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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

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.

~Kelly

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I have one word for my bakes this week: abysmal. Several other, equally horrible, words were said while the baking was going on. Let me explain.

The preheat was to make a holiday trifle with three distinct layers (jam or jelly, cream or custard, cookies or cake) in 90 minutes. Sounds easy enough. But the flavor options were pistachio, peppermint, cinnamon, coffee, and gingerbread. Guess which one I drew? The dreaded peppermint. Yuck!

I came up with a game plan. White rum cake with peppermint cream and blackberry jam. Like a holiday mojito. It all started well. I made a basic cake on a cookie sheet so I could cut it for the trifle. I added a good bit of rum and a dash of peppermint extract, because though I may hate it, it still needed to taste like peppermint.

I made the blackberry jam on the stove with some sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch (I should invest in pectin), and a few drops of peppermint extract. Stuck that in the freezer and then made a sweetened whipped cream with a couple more drops of the extract. I hoped that a small amount of peppermint in everything would give it the taste without being overpowering.

Here’s when everything went to shit. I bought 2 pounds of isomalt to make some red and white sugar ribbons. Festive and looks like a peppermint candy cane! Well, what I ended up with were slightly burnt fingers, a cleaning nightmare, and a few very short red sugar curls. The isomalt hardened so fast and I tried to reheat it in the microwave several times. I’ve done pulled sugar once or twice but never with isomalt. I always make my own because isomalt is so expensive. I wore doubled up latex gloves and they weren’t enough to protect from heat. It was a disaster. I had 30 minutes to assemble and do the decorations but instead, I spent 28 minute fumbling with sugar and 2 minutes to throw it all together. AND I was listening to the Script.

I had hoped the main heat would go better. Two hours to make a charlotte royale fit for Santa. I drew my flavor from the choices: raspberry, ginger, praline, chocolate, and pumpkin. Oh boy . . . raspberry. And another trip to the grocery.

The first thing I did was whip up a jelly roll cake. I was going simple. Vanilla flavored but colored green.

Then I started the bavarois on the stove. It’s basically a custard thickened with gelatin and lightened with whipped cream. I added pureed and strained raspberries to it. I didn’t trust the recipe I used so I doubled the amount of gelatin. Have I mentioned before how I’m grossed out by gelatin? It wasn’t thickening at all so I really hoped it would work. I put it on an ice bath and whipped some cream. When I went back to the custard, it was pretty firm. Maybe too firm. It was cold now so I folded in the whipped cream and stuck it in the freezer.

I was running short on time. The cake wasn’t even assembled yet. I made an American buttercream with more pureed and strained raspberries. It wasn’t very thick but I didn’t want to add more powdered sugar. Plus, I ran out of powdered sugar anyways. It wasn’t until after I assembled the 4-layer cake that I realized it was way too tall. Ugh! I should have listened to my gut and made the cake in a bigger sheet tray. Or at least split it into 2 layers. This was not going to work. I had seen some pictures of geometric charlotte royales that I was aiming for. Instead, cake got thrown this way and that into a bowl and I scooped out the bavarois from the freezer into the middle. I didn’t even have enough cake left to cover the top which would become the bottom when inverted.

I had 9 minutes left to make the twist: a baked element resembling a holly leaf. I wasted one of those minutes cursing my nonexistent baking skills, then made what was supposed to be a shortbread dough. Great. 4 minutes to bake. Yeah, it wasn’t going to happen. I tried, obviously. But the holly didn’t make it on the trainwreck of a charlotte royale.

I washed dishes, scrubbed the counters, and decided I was a shitty baker and can’t do anything right. But alas, I am not a quitter so I will be back for the final week. Pray for me.

P.S. I still haven’t tasted either dessert. I’m not sure I want to.

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Another turbulent week in the bag. The last couple weeks wore me down and I felt it on these bakes. Note to self: play the Script while baking. Can’t help but get pumped up when listening to Hall of Fame, Superheroes, and many of their other anthemic songs.

This week’s preheat brought back the team challenge, which brought back my teammate; Mom. The challenge was to bake a dessert inspired by sufganiyot (jelly doughnut) in 90 minutes. It must consist of a fried dough component and a jelly component. After some consideration, we decided to make blueberry jelly and cream cheese filled cannolis.

I got to work on the dough while Mom stationed herself at the stove making jelly. We didn’t have too many blueberries, so there was no room for error. She got the berries heating with some sugar and lemon juice, then used the immersion blender to smooth it out. Once thickened with a little cornstarch, in the freezer that went and she started making the cream cheese frosting.

The cannoli dough didn’t take much time to make. I added some lemon zest figuring that would complement the blueberry filling. Rolling it out was a breeze with my heavy marble rolling pin. The frying, on the otherhand, was a pain. I have the metal tubes to wrap the dough around, but even after greasing with oil, the shells kept sticking after frying in my mini fryer. And I burned my fingers trying to pry them off. Mom got to hear a lot of expletives coming out of my mouth.

Meanwhile, Mom was finishing the frosting. She added more powdered sugar to sweeten it up and it became very runny. So she added some meringue powder to help it out and stuck it in the freezer. Then she was able to help me with the cannoli shells. I think she must have put more oil on the tubes because the shells became easier to remove.

Time was looking pretty good. About 18 minutes to dip the ends in white chocolate and cover with blue sprinkles, then fill. I think Mom forgot about some of the urgency in this challenge because she dipped the shells and left them on the counter. When I finally noticed, there was only 5 minutes left and the chocolate was still wet and messy. I threw those in the fridge and then tried to resolve the filling issues. The jelly set pretty nicely though still slightly warm. The cream cheese frosting was too runny. I tried to put the two in a piping bag so I could have a stripe of jelly and a stripe of frosting in each cannoli, but it didn’t work. So I folded the two into eachother and that just made it runnier. What a disaster!

There was no saving it at this point. I grabbed the shells out of the fridge, filled them with the oozing concoction, and put them on the plate for pictures. They were a mess and we didn’t even eat one. The cream cheese overpowered the jelly. It was a failure. Mom and I sat down and had a glass of white wine I had opened for the cannoli shells.

I tried to mentally prepare myself for the main heat the next day. Two hours to make an upside down cake decorated for the holidays. Out of the options: fig and holiday lights, plum and tree ornaments, pear and Christmas star, blood orange and poinsettia, cranberry and holiday presents, and apple and fall leaves, I drew the apple. Well good, no need to run to the store.

The bake started by peeling and coring a couple of gala apples, slicing them into rings, and putting them in a skillet to warm with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar.

I used a cake recipe I had torn out of a magazine. It was for a pear and maple upside down cake. I thought the maple might be nice with the apples, and I substituted the white sugar for brown. I also added the twist ingredient, rosemary, finely chopped, into the batter. The batter seemed super thick, but I didn’t want to mess with the recipe too much.

I stuck a piece of parchment in a 9″ cake pan, added some melted butter and brown sugar, then arranged the apple slices neatly on the bottom, which would become the top. Then I spread the cake batter over it all and got it baking.

My fall leaves for decoration were going to be colored tuiles. That batter is very easy. Lots of melted butter, sugar, flour. and egg whites. I also added some rosemary and lemon zest to tie it all together. Tuile cookies have to be watched like a hawk. They only take a few minutes to bake and 30 extra seconds will take it from baked to burnt. I had a couple darker ones, but most of them were perfect. Out of the oven, they must be molded immediately. I just pushed them into a cupcake tin for dimension.

Things seemed to be going well. Then I looked at my cake. It domed quite a bit in the center. A toothpick inserted told me it was done much earlier than my timer was set for. Great! It seemed dry. Quick! Make a simple syrup infused with rosemary and pour it on the cake before inverting on a plate.

After allowing the simple syrup to soak in, I inverted it and shoved it in the freezer. My idea was to take some white modeling chocolate and make a rake and apple filled basket for decoration. The modeling chocolate was becoming increasingly oily and I didn’t grab powdered sugar to help. So the decorations were not very refined. With 2 minutes left, I grabbed the cake, piled the tuile leaves on top, and found places to put the basket and rake. The rake was clunky and didn’t hold shape. If I had used something like a thick pretzel stick to mold the chocolate around, that would have been better.

I just felt defeated. It looked okay. I liked the leaves. But I really wasn’t sure about the taste. After dinner, we cut into it. It was a little dry, but not terrible. It needed more caramel and apple goodness on top. The cake almost had a pumpkin bread texture and taste to it. So strange. Does maple and rosemary make pumpkin??

Next week will be better . . . next week will be better . . . I think I can, I think I can . . . “Standing in the hall of fame. And the world’s gonna know your name.”

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Well, I did it again. I had to bake the preheat and main heat in the same day. Brutal! But I spent a few days up north this week and time got away from me. I said it last week, but never again. So many dishes.

This weeks preheat was to bake a dessert of my choice using the chocolate I randomly drew. Out of blond, white, milk, and dark, I got milk chocolate. The dessert also had to contain a hidden surprise or unexpected flavor. 90 minutes were allotted.

After some thought, I decided to try ice cream sandwiches in 90 minutes. Milk chocolate cookies with a milk chocolate and Guinness ice cream. The ice cream recipe is courtesy of David Leibovitz.

I knew time could be an issue. I don’t have a commercial ice cream maker. What I used is a soft serve maker as the bowl is smaller than my other one and can freeze quicker. Still, I would need to make the ice cream as fast as possible and get it churning so hopefully it’d have some time to set in the freezer.

David’s recipe is simple, but effective. Most times when I make a custard base, I refrigerate it overnight before churning. But the ice bath did cool it down pretty well so I got it in the maker after about 20 minutes.

While it was churning, I made the chocolate sandwich cookie off King Arthur Flour, substituting some of the cocoa powder for melted milk chocolate. It baked beautifully and I could tell it would hold the ice cream together and not freeze to become rock hard. I cut out a couple different sizes of rounds to see what worked best. And I got some muffin tins ready and lined with plastic wrap to fill with the ice cream and freeze as long as it could.

The ice cream was taking too long. I know I should have used my other maker which freezes it in usually 23 minutes, but I didn’t have time to freeze that bowl. I had to start getting some of the ice cream in tins and in the freezer while the rest kept churning. But it got to a point where I knew I would have no more time and just had to get all of it in the muffin tins.

After a trial with the first tin of ice cream I put in the freezer, I realized it was not set up enough. It was going to come down to the wire. I put some sprinkles in a bowl and made sure everything was ready so I could assemble in the last couple minutes.

Go time! The ice cream was a little more set but still soft. I put the discs between two sandwich cookies and rolled them in the sprinkles. When time ran out, the four I plated for pictures had the consistency of soft serve. They met the challenge but I was really wishing I had a blast chiller. I left the rest of the ice cream in the freezer and assembled later when they were a little more set.

The overall outcome was good. I like the ice cream. The cookies aren’t as chocolaty as I would have liked but paired fine with the chocolate ice cream.

Counters scrubbed and dishes washed, it was time for round two, otherwise known as the main heat. This I had been dreading all week. Two hours to make a 3-in-1 cheesecake with 3 different decorations to show the flavors, 2 of which had to be baked from scratch. The dessert could not contain chocolate, as declared by the winner of the preheat.

How the hell was I going to make this happen in 2 hours?

Thinking it through, I knew the cheesecake would have to get baking ASAP. The three flavors I decided to do was pumpkin, strawberry, and maple bourbon pecan. But while getting ingredients out, I realized I was out of pumpkin. The last minute substitution would be apple cider raisin.

Once the clock started, I got to work on the apples. One thing I learned a few weeks ago in the apple raisin pie challenge was that I wanted to cook the apples first to soften them. I peeled and chopped 2 apples and got them cooking in a saucepan with apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. The cheesecake base was blending slowly in the mixer while I composed the maple bourbon pecan portion. I made it similar to a pecan pie filling that I would just fold into the cheesecake. I purposefully left out a little sugar in the cheesecake base since this filling and the apple filling had additional sugar. When I portioned out the cheesecake in threes, I added a little more sugar to the one I was mixing frozen strawberries in.

My apple filling had cooked down a good bit and most of the liquid reduced. So I folded that into one of the cheesecake portions. I did the same for the maple bourbon and pecan. The strawberry portion was easiest because I just cut up the strawberries and mixed them in.

I put a square piece of parchment on the bottom of a 9″ square brownie pan. Then I mixed graham cracker crumbs and butter together, pressing it in the pan. Holding some graham crackers in place as dividers, I slowly poured each cheesecake mixture in the sections. Only a little bit of batter seeped into the other sections so I was pleased by that. I put the pan in a large roasting pan to get a water bath going, and in to the oven it went. Only an hour and 15 minutes were left.

For the decorations, I figured I could whip up a small batch of macarons in the shape of strawberries and fill with strawberry jam. Making a small recipe gave me some trouble and I think I had too much egg white. Alas, I went with it and got those baking.

I did not want to peel and chop more apples so that decoration would just be modeling chocolate apples.

Next up was maple bourbon pecan butter cookies. Again, portions were tough. I made enough dough for 5 cookies. It’s hard doing these challenges as home because I don’t want to go through a ton of ingredients. And I certainly don’t want to eat 2 dozen cookies and a whole cheesecake myself. I’ve given some of these bakes away to family and neighbors, but some have just gone in the trash. And my boyfriend can’t eat cheese so any dessert with cream cheese is a no for him.

Back to the challenge, despite my feeling that the cheesecake was too wobbly, the temperature probe was above 150F so I took it out and got it in an ice bath. I felt like this would cool it down better than the freezer. I only had 30 minutes left in the challenge.

As time was ticking by, it became obvious that it was under baked and not going to set enough to remove from the pan. I tried nonetheless. but quickly had to turn it back into the pan. There was nothing I could do. I would not finish in time. Rather than throw the cookies and modeling chocolate apples on top before time ran out, I bagged the decorations and put the underbaked cheesecake in the fridge. I would decorate it the next day after it set so it wasn’t completely destroyed. Strangely enough, the wetter, outside cheesecakes were seemingly set. It was the strawberry cheesecake that was the problem.

So the main heat was a total failure. Even my macarons weren’t right. But again, that’s just because I tried to make a tiny portion. I also realized after the challenge that the cheesecakes the bakers made on the show were pretty short. Duh! Less batter would cook and cool faster. I loaded up my baking pan with batter and there was just no way it would be done and set in 2 hours. My dread for this challenge was justified. I think that means I’m due for a successful week. Bring it on week 6.

After resting in the fridge overnight, I unmolded and decorated the cheesecake as I originally wanted to do. Though still a bit soft, the flavors were fantastic.

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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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I’m back! . . . in all senses.  Back from France, and back in the “rat house.”  It’s amazing that we spent almost 2 months (7 weeks, to be exact) away from our house and all our belongings because of some stupid little rodents.  And to think, our landlord said we’d be back in shortly after Thanksgiving.

Anyways, I’m sorry for posting this so late after the Holiday Baking Championship ended, but I didn’t want to dive into 6.5 hours of baking until my kitchen was available and thoroughly cleaned.  With all my supplies out and ready to go, it was time for the preheat.

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For this challenge, the bakers were given 90 minutes to make one sweet and one savory snack for Santa’s overlooked friends.  In the nature of the competition, I wrote down the 3 subjects (reindeer, polar bear, and penguin) and blindly drew.  Of course, I got polar bear which was the one I was completely unprepared for.  After a quick minute of brainstorming, I came up with Coca Cola cupcakes (who doesn’t remember that polar bear??) and comforting mac n’ cheese.

The first thing I did was put some coca cola in a saucepan and got it simmering.  Then I started on the cupcakes so they would have time to bake and cool before frosting.  I made a cocoa batter adding about a cup and a half of cola.  Took about 20 minutes until they were ready for baking.

Then I got some water boiling and started grating cheese.  In another saucepan, I melted the cheese with some milk, salt and pepper, cream cheese, onion, and jalapeños.  Boiled up some pasta, drained it, and mixed with the cheese, scooped into ramekins and in the oven as the cupcakes came out.

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All the while, I was swirling and keeping an eye on the simmering soda.  It was starting to reduce and thicken, but still not quite enough.  The cupcakes had a lovely dome, so I guess the cola didn’t affect the leavening process.  I got those in the freezer for a quick cool down and started on the frosting.  I made the ol’ standard, American vanilla buttercream, adding just a little bit of soda.  Checked back on the reduced soda which was starting to smoke and smell a little burned.  I took it off the stove and set it aside to cool slightly.  Well cool it did, and harden.  I guess I boiled it to hard ball stage.  It was not usable.

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I was able to start assembling the cupcakes with 15 minutes left.  After frosting them, they just looked kind of boring.  I didn’t have cola gummy candies, but I still had lots of holiday sprinkles.  So I sprinkled those on.  Drizzled a little bit of cola over the tops, and they were ready to go.

The mac ‘n cheese was bubbling away.  It was left in the oven until the very last minute.  I realize now that they probably don’t qualify as a baked item.  But in my haste, since it goes in the oven for 30 minutes, I was thinking it would count.  Oh well, I like mac ‘n cheese and I think polar bears would too.

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The main heat was to create a North Pole inspired cake in 5 hours.  The three options were: elves in the workshop, snowman family Christmas, and Santa’s sleigh ride.  I did not choose this one at random because I wanted the cake to be multi-purpose and work for a family belated birthday gathering.  My aunt celebrated a big birthday while we were in France and we were celebrating late.  I chose to make the elves cake so I could turn all the little elves into my family members.  I set the timer and got to work.

This was going to be a big cake so I wanted 2 flavors.  My aunt doesn’t like nuts, my boyfriend doesn’t like coconut, so I kept it neutral and made a white cake with Christmas sprinkles mixed in the batter, and a moist chocolate cake.  Vanilla frosting would go with both, but I’d need a lot of it, so I settled on swiss meringue buttercream.  The cake batters took about 40 minutes to make and divide into 4 pans.  While they were baking, I made the buttercream.  Whoa that’s a lot of butter!  But a very nice consistency for spreading.

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I had pre-made white modeling chocolate so while the cakes cooled, I started on my elves. That is, until I got a message from my mom that our birthday gathering would be postponed until a week later.  This cake was not saving that long!  Making elves that look like us would take a lot of time, probably more than what I had to work with, so I redesigned the cake and made the elves normal looking.  Also scrapped the idea of the workshop being decorated for a birthday and the elves holding a birthday cake.  They would now be working on making Christmas presents, like elves do.

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I wanted to have the cake assembled early so I could put decorations on it.  So I put aside making the elves and rolled out a strip of modeling chocolate colored brown to look like a wood floor.  The cakes were sufficiently cooled at this point so I split the small 7 inch cakes and frosted them.  The 10 inch bottom tier was shorter (on purpose) so I didn’t split the cake into layers.  The white cake would have been fine because it was pretty dense, but the chocolate cake would have fallen apart had I split that one.

I stacked the cakes how I wanted them and added the wood floor.  I took time cutting the modeling chocolate to fit the space I needed but it probably would have been quicker to cover the top of the bottom tier with the “wood floor” and then plop the top tier over it.  Oh well, this is a learning experience, after all.

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With the cake assembled, I was starting to feel a little better.  Then I realized I was down to about 45 minutes and still had to make 2 complete elves (except the heads I made earlier), a table, some presents, and other little embellishments.  Powdered sugar was flying, it was craziness!  The elves lost a lot of details I had wanted to do.  But I had to get them done as the theme to this cake was Elves in the Workshop.  I only had time to make one little present out of modeling chocolate.  The table I made was sagging.  But I threw as much as I could on the cake before the time ran out.

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I wish I had even just one extra hour for some of the other little details I had wanted to do. But it goes to show you how fast 5 hours really is.  One thing I wish I had done was put dowels in the bottom tier because the weight of the top tier pressed down on the bottom.  But I didn’t have any dowels.  Overall, I was happy with the final result.  I love working with modeling chocolate and though I’m not an artist or sculptor, I can usually make things recognizable.  Fondant might be easier to use, but I really don’t like it.

If my calculations are correct, that would wrap up 17 hours and 45 minutes of baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship.  It was fun.  Some challenges were more successful than others, and I got to try new things.  I’ll keep practicing and maybe I’ll give it another go during the Spring Baking Championship.  Thanks for following along!

 

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I am beat! My parents and I got into France 2 days ago. And last night, jet lag got the best of me and I was wide awake at 3:00 am. Powered through the day and decided to complete the weekly baking tasks from the Holiday Baking Championship.

A trip to the grocery and $400 later, I was ready to go. We are staying in a house that belongs to my sister’s coworker, which is incredibly nice of her and her husband. However, she does not have many baking ingredients or tools.  The grocery wasn’t easy since some American ingredients don’t exist here. I had to keep it simple this week because of that fact and also wishing not to spend any more money.  Due to timing and coordinating with dinner, I made the main heat first and whipped up the preheat after.

The main heat was a Croqembouche, or stacked cream puffs to resemble a Christmas tree.  How very French!  I went with a classic profiterole recipe with lightened pastry cream.

The first challenge was not having any measuring cups. I found a disposible mini tart pan that looked close to a cup measure and used that.  I weighed the butter and used google to convert tablespoons to grams.  The dough turned out great, to my surprise.  Measurements successful!  I dropped spoonfuls on the only cookie sheet I could find and got it baking.

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Then I made pastry cream.  It turned out quite light in color, I suspect I didn’t use enough egg yolks. In the freezer it went for a quick cool down.  I didn’t think the cream would be enough to fill all the puffs so I made some whipped cream and folded it in.

Got the  pâte à choux out of the oven and stuck that in the freezer to cool.  Meanwhile, I melted a bar of chocolate on the stove which would be my base for putting it all together. Also found a star cookie cutter and used that as a mold for chocolate since the twist was to add a star topper.  Good thing there is a lot of freezer space here so that had time to set up as well.

With 15 minutes to go on the 2 hour challenge, I started filling puffs and stacking.  This is where I got most frustrated. There were no bags to be found.  I’ve never made a piping bag out of parchment paper and one YouTube video was unsuccessful in teaching me.  I didn’t have time to try again, so I split the puffs and spooned cream in the center.  Drizzled the chocolate around the puffs to get them to stick to each other while stacking.

I made a mad dash to the other room to retrieve the pièce de résistance, the star, unmolded it, and practically threw it on the tree at the buzzer.

My tree was a bit rough.  But given the circumstances, it was a miracle I produced what I did.  Tasted pretty good too.

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After dinner, I got started on the preheat; 1 hour to make a dessert in the shape of a stocking.  Once again using pretty basic ingredients, I settled upon making Millionaire Shortbread Bars.

Unable to find a pastry cutter or masher, I used my fingers to cut the butter into flour and sugar for the base.  Found a ceramic pan and got that baking.  Back to the stove to make a luscious caramel and also melt more chocolate.  Once the base was done, I spread the caramel on top and stuck in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Then I spread the chocolate over the caramel and back in the freezer it went.  It didn’t take long to realize that I wouldn’t finish in an hour.  I feel relatively confident that if I had a metal baking dish, it would have worked.  But the ceramic wouldn’t cool down in time making it impossible to cut the stockings out.  I lightly scored the stocking pattern on the chocolate and added the decorations that I could find.  After leaving them in the freezer for another hour, they were impossible to cut.  I got one out for a picture but will cut the others tomorrow.

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I am about 90% sure that next weeks final challenge will have to wait until I’m back home and in my own kitchen.  It’s crazy that I’ve completed half of these in other people’s kitchens.  But I would like the last one to be well executed and I’ll need all the equipment I can get.  Hopefully when I get back in 10-12 days our house will be done with all the repairs.

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Well I’m desperately grasping onto whatever holiday cheer I can grab at this point.  It has been 3 weeks since we’ve been displaced to hotels and Airbnb’s.  The roof rats have been taken care of (I hope), the plumbing has been fixed, but there are still holes throughout the entire house, no insulation, and no hope of moving forward with repairs until our landlord hears from his insurance.  It is beyond frustrating.  But I managed to keep the baking challenges going from my parents house, once again.

In case you’re not following along to the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, week 5 was a fun one.  The preheat: ugly holiday sweater inspired desserts.  I LOVE holiday sweaters!  I now own 7 of them, some of which light up.  For this challenge, I decided to make my mom’s favorite Christmas cookie, chocolate chip shortbread, and decorate them as ugly holiday ties, because those are just as fun as ugly holiday sweaters!

The bakers were given 1 hour to complete their desserts.  The cookies take approximately 9 minutes to bake.  Add in the time it takes to make the dough, roll it out, and cut out shapes with a knife (I don’t own a tie cookie cutter), I figured I would have about 25-30 minutes to decorate.

The dough is simple.  These are a variation of shortbread cookies, so you basically just combine lots of butter, sugar, and flour together, mix in mini chocolate chips, and you’re good to go.  This dough rolls out perfectly between wax paper.  I was even able to cut my ties pretty uniformly considering I was doing it by hand.  While they were baking, I got all of my decorating tools ready.  I was using melted chocolate to coat the ties and an easy icing of powdered sugar, milk, and corn syrup that could be colored and put in ziplock bags to pipe out designs.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, I gave them very little time to cool.  Afterall, the first step was to spread on warm chocolate so I didn’t think it would matter much.  The icing didn’t contain butter, so wouldn’t be too affected by heat either.  I piped on some snowmen and pandas (inspired by one of my sweaters but looked more like polar bears or dogs), and dotted green and red icing all over.  No problem completing on time.  I would say the ties turned out more cute than ugly, just like my sweaters!

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Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make an edible box filled with baked treats.  The twist this time was to incorporate popcorn.  I thought a lot about this one.  I didn’t want to make a gingerbread box since I’ve made gingerbread already.  I settled on good ol’ white chocolate.  Some may find it boring, but it hardens fast.  With that settled, the rest just seemed to come together.

I love decorating Christmas trees.  We bought one for our house (always real because they smell and look so good), but it’s still sitting in the wrapping since we’re not there.  Determined to not let it get me down, I went out and bought another little 4 foot tree which is now decorated in the Airbnb.  My tree topper is a star.  Lightbulb!  I would make a star box to look like a tree topper and fill it with cake ball ornaments.

With the timer set, the first thing I made was a white cake batter and divided the dough so I could color half red and half green.  Those were in the oven in 20 minutes.  During the bake time, I made a vanilla American buttercream to mix into the cake crumbles.  The cake would need to cool so I had some time before I could make the cake balls.

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The popcorn twist kind of threw me.  The contestants were given already popped popcorn.  I had to spend extra time popping it with my mom’s hot air popper.  Then I wanted to make caramel corn and treat the pieces as the little golden tops on glass ornaments.  I made the caramel sauce but it smelled a little burnt.  It would still be okay, I’ll just toss it around with the popcorn and get that in the oven on low heat while I started making the white chocolate star.

My mom has an aluminum star pan that I traced out on wax paper.  I wanted sharper lines so I got a ruler out and fixed the design.  Then I started piping the chocolate out.  I wanted this box to be see through so you could see the ornaments inside.  I achieved that by cross-hatching.  The piped chocolate was already starting to firm up but I still put it in the freezer to set up.

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The cake was cooled by now so I mixed in the frosting and formed the balls.  In my original idea, I was going to make half of each ball red and the other half green, but I was running out of time.  I didn’t even have time to make a nice poured fondant like I wanted and had to settle on a powdered sugar/milk mixture to pour over.  I attached the popcorn tops, but the taste test proved that the caramel was indeed burnt.

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Running out of time, I frantically started assembling the star box.  Melted extra white chocolate to hold it all together, but I realized the 3 inch sides were too long and I had to try and offset them so it didn’t fall apart.  The alarm went off and I still had to throw the cake ball ornaments in and close up the top.  That only took a couple of minutes.  I was frustrated that I didn’t finish this challenge on time.  But also reminded myself that I had to take time to wash mixing bowls and pop popcorn which isn’t something the contestants have to do.

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Now to eat the creation.  I love sweet desserts but I thought the cake was too sweet.  The white chocolate complemented the flavor, but wasn’t super inventive.  The overall look to the dessert was quite impressive though so it wasn’t a complete failure.

Now for next week . . . I’m really hoping to get it done but I leave for France on Thursday, have to go through the rubble of my house (everything is sealed under plastic tarps) and somehow pack, and am not so sure my mom wants me frantically baking in her kitchen again.  I will try, but I might have to take a raincheck on the next 2 challenges until I get back in early January.  If that is the case, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!

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