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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.
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.
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