Take four industry teams, add gingerbread, cake mix, icing and an awful lot of chocolate, mix well, set the timer for an hour-and-a half, and stop when you smell burning … Emily Wright and Iain Withers invite you to sample the Great Building Bake Off. Images by Astrid Kogler

bake off

The bake off

It’s 8:45am and the scene in Farringdon, north London, looks the same as any other Thursday morning. London buses slowly shunt up and down the road, people hurry to and fro heading to their offices, and a metre-high replica of the Shard made entirely of chocolate is being transported slowly, and very carefully, down the Clerkenwell Road. Well, almost the same.

From the other direction, two businessmen, identifiable as Aecom bosses Jeremy Horner and Steve Morriss, are approaching. They are suited, booted and, in a new twist on conventional business attire, carrying bags full of glittery sprinkles. Welcome to the Great Building Bake Off.

In the spirit of promoting healthy competition, four teams will be representing four different industry sectors. In the contractors’ corner, we have Lend Lease, headed by executive director for construction Michael Dyke; for the consultants, we have Aecom; for the architects, Make (with founder Ken Shuttleworth taking charge); and for the clients, Sellar Property, the developer behind the Shard.

The teams have just an hour and a half to create their very best “building inspired” cake or other baked item in the rather flash Bulthaup kitchen showroom. The rules are pretty flexible and a lot of offsite prefabrication has already been done, as team members busily unpack boxes, tins and huge bubble-wrapped planks of confectionery at their work stations. All baking must be completed by 11:30 sharp in time for the judging, which is to be carried out by Gerhard Jenne, founder and owner of famous London cake shop, Konditor & Cook.

Even before we start, nerves are beginning to show. The initial excitement of working in such a posh kitchen has quickly given way to sheer bewilderment at the high-tech gadgetry. “How do I work this oven?” asks Aecom’s Sally, as she stares plaintively at a highly digitalised temperature gauge, while trying to keep an eye on Jeremy and Steve - very much in the same way you would keep an eye on two children presented with bags of flour, sugar and a carton of eggs.

Sally is not the only one with problems. On the other side of the room Lend Lease also need help with some equipment, Sellar and Make are fighting over plug sockets and someone has turned an oven on to “steam mode” at maximum temperature by accident. “What’s that smell?” asks the showroom manager as politely as possible for someone with a look of sheer panic on her face. The culprit - a mug full of burnt chocolate, presumably to have been melted rather than incinerated -is retrieved and the oven declared out of bounds for the rest of the bake off. All this before the official 10am start time.

With two minutes to go, a calm of sorts descends. Aprons and chef’s hats are on and the bakers congregate for the countdown. Twelve cooks, four ovens (not counting the one we have already been banned from using) and a selection of serrated knives at the ready - what could possibly go wrong?



Team name: Always Eat Cake On Mondays
Bakers: Jeremy Horner, Steve Morriss and Sally Powell

Lend Lease

Team name: The Fabulous Baker Boys
Bakers: Michael Dyke, Paul Sims and Caroline Foster

Make Architects

Team name: Make ‘n’ Bake
Bakers: Ken Shuttleworth, Laura Mark and Kalliopi Kousouri

Sellar Property Group

Team name: Alotamochachochoca
Bakers: Flan McNamara, Mike Donnelly, Georgina Ellis

Always Eat Cake On Mondays

10:00 The team, led very capably by Sally, gets off to a flying start. The cupcake mix is being whisked up a storm while Jeremy and Steve are left in charge of the gingerbread for the tool-shaped cookies promised by the end of the process. “We have been scheduled to within an inch of our lives,” says Steve.
“We’ll be fine because …” He trails off as he and Jeremy both peer at the same set of scales, brows furrowing as they try to work out how much brown sugar they need to add to their flour. “Um … is it 150 or …”

Never have two people looked so earnest in the creation of baked goods in the shape of a spanner

“I’m not sure, where is the recipe?” “I think maybe it’s a hundred and …” With neither man able to complete a sentence, it becomes clear that a) they are not sure of their sums and b) they can’t multi-task. Jeremy is holding the bag of sugar in mid-air over the flour, craning his neck to catch sight of the measurements on his recipe sheet, perhaps a little late in the process? It seems best to leave them to it.

10:30 Half an hour in and, miraculously, the gingerbread has made it into a very respectable-looking dough. Sally’s cupcakes are in the oven, already looking great and rising nicely, and Jeremy and Steve are rolling out their dough, cutting out their cookies. Never have two people looked so earnest in the creation of baked goods in the shape of a spanner.

10:45 Halfway through and the team is still on time. No, scrap that: “We’re 34 seconds ahead of schedule,” announces Steve. Go team Aecom.

10:50 But could it all be about to go horribly wrong? It’s time to colour the icing and while Sally’s yellow looks fine, Steve, in charge of the blue, appears to have underestimated the power of food colouring. “Oh God, Steve, what have you done?” shrieks Sally. “My goodness, that’s bright,” adds Jeremy. “I honestly don’t know what more you could want from a shade of blue than something this blue,” says Steve gnomically.

11:10 Jeremy and Steve are icing their cookies. Some look great. Others, not so much. “Have you considered using a palette knife to even out that hammerhead?” is one suggestion. Jeremy appears to think about this for a second before shrugging and ploughing on with his alluring grey icing. Then come the sprinkles. Sprinkles, sprinkles everywhere. Literally everywhere. On the table, floor, baking tray, in the sink. The Make team are also happily chucking an assortment of decorative silver balls all over the floor. Honestly …

11:20 As if from nowhere, a Rice Krispy cake toolbox has materialised. And Jeremy and Steve get on with filling it up with their gingerbread tools. Sally unveils her secret weapon: cupcakes topped with Aecom and Building logos in white chocolate. It’s a nice touch - but does she really think Building can be bribed with cakes?

11:25 They’re done - five minutes ahead of schedule and with only half of the Rice Krispy toolbox having collapsed. Nothing left to do now but wait for the judge’s comments and have a cup of coffee and a chat: “I didn’t realise how good I looked in my chef’s hat until I went to the loo …” says Steve.

Lend Lease
The fabulour baker boys

09:50 Can I smell burning already? The tell-tale sound of an electric whisk emanating from the Lend Lease kitchen suggests that Michael, Paul and Caroline, all bedecked in company-branded aprons, have started 10 minutes early. “What?” says Michael in faux shock. “Is this not allowed?” Erm, no, not really. However, it is agreed that, as the team have gone the old-fashioned route and not brought nearly as many prefabricated elements as their rivals, they can have the extra 10 minutes. It is Christmas, after all.

10:10 A division of resources. Paul has set himself away from his fellow bakers on an entirely different table and surrounded himself with Lego men, plastic diggers and a mountain of coloured icing. He is busily fashioning traffic cones, a skip, cables and hoardings out of the royal icing as well as proudly showing off his silver spray-painted Matchmakers and chocolate fingers: “Scaffolding,” he says casually, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

10:15 Drama! Michael’s chocolate cake mix seems to have turned into porridge. What happened? “I don’t really know,” says Michael. “But I didn’t know how to fold the mixture. So I sort of whisked it instead.” Whisked all the air out? “Yes.” As Caroline desperately tries to inject some life into the mixture, Michael looks on forlornly.

I hope they let me take it home. It’s my daughter’s birthday today and I do actually need a cake

Caroline Foster, Lend Lease

10:30 The cake, despite early teething problems, has safely made it into the oven, and now it’s all eyes on Paul. Potentially the team’s secret weapon, this fabulous boy is less baker, more model maker as he painstakingly creates yet more details for the construction site cake. At the moment he is cutting out the word “Recycle” to put on his skip and “Safety 1st” on the hoardings. “Where’s my ‘a’?” he says, clearly harassed. “I can’t do my safety without my ‘a’.” Thankfully someone locates the missing letter and peace is restored.

Next it’s the cabling, carefully constructed over an upturned fork. “I don’t think I have ever seen Paul so focused on anything, ever,” says Michael. “It’s quite something.”

11:00 The cakes are out of the oven and icing commences. Caroline is wondering what will become of the finished product: “I am hoping they let me take it home,” she says quietly. “It’s my daughter’s birthday today and I do actually need a cake …”

And this cake is surely what every little girl dreams of: a homage to site safety and sustainable construction. The scene is a meticulous re-creation of a Lend Lease site. A skip is put in place, complete with edible gravel inside; a hole is dug, with the chocolate cake making for some very convincing earth; the cabling is carefully laid … this really is high-level stuff.

11:15 We’re almost at the end of the allotted time and it’s still all about the detail. The cones are carefully placed around the cable - you know, to ensure that no one falls in the hole - and the Matchmaker scaffolding is added. If anyone ever wants to know how to make edible, miniature replicas of metal poles, Paul’s the man to ask.

11:25 Green royal icing is being applied around the base of the cake, the hoardings are up and the Lego men, complete with edible permits, are introduced to their new workplace - and all five minutes early, which, in relative construction terms, is really quite something.

Make Architects
Make n’ Bake

10:00 Ken Shuttleworth and his Make team-mates Laura and Kalliopi seem strangely calm. Perhaps it’s because they’ve really embraced the controversial prefab strategy. Out come the vanilla sponge and gingerbread walls that will form the basic structure of their re-creation of the practice’s Birmingham Cube.
However Ken is not convinced the calm will last. The team has an ambitious plan for decorating the cake, involving an array of sprays, sweets and multi-coloured flashing lights. “There’s plenty of time to completely balls it up,” he points out.

10:10 Step one is spray-painting the gingerbread facade. Ken is covering the walls with silver and stencilled bronze crosses. He claims Laura and Kalliopi are the team’s secret weapons: “They’re two pro chefs.” Surely he’s not suggesting he has employed ringers?

We’re pushing the limits of what gingerbread can do structurally

Ken Shuttleworth, Make

It transpires that Ken spent the previous night at the real Cube’s Hotel Indigo and so has “first hand feelings”, which may help with the cake re-creation.

10:30 Some of the other teams have started to complain of a “burning smell”. The culprit, it turns out, is one of the gingerbread walls. The architects, who clearly have no time for such primitive tools as cookie cutters, used a high-powered laser back in their studio to create the cross pattern in the Cube’s walls. Unfortunately, this was so powerful it charred everything it touched. “The edges are completely inedible because they’re black,” Ken confesses. Notwithstanding the smell, the final effect is impressive - a true triumph of form over function.

10:40 Kalliopi gets to work securing the walls and roof with “traditional gingerbread house icing”, which apparently is very strong, sets quickly, and tastes better than grout. But the roof’s distinctive hole is posing problems. Ken is trying to prop up one of the sides, which looks like it might cave in, with what looks like half a chopstick.

“We’re pushing the limits of what gingerbread can do structurally,” he says.

11:00 It’s getting very intricate now, as Ken, Laura and Kalliopi set about festooning the cake in a variety of decorations. “It’s about making it look more cake-like now,” Ken says.

It’s certainly looking less building-like. Kalliopi is lining up silver pearl decorations to the top edges of the structure, while Laura covers the roof in boiled-sweet solar panels.

11:15 Ken must have spent a very strange night indeed at the Hotel Indigo. Inside the Cube the team have placed a huge pile of multi-coloured crunchy puffed rice and a multi-coloured flashing LED light. A large number of midget gems are also sprawled around the base. “They’re people trying to get in to spend their money at Christmas,” Ken suggests. Is it entirely safe to let this man near high-spec kitchen equipment?


09:30 There can be few bigger chocaholics than the team from Sellar - Flan, Georgina and Michael are the first contestants to arrive, and they’ve brought alonglots and lots of gigantic sheets of chocolate. It soon becomes apparent that these sheets - a swirling mix of strawberry, milk, dark and white chocolate - will form the walls of a three-foot tall chocolate Shard.

Michael has spent the previous evening building these slabs with his children, Jack and Lisa. And the off-site effort doesn’t stop there - the Sellar team has also brought dozens of orange-zest cupcakes to fill the building with and a spire (also chocolate) moulded to exacting specifications.

“Preparation is everything,” Flan offers as a team mantra. But there’s plenty still to do - Michael has been charged with putting the walls together with molten chocolate glue, Georgina is on baking duty - with more cupcakes on the way - and Flan is raring to go slotting together the MDF core (mmm, tasty) that will hopefully hold it all together.

10:30 Michael is painting the spire with a fetching edible silver (chocolate) spray. Unlike the real thing, this Shard spire hasn’t been pre-assembled in a field in Yorkshire, but in a kitchen in South Woodford. Michael is apologetic about the slightly nobbly look. “It’s not easy working with molten chocolate,” he says ruefully. He has moulded numerous chocolate poles, some of which are being used for the spire, the others as structural supports to keep the cladding up.

Georgina is also busy baking a fresh batch of cupcakes. “It’s a recipe handed down through the generations,” whispers Flan.

11:00 Time for a bit of a guided tour. A huge amount of thought has gone into the decoration of the Shard. One of the walls depicts a reflected view of the City of London, complete with Gherkin and white chocolate clouds. A third is full of silver and gold chocolate chunks to represent the tower’s cladding. One is made of nougat and marshmallow and is shaped to look like a map of the UK, with a dot showing the location of the Shard. The final wall depicts a reflection of the neighbouring Guy’s Hospital. Very impressive.

Michael begins to shave dark and white chocolate to decorate the base. Because there isn’t enough chocolate. “Almost enough, but not quite enough …”

The verdict

Judge Gerhard Jenne is suitably impressed. And he knows his stuff. Working with chocolate slabs, à la Sellar, is a pretty tough task, he says. And the orange zest cupcakes are some of the best he has ever tasted. Plus, it definitely has the ‘wow’ factor.

There is more qualified praise for Make’s Cube. “It’s very meticulous,” he says encouragingly. “It looks good and I like the taste of the cake. But it smells very burnt.” The decision to cut the gingerbread using an industrial-grade laser may prove a costly one.

On to Aecom’s toolbox, and the Rice Krispy cake brings back memories of childhood for everyone. “I haven’t had a Rice Krispy cake in years,” says Gerhard. “It’s great.” Unfortunately, there are some structural issues - a gingerbread hammer breaks off just as the judging begins. “I can’t believe that just happened,” mutters Sally.

Finally, it’s Lend Lease’s building site cake. “This is every little boy’s dream birthday cake,” says Gerhard. “Out of all of the cakes, it is the one I would be most likely to sell if I put it in one of my shop windows.” But how does it taste? “The sponge is quite dry,” admits Gerhard. “But the icing is good and it’s a wonderful idea.”
With all cakes tasted, it is now time for the moment of truth. In second place, and despite the incineration issues, is Make’s Cube. But the winner is … it’s the Shard

Renzo Piano will be ecstatic! “It’s just such an amazing structure,” says Gerhard. “With the taste and the look combined, it has to be the winner.” Flan punches the air with an almighty “Yes!” - several times, in fact. It has been a big year for the Shard, but this, well it’s the icing on the cake …

Our thanks to …

Huge thanks to Bulthaup for the use of its stunning show kitchens and Konditor & Cook for the prizes - a box of mince pies for the runner’s-up and a signature cake for the winners.

Building Bake Off 2011 - VIDEO