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

 

SCARY GOOD RECIPES FOR YOUR NEXT HALLOWEEN

Halloween will be back in only 361 days, so I am here to help you get into proper mood for it. Truth is, I had so much fun making these recipes, I cannot stand the idea of waiting for months and months to share. Let me introduce you then to some Friendly Ghost Cookies, Witches’ Fingers, and a Gingerbread Coffin with a chocolate cake inside so delicious that a dead body will rest forever happy.

FRIENDLY GHOST SUGAR COOKIES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

360 g all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
215 g granulated sugar
2 tsp orange zest
¼ tsp salt
227 g cup butter, cold and cut in pieces
1 egg
3/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract
1/2 tsp cardamom

for icing:
4 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water
1 pound powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup (such as Karo)
a few drops of almond extract

Heat oven to 360F.  Make the cookie dough. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, Fiori di Sicilia, orange zest and cardamom, mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Dough can be rolled right away in between sheets of parchment paper. Roll to about 1/4″ thick, and cut into shapes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 minutes. Bake for about 12 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before icing.

Make the Royal icing. In the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer, with paddle attachment the water and meringue powder for a couple of minutes. Add the powdered sugar (sift over the bowl), corn syrup and almond extract. Beat on high speed for about 5 minutes.

Divide the Royal icing in three portions, one large will be left white. Two small portions will be dyed black and orange.  Flood the cookies with white icing and decorate with black and orange details as shown in the pictures.  Allow to fully dry before serving them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe click here

Comments: The recipe makes quite a bit of cookies, feel free to halve them if you prefer. Rolling the dough and baking is not a big deal, but of course the decoration demands a bit of time. I made them one evening after work and had this little voice talking to myself “why didn’t you make just half?”

The composite picture below shows you how easy it is to make the decoration for the little ghosts. Three lines, wet on wet, and a needle to pull the lines through, first in one direction, then in the opposite direction.  I cannot take credit for it, I saw a similar design somewhere in Pinterest world.


The combination of orange zest, fiori di Sicilia and cardamon is really wonderful. I need to think about those flavors for macaron filling.

Moving on……


WITCHES’ FINGERS

Recipe from my friend Karen over at Karen’s Kitchen Stories. Click here to get all the details.

RECIPE STEPS IN PICTURES

Comments: At first I was a bit insecure about how much green dye to use (secret is to use less than you think you need), and how to exactly shape the fingers. Well, don’t worry too much about it, no matter how you do it, the result will be gruesome and horrific. Which is pretty much the goal of the bake, right?  They taste delicious, and the nails  almonds add a nice flavor to them. As to the jam, I used raspberry jam with a tiny drop of red food color to intensify the effect. The jam by itself was not as red as I wanted.

Moving on to the final bake…


GINGERBREAD COFFIN WITH CHOCOLATE CAKE
(from Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by many sources)

for the gingerbread dough:
660 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks (227 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
200 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

for icing:
4 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water
1 pound powdered sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup
a few drops of almond extract

for the caramel glue:
200 g sugar
60 mL water
1 tsp corn syrup
1/2 tsp lemon juice

for the chocolate cake:
463 g sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
70 g Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (237 g) water
3/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
220 g all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk

for the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup

for the Royal icing decoration:
(same recipe as sugar cookies)

Make the gingerbread dough. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. In another large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high, cream butter and sugar for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then honey and molasses.

Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined. Divide the dough into 3 pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour.

Heat oven to 350°F. Working with a third of dough at a time, roll out to ¼-inch thickness on parchment paper well dusted with flour. Cut the pieces you need for the coffin, and transfer the cut pieces to the freezer for about 10 minutes. Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes. They must be crisp and dry but not getting dark.

Cool them completely before icing and once the icing is dry, assemble the coffin using caramel.

Make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a large, low-sided frying pan over a medium-high heat. Without stirring, bring to 320 F.  If you don’t have a thermometer, the syrup is ready when the sugar has dissolved and it turns a golden color, not too dark.  Swirl the syrup gently in the pan to even out the color. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for a few moments to thicken slightly to the consistency of honey. Dip the edges of the pieces you intend to glue and assemble them. Drizzle additional caramel if needed using a small spoon. 

If the syrup begins to harden in the pan, put it back over a gentle heat until it has returned to the required consistency.

Make the chocolate cake. Heat oven to 350F.  Spray a 13 x 9 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, extending the paper out of the pan to facilitate removal of the cake after baking.

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, salt, cocoa, and baking soda. Add to it 1 cup of boiling water, stir well and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Pour the hot cocoa mixture into a mixing bowl, add the oil and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined. On low speed, mix the flour into the batter and then add the eggs, egg yolks and buttermilk. Do not over-mix. Pour the very thin batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when tested in the center of the cake.  Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes on a rack. Run a thin knife around the edge and jar the edge of the pan to loosen. Invert onto the serving platter. Cool completely, then cut in pieces to fit inside the gingerbread coffin. You will have to do some assembling to fit some of the cut pieces in the bottom of the coffin.

Make the chocolate icing. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler. Add corn syrup and set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. use immediately, pouring it gently over the cake, once it’s inside the gingerbread coffin.  Allow it to set for a few hours at room temperature.  Use Royal Icing to draw a skeleton inside, if you so desire, or use powdered sugar and a stencil.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Your cake will be baked in a 13 x 9 rectangular pan. You should draw a design for the coffin that makes the lid no bigger than 12.5 inches in length. The sides should be 2.5 inches in height.  It is a pretty easy design, I made the pieces in cardboard and used those to cut the gingerbread dough. The recipe has a reasonably small amount of baking powder, so that the dough does not change much during baking, but you can always use a Microplane grater to bring the edges into better shape.

Most gingerbread sculptures are assembled with very thick Royal icing. It has its problems – I will discuss those a bit more in a future post. Caramel sounds dangerous because it’s so hot and if you burn yourself it’s not fun at all, but the advantage is that it glues quickly and you don’t have the white stuff joining every piece. That is nice for a house or other structures, but I prefer the coffin to be more austere.  Apart from having to clean the pan after making the caramel, I liked the method better than Royal icing for assembling.  Live and learn.

The cake was absolutely wonderful even next day, moist, intense, it gave a bit of moisture to the gingerbread base, which I did not roll as thin as I should have. I need a lot more practice with this type of dough, and find that particularly to roll large pieces, I have issues keeping it thin and uniform. At any rate, Karl Lagerfeld did not seem to mind cutting pieces for Spider Woman. And she was delighted for catching him in her dangerous web. They do make a nice match, even if I say so myself. Biased, who moi?

I hope you enjoyed this little roundup of Halloween recipes. It is a scary job, but someone has to do it.

ONE YEAR AGO: Devil Wears Chocolate

TWO YEARS AGO: Slow-Cooker Pot Roast with Potatoes, Carrots, and Fennel

THREE YEARS AGO: The Best, the Very Best Hummus

FOUR YEARS AGO: Cheddar Cheese Crackers

FIVE YEARS AGO: A New Take on Cauliflower Puree

SIX YEARS AGO:
 In My (NEW!) Kitchen

SEVEN YEARS AGO:
 
The Lab Move and New Beginnings

EIGHT YEARS AGO:
 Honey-Oat Pain de Mie

NINE YEARS AGO:
 Carrot and Leek Soup

TEN YEARS AGO:
 Chicken Parmigiana 101