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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S2E6 (Team) – Five-Course Meal

Employment Update: I wrapped up my position with Churchill Downs and have moved back in with my parents. (Whomp. Whomp…) I am back to the full-time job search, AKA as the worst thing ever, but there have been some exciting things happening and I have been pretty productive recently. Since my last post (sorry – I know it’s been a while): 2 phone interviews, 20+ e-mails and LinkedIn messages, and 5 job applications. 

This week’s team challenge had the two teams catering a five-course meal for 350 office workers in the building that included a soup, a salad, pizza, a special entree and dessert.

The Blue Team produced Chicken Chili, Seasonal Salad with Blue Cheese and Nuts, Arugula and Bruschetta Pizza, Beef Hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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The Red Team produced Chicken Orzo, Watermelon Salad with Cucumber and Feta, White Pizza, Cheesy Lasagna and Fresh Berries with Cream.

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The Blue Team had several issues with their service (including running out of food) so the Red Team was declared the winner. Since I am not going to be cooking a five-course meal for 350 people anytime soon, I decided to use this challenge as an excuse to try some recipes that I have been wanting to take a stab at.

For the soup portion, I wanted to try Giada de Laurentiis’s Italian Wedding Soup Recipe. I followed the recipe completely and it was so simple and tasty. If I did it again, I might try adding some other types of vegetables and seasonings to give it a more complex flavor but this is a great recipe for a straightforward, delightful dish.

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The salad course was where I decided to get a little adventurous. I saw this recipe a while ago and I knew that I wanted to try it: Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette. I had not planned on making any changes to this recipe but my grocery store had other plans. It did not have golden beets, microgreens, ruby red grapefruit, valencia oranges or blood red oranges. So I had to improvise. I kept the roasted beets (all red), mixed greens, fennel and mustard vinaigrette, but everything else was different. I used mango, navel orange, and pomelo on the salad and eliminated the pistachios all together (because I do NOT enjoy nuts in my food). While it was nothing like what I had originally set off to make, it was really delicious! This was my dad’s favorite dish of them all and it was definitely one of the best from my point of view as well. It’s a really unique and flavorful dish, and it looks totally beautiful with all of the bright colors of the fruit and vegetables. It is something that I will definitely do again when I want to impress people at a dinner party.

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The pizza course was another one that I decided to have some fun with. I saw a recipe for Brussel Sprout and Bacon Pizza recently, and given how much I love both ingredients, I knew that I had to try it. I pretty much followed the recipe, but it called for A LOT of resting time for the dough (both in the refrigerator and at room temperature). I was way too impatient (and hungry) to wait so I skipped most of the resting time and the dough was still wonderful. I’m sure it would probably have been better if I had followed the recipe exactly… but if you can get really tasty dough in half the time (or less), why the hell not? Overall, the dish really surprised me. It was unique but still tasted just like a pizza, a REALLY good pizza but pizza nonetheless. This was one of my Mom’s favorite dishes of the day and it is definitely one that I want to make again. I think it would also be really good (and a little more unique) to substitute the tomato sauce for a barbecue sauce or garlic cream sauce to switch up the overall flavor. (I’ll let you know how that goes when I try it).

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For the entree portion, I decided to make use of the leftover turkey from thanksgiving (don’t worry – I made this when the turkey was still good) and made a turkey pot pie using this recipe as a guide: Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie. I mostly followed the recipe with several key exceptions:

  • Substituted chicken with the leftover turkey
  • Used yellow and green onions instead of yellow and pearl onions
  • Added garlic and celery to the filling
  • Used all butter for the crust instead of vegetable shortening and butter
  • Added oregano, thyme, cumin, sage and red pepper flakes to the filling

The pot pie turned out great. The crust was flaky and delicious and the filling was super flavorful. It was a great dish and a wonderful way to utilize all the extra turkey from Thanksgiving.

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Finally, for dessert, I decided to try my hand at a homemade cake. I found this recipe: Spicy Chocolate Stout Cake and I knew I wanted to try it as soon as I saw that it called for Guinness (one of my favorite beers). For the batter, I kept everything the same except I added a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a little more of a kick. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of the peanut butter frosting so I decided to switch that out to a Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting Recipe. It was more work because I had to make the salted caramel sauce but it was SOOOO worth it! I am honestly not all that into cake. I mean, it’s good, but I’d rather have almost anything else for dessert. I could eat this cake, though, all day long (which may prove to be an issue). The caramel frosting and the spicy chocolate went so well together. And it ranked in as one of my mom’s favorites as well.

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While it certainly took me a while to cook my way through this challenge, it was a lot of fun to try a lot of recipes that I have wanted to. They were all delicious but the ones that I want to have more of right now are the roasted beet salad and the brussel sprout and bacon pizza. In fact, I’m going to go have some more right now!

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