Spring Baking Championship season two has only just begun, but we’ve already learned a lot from the contestants and judges. Here are some of the best baking lessons we’ve picked up so far:

Spring Baking Championship Host and Judges

1. Set creative limits.

Spring shortcakes are almost always garnished with fresh seasonal berries, but when our Spring Baking Championship contestants were tasked with creating their own, there was only one rule: no berries. The result was a medley of cool and creative cakes, from cardamom and honey biscuits with caramelized fig to cherry pistachio shortcake with micro basil to peach and mascarpone shortcake with Italian genoise. In fact, some of the most interesting creations we’ve seen on our Baking Championship series come from the limitations imposed by the show’s challenges. The next time you set out to bake a favourite recipe, set your own challenge: choosing an ingredient you must or mustn’t use, using a new tool, or styling your dish in a way you’ve never tried before.  You might be surprised by how much creative freedom comes from adding a constraint.

2. Be bold.

A sprinkle of black salt here, a sprig of micro basil there — our contestants prove that these bold touches aren’t just beautiful, they’re flavourful too. Think beyond the standard sweets in your pantry the next time you set out to bake a dessert. The baby greens in your garden could add spring colours to a cake, while the smoker can infuse fresh fruit and compotes with exotic depth. Unlike our contestants, you’ve got time to experiment, so work in small batches to avoid wasting ingredients while you discover which funky combinations you like best.

3. Remember: sometimes less is more.

In a single episode of Spring Baking Championship, two contestants managed to raise our judges’ ire by including too much almond extract in their cakes. Even the contestant that only used a few drops because, in her words, “It’s a very, very strong flavour,” got flak. Judge Lorraine Pascale says, “Almond extract should be in one thing only, and that is in the garbage because it’s just so overpowering.” Judges also criticized another contestant for using too much tequila in her margarita-inspired cake.

4. Seek novel tools.

Acetate strips, available in baking stores and online, can help form a perfect layer cake, a smoker gun infuses fruit with a hint of campfire, and a marble slab tempers chocolate, Belgian-style. These are just three of the cool tools our contestants used in their creations. Hit up your local cooking store and ask staff to bring out a tool you’ve never seen before — who knows what it will inspire you to create!

5. Budget your time.

Let’s be real: it’s fun watching contestants scramble to complete their creations on time, but it’s an absolute drag doing the same at home. Judges reward bold experiments — when they turn out — but we suggest testing out new ingredients and techniques well in advance of big events. The day of a party is not the time to try smoking cherries.

Catch new episodes of Spring Baking Championship Sundays at 9 E/P.