BEWARE, LONG POST AHEAD!
So let’s start this big party, shall we? The Great American Baking Show premiered yesterday and I am so excited to finally share with you a little bit about my experience in “the tent.” If you have not watched the show yet and do not want spoilers, save this post to read later.
Like many people who love to bake, I’ve watched all the Great British Bake Off shows available to us in the US, and all the American Baking Shows more than once. Some seasons that are dear to my heart (Chetna, Val, Nancy, Tina, Kim Joy, Amanda, Nadyia, Selasi, I am talking to you!) I’ve watched twice or more, and never got tired of them. When I first applied to the show in 2018, I was a bit disappointed about my performance in the final audition, so I wanted to try it again. Much to my amazement, not only I got all the way to the final audition phase, but they selected me to be in the show! I remember very well where I was when I got THE phone call. First the adrenaline rush, and later that nagging question inside me “am I really tent-worthy?”
From the phone call to finally going to London, life gets turned upside down, as you get assignments for each episode and the tension keeps building up and up. It is a very unique experience, and pushes your baking skills to the limit. We all have things we are good at, and things we are not, as far as baking is concerned. Come to think of it, as far as ANYTHING is concerned… Getting ready for the show means designing recipes to potentially impress Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard, even if you feel insecure about laminating dough, or if baking macarons sounds like the last thing you’d like to face in front of the cameras. By the time you step on the plane, you’ve already been through countless hours of baking, a roller coaster of emotions, from self-doubt to bliss, from fear and panic to BRING IT! And then you get to meet your fellow bakers, and realize you can finally interact with people who have been through the exact same roller coaster you did. It is a bonding experience that starts from the minute you gather in the hotel lobby. It is one aspect of this adventure I will cherish forever.
But nothing quite prepares you for that first look into the tent. I was in a complete daze, and remember someone telling us… “Did you know more people went into space than baked in this tent?”. Not sure what was their intention with that casual remark, but it made my stomach a tad colder, and the butterflies inside it a lot more noticeable. It was a beautiful sunny day, I felt happy and grateful for being there although it felt so unreal. I was also anxious to get that first bake done. Cake. Yours truly, a former self-professed cake-o-phobe about to step in a famous tent, with dozens of cameras around, two demanding judges and two adorable hosts to bake for. Mind blowing, my friends. Mind blowing.
YUZU-GINGER OLIVE OIL CAKE
I adore yuzu. I could not bake with the real fruit, maybe they could find it in London but there was no way I could practice with it at home, so I opted for the bottled juice. More consistent, anyway. Once you get a certain brand, you know what to expect. I paired the cake with a caramel scented with sobacha tea, taking my assignment into a clear Japanese territory. Japanese patisserie fascinates me because they tend to make things that are not overly sweet, and often bringing unusual ingredients together. A little decoration with caramel and that was my plan for the very first bake under the spotlight. I practiced this cake three times at home and felt reasonably confident about it, my only fear was unmolding it. Bundt pans can be very unforgiving. I can tell you my heart was beating at 120bpm when I flipped that baby out of the pan, and I could feel the adrenaline rushing out of my system once it was all smooth sitting in front of me. Of course, they had the cameras right there as each baker unmolded their cakes. Would you like some stress with your cake?
My main take home lesson from this bake is that all flavors must come through. The ginger was not prominent enough, so I should have either tried to work a bit more into the cake and glaze or simply left the yuzu alone. I will tweak the recipe again and once I’m absolutely happy with it, I will share with you.
ANGEL FOOD CAKE WITH PASSION FRUIT CURD
My very first technical challenge! I was cautiously optimistic when they announced it, because I’ve made Angel Food in the past and I knew the main details that matter in its preparation. I was a bit more worried about the curd, as it needs to have a smooth texture and proper consistency. The process of making a channel in the cake was a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest with you. I felt I was butchering the poor cake and not quite sure I had enough curd to cover the crime scene. As I placed the cake behind my picture, I remember feeling good about it, but never expected to be first in the first technical. It was absolutely thrilling! I will never forget the feeling…
Plus, it made going into the showstopper challenge next day a lot less stressful. Speaking of it…
CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY CELEBRATION GATEAU
My first showstopper challenge! I baked this cake three times during practice, changing little details in the preparation. Chocolate sponge with mascarpone-chantilly-raspberry filling, and chocolate buttercream icing. The thing I was most excited about was the brigadeiro topping, because I wanted to add something Brazilian to my concoction. Much to my surprise, Tanya – who was baking just behind me in the tent – had planned brigadeiros for her decorations too! Can you imagine? We immediately called ourselves Brigadeiro Babes, because… how could we not? Knowing she was making a Brazilian delicacy right behind made the whole experience even more special and fun for me. Her little pine cone decorations over the top of the cake were in fact little almond-covered brigadeiros. Super clever and cute.
I was also a bit worried about tempering the chocolate in the tent for the decorations. It was the last thing I had to do, and kept me a bit anxious throughout the 3 and a half hours of the assignment. Which go by like 30 regular minutes, I kid you not. It turns out tempering was ok, but not the piping. I did not have the exact piping bag I had at home, and the opening was a bit too big even when I cut it as small as possible. My trees, that were so cute at home, looked a bit like odd fish creatures, as Sherry Yard brought to my attention. She was 100% right, I am sad to admit. But at least the brigadeiro component was good. With that bake we completed the first round of the Great American Baking Show, and one of us had to say goodbye to the tent.
The baker leaving on that first day was Helen. I should tell you that sitting in those stools waiting for the knife to hit the chopping block is beyond stressful. I knew I was safe that day, but the idea of ANY of the others being eliminated was too hard to face. Watching the shows on TV over the years, I often wondered if the emotion they show is real. The cynic in me would sometimes feel that it was not possible to show so much affection for someone you just met. Well, it is not fake. When you meet those people, you spend A LOT of time together. You talk, you share a lot, often in moments in which you are most vulnerable. When they said Helen’s name, I know the sharp pain I felt inside was the exact same pain felt by the other 9 bakers, and of course even more sharply by Helen herself. No one wants to be eliminated first, and the fact that she was, has ZERO impact on her quality as a baker. She took it with a smile, very gracefully. With the unique sense of humor she has, and that you can get a taste of by visiting her blog. Her writing is fun, to the point, and charming. Several of us made her brownies. Absolute winner. Give her recipe a try, and thank me later.
We were crushed by Helen leaving the tent, and if I could change one thing in the show, it would be this: no one gets eliminated on the first episode. You get that as a warm-up round. Producers, are you reading me? Anyone? Anyone?
That wraps up Cake Episode. I will be back in a couple of days with the round up of BREAD, which hopefully you already watched. It was a nail-biter for yours truly…
ONE YEAR AGO: Broccoli Souffle
TWO YEARS AGO: Panettone Time!
THREE YEARS AGO: How the Mighty Have Fallen
FOUR YEARS AGO: Festive Night at Central
FIVE YEAR AGO: The Perfect Boiled Egg
SIX YEARS AGO: Light Rye Sourdough with Cumin and Orange
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Homemade Calzones
EIGHT YEARS AGO: Plum-Glazed Duck Breasts
NINE YEARS AGO: Holiday Double-Decker
TEN YEARS AGO: New York Deli Rye