The Insider's Take on Kids Baking Championship — Duff's Recap of Episode 3
Cream puffs and éclairs! This was a tough challenge on Kids Baking Championship. I didn't learn how to make pate a choux until I was at least 19 or 20. Natalie saw all these treats and she was freaked out! I knew Hollis was going to be excited; she made killer pate a choux bagels in the last challenge, Dessert Imposters, and I think she had a mental edge over everyone else. I was really stoked for Annika too. She had what I think was the toughest challenge when she had to make sushi. Burgers, pizza, spaghetti — these are all items I would choose to make in a competition before I would attempt sushi, which is much more colorful and complex. She came in second to last in that episode, and she was mad!
Annika was super confident about pate a choux and that's good to see. Jackson was feeling really good as well. He knows this dough and is ready to bake! The fact that so many of these kids understood such a difficult and complex pastry is mind-blowing, and after the competition, I called my mom and asked her why she didn't have me making pate a choux when I was 11. She said I wasn't ready for it. Wait until she sees this episode. She's going to eat her words (and not my éclairs!).
I want everyone to pay attention to the way Cody and Annika explained the process of pate a choux. They gave a textbook lesson on how you need to be mindful when you bake. Cody knows that when the dough isn't steaming anymore, it is cool enough to add the eggs. Add the eggs too soon, and they will not only scramble but also the dough won't jump in the oven — and you will have to start over. I don't know if Annika realized (who am I kidding, of course she did!) but the way she started out her dough was not only how to make pate a choux but also how you start a roux for thick soups and sauces. It's really cool that Cody also understands Italian pastry and attempted what sounded like a very delicious chocolate ricotta cheese. I knew what ricotta cheese was when I was 11, but that was because it came in stuffed shells, not sweet things. Natalie was really mad at this dough! She dropped an egg shell in it, she called it bland, but what she doesn't realize is that, yes, pate a choux is a relatively bland dough, but it is a beautiful texture and perfect for holding large quantities of gooey awesomeness, like her raspberries and lemons.
Hollis made a foam. Let that sink in: a foam. It wasn't any lack of skill on her part that it didn't work out; she just needed to make more so the mixer would reach the foam and whip it up. She made a great save by adding whipped cream. My question was, besides diluting the flavor, was what the xanthan gum and versawhip would do to the texture of the whipped cream. Hopefully nothing.
I loved the savory twist! Savory works so well with pate a choux, and the things you can do with this dough and cheese are delicious. I think the kids at first were a bit freaked out, but that's cool. These kids are so good at seeing an obstacle and quickly turning it into an opportunity. Once again, Natalie was grumpy at me, but it's adorable. Annika called Valerie and I loco. I hope you caught that. Cody turned on the jets, man. Gorgonzola with figs and prosciutto? Really? This superstar has chops. He makes me nervous. Jackson realized way too late that he didn't have enough dough. Now, one thing he could have done instead of making a new batch was he could have scraped all that dough back into his pastry bag and started piping again, making smaller puffs. Instead, he rushed to make another batch and — boom. It happens to every cook many times everywhere in the world. He burned himself. That is a very painful spot to get a burn. Bakers burn their forearms all the time; it doesn't hurt that bad, and you can still use your hands. But Jackson got burned below the wrist, which not only is much more painful, but he lost mobility, and in a timed challenge when you are already behind, that is tough to bounce back from. This kid has a spine of steel, though. He's tough. He almost pulled out, but I promise you, I saw the whole thing. He took a few deep breaths, put the glove on, and decided to go on all by himself. What a champ!
Hollis felt the groove. She loves cheese, she knows pate a choux, and she piped perfect puffs that were uniform and even, ensuring they all baked at the same time. If the puffs were different sizes, she would have had some that baked too much and some not enough. She also made, like, 50, so she probably would have been OK. She can bake, but I have to teach her some knife skills. She cuts perfectly, but she cuts slowly. Hollis, 90 minutes!
My face lit up when Natalie pulled the roast beef out of the fridge. I have never seen roast beef in pate a choux, but this is why baking (and cooking) with kids is great. They do what they know and cook from the heart, and Natalie doesn't know that roast beef puffs are, uh, rare (see what I did there?), she knows roast beef, she likes it, she used it. Great attitude. That's how a chef should think. You don't do what you are supposed to do; you do what you haven't seen yet. You don't just copy; you create. I did get a little worried that she had these huge chunks of beef that wouldn't fit in her puffs and make them impossible to fill, so I made sure that what I was looking at was not the finished product. It wasn't. Great job, Natalie!
Annika learned that not all cheese melts the way you want it to, especially nice cheese. Processed orange American cheese goop melts just fine, as candle wax is supposed to do, but harder cheeses like Parmesan get funky. The fat from the cheese separates out because it is bound more by a solid than a liquid, so when the solid loses integrity, the fat just oozes away from it. She used less, which may or may not work all the time, but then you wonder if you're going to able to taste the cheese at all.
Jackson kept it up, man! That kid is ready for life in a kitchen. I loved his choice of a green tea filling. Green tea is delicious and when it is added to cream and sugar, it takes on a whole new flavor profile, which is why green tea ice cream is so popular. His choice for savory was very smart. I don't think anyone in America doesn't care for salmon and cream cheese — nobody. Cody was in the flavor zone. He got pumped about figs and prosciutto. He cooks like me: "One for everybody, one for me, one for everybody, one for me." Nice. However, he didn't bake his éclairs long enough. Pate a choux go through two temperatures in the oven, the first one is super hot so they puff up and get color, then you turn the oven down so they dry out and get crispy so they can survive being filled with something wet and sitting for a few hours. Cody also didn't take into account that the figs were too big for his piping tip. It's very hard to look ahead and see all these tiny details that can really trip you up in a timed baking challenge. He did exactly what I would have done, however. He cut them in half and filled them that way. Totally acceptable. So, he's got crumbly éclairs that look bad. What do you do? When in doubt, bacon!
I want to take a second and talk about television. Reality television and normal people trying to act for the camera and producers "producing" dramatic events that didn't really happen inundate us. Jackson was really struggling to finish, and the fact that he made it as far as he did was incredible. Nobody thought he would finish in time. I was talking to him and trying to keep him focused, and then the most-amazing thing happened that people will think was staged or fake. Annika finished early and came over to help him finish. I was standing right there watching the whole thing. Nobody asked her to do that — nobody hinted at it. Annika is just that cool. She saw he needed just a bit of help and came over and jumped in like it was no big deal. There wasn't a dry eye in the room, and it was a very real moment that makes Annika my hero. Any hopeful competitors for any cooking competition take note: That's the way to be. And I promise, it was for real.
Natalie got the job done. That is one tenacious kid. I wasn't buying the whole "whimsical" story, but A for effort. However, both of her puffs tasted amazing, and looks are important, yes, but taste trumps everything. I was so impressed that Jackson made a cream puff that was so good. The color was great, nice and dark and crispy, and the savory filling was well-seasoned and balanced. His green tea puffs, though, were pretty rough. He forgot the sugar, which was strike one. He put way too much green tea powder on top, which was strike two, and they were under-baked. That was a big miss for this champ who powered through an injury.
Annika showed up! Her puffs were so consistent, and both of them tasted first-rate. They were plated beautifully and were almost perfect front to back. She's smart too. Valerie loves lemon, and Annika knew that the way to Valerie's heart was a big burst of lemon flavor. Hollis also dropped the hammer and baked her heart out. Her flavors were so refined and well thought out. I just wish her puffs were dried out a little bit more. They were also a bit shallow, which means they were a tad bit wet when they went into the oven. They weren't nice and round like a sphere. But man, oh, man, they tasted great.
Cody wasn't kidding: He really does have an advanced palate for a 12-year-old. That being said, when you are showcasing an ingredient as subtle as a fig, you have to respect all the other ingredients in the dish, in this case salty blue cheese and prosciutto. The fig flavor got buried. Cody was totally right, how a baked something is totally a matter of personal preference. But as a chef, you have to think about what you like versus what your customers like. I'm the customer, Cody! I'm always right!
This was the toughest challenge yet. Pate a choux is a very advanced technique that takes lots of practice to get right. The fact that we had all these tasty puffs and éclairs to choose from was astounding. I hope that everyone appreciates how special these kids are. Cody is a baking beast, and I was sad to lose not only his baking, but also his enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Next week is the finale, and believe me, it gets crazy! Huge congratulations to Annika for crushing it in this challenge, and thanks for the lesson in kindness. We can all really take a page out of Annika's book. See you next week for the big finale!