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Great Canadian Baking Show — a real showstopper

On your marks. Get set. Bake!

This is the last time Canadians will hear those words for a while. The first season of the Great Canadian Baking Show came to an end Wednesday night, with a

The first signature challenge was 24 mini mousse cakes. These cakes typically have a sponge base with layers of mousse and elegant decoration. Bakers needed to provide two different flavours, and each one choose to incorporate fresh, seasonal fruits into their creations.

Linda’s mousse cakes didn’t set properly. They all toppled over, which was a shame because she had one of the best flavour combinations (cherry-chocolate-brownie, yum!). She took the title of “ugly but delicious” away from James. Sabrina’s strawberry mousse looked gorgeous, with strawberry slices on the rim of the mousse cake. Vandana used a pistachio cookie base instead of sponge, which the judges enjoyed.

The technical challenge was a Pear Charlotte, a cake with poached pear, lady fingers, and bavarian cream. There were a lot of elements to keep track of during this challenge. The separate elements have to set and cool in the fridge before it can finally be assembled. Poor Sabrina almost lost her cream when she slipped on the floor — to the amusement of the crew. Their laughter could be heard through the camera!

A Pear Charlotte is also one of those fancy cakes that has to be flipped upside down, which means the bakers have no idea if their dessert will turn out until they lift that pan. The suspense was tangible, but each baker managed to create a successful cake. Each one was beautifully decorated, cooked throughout (a challenge with previous technicals), and perfectly flavoured. However, only one baker got the “perfection” remark from both judges — Linda. Both Vandana and Sabrina had a little trouble with the bavarian cream.

The final challenge was a three-tier wedding cake. There was no other instruction — just to make the flavours and details as elegant as possible. I have to say I was surprised there wasn’t more of an attempt to create edible decorations and detailing. Each baker used real flowers on their cake instead of making some out of sugar, chocolate, or fondant.

Each baker took a note from their personal experiences. Vandana decided to create a cake modelled after her own wedding, with golden stencilling overtop of a red fondant, creating a sari affect. Her cake was covered in flower petals and a complete bouquet of roses. Linda’s cake was also spectacular, made of six layers of carrot cake. Linda made her own fondant and pipped some beautiful details to the cake, covering it also with white roses.

Sabrina’s pink champaign cake was absolute perfection. There was champaign within the sponge cake, layered with buttercream icing and strawberry filling. A pink sparkling ribbon was wrapped around the three tiers, with pipped flowers that made the transition between tiers flawless. It was truly a thing of beauty. I also have to say that Sabrina seemed to be having the most fun during this challenge. Maybe it was the champaign?

After that, it was over. The bakers joined family, friends, and past competitors outside to find out who won star baker. The answer — drumroll please — was Sabrina! Sabrina Degni of Montreal was the youngest baker to compete on the show. At 24 years old, she is incredibly talented and willing to take criticism and learn from her mistakes. She has grown a lot in terms of technical skills, and her bakes have always been creative and unique.

Linda and Vandana did a marvellous job in the finale. To be honest, I had no idea who would win. I figured it would be the baker who made the least number of mistakes. All three of these powerhouse women were incredible, and I only hope that one day I can be half the bakers they are.

I have to say I was skeptical when I first tuned in to the Great Canadian Baking Show. As I mentioned in my first review, I was a big fan of the original Great British Bake Off. I was worried the humour wouldn’t be right or that the CBC could turn it into more of a competitive gameshow. However, I was pleasantly surprised. While the dry humour could be a bit dryer and the puns slightly less cheesy, I have to say I am in love with the Great Canadian Baking Show. The bakers, judges, and hosts all won me over in the end.

All I can say now is — I wonder what season two will be like?!

 

 

 

French pastry week with the Canadian Baking Show

Bonjour — that’s about all host Dan Levy could say in French, but that didn’t stop French pastry week on the Great Canadian Baking Show. (Don’t worry Dan. It’s better not to speak the language if you truly can’t.)

This week marked the semi-finals of the competition, which put a lot of extra stress on the four remaining bakers.

The first challenge was a dozen Mille-Feuilles, or a Napoleon as North American’s may know them. These treats are made of layers of light, flaky puff pastry with a flavoured filling (typically a kind of custard), and decadent toppings. The key for this challenge, as is the key with most French pastry, was elegance.

Unfortunately, none of the bakers nailed the pastry itself. Most were undercooked, while one was overcooked. Most of them had wonderful presentation, but I found the layers weren’t tight enough. When I bite into a Napoleon, I like to be able to get all the layers at once. The bakers had thick, dollops of icing, which looked beautiful, but if a regular person were eating that Mille-Feuille they may have a challenge getting a taste of every layer. The judges, in their typical style, peeled apart each layer with a fork. That may be how the French eat a Mille-Feuille, but it’s not how we Canadians eat a Napoleon.

The technical challenge was an Opera cake, made with layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee buttercream and covered in a chocolate glaze. On the top is the word Opera written in thin, cursive, chocolate writing. Most of the cakes were not soaked in enough coffee for the judges’ taste.

Sabrina did very well with her cake and the writing on top, but unfortunately chocolate glaze is unforgiving. There was a giant fingerprint in the centre of the cake! Sadly, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Both Linda and Vandana had issues with their cursive writing, with the chocolate icing too thick to create an elegant look. James succeeded in creating a nearly perfect Opera cake.

The show stopper challenge was a tower of cream puffs, or a croquembouche — round pieces of choux pastry filled with cream, stuck together with sugar or caramel. This task was all about time management. Each baker needed at least 100 cream puffs in order to make a structure that was tall enough. James, unfortunately, was unable to plan well enough to make the number of cream puffs needed for a tower. He also ran out of sugar to bind the puffs together; Vandana was kind enough to allow him to use some of her leftover caramel so that he could at least put together something for the judges.

Both Sabrina and Vandana produced beautiful looking croquembouche. Sabrina’s tower was gorgeous and consisted of a number of attachable elements, including sugar strings. However, it wasn’t baked enough. Vandana’s creamy filling was delicious, but the judges said she also could a bit better with her pastry.

This was the semi-finals, so the final three contestants will compete next week for the title of Great Canadian Baker! James, unfortunately, will not be competing next week. Despite the fact that every dessert tasted delicious according to the judges, his presentation hurt him. The judges (and myself) have such a soft spot for James, who can make something delicious even if it looks really ugly. But, unfortunately, as the competition winds down, presentation must be judged in equal measure to taste. Linda was named star baker after producing a gorgeous white chocolate holiday themed cream puff tower.

Who do you think will win next week? Let us know in the comments below!

Holiday week on the Great Canadian Baking Show

There was garland, there was eggnog, and there was yuletide cheer. You guessed it: it was Holiday Week on the Great Canadian Baking Show.

This week’s episode had possibly the best host introduction yet — Daniel Levy and Julia Chan start the show by walking away from the bakers tent to go on vacation, after mistakingly assuming that “holiday week” was a break from the show. Cheesy? Yes. Did it make me laugh? Also, yes.

Both hosts were particularly delightful this week. The puns were less forced and Levy again proved he had the best job in the world as the baker’s taster.

The first challenge was to create a yule log, or a Buche De Noel, a traditional French dessert that involves rolling sponge cake with layers of cream, with a chocolate coating. The desert should have an equal spiral of cream and sponge, which is difficult to achieve because it requires the baker to tightly roll the cake without breaking it.

Vandana’s classic chocolate yule log with chocolate cream and raspberry flavours was a crowd pleaser. Linda’s pumpkin rendition with caramel cream cheese icing and chocolate bark looked absolutely gorgeous. James tried something different and instead of covering his log in chocolate, he created a bark patterned log — twice as he forgot butter in the first batch. The outside was impressive; however the inside looked a bit squashed, as per typical James style.

The technical challenge was Rugelach, a Jewish cookie that looks a bit like a croissant and has an apricot and chocolate filling. I had a few issues with this technical challenge, but my primary concern was that everyone’s dough was undercooked. I guess even the Great Baking Shows are not exempt from the typical “reality television” mantra that something has to be more challenging so as to create unnecessary drama. For example, not including how much time a treat takes to cook will ensure that absolutely no one gets the task right. Sure, leave them to guess ingredient measurements or how to assemble a dessert, but the time it takes for something to cook is a fact any baker would need to know. It sets the tone for everything else they do. I felt so bad for all the bakers who did the best they could  with the information they were given.

The final show stopper challenge was a gingerbread structure. Notice the word “structure” and not house. Bakers were given free reign of what they wanted to create, and it resulted in some truly unique gingerbreads. Vandana’s treehouse for her so was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. She had so many small details and the fact that the house sat on a gingerbread tree stump really set her apart. Linda also created a truly stunning barn with stained glass windows and an iced roof.

Terri’s animal sanctuary was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, her windows melted and she overdid it with decorations. Sabrina also didn’t have a great week – her Rockefeller Center was a bit simplistic, despite it being one of the tallest structures.

At the end of the day Terri, who wowed us with her family-themed desserts on a weekly basis, was sent home this week. Vandana was named star baker for the second week in a row!

Next week will be the semi finals. I am beyond sad this show will be ending soon. I’ve grown to love each one of these bakers. Everyone should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments. I’ve loved Terri since day one – she loves to add little fun details to her bakes that make her treats stand out.

But, someone has to go home each week, right?! Next week should be a crazy whirlwind.

Canada Week with the Great Canadian Baking Show

Oh Canada!

It was baking week on the Great Canadian Baking Show, which meant lots of delicious, patriotic, treats!

The first challenge was a Tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie. The bakers were asked to make a flaky pie crust with a meaty centre, and pair it with a condiment. I am a huge fan of Tourtière. My mother makes it for the family every Christmas Eve, pairing it with Russian gravy, so I know what goes into making this rich and decadent meal. Each baker used a different meat combination, with some airing on the lean side. Fat is necessary in order to keep the filling juicy and tender.

I have to admire James Hoyland and Verdana Jain for making a vegetarian pie instead. They stuck to their beliefs, regardless of the challenge, and shocked the judges with their delicious pies. James used beets to give the pie a meat-like colour while Verdana used cashews as a base.

**Also, I need the goggles James uses to cut onions!!

The technical challenge was a maple cookie. While many of the previous technical challenges have been foreign to the bakers, this one was well known to all. The only thing bakers struggled with was the amount of maple butter in between the cookies.

The showstopper challenge was donuts, which was a little odd considering this treat actually originates in the United States. Sure, Canadians enjoy a good donut with our double double, but that doesn’t mean it is a national treat. Bakers could have been asked to make butter tarts, nanaimo bars, blueberry grunt, or even a Made In Canada cake — all much more Canadian than a donut. Hopefully, these items will be included in other challenges.

The origins of the donut aside, there were some bakers who tried to “canadian-ize” their treats. Linda made some beautiful maple bacon and double-double flavoured donuts and Verdana used Saskatchewan berries as her inspiration. Julian created some fun canoe-shaped donuts and Sabrina made donut poutine! This was a challenge that allowed the bakers to be creative and have fun. It also made me want to try to make donuts!

I’m going to dedicate some time to talk about James — who I firmly believe is my spirit animal. The way he cooks is the way most of us amateur bakers cool: with a messy flare. At the end of the day, no matter how many bags explode on him or how many glazes bubble on to the stovetop, his food always tastes good (at least according to the judges), and that’s all that matters! I feel a weird connection to him as a messy baker myself. When I first started baking, nothing turned out right. I once served a neon orange pumpkin pie to friends. It tasted great…it just looks like something out of a cartoon. But, that’s the beauty of this show. While presentation is really important, at the end of the day it’s all about the taste.

I’ve mentioned the camaraderie of this show so many times, but it presented itself in a different way — goofiness!  So many puns, so much cookie stealing, and lots of fun in the rain. It gets harder to see bakers go home every week — but alas, that’s the reality of the show. This week James won star baker for his delicious vegetarian pie and his peach stuffed donuts (yay!) and the whimsical Jude Somers from Victoria, B.C., was asked to leave.

Baking Minute: dessert week with the Canadian Baking Show

This week was dessert week on the Great Canadian Baking Show – and that meant pies, tarts, and meringue. By the end of the 45 minutes I had this intense craving for something super sweet.

The first challenge was to make an elegant pie or tart. The word “elegant” was key in this challenge as the judges expected dainty presentation. Most bakers used the “blind bake” method for their crusts, where they cook it prior to putting the filling inside to ensure the bottom doesn’t get soggy. I had never heard of this method, and will definitely try it the next time I make a pie.

The bakers really put their all into these desserts. Linda Longson from High River, Alberta, made a beautifully decadent raspberry chocolate pie that captured the audience and made the judges’ mouth water. “I want to dive into that pie,” Bruno Feldeisen said, and rightly so. The pie was decorated with white chocolate curls.

Every pie showcased a little bit of the baker’s personality. There was a pie representing the northern lights, a rustic apple pie, a mile-high lemon meringue, and a pi pie (that turned out to be more of an ode to chaos theory – poor messy James).

The best part of this challenge was watching the bakers. Linda, who I can only assume is a speedy baker as she is always hanging around helping others, points out that Terri Thompson’s pie crust is starting to rise. “You may want to poke some holes in your crust Terri, it’s starting to rise,” she says. In no other baking show, at least that I have witnessed, has a competitor been so kind to another. Her piece of advice probably saved Terri’s pie from disaster.

The technical challenge was a fondant fancy. This involved a dozen equally-sized sponge cakes with jam in the middle. The icing was a cream fondant that had to be evenly spread on the top and four corners of the cake. Bakers had to top it off with a small flower. This challenge was particularly difficult, and many bakers had a hard time with the icing. The icing can’t be spread, so it must be drizzled on top so that it overflows down the sides. But, if you don’t have enough or you have too much, it can cause a mess. The bakers did well enough, at least when compared to last week’s disastrous Montreal Bagel.

The showstopper challenge was a pavlova, a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. This meringue is then topped with a whipped cream and fruit. It’s a tricky dessert because the meringue can crack, especially if there isn’t enough time to cool the base before applying the cream. There were quite a few excellent pavlovas. My personal favourite was that of James D’Entremont from Halifax. He may have struggled with the first few challenges, but his pavlova had beautiful swirls in it and was beautifully decorated with blueberries and a sugared berry leaf. I was also impressed with Verdana’s yogurt whipped cream.

At the end of the show, the bakers sat side by side, holding hands as the hosts revealed the names of the star baker, and the person leaving the competition. The star baker of the episode was Linda, while Corey Shefman from Toronto, Ont. was sent home following a few mishaps with his pastry and meringue.

What was your favourite baking minute? Let us know in the comments below!

Baking Minute: bread week with the Canadian Baking Show

The second episode of the Canadian Baking Show focused on one of my favourite things — bread! The bakers were challenged to make some of the most difficult and technical kinds of bread, while still including a unique and personal flare on their creations. I was excited to watch this episode as bread is, unfortunately, not something I have mastered.

The first challenge was to make Focaccia, a fluffy Italian flatbread seasoned with oil, herbs, and various vegetables, meats, or cheeses. It’s a delicate bread — the dough must have even air pockets and too many toppings can turn this dish into a pizza. I was enthralled with Julian D’Entremont’s baking this week. His use of Nova Scotian dulse, a kind of seaweed, was really inspiring and representative of his hometown of Halifax. I loved that other bakers were trying it out while their breads cooked. At the end of the day, I think the unofficial winner of this particular challenge was Sabrina Degni, whose Focaccia was inspired by her Italian grandmother, and Linda Longson, who used rosemary-infused oil and sea salt for an absolutely gorgeous and simply delicious bread.

The technical challenge was, of course, the Montreal-style bagel. I thought this challenge would be easier, but I’ve since learned that bagels are deceiving. First you have to kneed the dough, but not over-kneed it. Then boil it in honey water. Then dry it. And then FINALLY you cook it. There are so many ways it could go wrong, even the bakers from Quebec had a hard time. The judges wouldn’t even try James Hoyland’s bagel as it was raw. Poor guy.

The showstopper challenge was to create a bread centrepiece with a sweet filling. I have to say, there is a huge difference between how these bakers performed last week and this week. Maybe it took them a while to get used to the cameras being in their faces or to get used to the tent-in-a-field atmosphere, but the final products of this challenge were a lot more put together and clean than the cake challenge in the premiere.

What was even better than the final product was the reaction of the bakers. When the judges cut into the bread and they saw how it looked in the inside, whether a bunch of even layers of filling or swirls of fruit. They were so proud! While there were a lot of amazing creations, my personal favourite was Julian’s, who made some mouth-watering cinnamon buns with a Kraken in the middle. Oh, and he also had fried bread as tentacles!

There has been some criticism about the judging of the Canadian Baking Show, and I do agree that at times it can get repetitive, especially during the technical challenge where they just keep repeating the words “crispy”, “soft”, and “chewy”. But, I was rather impressed with the commentary in the Focaccia challenge. The judges gave advice to the bakers, patiently explaining what went wrong and what went right. I’m hoping the judging gets a bit more creative as more contestants leave and there is more television time for this part of the show.

The winner of bread week was Sabrina, who rocked all three challenges and created a really unique centrepiece with a weaved bread basket. The person who left this week was Sinclair Shuit of London Ont. (hometown of Winnipeg), whose centrepiece pear puff pastry wasn’t cooked enough to please the judges.

Next week is dessert week…God help me!

Let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments below! In the meantime, I’m going to go and eat a muffin…or some french toast…or maybe just a whole loaf of bread.

Baking Minute: cake week with the Canadian Baking Show

SPOILERS!

Last night was the premiere of the Canadian Baking Show! It was an amazing 45-minutes full of flour, sugar, chocolate, and lots of cake — and the best part is they kept the format pretty close to the original British series.

The hosts were a delight.  Daniel Levy is a Canadian actor and television personality and Julia Chan is a British actress. They may not have a lot of baking experience themselves, which is one of the biggest criticism of their performance on the show, but what they lack in technique they make up for in optimism, kindness, and a love for tasting icing.

The 10 bakers were put through three different challenges that were meant to show off their personality, technical skills, and creativity. The first challenge was all about cupcakes. They were tasked to make two different kinds of cupcakes, each showing off their distinctive personality. Some bakers put a little bit of a French or Italian twist on their cupcakes, while other’s used elements of their job or family life as inspiration. My personal favourite was the beer-battered cakes with bits of bacon on top, and of course,  nanaimo bar cupcakes! So Canadian!

The second challenge was the technical round. Bakers were given a recipe they had never seen before and asked to follow it and fill in the blanks. The cake the judges chose was called a Battenberg  cake, which I had never heard of. It’s a checkerboard sponge cake with cherry and pistachio flavours, filed with jam and covered in marzipan. Only a few of the bakers were able to get the look quite right.

The Battenberg Cake

The last challenge was the show-stopping chocolate cake. Bakers were told to use two different kinds of chocolate and to be as creative as possible. I was a bit disappointed at how these cakes turned out. Many of them were messy, crooked, and just plain unappealing. Others were very creative. My personal favourite was that of Julian D’Entremont, from Halifax N.S., who created a cake inspired by his profession, contracting. It looked like a cement block, with five layers of cake paired with edible tools!

One of the bakers, James Hoyland of Richmond B.C., actually used a recipe I bake all the time. We call it wacky cake. You essentially mix everything in the pan (although we do use a separate bowl) and use white vinegar, oil, and vanilla as the liquids. It creates a fluffy sponge cake, and is great for cupcakes. However, he mixed it with his hands straight in the pan and used super thick fondant to cover it. From experience, I know the cake can be a bit dense and is better served with a buttercream icing.

At the end of the day, the winner was Terri Thomspon from Sherward Park, Alta. who won over the judges with her garden-inspired chocolate cake. Poor Pierre Morin from Cantley, Que. was the first baker to leave after his ganache separated on his cupcakes and his chocolate mouse collapsed on his cake. Nevertheless, there were smiles and big hugs for everyone!

Terri Thompson’s raspberry and chocolate winning cake. Photo courtesy of the CBC

The show in general was pretty good. There wasn’t as much of that dry British humour that I came to love in the original series, but you can’t win it all. I did feel like the judges could be more active in the show — they are the ones with the baking expertise and most of the time their comments were “it’s dry”, “it’s moist”, or “I can tell it is a cookies and cream cupcake” (probably because it had an actual cookie on top). The judges are renowned pastry chefs Bruno Feldeisen and Rochelle Adonis.

Hopefully, as the episodes continue, the bakers get used to being on camera and their final products become a little less sloppy. I also hope that, as bakers are weeded out of the competition, the judges will have more time to offer real opinions rather than judging the pastry by their appearance and texture alone.

What did you think of the premiere? Let us know in the comments below!

VIDEO: Who else is excited for the Great Canadian Baking Show?

Tonight is the premiere of the Great Canadian Baking Show, the Canadian spin off of the U.K. television show of the same name.

Ten amateur bakers from across the country will gather in a tent in the middle of nowhere and compete for the grand title of Great Canadian Baker. In each episode, the bakers will compete in three rounds: the Signature Bake, the Technical Bake, and the Show Stopper.

Why should you watch this show? I’m a huge fan of the original show — the Great British Baking Show — and in the video below I explain why it is the best cooking show on television right now. I’m extremely excited for the Canadian spin-off and hope they keep the essence of the original series in tact.

Every week, I will be reviewing an episode from the show, going through my favourite desserts, talking about challenge winners, and perhaps discussing the cuteness factor of the goats (or other woodland creatures that may pop up). Here is the introduction to our new series, “A Baking Minute”, or in this case, a minute or two.

Are you excited for the Great Canadian Baking Show? Let us know in the comments below!