Picnic Pies and Patriotic Desserts on Spring Baking Championship — Duff’s Recap of Episode 5
Emile Wamsteker, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
I love picnics, and nothing says picnic more than fresh-baked pie. These guys on Spring Baking Championship had 90 minutes to make a delicious pie. Doesn’t seem that tough, right? Wrong! You can bang out a decent pie if you’ve had some practice, but it could be a disaster if it’s been a while since you made one. Pies are a great way to judge baking skills since they involve many steps, and someone with little experience will invariably miss something.
I wasn’t worried about Andy, because he teaches a 16-week pie class. His professional reputation is on the line, so I knew I was going to get a good pie out of him. He went old school with banana cream pie, which was a great choice. Don’t get fancy with pie. When someone says "pie," I expect pie — not some deconstructed sculpture. He added some lime and coconut. But Andy used a sablee dough. Sablee is more like a tart dough or fine cookie, but pie dough should be flaky. Hmm, we’ll see how this plays out.
Simone made a blackberry and blueberry pie — something right up my alley. There’s a short window of availability for good local berries, and next to eating them raw, I think pies show off their flavors best. Simone made a pate brisee. I like big chunks of butter in my dough so the crust becomes flaky and a bit messy. A brisee, like Andy’s sablee, is finer-mealed and more of a short crust than a pie dough.
Simone made a very wet pie with all those berries. Now, if she had put the berries in the raw pie crust and baked it, she would have ended up with a soggy pie, so Simone blind baked her pie. Blind baking is when you bake your crust part of the way first with nothing in it except weights to hold the crust down. This gets the crust on its way to being crispy before you add liquid to it. Simone made a smart decision when she substituted the nut and oat streusel for her traditional pie top crust. A top crust takes a long time to bake, and when you have 90 minutes, these little tricks help you make a legitimate, delicious pie in the time allowed.
Dwayne baked a pie with strawberry, rhubarb and blueberry. When I was working in Boston, I had a pastry chef who hated rhubarb season. We got a case of rhubarb, and she looked at me and said, “Anyone who says they like rhubarb is liar.” Wow, Paige, how do you really feel? To be fair, when it comes to restaurants, if you put rhubarb on the dessert menu, you should be ready to sell a lot of chocolate cake. Not that many people truly love rhubarb. Anyway, Dwayne made a real pie crust with butter and lard. Fat tastes good, people. Fat. Tastes. Good. Dwayne left big chunks of fat in the dough to make a flaky crust.
Damiano made another version of sweet-tart dough rather than a pie dough. It was fascinating to watch him make dough. Italy has its own unique pastry and baking culture, and it’s exciting when you see how Damiano mixes doughs in an order that defies what I, as an American pastry chef, was taught. His ricotta and chocolate pie sounded delicious; I questioned whether this was a pie for a picnic or just a really good pie. Those little things count when we are down to four bakers. Damiano even got pretty cocky. While he waited for his pies to bake, he cleaned his station, went for a walk, then decided to make some of his delicious gelato. I’d warn him to watch out, but this kid can bake, for real.
Simone’s pie tasted fantastic and was fun to eat. The streusel was a nice touch too. Still, I think Nancy was right when she said the crust was too heavy. The back and the bottom were very thick for a pie crust. Pies are tricky: The crust has to be thick enough to hold up to cutting but not so thick that you have a doorstop back there.
Andy’s pie wasn’t bad by any means. He described the crust as a sablee, but it was flaky. Now, flaky is a good thing, but when I questioned him about it, he should have said that he purposefully undermixed his sablee dough so it would be flaky. Then the expectation would have been OK. The filling was a good, well-made banana cream, but the lime and coconut flavors were faint.
It was Dwayne who brought the crust! It was buttery and flaky and held up great to cutting. What a pleasure to eat. Nancy and Lorraine both loved Dwayne’s filling as well. Nancy also loved the balsamic, but I didn’t think his pie needed it. Nevertheless, it was very well put together.
Damiano also made a fantastic pie. We all loved it, but it was Dwayne’s pie that really won us over. Good job, Dwayne. You’re back!
Dwayne won a 10-minute head start in the red, white and blue Main Heat challenge, which is huge in a 90-minute competition. And Andy made a great point: Blue doesn’t exist in food. Blueberries are purple, and blue curacao is food coloring. It’s a tough color to make vibrant in anything cooked.
I was a bit surprised when Dwayne started baking sugar cookies. I knew they would be delicious, but at that point in the competition, he needed to be blowing our minds, not just getting by. Getting by does not get you $50,000.
Simone made a cream cheese, mascarpone, creme fraiche and sour cream filling. That’s a dairy dream team! I liked her idea of baking small cheesecake bars and cutting them up. As judges, we don’t see a lot of cheesecakes because they take too long to bake. Simone found a clever way around that because small things bake faster than big things.
Dwayne came back and also had a great idea for making cheesecake without making cheesecake. He made a mousse with cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. He didn’t use eggs, so he was able to deliver cheesecake flavors without using the oven. When you are competing, things like this push you forward.
I liked that Damiano was the only one who embraced food coloring and made a blue cake. (Well, Simone tried, but she ended up with a vibrant purple.) I would like to point out that Damiano also said he found a buttercream recipe of mine online that he didn’t like, so he added mascarpone to make it better. He said that. On television. While I was in the room. Really, man? Well, we’ll see. I’ll have Lorraine get him. (I’m the nice judge.)
While I’m being nice: I was impressed with Damiano’s folding technique. Folding is a technique that is crucial to get right. Folding helps substances with different densities mix evenly without knocking all of the air out of them. When you are making mousse, for example, you have to fold three or four different masses together, and if you don’t do it gently, you’ll end up with chocolate soup.
Andy made two classic cookies for his dessert. He made a shortbread and a dacquoise. Everything else on his plate was rather soft, so adding two crunchier components was a good idea. When chefs design plates, along with flavor and appearance, we think about texture. It’s important for a successful dish to have dynamic texture to be exciting.
The blue element really tripped Simone up. Turning a dessert blue is pretty much impossible unless you embrace food coloring, and if she had used it earlier on, she wouldn’t have had to resort to pulling blue chocolate off of the shelf and making a Band-Aid for her dish. Still, Simone’s plate was beautiful. It was a tasteful use of gold leaf. You never want to use very much. Gold leaf does have a flavor, and it’s not pleasant. People get excited with gold leaf and tend to overdo it, but Simone showed restraint, which was a sign of experience. The cheesecake was challenging to eat because the texture was off. It tasted great but felt bready in the mouth. I don’t think there was any flour in it (why would there be?), but it was an egg product that baked too fast. She made great mousse, but was it enough to keep her in?
Emile Wamsteker, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
I have to admit that the way Andy presented the blue element of his dish would never have occurred to me. He airbrushed blue onto the plate. I wasn’t super impressed, because it seemed like an easy way out, but in his defense it really matched his post-modern plating and was a seamless way to introduce a difficult element into his dish. His dessert was similar to what you find in a European restaurant or hotel. There were five distinct elements of his dish with different densities and textures that added up to something special. When I took a bite, I held it up to show the other judges and the camera how well the dessert held together under the pressure of the fork. That’s very important. A successful dish works all the way through and should be easy to eat. Andy constructed that mousse bombe perfectly. It was also ridiculously tasty.
Dwayne’s mousse was great. I also enjoyed the blueberry leather, even though Lorraine didn’t enjoy it as much. (That might be because I grew up on fruit roll-ups.) I questioned why it was on this particular plate. I’m not sure it added anything to the experience, but as a singular component, it was well-executed. I was not happy about the blue sprinkles he used as a garnish. His plate was beautiful and refined, and the blue sprinkles detracted from the elegance of it.
I also told Dwayne that his dessert was “earthier” than I expected it to be. I could taste the fruit he used, not just a fruit-flavored combination of acid and sugar. Most fruity desserts can be broken down into a balance between flavor, acidity and sweetness. What commonly happens is that the flavor is marginalized by the sugar and the acid, but Dwayne’s balance was perfect. It’s worth noting that I ate the whole thing, which is rare for a judge. We have to taste a lot of stuff, so we pace ourselves. It’s a good sign if we eat the whole thing.
Damiano’s plate was relatively clean, and his cake was well put together and concise, but Nancy, Lorraine and I weren’t impressed with the flag he painted on the plate. It’s not his painting skills, but rather that he used a water-based food coloring on a ceramic plate. The food coloring beaded on the surface of the plate and looked sloppy. And it’s weird because Damiano is anything but sloppy. His buttercream was tasty, but buttercream is not mousse. It was a bit too heavy to support two thin slices of cake. I also wasn’t impressed with his piping this time. We’ve seen him pipe before, but I think the chocolate was too warm when he piped it on, so it spread.
It was hard to see on camera, but look at the sugar work that Damiano placed on top of his cake. He made a few simple, super-thin sugar strands. That’s how to work sugar into a plated dessert. He held back and showed restraint, and the effect was simple and perfect and showed maturity in his thinking.
We were down to the final four awesome bakers, and we had to decide who moved into the finale. Even though they had questionable uses of blue in their patriotic plates, both Dwayne and Andy killed it today.
But it was Andy who showed his stuff and took this competition by sheer force of will. His bombe was difficult to make yet flawless, and all of us judging were impressed with his skill and technique. The glaze on his mousse was perfect, showing that Andy was a master of not only texture but also temperature. When adding a glaze to something as delicate as a mousse, the temperatures of both have to be just right or it’s a disaster.
Damiano’s and Simone’s desserts were not put together as well as Andy’s and Dwayne’s. The main component in Damiano’s dish was better executed than Simone’s cheesecake croutons. They both had underwhelming garnish. Damiano put some time and effort into a garnish that didn’t do him any favors, while Simone’s was a piece of blue chocolate.
This was a tough decision, but in the end, we had to say goodbye to Simone. She is a great baker and a beast in the kitchen, and on another day she might have torn the boys up. She rolled in and beat the whole class by baking a gluten-free dessert, and that is a moment I’ll never forget. Whenever people complain about having to bake gluten-free, I’ll show them a clip of Simone whoopin’ up on everyone.
OK, gang, it’s down to the boys. Three dudes in the finale! I never would have taken those odds. Next week it’s for all the marbles — all 50,000 of them. We have three bakers from three wildly different backgrounds. Who is it going to be? Find out next week on Spring Baking Championship!
I hope you enjoyed the Memorial Day celebration we hosted, and to all of the men and women of our nation’s armed forces and their families, thank you for your service and dedication to the best country on the planet. Happy Memorial Day!