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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.
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.
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