EPISODE 6: COOKIES IN THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW

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Cookie time, my friends. Sugar Cookies for Signature and Macarons for Showstopper. Macarons are my favorite thing to bake, but of course they had to make us build them into a tower using two different flavors (sigh). You may not believe me, but that episode had me very worried. It is true that I had issues with the oven and all the preparation was incredibly rushed, but independent of that I never felt confident about the tower thing. First, it required us to bake quite a large number of shells, because since there is always some proportion that might crack, or bake with irregular shape, I had decided to bake at least 20% more shells of each color than needed. I am also not that good at spacing things artistically around a cone and Phil had to give me a lot of input and help. Without him around, the outcome could be grim.

Signature Bake

Snowy Tree Sugar Cookies

For my cookies, I chose the flavors of Fiori di Sicilia and cardamon. The timing for this assignment was pretty cruel, if you ask me.  Two and a half hours to make the dough, roll it out, cut, bake, cool (the cookies, you will stay pretty hot throughout the challenge), and decorate them?  I knew I had to keep the decoration very simple or I would never finish them. And since consistency is important, simpler is once more better.  So I went with a wet-on-wet design that I could do without having to wait for one layer to dry before applying the details. I was pretty comfortable with the taste and texture of the cookies, but the consistency of my Royal icing in practice was slightly off. I had no chance to re-visit that challenge before leaving the US, and was already planning to practice in the hotel in case I advanced that far. Well, as we all know, that never materialized… Having watched the show, I realize my cookies would probably be ranked last, everyone else had much more daring bakes. Did you see Marissa’s paintings? Wow. Just wow.

Showstopper

Opposites Attract Macaron Tower

My two flavors would be pretty contrasting, and the decoration also. The light green ones would be filled with coconut and lime, pretty sharp and refreshing flavors, and after a drizzle of white chocolate colorful sprinkles would be added (I did not do it in practice rounds). The other flavor was more austere, a chocolate ganache with a touch of cinnamon, the decoration just a simple stroke with a fan brush of copper-color pearl dust.  Because it can be done very quickly, it would be perfect in case I ran into trouble with timing.  The photo shows a work in progress, I was trying to figure out the size of the shells, the size of the cone (I ended up opting for a smaller one to take with me), and it was all pretty stressful. I had that lingering thought in my mind that macarons would be the task bringing me down. Well, I wish. Would be so nice if I had stayed until then…

I was definitely not ready for the showstopper when I packed my things and left our home, but I’ve learned a few things while practicing. Slightly smaller macarons are easier to negotiate (we had a minimum diameter required, and mine were for the most part a bit bigger); glueing them with toothpicks is a total mess, much better to use melted chocolate (or candy melts) and a freezing spray as you go; the drizzled ones look better if you lay the decoration in similar angle throughout the tower; and finally, the stroke with luster paint should be done after they are in the tower, so you can have them with a similar angle very easily. Or so I hope.

That episode was probably the most dramatic of the whole season. I was at the edge of my seat, even though I knew the outcome, of course. Witnessing it all develop is a different story, brings back that “tent-feeling.” A lot of trouble for my buddies, but Star Baker was Marissa, who beautifully surfed through the challenges with a pretty clever take on sugar cookies (she used meringue powder that dries harder and quicker), a good performance on the technical (Fortune cookies, I so want to bake them!), and a Macaron tower that was beautiful and tasted great too. CONGRATS, MARISSA!!!! Speaking of Marissa, please visit the gofund page set up by Tanya, and if you can contribute, you would make this bunch of bakers very happy…

As the episodes go by, leaving the tent gets more and more painful. Sarita was eliminated. She showed a very good performance in the technical, but had problems to finish decorating her super cute sugar cookies (adorable mittens) and to stick the macarons to the cone with Royal icing. I do believe that the different behavior of powdered sugar from the US versus UK played a big role in my gingerbread sculpture fiasco and also on Sarita’s issues. At any rate, it’s the kind of stuff I should have considered and practiced when I had a chance in the hotel.

Sarita is a dynamo of energy, and there is simply never a dull moment when she’s around! The personal side of this type of adventure is one that most people have no idea. Sarita is a stay-at-home Mom of two adorable young daughters (the oldest looks like her clone!) and that is a full-time job that only those who face it, day in, day out know how tough it can be. So leaving for the UK for such an extended period of time leaving her kids behind was not easy for her. She missed things like their first ride on the school bus early one morning, but the producers were on top of it, and allowed a break in the filming so she could get in touch by phone and wish them a nice ride and good luck on that special day. She also had to deal with health issues that affected her Mom, to add to the stress of the tent-experience. She dealt with them all with that big open smile she always carries with her. After she was eliminated we did some sightseeing together in London, like a tour of the Tower of London, a place I’ve always wanted to see. Interestingly enough, the Tower of Macarons led to the Tower of London. Silver linings… once again.

(disclaimer: I do own more than one shirt)
😉

You can follow Sarita’s cooking and baking adventures through her blog Ritzymom.com. Pay her a visit to say hello!

 

By the way look at the tower I made after coming back home…


WHAAAT? I did not fool you for a second?  You are hurting my feelings now. Seriously, that was a beautiful tower that brought a sad smile to me and Tanya as we entered Laduree… 

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Chicken and Heart of Palm Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Tahini Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: The Complicit Conspiracy of Alcohol

FOUR YEARS AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

SIX YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

NINE YEARS AGO: Gougeres

TEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

EPISODE 5: CITRUS TART, NAPOLEONS AND A PERSONAL NIGHTMARE

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It was Pastry time, my friends! At the risk of sounding repetitive, I was very excited about that episode.  Once again I was happy with my signature bake and VERY happy with the Napoleons, which I made for the first time in preparation for the show.

Forgive me for taking a small detour. Over the years, as I watched The Great British Bake Off and later its American sibling show, I would be shocked when some contestants admitted in front of the cameras that they had never made… a souffle, or rough puff pastry… or… whatever it was that a technical forced them to face. And that is a criticism I see often in forums online.  People say “If it was me going into the tent, I would make sure to practice all those basic recipes, one by one.”   

So I am here to tell you why that happens.  First of all, when you submit an application, you know that the chances to actually be chosen are very slim. After my 2nd audition in Los Angeles, I was satisfied with my performance, but still not hopeful at all. I know that every person who applies feels the same, because we talk about it, many of the people I met in LA were trying for the second, third, even fourth time. So what I am trying to convey here, is that only when you are formally accepted, you get the pressure to get ready. However, the roller coaster you step into leaves you no chance of practicing for anything but the assignments for Signature Bake and Showstopper. I had no time, no opportunity, no energy to even THINK about what skills could be missing from my repertoire and asked for in a technical.  I am going to date myself big time, but have you played Tetris? You know how the more you advance the faster those stupid pieces start falling, and you cannot blink or you’ll be history? That’s a good description of what it’s like to get ready for the show. We (speaking exclusively about the Great American version) have to prepare for the whole show while in the US, as if we were all going to advance to the final. We must design and test four recipes per week, covering two episodes. It is intense, to say the least.  If you are not fully satisfied with a recipe from this week’s assignment, no time to tweak it, because the next assignment will arrive before you know it.

So now I get to the title of my post. My personal nightmare. It was the week in which I had to prepare the Citrus Tart, Napoleons & Palmiers, plus Sugar Cookies and a Tower of Macarons (!!!!).  I got the assignment on Wednesday, played a bit with ideas and practiced a tart on Thursday evening. Friday I worked in the morning and took the afternoon off. It was going to be a Napoleonic weekend. I had made puff pastry several times, but never the type needed for that pastry, because you essentially squish the pastry during baking. I made my laminated dough, and as I turned the oven on, absolutely nothing happened. The oven was DEAD. We have a BlueStar oven, and technical service is unavailable in our town. To  make a very long and very stressful story short, Phil managed to get a person to drive all the way from Kansas City on Monday to repair the oven. It took him the whole morning and part of the afternoon. So for a full weekend I had no oven and made zero progress in my preparations for the show. I was a basket case. Basket case: a term in English I find amusing. Except when it applies to my own self.

I did try to use our small Breville oven to practice, but it was just not possible to do a good job, especially considering the number of Napoleons needed and the precise dimensions. Honestly I still don’t know how I managed to finish that assignment before the deadline.

Signature Bake
DUET OF CITRUS

My tart had orange and lemon flavors together. The picture does not reflect what I hoped to bake in the tent. The final decoration would be a snowflake stencil (which I had ordered by only arrived after my practice runs) the pastry would be rolled thinner, and the layer of filling would be considerably thicker. But the taste was good, in my opinion.

Showstopper
Napoleons and Palmiers

For the showstopper I chose Napoleon in Sicily and Raspberry Candy Palmiers…  The Napoleons were filled with a coffee pastry cream and a layer of orange jelly made with agar-agar. I don’t have a picture of my palmiers, but here is what the Napoleons could look like (again, who knows what the tent could turn those into).

I haven’t made Napoleons again, but want to do so in the near future, because I really liked the way those turned out, the combination of orange and coffee was quite pleasant to me, and to those who tasted it.

Star Baker was awarded to Dana, who produced a beautiful square sour cherry tart, a great performance in the technical, and perfectly laminated dough in her Napoleons and Palmiers!  WAY TO GO, DANA!!!!

And the saddest moment could not be avoided. The baker to say goodbye to the tent was Tanya. Maybe as a viewer you don’t imagine, but when we watch the show of our elimination on TV, that very sadness of the moment comes back. Big, big time.

To be completely honest with you, I was happy to be eliminated before her, because I don’t know how I would have handled seeing her go. I met Tanya in the hotel lobby as we all had to wait several hours for our rooms to become available. We had never interacted during auditions, even though she also applied more than once, so we actually went through the process at the same time in 2018 and 2019. I immediately felt that I could sit down with her for a long coffee break, one that turns into lunch and dinner, you know the kind?  And I knew I was in front of one damn great baker, comfortable with many different areas of patisserie, including the one that inflicted the most fear on me. Yeah, THAT one. I would say that gingerbread sculptures are Tanya’s favorite thing to bake, and she is just awesome. C’mon, she made a GLOBE of gingerbread. Let that sink in for a moment…  In the tent. With cameras rolling and cameramen drooling in case the globe would roll out of the bench (well, just kidding, they were very supportive, just ready to capture drama if available).

I “borrowed” this picture from her blog, globalbakes.com, to show the kind of attention to detail and elegance she brings to her bakes. These “stained glass” pear slices took my breath away. She mentioned she was going to use them in her cheesecake, and how I wanted to see that in person! I saw on TV and I bet you did too. Just amazing, the final bit of painting gold on the edges? Brilliant (pun intended). The show skipped one amazing compliment she got from Sherry Yard, which I learned about later: Tanya, you’ve elevated cheesecake.  (oh, yes, she did!).

Not only I loved being around Tanya in the tent and hotel, but I had the chance of meeting her adorable daughter Haley and enjoying dessert together the three of us at Laduree.  Not sure that would happen without Tanya being eliminated, so it’s one of those bittersweet things that life brings me sometimes.

Before I leave you, let me share a recent post by Tanya, in which she goes after the cookie of her imagination and does not rest until she bakes it. You can learn a lot about baking just with that post alone. She left the tent carrying with her amazing compliments from Paul and Sherry, who clearly saw her elimination for what it was, just a bad baking day. Tanya: a remarkable baker, and a fantastic human being that I am so glad I had the chance to meet.

Go say hi to Tanya and give her a special virtual hug today…

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Chicken and Heart of Palm Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Tahini Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: The Complicit Conspiracy of Alcohol

FOUR YEARS AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

SIX YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

NINE YEARS AGO: Gougeres

TEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

APRICOT AND BALSAMIC GLAZED CHICKEN THIGHS

Simple to the limit. Very tasty. If you have a pressure cooker or the famous InstantPot, you can have this main dish at your table any night of the week. I got the idea for it from a delicious shredded chicken I made also under pressure. For this one, I changed the flavors and reduced the cooking time so that the pieces of chicken would still hold together.  Probably excellent with orange marmalade instead of apricot jam. Hey, go wild and try mango jam, if you have it around.

APRICOT AND BALSAMIC GLAZED CHICKEN THIGHS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

¼ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 to 3 tsp fresh)

In a small bowl, whisk the jam and vinegar together until very smooth. Depending on how thick your jam is, add a small amount of warm water to help loosening the mixture a bit. Reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a pressure cooker set over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then brown on both sides (do it in batches if needed).  Return all the pieces to the pot.

Pour the jam-vinegar mixture over the meat; add the thyme.  Add some water to bring the liquid about 1/3 of the heigh of the chicken pieces.  Lock the lid onto the pressure cooker and bring it to full pressure.  Cook for 15 minutes. Release pressure manually, if needed reduce the liquid by simmering for a few minutes.

Adjust seasoning and serve with your side dish of choice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

We enjoyed it with our favorite rice of the moment, easy Tahdig-Rice, which I blogged about in my latest Incredibly Simple series.  Some sauteed asparagus rounded our meal pretty nicely. If you like a bit more spice, add a touch of Harissa or Sriracha to the jam mixture. I intend to try that next time.

ONE YEAR AGO: Dominique Ansel’s Chocolate Mousse Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

THREE YEARS AGO: Festive Lemon Cranberry-Glazed Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Have a Cran-Merry Christmas!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

SIX YEARS AGO: The Avocado Mousse that Stole the Show

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Sourdough Popovers

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

NINE YEARS AGO:  Sourdough Focaccia, with a twist

TEN YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

I DREAMED OF MADELEINES AND A TOWER OF CHEESECAKES

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Maybe you already guessed what I’m talking about. DESSERT: Episode 4 of the Great American Baking Show.  The first one that had me waving goodbye at my buddies as they got into the bus for the tent early in the morning.  I stayed behind, alone and broken inside, it was one tough day for me. In part because that was the episode I was most excited about. I was quite happy with my madeleines, but over the moon with my cheesecake tower. As you know, I am not wild about sculptures (to put it mildly). I guess a cheesecake tower, of all the assembled desserts, is probably the simplest, like a three-tier cake, you just have to make sure they are secured in place. Of course, even though it sounds doable at home, the tent is a place that often generates its own gravitational anomalies.

MADELEINES

They had to present 24 madeleines, 12 of each kind, made from genoise, and iced. The thing about madeleines is the famous “bump.” If they are flat, they are never going to be handshake-worthy, no matter how tasty they are. Many factors affect the bump formation, the amount of leavening agent, the way you handle the batter, but from my madeleine adventures, I think the key is to cool the batter after piping. Five to ten minutes in the freezer gave me the best outcome. We had 1 hour and 45 minutes to present them. I practiced and practiced, and was able to keep the piped tray in the freezer for both batters for 7 minutes without having to pull my hair out to have them done in time.

Same batter, left was baked straight from room temperature. Right was baked after 7 minutes in the freezer.  Amazing, isn’t it?  Chill your batter, my friends!

Here are the two kinds I designed for the tent…

JAMAICAN DREAM MADELEINES

They had coconut in the batter and were iced with Hibiscus tea glaze, decorated with sweetened, toasted coconut. My friend Dana had hibiscus madeleines also, proving that great minds madeleine alike.  I was looking forward to trying hers and comparing notes. Sadly, it was not to be.

SHE WORE RED VELVET MADELEINES


I wanted to explore different takes on holiday season, and chose hibiscus because in Jamaica it is used in  the most popular drink to celebrate the New Year.  Coconut closes the tropical deal.  As to Red Velvet, what can be more festive, no matter where you are?  I know Sherry is not too wild about red velvet cake, but I was hoping red madeleines dressed up for party would win her nod of approval.

TROPICAL CHEESECAKE TOWER

Once again, I wanted to show what the end of the year is like for those living in places like Brazil. They are ready for the sun, the beach, for a true Summer break, and my cheesecakes tried to bring a ray of sunshine to the American holiday season.  I chose Açaí and Mango as basic flavors, and dressed them up with a layer of thin genoise with contrasting color designs.  Timing was a big, big issue and I knew I had to work non-stop and very efficiently. But I was really looking forward to it.  My pictures do not reflect the final product, which would end up as a mixture of them.  I had to play with the mango component quite a bit to maximize the flavor, and my first decoration with the toasted meringue did not please me very much.  So the “tent-version” would have the mango-agar decorations on top.

I was also going to change the color pattern, and use the purple cake around the mango ones, the orange around the açaí. Finally, the top cheesecake would be a tad smaller in diameter, so that the concentric pattern of the middle tier would be more visible.

I loved the flavors and in my opinion they went together well, açaí with that unique flavor that was mellowed down by some blueberries added to the party. Of all episodes, maybe this one was my favorite. I cannot tell you how sad it makes me that I was not able to do any of it in the tent. I think both Paul and Sherry would like  my Tropical Cheesecake Tower. Of course, there are plenty of uncertainties when you bake in the tent. Would the big cheesecake set? Would I be able to bake all the cake sides and have them nicely arranged? Would they enjoy the agar components or frown their noses at them?

I cannot give you a handshake, but I will wag my tail anytime for you, Mom!

So that was the end of another episode, in which Marissa got Star Baker with her madeleines and cheesecake combination, plus a good performance on a very tricky technical. The Queen of Puddings!  I need to make that at some point, very curious about it.

Sadly, another baker had to leave the tent….

Bianca was eliminated, and I am sure it was very sad in that tent. If I had to pick ONE adjective to describe her,  it would be SWEET. Just LOOK at her picture, and if you saw her on the show, you’ll know it is the perfect adjective. Adorable could go well also. Sweet and adorable. I am good with that now. Her mind works at 120mph, as she thinks about her next bake, about tweaks she could do here and there.  We would be sitting in our “green room” for hours, and Bianca would be sketching things on her notebook, lost in her thoughts, then all of a sudden would go “hey guys, what do you think about this?” – and the ideas would pour, her creativity is unparalleled. Did I mention she is adorable? And drop-dead gorgeous.

I need to talk a bit about her Cake episode. Here we have a person who SHINES at cakes. Cake is her thing, all the way. And she has the incredibly bad luck of cutting her finger on a mandolin. Badly, I must add. They did not show the extent of the stress she was subjected to, and we all thought that it would be almost impossible for her to come up with a cake with the time that she had left. So all her amazing decorations had to be forgotten. Can you imagine her frustration? I mean, I could say that macarons are my thing. The idea that I would bake a batch in front of the cameras that would somehow explode and I would have to start all over and be unable to decorate them…. leaves me paralyzed. That’s pretty much what happened to sweet-adorable Bianca.  And it broke my heart. She is a fighter though, and showed such resilience and ability to perform under pressure.  She baked a cake, decorated as much as time allowed, and proudly showed it to Paul and Sherry. I am sure they were as impressed as everyone around.

Since the show ended, she got engaged to her lovely boyfriend, whom we had a chance to meet in the UK. She is happy and full of goals and dreams for the future. I wish her all the luck and will be following her adventures. You can do it too, here is the address of her blog.

ONE YEAR AGO: Dominique Ansel’s Chocolate Mousse Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Slow-Roasted Eye of the Round Beef

THREE YEARS AGO: Steam-Roasted Indian-Spiced Cauliflower

FOUR YEARS AGO: Creamy Zucchini-Mushroom Soup

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ken Forkish’s Pain au Bacon

SIX YEARS AGO: Carrot and Cumin Hamburger Buns

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Potato Galettes a l’Alsacienne & Book Review

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Caramelized Carrot Soup

NINE YEARS AGO: Miso-Grilled Shrimp

TEN YEARS AGO: Pain Poilane

THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW: SPICE EPISODE

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Ten and a half years of blogging, and I hit the most difficult post ever to write. I was eliminated in the show that aired last night, in the worst possible way. Somehow I managed to keep my composure in front of the cameras, but went through buckets of tears after, and for more days than I would like to admit.  The feeling of intense sadness came back again as the premiere approached. It got worse after the first two episodes aired last week because I was overwhelmed with positive feedback from friends and from viewers who don’t even know me personally. With each compliment, with each “I just know you did great”, my heart sank a little bit, but I had to go with the flow. I had to give no indication whatsoever that my world was about to collapse. Literally. I had to smile and be cheerful when in fact I felt (and still feel) like hiding away in a cave. A couple of weeks after we came back from London I made a video in which I try to explain what happened. I did not practice, did not take notes with me, just sat in front of the computer, and spoke. So don’t expect a TED talk… 😉  But I hope you have 10 minutes to spare to watch me. Watch me for a final 10 minutes. Please and thank you.

(same video, two different formats, not sure which one will work best depending on your browser, feel free to share the youtube version)

SIGNATURE BAKE
WOKE UP IN RIO CINNAMON ROLLS

Strangely enough, I did not keep photos of the bakes I did at home for that particular challenge. I made the recipe three times, trying to get the banana flavor to be more and more prominent. I was reasonably happy with the way they turned out, but Paul did not care for the fresh slice of banana as decoration on top.  I had to smile a bit inside, because I actually got that idea from Sherry Yard’s cookbook, Desserts by the Yard…  Go figure. You win some, you lose some. And you butcher some with enough drama to last you a lifetime of regret.

TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
LINZER COOKIES

Believe it or not, I can do a pretty decent looking Linzer-type cookie. These were made back in March, I never blogged about them but will do so in the near future.

My recipe was a little different but the principle is the same.  If you watched my video I think it explains (or tries to) how things degenerated so quickly. Bad decisions, forgetfulness, like not rolling the dough on a floured parchment paper. By the time I realized my mistakes and their dreadful consequences, it was too late to do anything about it. I knew I was in serious, serious trouble. No one can imagine what I was feeling when the technical judgment started. I wanted to be as far away as possible from that tent.  I wanted to be able to say, sorry folks, it turns out I am not tent-worthy, I will show myself out, thank you.

SHOWSTOPPER CHALLENGE
GINGERBREAD SCULPTURE

That’s what I hoped it would look like, with actually a few more components around it, but as we all know, it was not meant to be. I tweaked the recipe for the gingerbread component in the hotel, but could not have the modifications with me in writing, which posed a bit of a problem at showtime. But the worst was the Royal icing “glue”, I did not practice that in the hotel because it was such a small kitchen, but thinking back I should have. The icing sugar from the UK did not behave the same way ours does, at least not in my recipe. Paul told me I should have used caramel to glue the pieces, because it works fast and is absolutely solid. I tried that in my gingerbread coffin that I made for Halloween last month and indeed it works like a charm. I had seen recipes using it while preparing for the show, but was unsure of being able to keep the caramel hot during the whole assembling time. And I was also afraid I would get burned with hot caramel in front of the cameras. I did not get burned literally. But went down in flames in the figurative sense.  If ABC Network wanted drama, they got it.  From now on, when I refer to myself as Drama Queen, I will have a very solid background to justify it.

So that was that, my friends. Every cell of my body wanted to stay in the tent longer. I enjoyed the experience so much, much more than I imagined, even though it was very stressful.  I loved the crew, the support people who never show in front of the cameras but are there full time, bringing you a couple more eggs, taking away that dirty bowl and magically bringing you a spotless clean version to work with. They pay attention to every single detail, if you look around your work bench seeming a bit lost, one of those angels will be right there “do you need anything, Sally?”  Yes, I need a mulligan. Can you get one for me? Pretty please? I will bake you a macaron!

I loved the cameramen, who made us feel like movie stars even when we suspected there was flour on our eyebrows and ganache splashed all over our apron. They are amazing, they work long hours with a heavy camera on their shoulders (trust me, I held one), and a permanent smile coupled with constant words of encouragement. I feel lucky that I got to witness it all. Not for as long as I hoped, but I at least for a little while.

I will never forget the vibe in the tent when I was eliminated, and the hugs that were clearly trying to soothe my soul. I don’t know how I managed not to break down in a puddle of tears, when inside I was badly hurting. I am gone from the tent, but not gone from the adventure. I will be back for the final party, and until then I will share in the blog the bakes I hoped I could have offered to Paul, Sherry, Spice and Baby Spice. The bakes I hoped I could have shared with you on TV.

Keep watching, my baking buddies have awesome stuff waiting for you! And I will be here writing about what comes ahead, from the perspective of a friend cheering for her buddies.

I am so very sorry I disappointed you.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Pumpkin and Pecans

TWO YEARS AGO: White-Chocolate Peppermint Macarons

THREE YEARS AGO: Shrubs, a fun alternative to alcoholic drinks

FOUR YEARS AGO: Date Truffles 

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Mousse from Baking Chez Moi

SIX YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Brigadeiros

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Espresso Loaf

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Caramelized Carrot Soup

NINE YEARS AGO: Miso-Grilled Shrimp

TEN YEARS AGO: A Special Holiday Fruitcake

 

MACARONS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON


One recipe, two colors, four different ways to decorate, from simple to a little more time-consuming. It is definitely the reason why I adore macarons. You can dress them up for party or keep them simple, and play with filling flavors that match any season. For these Christmas-inspired versions, I filled some with raspberry jam and others with white chocolate-mint ganache.

CHRISTMAS MACARONS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from Colette Christian)

for the shells:
200 g powdered sugar
115 g almond meal
115 g egg whites at room temperature
a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Red or Green gel color from Artisan Accents
1/4 tsp vanilla paste

for the filling:
Raspberry jam
or
240g white chocolate, chopped
5 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 to 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/8 cup mini mint chocolate chips (optional)

to decorate:
white candy melts
red food color
gold dust dissolved in lemon extract or vodka
sprinkles of your choice
or
Royal Icing:
40 g egg whites
210 g powdered sugar
lemon juice

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar and almond meal in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the almond meal mixture in three increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with one of the tips listed above. Pipe on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull, 30 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F.  Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the filling:  Melt the white chocolate with the mint chips (if using) in a double boiler or microwave, very gently. Add the heavy cream and stir until smooth. Add the peppermint extract. Allow it to cool to almost room temperature and whisk with a hand-held mixer to achieve piping consistency. Do not over-whip or the ganache will go grainy. Use to fill shells.

Decorate with melted Candy melts and sprinkles. For the brush effect, use a fan brush on a mixture of gold dust with lemon extract. To make the Royal Icing mix all ingredients in a Kitchen Aid type mixer for 5 minutes, adjust consistency with lemon juice or powdered sugar.

Store macarons in the fridge for 24 hours before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


These shells were decorated with Royal Icing using either a very fine piping tip (Wilton number 1), or a slightly bigger tip (Wilton number 3). Sanding sugar was sprinkled on some macarons while still wet and allowed to dry.  They were filled with White Chocolate Ganache, and tasted amazing!


The filling for this batch was a simple, store-bought raspberry jam, decorated with white candy melts dyed red.

Raspberry Jam filling once again, with a drizzle of white candy melts and sprinkles…

They really make it for a nice, festive presentation that screams Christmas! I made them when I had a special interview at home for our evening news… If you’d like to see it, click here


But the simplest of all to decorate might be one of my favorites… I love the contrast of gold with green… Red and gold could be wonderful too, I might bake another batch before saying goodbye to 2019.

ONE YEAR AGO: Apple and Sobacha Caramel Dome Cake 

TWO YEARS AGO: White Chocolate Peppermint Macarons (serendipity?)

THREE YEARS AGO: Shrubs, a fun alternative to alcoholic drinks

FOUR YEARS AGO: Date Truffles 

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Mousse from Baking Chez Moi

SIX YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Brigadeiros

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Espresso Loaf

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Caramelized Carrot Soup

NINE YEARS AGO: Miso-Grilled Shrimp

TEN YEARS AGO: A Special Holiday Fruitcake

BREAD: EPISODE TWO OF THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW

SPOILERS INSIDE!
If you have not watch the show yet,
save this post for later…

For those who are not familiar with GABS, Bread is Paul Hollywood’s “thing.” Everybody who’s been on the show over the years is afraid of baking bread for him, for obvious reasons. I am not too worried about bread in general, but bread sculpture is a whole different story. I don’t like it, in fact anything with the term sculpture makes me go into hyperventilation. When I got the assignment for Bread and the showstopper was a sculpture based on the Twelve Days of Christmas I considered buying a one-way ticket to Mongolia. And some ultra-heavy coats. But before that happened in the tent, we had a signature bake and a technical.  Let’s talk about those.

SIGNATURE BAKE  

HOT’N CRUNCHY BREADSTICKS

We were supposed to present 12 breadsticks, all uniform in size, with a certain minimal length and we could make them crunchy or soft, it would be up to our personal taste. I opted for crunchy and went with a three-stranded braid, made with three different flavored doughs. Which requires me to share a very important statement with you.

The assignment was to last for 1 hour and 45 minutes. That obviously includes proofing time and baking. What possessed me to go for 12 three-stranded braided bread sticks? Honestly I don’t know. Of course, I practiced at home, I did it twice. I felt that time wise it was a bit tight, but doable. What I did not take in consideration was the Theory of Tent Relativity (TTR),  in which time shrinks at different rates depending on the Daring Factor (DF) of your bake.

I am tweaking this post after having watched the episode, so I know they did not show one particular moment in which Paul and Sherry visited my flour covered station a second time to see how things were going, and those penetrating blue eyes stared into mine and asked “do you think you have enough time to finish them?”  The look on his face left little room for doubt. He thought I was doomed. He then grabbed Sherry’s arm and told her they should leave me alone to work. And that’s when I realized I had no idea of how much time was left, but I knew the finish line was a lot closer than I hoped for. With a shiver up my spine, I tried to keep calm and braid on.

Did I say keep calm? Yeah, right. I braided like the Energizer Bunny would with a brand new battery and a full can of Red Bull. I baked those breadsticks at a higher temperature and took them out of the oven with less than 30 seconds to spare.  I was shaking inside and really upset at myself for designing a bake with such high probability of failure. Live and learn.

Now if you watch the show, you know that the REAL touchdown was scored by Tanya who got “the handshake.”  Actually, our group is doing pretty good! Handshake on the very first episode to Sarita, and again on Bread.  Tanya’s breadsticks were gorgeous, elegantly twisted, with a sprinkle of cilantro all over, and deliciously hot. Yes, we get to taste each other’s bake once it’s all said and done. Rather… done and judged!

In the future I will share a modified version of this recipe in which I dealt with the problem of excessive moisture in the Kalamata olives. Stay tuned, these breadsticks are a bit labor intensive, but I now made them five times and everybody loves them.

TECHNICAL CHALLENGE

COB LOAF

Reading the recipe, I remember feeling so good about it, I felt I was going to surf through like a pro (famous last words). It is a simple, straightforward bread, just using what seemed like a huge, almost excessive amount of herbs (it was not, it tasted amazing!). I had no issues with mixing the dough, it proofed nicely, it shaped nicely. Then, in the final last step, slashing the surface in the criss-cross pattern, Sally had a bad, very bad intuition about it. I slashed it in a way that was probably perfect, but then I went back and essentially murdered it. Why did I do that? Because I thought that cob would indicate a flattish shape, pretty much like cobblestones that covered the streets of London in the 1700’s. Brilliant. I thought I was nailing it, when instead I was adding a nice nail to my own coffin. Even when I placed my poor specimen of Cob behind my picture, I was feeling good about it. But when Paul came in and described the perfect Cob as a plump round loaf, I felt a strange coldness inside my soul. Like a Game of Thrones “Winter is Coming” sensation.  So the last in technical was not surprising. But not very easy to take either.

Not everything was bad about the technical, though. How often do you see a 4ft 11 +1/2 inch female beat a former football player in arm wrestling? There you go.

Free entertainment for the viewers, thanks to a very sneaky camera I had no idea was in play. What? You think Mr. Spice let me win? Seriously? Nah… I cannot possibly take another blow to my ego.

 

SHOWSTOPPER CHALLENGE

GOLDEN ORNAMENTS CHRISTMAS TREE

I was not looking forward to that challenge at all. Coming last in technical the afternoon before made me very anxious, I knew I had to do a good job, because a bad bread sculpture would easily destroy any good performance brought by my breadsticks. Every person who gets last in technical is immediately at risk of being eliminated, so I went into the tent with a very heavy weight on my shoulders.

At home, I practiced the sculpture three times, which meant over 13 hours devoted just to one assignment of the show. The rings went from full braids to twists, back to double braids, the way to shape them and proof them was also a bit tricky. I wanted them to look as proportional as possible to the tree.

The tree posed problems to bake perfectly. That component I made in fact five times at home, trying to get a good balance of taste and proper texture for it to stand up. Not easy, and don’t think I got there at showtime. And the ring bases in the show could have a lot more fruit, but at least it allowed me to pass safely through another episode.

Sherry liked that the sculpture had movement, as the rings kind of bounced a bit as I walked to the stand. That bit did not make it in the final edition of the show, but it will stay in my mind as a gentle pat in the back.

And with that we come to the person being eliminated second.

My very dear Carlos, fellow South-American, kind, warm-hearted and oh-so-witty! Carlos brightened up our time in the tent and the very long hours off-filming hanging together in what could be called “the green room.” He always came up with ways to pass the time. For instance the first time we were sitting in those stools waiting for the technical judgment in CAKE, we were sitting there for a long time. Staring at our photos standing in front of us over the bench. So Carlos starts making up captions for the photos, trying to decide what each person looked like. It was hilarious and he hit all very very well. Here is mine:  Hollistic Alternative Medicine Therapist!  Me, of all people!  But I gotta admit, he hit it perfectly. Here are the others so you can pay attention next time the show is on…. Helen is running for Office…. Dana is running for City Council… Tanya hosts a Farm to Table Blog…. Marissa is ASB President….  Alex depicts the best Linkedln profile picture… Brother Andrew is a Missionary to indigenous unreached peoples, and Carlos (according to Marissa) is a contributor to High Times Magazine…

So, as you can see, we found plenty of ways to keep ourselves entertained, and Carlos was a huge part of it. He started his food blog recently, where he mixes recipes with pretty deep thoughts about himself and the world. A unique guy that I am so glad I had the chance to meet. I always tell him he could be a fantastic writer for stand-up comedian acts. We, and almost all bakers in the group have kept in touch pretty much daily since we left London, and there is not a day that goes by without Carlos making me laugh with a remark about something, from stuff that happened in the tent to things we are exchanging about our current bakes.  I feel lucky to be part of this small community of baker-addicts.  Yeah, that’s what we are…. Carlos, it was very sad to see you leave the tent… You are my favorite male Peruvian baker on this season! (wink, wink)

ONE YEAR AGO: Apple and Sobacha Caramel Dome Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Cocktail Spiced Nuts

THREE YEARS AGO: How the Mighty Have Fallen

FOUR YEARS AGO: Festive Night at Central

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Perfect Boiled Egg

SIX YEARS AGO: Light Rye Sourdough with Cumin and Orange

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Homemade Calziones

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Plum-Glazed Duck Breasts

NINE YEARS AGO: Holiday Double-Decker

TEN YEARS AGO: New York Deli Rye