S2E10 (Pressure) – Six Layer Cake

After losing the last challenge, the blue team was put into a pressure test. They were given 2 hours to make a cake with a minimum of six layers, with the losing chef being sent home.

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Ben (Pumpkin Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting), Jennifer (Banana Split Cake) and Tracey (Chiffon Cake with Basil and Citrus) created the judges’ favorite layer cakes.

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And Suzy (Ganache and Pecan), Esther (Lemon Raspberry), Christine (Apricot Berry) were in the bottom three. While all of them had significant issues, Esther was the one sent home.

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I am not really a strong baker so I dreaded this challenge. I remember trying to make a layer cake one time when I was about ten for a family birthday. There was recipe in this Minnie Mouse children’s book that I thought I could make, but my attempt turned into a messy disaster. I’d like to say that this one worked out better but it most certainly did not.

I decided to make a miniature layer cake with layers of gingerbread and chocolate with stout and chocolate buttercream frosting. I used these recipes as guides:

The batter for both cakes turned out well but the disasters started as soon as they were put into the oven.

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When I checked the cakes around 30 minutes in, the chocolate cakes were overflowing into the oven. Luckily, the gingerbread cakes were working well, but even then, I knew that I was going to have some issues. When the cakes were baked all the way through, the gingerbread was still holding together great but the chocolate had sunken into the middle and looked like a dark brown brick. I probably should have stopped there and just stuck with the gingerbread but I was determined to see this one through.

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I let the cakes cool and made both of the buttercream frostings. Both turned out well so I was feeling like I could maybe still turn this one around. But then, came the decorating…

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While the chocolate cake looked hard on the outside, it was so moist on the inside that it was essentially falling apart in my hands. This should have been the time to chuck the idea of the chocolate, but I’m too stubborn for my own good apparently. I was able to get six layers stacked on top of each other with the stout buttercream between the layers, and while it was sort of uneven, it seemed like it might have a chance. But then I started frosting the cake…

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I think the weight of the frosting destroyed the chocolate layers, which made the whole cake completely unstable. I kept frosting and packing it all together until I was able to get it so it could at least stand up straight (with the help of some skewers) but it looked a total disaster. I went ahead and decorated it just like I would have had to do for the challenge. But it was such a lost cause. Even though all of the components tasted good and complemented each other well, I am sure that I would have been sent home for this atrocity. The good news is that I am not actually on the show though, so I will live to fight another day. Hopefully, I can turn this all around with my next challenge and I will definitely avoid making cakes again in the future.

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S1E12 – Semi-Final 2

Employment Update: Identified some potential opportunities that I plan to look into more this week, Got another rejection e-mail…

For the second semi-final head-to-head challenge, Lee and Whitney were asked to cook Eggs Benedict, Chicken Parmesan, and Cheesecake. They both took risks and put their own twist on each dish but Whitney came out as the overall victor.

Round 1: Eggs Benedict – Lee Wins

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Round 2: Chicken Parmesan – Whitney Wins

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Round 3: Cheesecake – Whitney Wins

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For my eggs benedict attempt, I decided to take the straightforward and traditional approach. The only thing I did differently was use real bacon instead of canadian bacon, because let’s be honest, real bacon is WAAAAAAY better. I also decided to try my hand at homemade english muffins by using this recipe: Homemade English Muffins. I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour and I didn’t see any real difference. However, using the homemade version was definitely a good call, because they were delicious. I’m usually not that into english muffins but these totally changed my mind. (See below for finished product).

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I also used these tutorials for the hollandaise sauce: How to Clarify Butter and Hollandaise Recipe. I poached eggs for my first blog post so this was the one component I felt confident about. I used this tutorial the first time and it was hugely helpful: Easy Poached Eggs. Funnily enough, the hollandaise ended up working perfectly (see below) but it took me three eggs to get one perfectly poached one. And then when I was plating it, the damn thing slipped off the spoon and the yolk broke.  Looks like I’ll definitely need more practice with that!

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Regardless of the egg mishap, everything went together fantastically! I’m not usually a fan of eggs benedict but this was SO tasty.  Even though the flavors were great, the broken yolk would have been a major issue on the show. So I don’t think there’s any way I could have won this round. But it was still damn good for a home dish (see below).

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For the chicken parmesan, I decided to make my own sauce with fresh tomatoes. I roasted 5 medium, vine-ripened tomatoes (cleaned and cut in half) in the oven for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. When they were cool, I took the skins off and then crushed the tomatoes with my hands. While the tomatoes were roasting, I cooked a medium shallot (chopped), a stalk of celery (chopped) and 3 cloves of garlic (minced) in some olive oil until they were translucent. Then, I added the crushed tomatoes, a bay leaf and about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each of brown sugar, cayenne pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. I let this simmer on low for about an hour and used this recipe as a guide for the rest of the dish: Chicken Parmesan. I served the finished chicken on a bed of pasta (see below) and it was great! It didn’t look like a restaurant-quality dish but it certainly tasted like it. It was a tad bit spicy, but overall it was very tasty.

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Finally, for the cheesecake, I used this as my base recipe: Classic Cheesecake Recipe. I followed this recipe completely (just made a smaller version), but I chose to freeze it instead of refrigerate it to speed the process up. Instead of the suggested sour cream topping, I decided to top the cheese cake with caramel and flambeed bananas. I used these recipes as guides: Easy Caramel Sauce Recipe and Martine’s Flambéed Bananas. (Finished components and the the compiled dish are below). Each component tasted fantastic! But the cheesecake was more tart than I had anticipated (I must have used more zest than I should have) and it didn’t pair as seamlessly with the bananas and caramel as I thought it would.

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Overall, everything worked out well but there was something slightly off with each dish. I don’t think I would have been in contention during this challenge but I tried a lot of new techniques that (mostly) worked out. It was a challenging day for sure, but it was a lot of fun trying new things.

S1E6 (Mystery Box) – Cupcakes

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 3 New Opportunities, 4 E-mails, 2 Desperate LinkedIn Connection Requests

This week’s Mystery Box challenge was very straightforward: make one great cupcake in 45 minutes. You could use any ingredients provided on the table below – what they claimed to be anything that you could ever need to make a great cupcake.

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A lot of people struggled with this challenge (even Tracey who claimed to be a fantastic baker). But Jake (Chocolate Lovers Delight), Whitney (Coconut), and Sharone (Hazelnut & Pistachio) were declared the top three. Sharone was declared the ultimate winner though.

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For my cupcakes, I decided to do a Honey Banana Cupcake with Nutella-Chocolate Ganache. I am not really a baker so I just followed this recipe completely. The only thing I did a little differently was add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to the cupcake batter. (See finished product below).

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The cupcakes turned out great! And they definitely took less than 45 minutes to make. The ganache I made never set up properly (probably because I got the proportions wrong with the half recipe). I was able to get it so it would sort of stay on top (see below) but it looked atrocious. So I decided to just quickly melt some chocolate with a smidge of cream and honey to B.S. a quick ganache-like topping, which I garnished with powdered sugar to add some sweetness. (The second image below would have been what I presented to the judges).

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Seeing how poorly some of the other contestants did with this challenge, I think my cupcakes would have fared just fine (even with the ganache failure). The only problem was that I had to pay very close attention to the recipe. If I had actually been in this challenge, I’m not entirely sure that I would have been able to come up with the correct proportions without it. Looks like I’ll have to seriously practice my baking skills before trying to go on the show!