Our self-confessed 'armchair chef' Helen Brown gets her slice of TV bake-off action

Cookery shows rule the television in our house. From the favourites like the Great British Bake Off to the more obscure such as the Australian Masterchef, if it’s got an oven in, we’ll watch it.

Our self-confessed 'armchair chef' Helen Brown gets her slice of TV bake-off action

From armchair to on-screen – The Express & Star’s Helen Brown, third from left, with the other contestants on the show

I must admit I am a bit of an armchair chef, I have always secretly thought my cupcakes could wow Mary Berry. And I never understood these wannabe cooks who seemed to fall apart at the sight of a panna cotta that didn’t wobble enough. 

So a few weeks ago I decided to see if I could put my money, or rather my cake, where my mouth is. While flicking through the Waitrose newsletter after a trip to the Wolverhampton store I noticed a competition in which supermarket bosses had teamed up with ITV’s Lorraine Kelly show to create Lorraine’s Taste Off.

Contestants had to submit their own recipe for a sweet treat suitable to grace the shelves of the bakery section. 

So I promptly spent an evening experimenting in the kitchen and came up with a twist on a favourite in our house, chocolate muffins – these ones filled with beetroot and fudge. 

All I had to do was send in the recipe and a photo of my creation which I did after the concoction won the approval of my husband and young son.

I then completely forgot about it until a week or so later when I received a call from a producer on the show telling me I’d made it through to the final eight.

My amazement quickly gave way to panic when I realised what was to come.

The semi-final stage of the competition involved pitting my muffins against the creations of seven other home-bakers to be judged by a panel led by Paul Hollywood’s wife Alex, along with Coronation Street star Debbie Rush and an official from Waitrose. 

The next week was spent in a blur of baking  as I tried to create the perfect batch and within a few days I never wanted to see another beetroot again. 

The day of reckoning soon arrived and I had to bake my final batch which would go before the judges. My first attempt was a disaster  with all 24 completely failing to rise but  thankfully the second lot went a bit better and I packed them away to take up to Manchester the next day.

After a two hour train journey clutching my box of muffins, I was whisked onto set, a restaurant-come-pantry at Media City in Salford, where we got to meet the other finalists for the first time. 

Thankfully they were just as nervous as me and none of us could quite believe our luck that we were there. We were each given a table to present our creations on  – in true bake off style.

I had gone with a picnic theme  while my fellow contestants had come up with some amazing displays.

From a miniature garden for a delicious looking super berry bake to a Yorkshire-themed afternoon tea for some superb ginger and orange cherubs, I quickly realised that I was perhaps a little out of my depth.  Each of us  filmed a little piece to camera in case we were one of the three chosen finalists and were also recorded throughout the day.

What I never realised was just how long this filming lark takes – glamorous it is not and there is lots of waiting around. I just couldn’t get over  how much filming was involved for what would be a fairly short segment. 

But all too soon  the judging time was upon us and while I’m normally not a person who gets too nervous all logic went out the window.

When the judges arrived on set I was literally shaking in my boots. 

Alex Hollywood was no where near as fearsome as her husband appears on television and her fellow judges were all full of smiles and encouragement. I was third to face them – the camera no doubt capturing my panicked expression. 

I couldn’t even watch as they tucked into my muffins but thankfully it seemed they at least thought they were edible and much to my delight Alex commented on how light they were while her fellow celebrity judge even said they were tasty once the camera had stopped rolling. 

And within a few minutes the ordeal was over and they had moved on to the next contestant. Once everyone’s offerings had been tasted they went off to deliberate while we faced a nervous wait to hear the results. And I can confirm the dramatic pauses we see on our television screens when these things are announced are there in real life.

I wasn’t too concerned by this point though as I knew it was highly unlikely I would be going through against such stiff competition. 

The three chosen finalists, Carol with her Eat ‘N’ Go Caribbean pineapple cake, Canadian Shelly with her dish of Nanaimo Bars from her home country and Anne and her Ginger and Orange Cherubs were all well deserved.

While I was a little disappointed, I was also relieved as I wouldn’t have to appear in front of the cameras again

We were sent on our way with a Taste Off apron, Lorraine alarm clock and signed photo for our efforts. 

Me, I will be happy to return to my armchair to cheer on the final three when they appear on the show this week. And when it comes to the Great British Bake Off I will be taking my hat off to those contestants this year. Doing one bake was traumatic enough for me – so those guys who have to do it week after week in front of Mr Hollywood, they deserve a medal.

You can try her recipe too: 


200g self-raising flour
60g soft brown sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g cocoa
80g dark chocolate
2 eggs
1 tbsp vegetable oil
120ml semi skimmed milk
2 cooked beetroots (finely chopped)
Handful of fudge pieces
12 muffin cases


1.    Mix together all the dry ingredients in a bowl, sifting the flour.

2.    Chop up 50g of your chocolate into small chunks before adding to the dry ingredients along with the beetroot.

3.    In a separate bowl crack open your eggs and briefly beat them before adding your oil and milk. Add the egg, milk and oil mixture to your other ingredients and stir until all ingredients are combined.

4.    Place your cake cases in a muffin baking tray and using two spoons fill each case until around three quarters full.

5.    Bake in an oven at 180C for around 20 minutes.

6.    Once cooled, completely melt the remaining chocolate by placing in the microwave for five to ten second intervals before stirring.

7.    Use a spoon to drizzle over the muffins in pattens. Enjoy!

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