WANNA BE A TENT-BAKER?


For the past year or so I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group for fans of The Great British Bake Off. It is a very nice online community (almost 20 thousand participants) that at the present time is not accepting new members. Recently Christine, the moderator, asked me to make a video with advice for people interested in submitting an application.  I decided to share it here also, one never knows if some of my readers have been flirting with the idea of baking in the tent. Remember, it all starts with a little thought in the back of your mind… what if? why not?

For the application online, click here

In case you missed my write-ups about all episodes of Season 5…  here they are

Episode 1…

Episode 2…

Episode 3…

Episode 4…

Episode 5… 

Episode 6…

Semi-Final…

Final

EPISODE 8: GRAND FINALE OF GABS AND THE ALTERNATE REALITY

ONE LAST TIME….

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So many conflicting emotions as I sit down to write this post. Nothing can truly prepare you for what it’s like to be on the show, and now that it is over, the many alternate scenarios of what “could have been” seem to haunt me with full force. Would I do it all over again? Yes, no doubt. But there is a lot of sadness and regret in the  background. I am speaking exclusively for myself, but I imagine that the feeling hits some of my baking buddies also. The Path of the Tent is not smooth for anyone, winner included. In every single season you can go back and realize that the winner was at risk of elimination before, sometimes more than once. So the what-iff’s hit them too, probably, although obviously in a much more subtle (and less hurtful) way.

But the title of this post has a different reason. It’s not some type of a self-centered description of what could have been better for me or others eliminated early.  I want to talk about bakers who enter the group in a very strange category, they are “alternates.”  In every season the producers need to make sure 10 bakers will enter the tent. Stuff can go wrong, though. People can get sick, people can get into some panic attack and realize they just cannot deal with it. So they need to have backup contestants ready to step in (literally). Their identities must remain a secret. They go through the exact same preparation we all went through. They fly to London, they go to the tent on filming day one. Ready to join if needed. Then, once filming starts, and all the ten bakers are settled in, they fly back to the US. In complete anonymity. Can you imagine the feeling? The struggles, the anxiety? To just go back, unable to tell anyone about it, unable to get anything “publicly” out of the experience.  I want to say to the two alternates I had the chance to meet, you are amazing to me in every single aspect. You were pure joy to interact with and any of you two would be pretty hard to beat in the tent. In awe, I wish you the best of luck in whatever adventure life brings you.

Without further ado, I share with my readers what I had planned for the finale.

Signature Bake
Choux Buns

We were supposed to make two versions, one with a craquelin topping and another without, but with a glaze of our choice. For my craquelin version I chose a filling of Tonka bean creme patissier, very aromatic and flavorful.  For the plain version, lemon filling and a blueberry glaze. If you watched the show, you know that Dana forgot to add the craquelin before sticking her batch in the oven. Well, guess what? I did the exact same thing during practice. I was so concerned with rolling the craquelin topping with the right thickness, cutting the right diameter needed to cover the piped little blobs. But for optimal results, the little topping needs to be frozen. And once I put the little rounds in the freezer, they were “out of sight, out of mind.” Contrary to Dana, when I realized my mistake there were some choice words flying around the Bewitching Kitchen… Words that, in the tent would prompt an army of cameramen to gather around “Sally, do you mind repeating that for the cameras? But please, skip that initial expletive, ok? Or use Portuguese, how about that?”  So I understand exactly the shiver Dana felt, and how she was left with a very tricky decision. Start all over? Or quickly add the craquelin component? Tough choice. I would have done what she did, hurt a little the bake but not compromise completely the cruel timing of the game. They do not give you enough time for do-overs.  Which brings me back to Bianca and how fiercely she fought on cake day. Remember?

Technical Challenge
FRAISIER CAKE

Such a classic cake, I’ve made it once but not with the tricky topping of strawberry jelly, it seemed like a very stressful maneuver to do right at the end, not only they had to center the jelly-containing pan perfectly on top of the cake, but make sure to heat it uniformly and hope that it would fall without breaking. Probably if you do that a couple of times in your life you get the hang of it, but in the tent, with the cameramen at the ready to zoom in? Not that easy, my friends. Not that easy. Add some tempering of white chocolate to that equation and they had a real challenging task on their hands. Remember, we were not baking during winter. It was hot in that tent. Dana got first place in the technical, and Marissa got third.

Showstopper Final
Individual-Sized Dessert Display
(three desserts, 12 samples each)

The brief said not to repeat any bake previously made during the competition, and that desserts could not involve cupcakes or choux buns. All options must contain a baked element and be sweet. Easy, right? Oh, sure, in 4 hours and 30 minutes, including cooling time. Yeah, piece of cake. Literally.

I tell you one thing, I had a very hard time with this challenge, and my last dessert (the mini pavlovas) materialized around 5pm of the very deadline day. We had until midnight to send all recipes in the proper format. Did I ever mention to you that composing the recipes the way they need to be takes quite a bit of time? I was truly fit to be tied when I hit “send email.”  And not at all confident in my choices. Which were…

Reveillon Mousse Cakes, decorated sponge layer surrounding a white-chocolate coconut mousse and strawberries, plus a strawberry jelly on top (made with agar-agar).


Cappuccino Panna Cotta over a brown sugar cookie base, topped with chocolate-orange ganache. Once again, I resorted to agar-agar, an ingredient that is not very common, but when used in the right proportion, confers perfect texture and sets a lot quicker and more reproducibly than gelatin.  I intend to share posts on the blog about it in the near future. For the tent version I would use scalloped edged cookie cutters (I had them on order at amazon).

Last, but not least…

Candied Banana Mini-Pavlovas, inspired by the caramelized banana my Mom used to make when I was young.  I had originally played with the idea of making “Quindim”, a very traditional and unusual Brazilian recipe with Portuguese origins, but stumbled on several pretty bad recipes that failed to deliver what they promised. That set me back a couple of days and really raised the stress level sky-high.  There were tears, there was despair, and there was a desire to quit at the very end of the preparation stage. Then I thought about mini-pavlovas, and decided to give that option one last go before admitting defeat.

After watching the show, I concluded my mini-cakes were a bit too big and did not have enough textural contrast. Maybe it is a good thing I did not have to serve them to Paul and Sherry after all…  I was reasonably happy with the other two desserts, although baking the meringue base for Pavlovas can be tent-tricky.

If I had any input on the organization of the show, I would allow 1 full week to prepare for the semi-final and 1 full week to prepare for the final. When you consider we had to come up with 8 different recipes (2 kinds of canapes, 1 Opera Cake, 2 choux buns, 3 individual sized desserts) in 7 days, with sophistication and “wow-factor” expected this late in the competition, I believe it becomes almost unrealistic. What it amounts to is, your first idea must be the one you pursue to the end, because no investment of baking time can go to waste.

There we were watching together… the Premier of The Great British Bake Off that started on our last week in the UK. Tanya was out in a theatre play with her daughter, so unfortunately she is not in the picture. Marissa took the picture, which explains her absence. It was  such a cool evening! We were screaming at the TV:  “Nooooo! don’t DO THAT, are you crazy???? It’s not going to work!!!! Wanna be eliminated????”  It was fun and emotional at the same time. We knew that a few months down the line people would be watching us and maybe screaming the same way…. “SALLY, this gingerbread house is not looking good…. OMG Sally, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Wanna be eliminated?”

As you know, there is no elimination in the final, but only one baker gets “the plate.”  That was Brother Andrew. Congratulations on making it to the final and being chosen as The Best Amateur Baking in the US, year 2019″. You had quite a ride, so enjoy the outcome!

Two of my dear baking buddies had the thrill of stepping in that tent for the Final together with Andrew, and they proved they had every right to be there.

Marissa… OMG she is just too funny and cool… I cannot help but think she would be PERFECT as part of the cast of a show like Saturday Night Live. Maybe you caught a tiny bit of her artistic flair when she impersonated Paul Hollywood during her bake. But she is just phenomenal imitating all kinds of accents and personalities. I never had kids, but I tell you, if I had, I wish they could be students in her acting class. She takes the funniest selfies and shares them with us in your texting group, I call them “The Many Faces of Marissa”, they are priceless. She is a fantastic baker, one who puts a ton of passion in her bakes. In the very early stages of the show, when we were hanging out in our “greenish room” (wink wink), she talked about how hard it is when you develop a recipe and feel very good about it, but then it gets harshly criticized. Why that happens? It is hard to tell, actually. The bake can go slightly wrong, or the ingredients might be a bit different, and let’s not forget, people have different tastes, and what you find amazing and delicious might not awe Paul and Sherry. Whatever the reason, the criticism hurts and you have to face it and deal with it, cameras right on your face. And try your best to put that behind you, so you can go on to the next task at hand. It is a psychological roller coaster, one that Marissa surfed with a lot of grace and wit.

She and her husband have been dealing with a benign brain tumor affecting Charlie, the cutest dachshund pup, something that came up as a seizure right when the first show aired. If you can help them with the expenses for the treatment, please do so with a click here.  It is a treatable condition with radiation therapy (that starts next week), and Charlie will have many more years of a good life together with them.

The other baker who stepped into the tent for the final was Dana. I share with you one of my favorite pictures of our time in the UK, taken in the hotel lobby.  What can I say? We clicked almost immediately. So many similarities between us… We are both not very tall (although obviously I beat her in the contest for The Vertically Challenged), we have three dogs, one of them is called Buck (!!!), we have two cars, one is a Tesla and the other a pickup truck. We love to exercise, we wake up at ungodly early hours, we do not drink, and we are in a slightly older age bracket than the other bakers (although I beat her by many years in that category too).  Of all the bakers in our group, I believed Dana had probably the best mindset to face the challenges. She is rock solid, and does not allow criticism or small setbacks to affect her. What you saw in the show, her focused approach to the bakes, was there from day one. She was doing in the tent what she loves to do and that was clear for all to see. In my mind, there was no doubt she would make it to the final, and quite likely be the winner. I cannot tell you how happy I am our paths crossed.

That is it, my friends. Eight episodes, eight blog posts. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and the first feeling I have, in that state in-between dream and reality, is sadness about how it all developed for me. Then it goes away, because I am so glad I had the chance to be part of it.

Dreams are for free. Maybe one day they will call some bakers to go back to the tent, give them a chance to bake their best one more time. Maybe they could mix British and American contestants… Maybe…. I tell you, I would go back in a heartbeat.. I need my handshake fix.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

SIX YEARS AGO:
 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs

 

 

EPISODE 7: CANAPES, OPERA CAKE, AND RUNNING OUT OF GAS

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
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We arrived at the semi-final stage, in which we had three hours to prepare two types of canapes (12 of each)  using rough-puff pastry, and three and a half hours to come up with our showstopping version of the famous Opera Cake.  Keep in mind that in that same week of preparation we needed to design the bakes for the Final episode also. One of them involving 3 kinds of mini-desserts. When I look back at that week of my life, I realize I was stretched to the very limit, and I am sure all my baking buddies were also.

Taking a small detour again (should I call them Sally’s ramblings?)… In the Great British Bake Off, the contestants who are eliminated are done with their homework. That means that those who advance get a pretty nice dose of what I see as “good adrenaline” to keep them going. They know they are designing bakes for the chance to overcome one more hurdle towards the Final. I will admit that by the week we had to get these four sets of recipes ready, I was pretty burned. I kept telling myself that chances were I was not going to be in the final two episodes, so would  I really need to to work so so hard?  Of course, I did my best, but particularly for the final episode, I was not overly confident. But we’ll get there soon. For now, let me show you what I had planned for my signature bake.

Signature Bake
Chicken and Heart of Palm Squares
& Mushroom Puffs

This was a very tight challenge as far as timing is concerned. Do I seem to be repeating myself? Yes, I am sure, because it is the modus operandi in the tent. Three and a half hours to produce well-laminated dough, make fillings, roll the dough out and bake. With semi-final pizazz. Not easy at all. I actually made a blog post after coming back form the UK, in which I share a variation of the recipe I hd designed for the show. Of course, I could not tell you about it then, but now you know.  Visit my post with a click here. I wanted to bring one canape’ with Brazilian flavors. The combination of chicken with hearts of palm is a classic back home, in empadas, pies, and even pasteis. For my second canape’, I wanted a vegetarian option. Duxelles are delicious components of Beef Wellington and with a bit of truffles added to the party, I thought I would be in good shape for that challenge. Of course, disregarding tent-factors that might turn the best laminated doughs into a leaky package of melting butter (sigh).

Showstopper

Operetta Cake

This cake was fun for me to design, because when I made the traditional version for the very first time a couple of years ago, I was ecstatic about it. Cakes in general were still a bit tricky for me, but somehow following the detailed instructions of Colette Christian in her online class at Bluprint, I managed to come up with a version that pleased me quite a bit (click here for the post).

For the show, I chose a matcha-flavored sponge soaked with lemon syrup, filling of matcha-ganache and lemon buttercream. The cake would be coated with a shiny white chocolate glaze and decorated with tempered white chocolate. I made the full cake once, and a smaller version just to practice getting more filling in between the layers. The photo shows my first attempt, with a regular size cake. I loved the flavors, and everyone who’s tried it was very complimentary of it.  I knew I had to practice it one more time in the hotel if I was going to be in the semi-final, because I wanted to get absolutely uniform thickness of each sponge layer.  That can be tricky even at home (double sigh). The more I look at it, though, the more I think it was a bit too monotonous in the color scheme. I intend to re-make it but include a layer of some kind of berry in it, perhaps a blackberry-buttercream. To bring some contrast.

I don’t know how the bakes I planned would have worked for Paul and Sherry. I am aware that Paul is not wild about matcha, but I like it a lot and with the lemon and the white chocolate I thought the flavor worked well. I have the feeling Sherry could enjoy both the canapes and the Operetta Cake. But as we know, I wasn’t there, I was just in the hotel waiting for Alex, Dana, Brother Andrew and Marissa to arrive back.

Star Baker in the Semi-Final was granted to Dana, she simply rocked her way through each of the challenges, with her always serene and focused approach. She made ricotta from scratch, produced perfect souffles for the technical, and her Opera cake was a real showstopper, with three different cake layers. Congrats, Dana!

The real painful goodbye involved the one and only Alex…

I was in the tent for only three episodes, but I was pretty much counting on Alex being present in the Final. If you’ve been following the show, you probably thought so too. The guy is FAST. Meticulous. Artistic. Great with flavors. He actually told us that he’d practiced at home with speed in mind, and I must say that’s pretty clever, timing is the major factor that can kill you (or at least hurt you badly) in the tent. Alex’s approach was to work very very fast in the beginning to get all his components ready, so that he would have enough time to gild the lily in the end. That worked every time. Remember his highly decorated sweater sugar cookies? You could give me one extra hour, and I would say, thanks, but no thanks.  The sweaters might end up bright pink, but they will be very plain…

I can tell that Alex will have a bright future ahead, he has the will-power to do anything he sets his mind to, which is obvious when you see him in his “other hobby”, acrobatics. You don’t get to be that amazing without a ton of effort and commitment. And to top it all? A very kind and sweet personality, a pleasure to be around. When I was eliminated, I was pretty crushed. As I got to my room, I see a text message from Alex, and it was like a warm hug, just what I needed to hear at that moment. I was very surprised to see him go, but sometimes the tent plays tricks on you.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

SIX YEARS AGO:
 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs

EPISODE 6: COOKIES IN THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the 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

I DREAMED OF MADELEINES AND A TOWER OF CHEESECAKES

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

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

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

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