Spring Baking Championship recap: Surprisingly succulent desserts


Baking is part science and part art. In this Spring Baking Championship recap, the bakers must balance creativity and technique in desert themed challenge.

That visually stunning dessert isn’t just a piece of art. The trial and error behind that picture perfect dessert is abundant. In this week’s Spring Baking Championship recap, the bakers are tested by technically and creatively.

While cooking is an art form, baking can be a science. If a ratio, a measurement or an ingredient is off in a baking recipe, the dessert can be a disaster. If you’ve ever mis-measured teaspoon for tablespoon or baking power for baking soda, you understand the concept. In the Spring Championship pre-heat, the bakers have to adapt to a huge ingredient swap. They must replace sugar with agave.

Agave has become popular as a sugar substitute. While some people are familiar with the other use of agave (tequila), agave is considered a natural alternative to white sugar. Since it comes in liquid form, the agave isn’t a simple swap in baking. The consistency can definitely change both the taste and texture of a dessert.

In the pre-heat, the bakers had to create specific desserts that swapped white sugar for agave. Some of the desserts were successful and others needed more time in the kitchen. In some ways, the specific dessert gave some bakers an advantage, or should have given some bakers an advantage.

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The key to success in the pre-heat was understanding the science behind baking. The agave was going to make the batter (cake, cookie, etc.) wetter. This consistency could make the final dessert denser or it could take longer to cook. The bakers who made smart choices were successful.

Winning the pre-heat challenge was Cristina. By understanding the ratios in her doughnut recipe, she was able to produce a fluffy cake doughnut. Also, her “burnt” agave glaze was a smart choice. Although the consistency was quite sticky, the nuanced flavor set her apart.

The judges examine contestant Christina’s dish from the pre-heat challenge, as seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Season 04

Unfortunately, Aaron and Nacho weren’t as successful in the pre-heat. Nacho’s tart crust was over-baked. The judges could get a knife through the crust. While Aaron’s ice cream was delicious, his cookie was under-baked. Raw cookie dough doesn’t make for a winning ice cream sandwich.

With the pre-heat behind them, the bakers took on a trending cake topic, succulent cakes. Instead of traditional flowers, succulent cakes look like the popular succulent planters that seem to popping up in everyone’s homes. Each baker had to create a succulent cake using a particular dry ingredient, which was chosen by Cristina. (For winning the pre-heat, she was able to assign ingredients).

Host Ali Khan next to the main heat challenge’s ingredients, as seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Season 04

The main heat challenge was part taste and part decoration. In this challenge, a gorgeous cake can’t save a poor cake, nor can a flavorful cake save a decorating disaster. Luckily everyone did relatively well in this challenge. Even with the twist of using prickly pear, no one had a dessert disaster.

Before the final cakes were revealed, it was a strong possibility that Cristina would do well in this challenge. Her decorating skills, specifically piping is the best of the group. She can make some stunning buttercream flowers.

Needless to say, Cristina’s succulent cake was in the top two. The beautiful, chocolate glaze was the perfect backdrop to her garden of succulents. The black background made the colors and details on her cake shine.

While a gorgeous piece of cake art, her cake wasn’t perfect. The buttercream flowers were more for effect than pleasant eating. An over-buttery consistency wasn’t a hit with the judges. Still, her cake earned her a top spot.

The judges examine contestant Christina’s dish from the pre-heat challenge, as seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Season 04

The winner of this week’s main heat was Heather. Even though Heather seems to lack confidence sometimes, her succulent cake was gorgeous. By varying the heights of her flowers, the cake was the most visually interesting. It looked just like a succulent garden.

Even more impressive was Heather’s flavor profiles. Having had to use anise, her dessert could have gone horribly wrong. The licorice flavor can be quite overpowering. Heather was able to highlight the flavor without it going array.

With only five bakers remaining in this Spring Baking Championship recap, two fan favorites were unfortunately in the bottom. Although Caleb was safe, both Nacho and Aaron were up for elimination.

Contestant Nacho discusses his dish with host Ali Khan in the main heat challenge, as seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Season 04

Nacho always seems to make everyone smile in the kitchen. His personality and his desserts are bright, colorful and fluffy. His succulent cake showcased those attributes. While his decoration may not have been as sophisticated as the other cakes, it was happy. The sunset colors reflected his perspective on the challenge.

Since this challenge wasn’t just about decoration, Nacho’s use of the black peppercorn was a little divisive. Lorriane didn’t taste any peppercorn, while Nancy found the flavor. Adding the black peppercorn to the apricot filling was smart, as was using prickly pear in a syrup for the cake.

Nacho is a thoughtful baker. Although he might be a little old school, he bakes well. Sometimes decisions come down to the judges’ personal preferences.

The other baker in the bottom, Aaron, had difficulty with his flavors. His dried ingredient was caraway seeds. This flavor is somewhat unusual for a dessert. While I like rye bread, I don’t know how I would feel about that flavor in a cake.

Aaron’s downfall came to flavor. His cake seemed to hide both the caraway and the prickly pear. Even if the bakers don’t like an ingredient, they still have to use it and the judges need to taste it. By masking the flavor, Aaron didn’t succeed in the challenge.

The judges examine contestant Nacho’s completed dish from the main heat challenge, as seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Season 04

Overall, Aaron’s decorations were pretty. Personally, I didn’t like the color on the side of the cake. It could be that the cake didn’t photograph well for television.

Since Aaron was in the bottom of both challenges and his flavors weren’t on point, Aaron was sent home. It was an unlucky break for the self-taught baker. He did extremely well this season. Two of the best finds from this Spring Baking Championship Season 4 were his brown butter icing and his melting cookies. Those two recipes are ones to keep on file.

Related Story: Spring Baking Championship: Spring berries

After this Spring Baking Championship recap, only four bakers remain. Who will make the finale? Any of the final four could walk away with the prize. Who’s your favorite to win it all?