Archive for November, 2020

Happy belated Thanksgiving! Hope everyone had a nice turkey day. This week was busy with family and Thanksgiving baking/cooking, therefore my challenges both had to be done yesterday. I will try not to do that again. Bake, wash, repeat. It was a long day.

The preheat was to bake Thanksgiving breakfast desserts taking inspiration from french toast, breakfast crepes, scones, and toaster pastries. I drew toaster pastries.

My first thought was a hand pie filled with a berry compote. We have phyllo dough in the freezer. But I made so many pies recently, I wanted to do something different. With a shorter timer of 90 minutes, I settled on making a big linzer cookie with a mixed berry filling.

I use the linzer cookie recipe off of King Arthur Flour. It’s so tasty! And in the freezer were blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. So I started with the dough and stuck that in the freezer for a quick chill while I got the berries softening in a saucepan with some cornstarch and sugar. I used an immersion blender to get it nice and smooth and then strained it to remove seeds. It didn’t look very thick, but I was hoping it would thicken as it cooled so I stuck that in the freezer and took the dough out.

I rolled the dough and traced a 9″ cake pan for the base cookie. That got baking while I rolled the rest of the dough for the top. I didn’t have a snowflake cutter big enough so I used a knife and free-handed the cut out.

When everything was ready to assemble, I realized the berry jam did not thicken at all. I spread it out pretty thin so it wouldn’t seep over the edges, and carefully transferred the cookie top over it. The top broke in several places. I forgot how delicate these cookies are. In smaller form, it’s not a problem. But a 9″ diameter was just too large. Attempting to hide some cracks, I piped a simple glaze around the snowflake edge and cookie edge, which also ties into the toaster pastry theme. I used to love toaster strudels that came with a bag of glaze.

All-in-all, I made a big cookie in 90 minutes. It tasted good, but probably a little underwhelming for the competition.

“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” That’s right, the main heat brought back teams and my mom was ready to jump in and help. You might remember a challenge a couple years ago with four pies baked together on a tray. My mom joined me and we nailed it! But this year’s challenge was a little different. We weren’t really baking together, we were competing against eachother.

The theme was Friendsgiving potluck dishes and the choices were brussel sprouts balsamic, creamed corn, sage and sausage stuffing, and glazed carrots. I had Mom draw and we got glazed carrots. Also had to add the twist of champagne somewhere in our desserts. Back to our respective kitchens, we each set our timers to 2 hours and got to work.

I decided to make a carrot cake layered with cheesecake and a champagne vanilla frosting. Cheesecake in 2 hours is a bit daunting. Generally speaking, you may need 90 minutes to bake, 2 hours to rest, and then more time to rest in the fridge. But I figured if I did them in mini springform pans (thanks Amazon!), I could cut the time down significantly. Even so, the cheesecake was the first thing I made to get those in the oven as quick as possible. I bought Junior’s cookbook recently and used that recipe, cutting it in half and dividing the batter in the 4 pans. Wrapped in foil and bathed in water, off to the oven it went.

The recipe I normally use for carrot cake requires a can of crushed pineapple and I didn’t have any on hand so I used a different recipe. It was simple, but I started worrying about cooling time. The cheesecakes came out after about 40 minutes when the temperature probe read 190F. Overdone, but praying they’d be okay. I put them in an ice bath for 10 minutes and then into the freezer. They deflated since coming out of the oven. Uh oh.

When the carrot cake was done, that needed to go straight into the freezer as well. I’ve decided I need a blast chiller. Trying to find space for 4 mini cheesecakes and an 8″ square carrot cake was nearly impossible. I moved the cheesecakes to the fridge and made the frosting with champagne while everything was cooling.

Then doubt started setting in. Will the cheesecakes be okay? How much time do I have left? Is 30 minutes enough to remake cheesecake? The answer is no, but I tried anyways.

With 8 minutes left and the remade cheesecake still in the oven, I had to go with the original. I used a biscuit cutter the closest in size to the cheesecakes that I could find and cut out 4 round pieces of cake. Topped each one with a cheesecake disc, and piped on the frosting. Using leftover frosting colored orange and green, I piped on a little carrot.

Time was up. It wasn’t as pretty as I envisioned. It didn’t scream holiday. But the cheesecake that stuck to the molds was good so I was optimistic.

Over at my mom’s kitchen, she made a festive buche de noel with a carrot cake sponge, champagne cream cheese frosting for filling, and brown sugar meringue to cover. She candied some carrots to go in the cake. She finished with 18 minutes to spare. Basically, she came to play.

My mom brought over her beautifully festive dessert for the “judges” to taste. After some deliberation on how judging would work and neither one of us able to decide, I took a large piece of her cake and one of my rounds over to a neighborhood family of four for impartial judging. They didn’t know who made which, and I sent them pics of each completed dessert.

Appearance – 4 votes for Yule log.

Icing – 2 for Yule log, 2 for cheesecake round.

Carrot cake – 3 for cheesecake round, 1 for Yule log

Overall best in show – cheesecake round just edging out the Yule log.

I know it was a tough call. Mom is a strong competitor. I’m hoping there is one more team challenge this season where we get to bake together.


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This week was all about the pie. How should we start? With the good or the bad?

The preheat/the good. Two hours to bake holiday cookie topped mini pies. The options were: cherry, blackberry, cookie butter, butterscotch, pecan, chess, peppermint, peanut butter, and coconut custard. By random drawing, I got butterscotch. Yum!

I got to work on the dough so it could be refrigerated while I worked on the butterscotch filling. Timing should be decent since mini pies would bake and cool a lot faster and I have a 4-count mini pie pan (first time using it).

It took about 45 minutes to make the dough, the filling, the meringue, and blind bake the pie crust, before popping everything in the oven for 15 minutes to brown. As soon as it was done, I cleared some room in the freezer to rapidly chill it.

While it was baking, I made a speculoos cookie dough that I figured would go well with the pie. I used small fondant cutters to cut the dough out for a winter scene.

Time was getting tight and I only had about 8 minutes to paint my easy cookie glaze on the cookies. With a minute to go, I removed the pies from the baking pan and topped the meringue with the cookies. The cookies didn’t want to stay standing up so I did have to fix them after time ran out for a photo. They looked really cute and tasted good, though I think I might have put too much salt in the butterscotch filling. Overall, I would say it was a success.

Now the main heat, on the other hand, posed some challenges. The pie type selection was lattice, slab, double crust, cream, and custard. The fillings were cranberry and almond, butternut squash and maple, chestnut and chocolate, pumpkin and cider, bourbon and pear, apple and fennel, apple and raisin, sweet potato and pecan. and sweet potato with chai. I randomly drew cream pie with apple and raisin.

Apple cream pie? Sounded odd. My idea was to have the texture of bread pudding and top with whipped cream. Well, it all fell apart then.

Two hours were allotted in this bake. And the twist was to add eggnog somewhere in the pie. I made the dough in my food processor and substituted some of the water for calvados (which is so good in baking). I peeled, cored, and chopped up 5 apples for the filling, adding some sugar, more calvados, cinnamon, and raisins. Then I put milk, eggnog, heavy cream, cornstarch, and sugar in a pot, heated that up, and added egg yolks. I obviously got a pastry cream out of it, but I thought if I poured it over the apples in the pie crust and baked it, it would incorporate into the apple layer. It never did. It baked the pastry cream on top which actually tastes pretty good, but I’m not sure it counts as a cream pie.

I threw the pie in the freezer as long as I could and made little snowman features out of white modeling chocolate. Also made a vanilla whipped cream.

When it was down to 6 minutes left, I piped the whipped cream on the pie like a snowman, added the features, and snapped a picture. Back in the freezer it went. Checked on it a few minutes after time was up and the whipped cream was sliding off the pie and onto the contents below it in the freezer. That’s what happens to snowmen in Phoenix, AZ. That’s what happens when you bake a pie and try to put whipped cream on it all in 2 hours time.

I’m pretty sure I would have been eliminated this week. The main heat was a mess and the apples should have been precooked. They were still way too crunchy. Lesson learned. See you next week.

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The challenges this week were nuts! Well, at least the preheat was. Two hours to make a nut or seed dessert and it can’t be a pie. The options were: walnut, macadamia nut, pine nut, poppy seed, pistachio, sunflower seed, sesame seed, pumpkin seed, almond, and hazelnut. As always, I drew out of fairness and pulled “macadamia nut.”

What a relief! I have no clue what I would have done with the seed options. But my idea for macadamia nut was to deconstruct a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie. I would need several components; macadamia nut sable cookie base, white chocolate mousse, and mirror glaze.

The idea was there, the execution fell flat. My mousse didn’t set the way I thought it would, so when I tried to turn it out from my dome shaped molds, I had to spoon it out smooth it as much as I could. The cookies were fine and they acted as the bottom crust. The mirror glaze was probably too thick going on and I still didn’t buy more red food coloring so I used a really old gel coloring I had that was probably 10 years too old.

The taste was actually pretty good. But the presentation . . . horrible!

Next challenge, the main heat: Two hours to make either a key lime pie, icebox cake, fruit tart, lemon meringue pie, or ice cream cake. And they need to have either dried fruits, holiday spices, or holiday spirits in them. And the twist? Incorporate mango.

Drew my “poison” and it was lemon meringue pie with holiday spirits. Yikes! And mango? I hate mango!

Here was my game plan. Brandy tends to go well with citrus. So I would add brandy to the pie dough and the lemon curd, fold some eggnog into the meringue, and drizzle the top with a mango eggnog puree.

The clock was set. Pots and pans clanked around the kitchen as I baked at the speed of light. I substituted 1/3 of the water content in the lemon curd with brandy. I folded in a generous portion of eggnog into the meringue. The meringue didn’t quite hold its shape. The mango puree got a generous portion of eggnog as well just to sweeten it up. I poured it through a mesh strainer to get it nice and smooth, then drizzled it on the pie. Not very festive. With leftover pie dough, I added some lemon zest, rolled it out, and cut it with snowflake cookie cutters. Sprinkled sanding sugar on top and baked. There, three snowflakes to top it with.

The pie had a nice lemon flavor but I really couldn’t tell there was brandy in it. The eggnog was subtle and could only really be tasted if you ate the mango puree and meringue separate from the lemon curd.

Overall, week 2 was rough. Both desserts looked sloppy. Here’s to a better week ahead!

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Hi all! I’m back and baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship again. This will be my 3rd time doing it. And why am I baking along? To challenge myself under time constraints and learn some new skills. So let’s get into it!

If you missed week one on Food Network, the preheat was to make a quick bread wreath in 2 hours. The six options of flavors were: chocolate orange, citrus ginger, cranberry orange, spiced pear, maple pecan, and apple cinnamon. Out of fairness, I randomly drew my flavor and got . . . cranberry orange!

I have a cranberry orange bread recipe that is my favorite. But I want to challenge myself with baking new things and not be so tied to a recipe, so I had the recipe out for a quick glance and threw a bunch of ingredients in the mixer to see what happened.

I was pleased to see that the bread came out of the oven looking well risen and smelling of spices and brown sugar. It took very little time to prepare and bake. While it baked, I made a cranberry jelly, melted some butterscotch chips, and made cranberry butterscotch “bells” for decoration. I took some green colored white modeling chocolate and made holly leaves. And I also whisked up an orange glaze.

My error in this preheat was to not cool the bread enough before decorating. The holly melted and I had to add some more before time was up.

Speaking of time, 2 hours was way too much. I spent half the time twiddling my thumbs and washing dishes. Overall, this really only took me about 70 minutes. I must admit that though the bread was good, it made me think of an upside down cake. And the “bells” were not good. I should have used the peanut butter chips and had pb&j bells.

For the main heat, 2.5 hours were allotted to make a winter hat cake. I don’t have any. So I looked on Amazon for inspiration. Found one!

My cold weather inspiration for this cake was from when I worked at the zoo over the holidays for Zoolights. This was almost 20 years ago. But there would be some chilly nights and I warmed up with vanilla chai tea lattes. So good! Therefore, I decided to bake a vanilla chai sponge cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream.

The cake and frosting used 10 eggs! I’m definitely going to have to keep my baking stock up this season. For the chai adaption, I emptied the leaves of a chai teabag into the batter. I also made a simple syrup and steeped another teabag in that.

While the cakes baked, I made the buttercream. I normally use American buttercream but I had egg whites left over from the cake and did Swiss meringue. After adding 3 sticks of butter to it, I decided to omit the last stick that the recipe called for. That’s why I normally don’t make this type of buttercream. So.Much.Butter!

The decoration started 90 minutes into the challenge. I filled some piping bags with white, red, and gray buttercream. I ran out of red food coloring (must get more), so it was more pink in color. Then I piped to try and resemble a knitted pattern. I had baked a cupcake for the top poof. With about 15 minutes left in the challenge, I piped my name on it for the embroidered name twist.

I was done. There was nothing more I wanted to do to it. I loved it. I had 10 minutes left on the timer.

So I think I did a very good job on week one. I managed to do both challenges with time leftover. I’m sure not every week will go this smoothly. But pumped up from these bakes, I’m looking forward to week two.

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