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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

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

 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