratios, everything in the mixing, everything in the temperature and the timing—and wind up with a ruined confection. The cake has to come out of the tin, and that is a moment that has ruined bakers of far stronger mettle than the two Defector idiots participating in this ridiculous stunt. A baker never has more than a hunch whether that goddamn cake is going to dislodge from that goddamn tin. When it does, you are soaring among the clouds. When it does not, you would not mind having your head chomped off by a hippopotamus.

Kelsey McKinney: Hello Chris! Welcome to Botanical Week. What technical bake did you expect we would do for this very vague subject week? 

Chris Thompson: That’s a really good question. I had trouble wrapping my head around the theme of this week. Like I know what the word “botanical” means but it’s hard for me to imagine what it means in the context of a technical baking challenge. Are we going to make flour out of rosemary or something? Turns out the challenge was more “make sure your thing tastes like herbs,” which is fine.

KM: I was particularly jarred by the fact that the Great British Bake Off  promotional material all had photos of hibiscus flowers on it. Like, are we making gin? That’s British! 

CT: That would’ve been very fun, but hard to fit into a 90-minute window, I think. I was excited to learn that we’d be making bundt cake. Who the hell doesn’t love a bundt cake? I ask you!

KM: I was excited! I was thrilled actually! I have never made a bundt cake, but I love to eat them, and this was an excuse! Also the flavors (lemon and thyme) are the exact kind of flavors I like. 

CT: We covered this last season, but you and I are Lemon Freaks. So we both did the little excited hand dance when we saw that it was a lemon iced bundt cake. 

KM: As a Lemon Freak, I was thrilled to see that this recipe also required a lot of lemons, which was exciting. I hate it when a lemon cake is just a vanilla cake with a hint of lemon. This was not that. It was a lemon cake. 

CT: Hell yeah! Also the instructions had a line about being “bold” with our flavors or whatever, which to me is permission to use one thousand lemons. Which I did! 

KM: Lemon Freak Hours are upon us! 

Ingredients and Shopping

CT: This was another week where the shopping list was delightfully normal. Nothing weird here at all! Were you able to find all the ingredients for this bake?

KM: I was! I did not have enough lemons or enough thyme at my house already so I went to the Italian market where I bought 12 lemons and a giant Ziploc of thyme for $3.50. I was ecstatic. It was Sunday morning. Everyone was out and about. It was sunny. I ate a taco on the street. I was feeling good! 

The only thing I failed at was having enough eggs. I didn’t notice there was an extra egg white in the crystallizing section, so I thought the five I had left at home were fine. Oh well! Close enough! Did you find all the ingredients for this bake? 

CT: I did. I wound up doing my shopping in two parts, because during my first run the store was out of thyme—or, rather, it had thyme but it all looked really old and saggy—but when I went back the second time they were all stocked up. This gave me a chance to buy a couple extra lemons, which I did.

Bundt cake ingredients organized on Chris's countertop: Butter, flour, sugar, lemons, thyme, eggs, baking powder.
Not pictured: Even more lemons.Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: What! No! Yuck! How many lemons did you end up with? 

CT: I had three left in my kitchen from another cooking thing last week, then I bought eight, and then I bought another two. So 13? Lucky 13.

KM: Safety first! Very lucky.

CT: We also had to buy bundt tins. How did you obtain a bundt tin?

KM: Thank you for asking. Luckily for me, there is a kitchen shop in the Italian market. Some of you may remember this shop from its role in providing me with the panettone paper thingy. I went there earlier last week and purchased a beautiful bundt pan. It’s large and shiny. How did you obtain a bundt tin?

CT: I texted my wife while she was out running errands and a little while later she walked in with a lovely new bundt tin. It’s not quite as dramatically shaped as the one used on the show (which matches your bundt tin exactly) but it’s nice.

KM: Mine was very dramatic and spiky. I found this aesthetically very pleasing. Wow, really? I haven’t watched the episode yet! 

CT: I think you will find this episode very satisfying, knowing what I know about your finished bundt cake.

KM: Unlike usually, where I watch the technical through my little fingers and moan sadly.

CT: Also we should mention here that this was the first time since maybe like the first or second week of last season that you and I have been able to do a technical bake at the exact same time. True Chaos Mode.

KM: Yeah! We decided to make Chaos Mode a single event in which we both felt pain. I found this very fun, but also kind of stressful! It made me realize that the people in the tent must be second guessing themselves all the time. I was nervous just with what you told me you were doing. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I could have seen you. 

CT: Oh yes, this unexpectedly made it much more stressful! Usually when I’m doing a bake I am firing off messages to you knowing that you are not baking, and might have some calming words or wisdom to share, but are not neck-deep in the same flood of chaos. 

KM: Usually we function as mutual emotional support during the bakes. But unfortunately when everyone is baking, there is no comfort to be found! It also did not help that the time limit for this bake was a mere 90 minutes. 

CT: Right, and there was no blank time for chilling or proving, so right from the outset I knew that it would be a sprint. 

KM: I think if we had done this for pastry week we could have had nice long periods of time to gab. Instead we were just typing “SHIT” and "OH NO" back and forth.

Stage One: Making Cake Batter, Filling Bundt Tin, Baking

CT: Were you as nervous as I was to start the timer? I just had this sense that I would instantly need to fly into motion on a couple of different things. I was waiting for some silent invisible signal from my body to tell me that I was ready, the way that movie characters suddenly look up with twinkles in their eyes and say, “I’m ready.” This did not happen.

KM: I looked at the method, which you sent over while I was en route to purchase my thyme, and immediately felt my stomach churn. There were basically no instructions at all, which meant we had a limited time window, a certain sprint, and a deep-seeded fear. Before I began, I watched Charles Leclerc crash his car into the wall during a formation lap, and was like, “Me as hell.” So I was not feeling confident.

CT: What was the first thing you did after starting the timer?

KM: I chucked the butter and the sugar into the stand mixer and let it mix. This was an astounding experience because there is an unbelievable amount of butter in this cake. Famously, my scale does not tare, so I kept thinking I must be counting wrong, but in fact 325g of butter is just a ton. What was the first thing you did? 

CT: I was worried about forgetting two things: Greasing my pan and preheating my oven. So the first thing I did was preheat my oven to 325. Then I chucked the cubed butter and the sugar into the stand mixer and threw it onto medium speed. I then chucked some more butter into a small ramekin and put that into the microwave so that I would have melted butter for greasing my pan. Fifteen seconds later I was using a silicone brush to paint the inside of my tin with melted butter.

KM: Oh, I actually did forget to preheat my oven! Once the butter and sugar were creaming, I remembered and I set my oven to preheat to … get this … 425. 

CT: Oh my God! That’s incredibly hot!

KM: It felt right to me in my soul. Plus, my kitchen was cold. You can always drop the temp of an oven easily by just opening the door, so I set it high. I also chucked a bunch of butter into a bowl and microwaved it. I then poured the whole bowl of butter into the bundt tin and swirled it around. Then I used the silicon brush to get it up the sides and dumped out the excess butter back into the bowl. My guess is that I used at least three tablespoons of butter to grease the pan.

CT: I wish I had measured it. I think that sounds close to how much I wound up using. I also had the idea to put my greased bundt tin into the refrigerator, so that the melted butter wouldn’t run down the inside and pool at the bottom. A later visual inspection seemed to confirm that this worked well enough, so I was pretty confident that I’d adequately greased my pan.

A bundt tin greased all over with melted butter.
You would think this would be enough grease for a bundt, wouldn't you?Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

At some point in here I pulled the bowl out of the stand mixer and wiped down the sides with a rubber spatula. Everything was moving sooooo fast in the early going. I felt very frantic.

KM: I have almost no memory of mixing the butter and sugar. I was unbelievably frantic. I was measuring flour and baking powder while the stand mixer was mixing. I could not for the life of me find the teaspoon in the drawer, so I decided to just use my finger and plop some out into the bowl with the flour. Unfortunately, I’m stupid. So when I did this, I tipped the baking powder container into the bowl and at least a fourth of a cup gushed in there. So I had to throw out the bowl of flour with the infinite baking powder and measure again. What a waste!

CT: Jesus! I had no big catastrophes during the early stages.

KM: Yes, you did! You forgot about your egg fear! 

CT: Right! Once my butter and sugar were nicely creamed together I started cracking and adding my eggs, but then while I was doing this I also started to zest my lemons and pick my thyme leaves. After the fifth egg went into the bowl I kinda lost track of time and when I checked my batter the eggs had totally separated and become curd-like. I freaked.

A stand mixer bowl holds a somewhat curdled mixture of butter, sugar, and egg.
Looks real gross.Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: You did freak out! But it was okay! You were fine! Right? You were fine, right? 

CT: Yeah, it worked out OK. You advised me to add some flour to the mix, but by this time I was already hand-mixing in my flour and baking powder. I HATE HATE HATE using the stand mixer to add dry ingredients, so I just pulled the bowl off and sifted in some flour and used a rubber spatula to stir it in. This did make a bit of a mess and for sure it was slower and more arduous, but I did a thorough job, my batter was homogenous in texture, and I didn’t have to grind my teeth to powder about how fucking terrible a stand mixer is at actually mixing ingredients. I added my flour in three sifted batches, and everything was back on schedule.

KM: Same! The more we do these bakes, the more I wonder if you and I are built different in that we (unlike everyone else) hate our stand mixers (which are the same color) so much. I dumped half of my flour into the bowl, and then turned it back on. But I turned it on too high, so then the flour spit EVERYWHERE. It was all over everything, including me.

A kitchenaid stand mixer with flour exploded everywhere.
I hate the stand mixer!Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector

So then I was scared there wasn’t enough flour in the batter, so I just grabbed a full handful of flour and added that unsifted (I was freaking out). But the batter was very homogenous at the end. 

CT: Oh man! 

Somewhere in here I added my zest and thyme. I wound up zesting five lemons and adding the leaves from an entire bundle of thyme. Prue Leith would not be able to ding me for an under-flavored bundt!

A large pile of lemon zest and thyme leaves on a small white plate.
Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: I also used five lemons and their zest! We love lemon! 

I don’t know how you were doing this. I completely forgot that I would need to pull all the leaves off the thyme. I was darting around so much with what felt like no downtime, and then all of a sudden I realized I had not pulled any leaves off the little sticks. It takes so long to do this that I broke out in a sweat at the prospect of doing it. It did not help that my batter was all but done and I checked Slack and your cake was going in the oven. 

Kelsey (12:56 p.m.): "LMFAO""I just turned the machine on too high""and flour went EVERYWHERE"Chris (1:05 p.m.): "i'm in the oven"Kelsey (1:05 p.m.): "FUVCK"

CT: I was worried that my batter wasn’t right after I added the lemon juice. I did this last. The ingredients say “juice of one lemon” but this did not seem like enough AT ALL. So I wound up using the juice of two lemons. Maybe my lemons were just dry? 

KM: I gotta admit, once I got to the point that there was flour everywhere, I did not care for the instructions. I was just going rogue, trying to do all the things that needed to be done. I also put the juice of two lemons in my cake because one lemon was like three tablespoons of liquid! 

CT: When I was spooning my batter into my tin it just felt very fluffy, like I would have a hard time getting it to settle.

This was complicated by the fact that my child was taking a nap upstairs and so I got scolded for making a lot of noise when I tried to bang on the bundt tin to get the batter to settle in there. I had to stack up soft things on the counter to muffle the sound. This was a whole deal.

KM: What did you put on the counter? 

CT: I stacked up some oven mitts and a hand towel and then tried to bang down my bundt onto that, in the hopes that the jostling would cause the batter to really settle and lose any air pockets. I took it as a sign that things were going well that nothing really happened. What a fool I've been!

A pale batter spread into a greased bundt tin.
Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: I do not have a small child so once I finished the arduous process of taking the thyme leaves off, I dumped the batter in my pan, and used a spatula to make sure it got into the spiky parts of the bundt pan. Then I smacked it on the counter probably 50 times. This was noisy but also very cathartic. I was tired. 

CT: We started the bake at around 12:35 Sunday, and it appears that my bundt was in the oven exactly 30 minutes later. I felt like I was flying but it’s striking now to realize how long that actually took. I think a more experienced or organized baker for sure could’ve shaved 10 minutes off of this.

KM: I don’t know, Chris. You did it so fast. My cake went into the oven 12 minutes after yours. I was so stressed every second that your cake was in the oven and mine wasn’t. 

CT: Those fucking thyme leaves!

KM: They smelled great, though. This part was very enjoyable. My kitchen smelled like lemon and thyme. That’s lovely! 

Stage Two: Making Lemon & Thyme Syrup, Making Candied Lemon Peel and Thyme

CT: Syrup time? Lemon-thyme syrup time?

KM: As soon as my cake went in the oven, I lost my mind. I knew I needed to make lemon-thyme syrup that would go on the cake. I knew that I needed to make simple syrup because I did not have an egg white to make the crystallized thyme with and I decided to use simple syrup instead. And I felt that the lemon peels were too bitter, so I decided to boil them first before shoving them into their own simple syrup. 

Lemon rinds on the counter.
I had to boil these because there was so much pith.Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector

CT: I still have no real sense of what the egg white was supposed to be used for? I've made candied orange peel at least twice before and I do not remember any egg whites?

I squeezed the juice out of my five lemons and put this juice into a saucepan with some sugar and got that bubbling. Then I squeezed more lemon juice into another saucepan with sugar and got that bubbling as well, for making the candied lemon peel. 

KM: I think you were supposed to just dunk the thyme in the egg white and then put sugar on it? I’m still not sure, to be honest. I really was not thinking straight because I made three separate simple syrups: a thyme one, a lemon juice one, and a regular one to make the crystalized thyme. After the bake I had a whole cup of simple syrup left. 

CT: I decided that I would just dunk my thyme into lemon syrup and then sugar it up. I also had great success peeling lemons so that they had no white attached to the peel at all, so I didn’t bother boiling out the bitterness. I threw a handful of these into the thyme-lemon syrup in order to make it maximally lemony, and then chopped the rest into little teeny matchsticks for candying.

A small metal bowl holds a pile of tiny sliced lemon peels.
Absolutely cruising, nothing can possibly go wrong, Star Baker here I come.Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: Wow, yes chef! Michelin hours! 

CT: I felt like I was cruising! I couldn’t believe how much time was left on the clock at this point. Like we had something like 49 minutes left and my syrup was mostly done, my lemon peels were prepped for candying, and all I had to do was figure out how THE FUCK to successfully crystallize thyme.

KM: Wow, this was not how I felt at all. At no point did I feel like I had time on the clock. Everything was taking me so long, and my kitchen was covered in flour and also sticky from the the three kinds of simple syrup I was making for no reason. I did not even have time to think. 

Thyme leaves inside simple syrup on the stove.
Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector

CT: Oh God, yes, everything became so sticky. Sugar everywhere, flour everywhere, lemon juice everywhere, syrup everywhere. 

KM:  The timing was so tight that when we had 25 minutes left, my timer still had 15 minutes for the cake to stay in the oven, and I still needed to candy the lemon peel. Luckily, I did have enough time in there to eventually have all the pieces done. I sprinkled the thyme and lemon with sugar. I made my little icing. Whatever! It was all done.

CT: I couldn’t form in my brain a picture of crystallized thyme. So what I wound up doing was just picking a bunch more thyme leaves until I had a little pile. Then I candied the lemon peel by simmering it in lemon syrup and then dredging in caster sugar.

Small strips of candied lemon peel sit in an orange plastic colander.
Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

Then I dumped the thyme leaves into the cooling lemon syrup just long enough to become slimy, and then from there onto a little plate of caster sugar. This was entirely too hasty, and the thyme leaves became clumped with little carapaces of sugar. Not a disaster but certainly not correct.

Chris (1:38 p.m.): "fuck so clearly i do not know anything about candying thyme""it's a hilarious mess"Kelsey (1:38 p.m.): "lmfao i'm not even there yet""i'm so fat. ehing"
Kelsey is clearly having a normal one.

KM: I have to admit that whenever I hear the word crystalized I think of those rock candies that come on a stick. I could not pick any more thyme leaves because my hands were shaking, so I just candied the whole stick of thyme. Was this right? I’m still not really sure, but there was no way I was gonna get a bunch of thyme leaves out of simple syrup. I dunked the whole branch in there and then squeezed off the excess. Again, I was grateful to have little feeling in my hands for this part because the syrup was very hot. 

CT: Oh man, that sounds hellish. One thing I truly cannot tolerate is to have sticky things on my hands. When I was a little kid I would have nightmares—like, I would wake up crying—just about having honey all over my hands and not being able to clean them. I do not still cry about this but I hate it a lot. 

KM: Wow! I am not opposed to being messy generally. I credit this trait to playing softball and having dirt in my teeth for like 10 years straight no matter what I did. But the stickiness was so annoying. This bake was such a sprint that I knew that all this sticky stuff needed to be wiped down, but I had no time, and I kept having to wash my hands, which I also did not have time for! Stupid syrup! 

CT: I also forgot to set any kind of timer for my bundt. I’m not sure this would’ve made any difference, except that it might have eased the background anxiety a little. But honestly to this point in the bake I really thought that I was on track for Star Baker.

KM: That is so funny to me. That is the most unrelatable thing you’ve ever done in one of these bakes to me. I am always setting the little analog timer I have to ring at 10 minute intervals so I know how much time is passing. Otherwise the concept of time eludes me. I assumed my cake would take 35 minutes at 400 (I did reduce the oven temp, which I forgot to mention), which would give me 10 minutes to cool and decorate it. I made up the number 35 because I wanted to have 10 minutes to cool and decorate it. This, unfortunately, is not how cakes work. 

CT: Well, it should be.

I checked my cake at some point in here and it was starting to brown up in places. I tried the little wood skewer trick and it did not come out clean, so I spun the tin around and put it back in to continue baking. 

KM: I also did this. The stick came out covered in lemony batter. I returned the oven to 425 and spun the tin around. I was truly living on a prayer at this point. 

CT: I’m checking the Slack record and it appears that my first check came with 26 minutes left on the clock. That’s insane! What is wrong with me!

A few minutes later I checked again and something terrible had happened. One side of my bundt appeared to have suffered a catastrophic implosion.

Chris (1:41 p.m.): "yeah the last 15 minutes are going to be fucking bonkers i think""jesus we only have 24 minutes left!!!""FUCK""i checked my bundt and it wasn't done and i just checked it again and in the last four or five minutes it fucking collapsed""i don't know what happened""i want to die"Kelsey (1:49 p.m.): "WHAt""NO""FUCK"

KM: Wait, why is that insane? I still don’t understand why your bundt imploded. It makes no sense to me at all. 

CT: It seems crazy to me that I let my bundt sit in my oven for more than 30 minutes without once checking on it. Like, I sincerely had no idea how long this bake should go, and my oven famously runs hot and bakes unevenly, and I was just oblivious, doot-doot-doot, working on other tasks. I deserved this collapse!

KM: I disagree! I don’t think you deserved this collapse. It is not your fault that you value fatherhood and respect your child! What were you supposed to do? Bang it on the counter 500 times like me, wake up your darling baby, and ruin her day? No! 

CT: Yeah when you think about it actually this collapse is a badge of honor, like one of those mugs that says “World’s No. 1 Dad.”

KM: Yes, I agree. The baby deserves her rest. 

CT: I could not believe it when I realized that we had only 24 minutes left in the entire bake. Most of my stuff was done but my bundt was still in the oven and my kitchen was an absolute hellhole. In my mind we still had like 40 minutes left, and I was just about to take a couple minutes to catch my breath, and I checked the timer and almost fainted. 

KM: While I was grateful to only lose 90 minutes of my Sunday to this bake instead of two hours and 45 minutes like last week, there really was no space to breathe. When I checked my cake the second time, there were 15 minutes left. My cake was still too soft. At this point, I decided to let it go five more minutes and then pull it out. I was committed to my 10 minutes for assembly come hell or high water. 

CT: I pulled my bundt with 15 minutes left on the clock. I knew that it was fully baked because the skewer came out clean and it had a nice color, but that collapse was a sign of the horror within. I sprinted down to my basement freezer and socked it in there, in the hopes that a few minutes of blasted freezing air would somehow make it easier to turn out.

A baked bundt cake, still in the tin, with alarming signs of a cave-in on the left side.
No!Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: I also threw my cake directly from the oven into the freezer. I set the timer for four minutes because that is how long I wanted it to cool before I pulled it out. I had put on the playlist that the Philadelphia Phillies’ backup catcher made for them to party called “Phils Win!” on shuffle, at the beginning of the bake. At this moment, though, watching the clock tick down, the playlist hit “Dicked Down in Dallas,” and Trey came down to get water, and I was just staring at the timer with my hands inside oven mitts on my knees completely out of breath. I felt insane. 

Stage Three: Turning Out the Bundt, Making Icing, Assembly

CT: I used two or three minutes to whisk together some lemon icing—literally just icing sugar and lemon juice—and then sprinted back downstairs to grab my bundt. I had something like 11 minutes left on the clock, and still no real sense that I was in big trouble. 

KM: It is very funny to me that both of us are always being forced to sprint up and down stairs. We are athletes. Our experience of this was so different, though. My bundt cake was still in the freezer inside the tin with six minutes left, and I was fully panicking. 

CT: God, that’s cutting it sooooo close. I can’t bear it. My hair would’ve been falling out.

KM: Mine basically was! Luckily, I was wearing a hat to keep it out of the icing, which I was whipping up very fast. With five minutes left, I removed the bundt pan using the oven mitts, and flipped it onto the plate on the counter, the bundt cake slipped right out. I was very surprised! Only two little spiky parts fell off. But because I had buckets of simple syrup, I dunked the broken spiky parts in simple syrup and glued them back to the cake. 

CT: Well well well. Look at Ms. Bundt Cake Pops Out Clean On First Try over here. Must be nice!

This was not my experience at all. I turned my bundt cake over onto a cooling rack and … nothing happened. I tapped it and whacked it and pleaded with it, and nothing came out.

So I picked up the cooling rack with the still-hot bundt tin on it and I shook it very violently, and then loudly slapped it back down onto the counter. When I lifted the bundt tin, I found on the cooling rack a pile of large crumbled pieces of steaming yellow bundt cake. The inside of the bundt had totally failed. 

This experience is like being dipped into a cauldron of liquid shame and having it saturate every cell of your body.

KM: Noooooooo! This is a nightmare! 

CT: I used my wood skewer to try to dig in and trace the edges of the cake that was still stuck in the pan, but the thing is that I had no time! Eventually I was able to get a very large part of the bundt to come out more-or-less cleanly, but there was a whole other section that completely crumbled away. Approximately 40 percent of my bundt had crumbled away to a bundt landslide.

I was almost crying at this point. All I could do was try to pile this shit up and try to rebuild the collapsed section, but this went about as poorly as you can imagine.

The entire left side of this bundt cake has collapsed and crumbled away, and an effort to rebuild it has fallen well short of success.
I would like to be eaten by an alligator.Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

Also I think at this point I had like maybe three minutes left to complete the entire shit. I was dying.

KM: No! No! This is so unfair! I am choosing to blame your bundt tin. 

I had four minutes from getting my bundt out until the timer went off. I rapidly stabbed the bundt with two skewers in each hand, and then dumped the syrup on it. I did all of this with the bundt cake sitting in the freezer drawer because it was still so hot. I then dumped the icing on it, which melted immediately. At this point there were 30 seconds left so I literally threw the lemon peels and thyme sticks into the freezer at the cake and then the timer went off. 

CT: I did basically the same thing: I quickly poked the bejeezus out of the cake with the skewer and then had time really just to dump the syrup on there, which was a disappointment because I’d envisioned lovingly painting it on with the silicone brush, making sure to get a nice even soak. Instead I was just like sloshing syrup all over the counter and feeling rage rise up into my chest and face.

KM: There was no time for patience! I got syrup all over the stuff in my freezer. When I took the berries out this morning to make my smoothie, the berry bag had syrup on it. 

CT: Nightmare shit.

I used a spoon to fling the lemon icing onto the cake, and then dropped the candied stuff on there. The icing at least didn’t melt too bad. I finished with something like 11 seconds left on the timer. I felt so incredibly angry and sad and miserable, just a profoundly unpleasant state of mind. 

The Finished Product

KM: Not to be an asshole, but I felt pretty good at the end of this bake. I felt like, if I had had 10 more minutes, it would have been perfect. Instead, my icing melted, which certainly would not have gone over well with the judges.

CT: Goddammit.

It’s awful and infuriating to think that what screwed me in this bake happened way back inside the first 10 minutes, when I greased my pan. I really thought I’d done enough.

Also I guess I could’ve been more thorough when tapping out the air pockets. It seems very likely that my cake crumbled during turn-out exactly where it imploded during the bake, but the carnage was so absolute that it resists any forensic examination.

KM: Yeah, you should stop being a considerate father. That would solve your problems. I’m really not sure it was your greasing. I think it might have been your pan, which I have not seen. But I really do not understand why your bake collapsed. Perhaps someone with more knowledge than us will know. 

CT: Show bundt?

KM: Here is my bundt:

A bundt cake with runny icing.
My daughter.Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector
A bundt cake from above with melted icing.
My daughter, part two.Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector

CT: That is a great goddamn bundt cake. You really did get screwed by the timer. If your icing hadn’t melted it would be perfect.

KM: Thank you, Chris. I am very proud of it. 

Bundt cake inside a drawer freezer.
Totally normal way to decorate a cake.Photo by Kelsey McKinney/Defector

Show bundt? 

CT: I don’t suppose there’s any way I can skip this part, is there?

KM: I am sorry but, no. The readers want to see. 

CT: Here is my goddamn bundt cake:

A crumbled and half-destroyed bundt cake, drizzled with icing and decorated with crystallized lemon peel and thyme.
Looks like shit!Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

Look at this dreadful piece of shit.

KM: I honestly think this looks better than you think it does. If you simply turn the collapsed side away, who is to know it is there? Not me! 

CT: I really did try this. I turned it away and took another photo and, yes, you can almost be convinced that it is an intact, structurally sound bundt cake.

A side view of the portion of Chris's bundt cake that was not ruined during turn-out.
What might've been.Photo by Chris Thompson/Defector

KM: Your bundt is so much lighter than my bundt. Probably because I put my bundt in at five million degrees. I think your color is more pleasing. Mine looks too dark to my eye. 

CT: Kelsey, what did you think of your bundt cake? Is it good to eat?

KM: This is the first thing we’ve baked that I was excited to eat. I love lemon! I love thyme! I would like to issue a correction because last week I said that it was nice to make a bake that was a meal for once, but this is also a meal. This is a breakfast cake, in my opinion. I love it! How was your bundt cake? Did it taste good?

CT: It tastes great. I think I may have gone slightly overboard with the lemon but there is no one in my house who does not love lemon. It really does pack a wallop. And the thyme is a nice accompaniment to the lemon. It’s a delicious cake.

KM: Sometimes, it is nice to have a very lemony cake! And by sometimes, I mean always. I was very happy with how much flavor was in my cake. So many of these bakes have had very minimal flavor, but Prue Leith really cooked on this one, in my opinion. 

CT: Yeah weirdly I’m almost proud of Prue? Like the ingredients call for plenty of lemon and thyme but then her note to “be bold” invites us to follow our instincts out to crazy town. That’s a blast, to me.

KM: Yeah! Look at her! A hard bake that isn’t just persnickety and annoying, and lets us play a little. Very fun! Even though it took so damn long to clean my kitchen. 

CT: The mess was absolutely incredible. It took me three loads in the dishwasher to get out from under this mess, and my kitchen was absolutely splattered with sticky syrup and flour and sugar. Awful.

KM: Same! And I keep finding secret sticky things! After I cleaned the kitchen, I realized that I had candied my left eyebrow. It was laminated with simple syrup and covered in sugar. How did I do this? Awful, indeed. 

CT: What’s next? Any notion?

KM: Well, Chris. Next week is Dessert Week. 


Although, ugh, it’s a Paul week. Probably we will be cooking corn dogs or some shit.

KM: I don’t really know what Dessert Week means at this point. We’ve done laminated dough already. We’ve done a finicky layered thing. What’s left? Tiered cake? Oh god. Is it gonna be tiered cake? 

CT: Whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll meet the challenge with great maturity and high spirits.

KM: Obviously.

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