Archive for December 31st, 2020

Whew! We made it! To the end of 2020! Oh, and also the last two bakes of the Holiday Baking Championship. This is the 3rd time I’ve baked along at home, and 2nd time I’ve finished. So without further ado . . .

The preheat was to make a holiday macaron tree with graduated tiers in 3 hours. Now this challenge I can get on board with. I make macarons fairly often and 3 hours is generous.

I decided to go with a peanut butter buttercream and chocolate ganache filling. Simple enough and should allow a good amount of time to decorate. I tripled my recipe for macaron shells and got to work.

The largest macarons I’ve made were probably about 4″ in diameter. The base of my tree is going to be 8″. I piped out a bunch of sizes on 3 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. My method for macarons is putting an extra cookie sheet underneath the sheet I’m baking the shells on. Ever since I started doing this, my macarons always have “feet.” When you’re doing macarons in a timed challenge though, you change things up slightly. I did not let the piped batter sit as long as I should have before they went in the oven. Because of that, some of the shells cracked. I also usually only bake one tray at a time. In my double oven, I did all three at once and rotated in the middle of the bake. The shells on the bottom rack didn’t bake as well. Those were the ones cracking.

I did a push test on them to check if they were done. When they didn’t jiggle, I brought them out to cool before carefully prying them off the parchment. For the largest ones, I took a long angled cake spatula to lift off. That’s when I realized the large ones were underbaked. I put that cookie sheet back in the oven. The cookie I tried to pry off could not be saved but I used it to measure doneness. It worked. The other large shell baked fine and could be used for the base of the tree.

During assembly, I tried to balance the peanut butter frosting with the chocolate ganache so it wouldn’t overpower the latter. My tree was tall. I didn’t measure it, but it was probably 14″ or so. I had a decent amount of time left to decorate it so I made royal icing to pipe around like Christmas lights.

The star on the tree was meant to be a royal icing star standing up but the icing didn’t set in time. So I put the smallest macaron on top and piped a star on each side. Time was up but I didn’t feel super rushed. Overall, it was good. But I was bummed about some of the cracks. I could have made more batter but honestly, I didn’t want to go through more ingredients.

Initial taste was “oh my, peanut butter!” But next bites were good and just tasted like a Reeses peanut butter cup. I liked the little bit of crunch from the royal icing and macaron shells.

For the main heat (and final challenge!), 5 hours were given to make a Christmas past, present, or future cake using marzipan, buttercream, or mirror glaze respectively. Like all the other challenges with options, I randomly drew. I gave each time period a number and had my boyfriend pick a number between 1 and 3. He picked 3 which was present – buttercream! Phew! I don’t know what I would have done if I got mirror glaze!

With the timer set, the first thing I started on was the cake batter. For this challenge, I really wanted time to decorate. So I kept the flavors simple. Yellow cake (doubled the recipe), with vanilla and chocolate swiss meringue buttercreams. My Kitchenaid mixer was huffing and puffing trying to mix all the batter together. At one point, I thought it might be on it’s last breath but it’s a tough mixer. I’m going to guess that I’ve had it for 14 years. Santa (boyfriend) gave me a new one for Christmas. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to my old friend.

The batter was split into a couple of 7″ cake rounds and a large cookie sheet. My idea was to have a square-ish tier decorated like a wrapped gift with a smaller round tier on top decorated with a Christmas tree and ornaments. I don’t have two square cake pans so I had to go with the cookie sheet that I would then cut into fours. I also wanted to tie this cake into my boyfriend’s birthday (December 30) with the same theme I used for his Christmas present. He hates the dual Christmas/birthday presents, but this year I spent a bit more than I normally would and told him it had to function for both events. I wrapped his gift in Christmas and birthday paper. So I was going to do the same with the bottom cake. It was serving a dual purpose: birthday cake and Holiday Baking Championship final bake.

With the cakes in the oven, I got started on the swiss meringue buttercream. I have to say, I prefer American buttercream. There’s something about 6 sticks of butter in your buttercream that kind of grosses me out. But swiss meringue buttercream spreads so smoothly and holds its shape so well, it was the best choice.

Once the cakes were done and cooled, I started to assemble. Both tiers were 4 layers each. The bottom tier had a layer of chocolate buttercream in the middle and the rest was vanilla. The top tier had a red and white vanilla buttercream in the middle and chocolate between the other layers.

I was left with about an hour and 15 minutes to frost the outsides and decorate. Sounded like enough time but I ran out of buttercream and had to whip up a fast American buttercream just to finish the outsides. I also had to chill the cakes as much as possible since some of the decorations would be painted on. You can’t really paint on room temperature swiss meringue buttercream.

For the gold “wrapping paper,” I mixed some gold luster dust into vodka and painted it on with a brush. The other side, I piped “Happy Birthday” several times. Then I went back to the top tier with a knife and spread the Christmas tree on with buttercream. I added some white to the branches for a snow effect.

Time was running out (as usual) so I mixed some food colors with vodka and painted the ornaments around the top tier. With gray colored buttercream, I piped on the ornament brackets.

I had two minutes left and the cakes weren’t even stacked. This is when I realized that my top tier extended out from the bottom tier on two of the sides. I didn’t have a 7″ cardboard round either so the 8″ round I used made it even more noticeable. My earlier idea was to pipe a red ribbon out of buttercream around the cardboard to hide it. But I was out of time. In the last minute, I snapped some chopsticks to size to support the upper tier, stacked the cake, and piped on the ugliest snowmen on the bottom tier.

It wasn’t as I had envisioned. The bottom cake was super sloppy. The top cake wasn’t too bad on its own. I snapped some pictures to put on this blog, then disassembled. The top tier is going with me tonight to a small New Year’s Eve gathering at a neighbors house, and the bottom tier was tidied up a little and customized to serve as my boyfriend’s birthday cake.

When we tasted the cake, I had forgot to set it out of the fridge before we went to dinner. Buttercream is best at room temperature. And the cake was a bit dense when still cold as well. I microwaved my piece for 15 seconds and it was better. Not the most creative in flavor, but acceptable.

There you have it. Holiday Baking Championship at Home finished! 34.5 hours of baking. Who knows how many hours of cleaning. It was rough and there is a lot I need to work on. Thanks for sticking with me and I’ll be back soon with more creative projects.



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