Best Baker in America premiere review: Cakes that will knock your tiara off


Best Baker in America Season 3 impressed from the first Skills Challenge to the Master Challenge. These royally inspired cakes were worthy of the throne.

As Food Network premiered the new season of Best Baker in America, foodies were glued to the impressive, drool-worthy, elevated desserts. While Spring Baking Championship’s most recent season added some technically difficult challenges, this baking competition takes the difficulty level up to an even higher level.

With a collection of highly acclaimed, celebrated and award winning pastry chefs competing for the title, this new season should both impress and educate the Food Network viewer. Each episode balances both the technical aspect of baking with some highly entertaining moments.

Of course, for some food TV fans, one of the reasons to watch is the delightful Jason Smith. While his fashion choices might fill up the screen, his turn of a phrase is equally as impressive as the bakers’ confectionary delights. Who didn’t giggle a little at this week’s goat phrase?

In the first Skills Challenge of Best Baker in America Season 3, the bakers had to create a princess cake. While some people might have visions of Disney princesses, pretty pastel colors and lots of buttercream roses, these particular cakes were quite different.

A princess cake refers to a Swedish layer cake, usually shaped into a dome. The cake alternates layers of sponge cake with jam (usually raspberry jam) and pastry cream. The dome shape is created with whipped cream and the whole cake is topped with a layer of marzipan. Often is green colored and topped with a pink rose.

The bakers needed to create six mini princess cakes. Without additional guidance, the majority of bakers chose to modernize the traditional princess cake. From Latin inspired flavors to matcha for the green color, these mini princess cakes were mostly successful.

Given that it was the first challenge and the limited timeframe, the bakers did extremely well. Although a few bakers had fails (not able to get the cake out of the mold, ripping marzipan, etc.), nothing was a complete fail.

In some ways, the creative flavor combinations were the most interesting parts of this Skills Challenge. Combining matcha and strawberry was an unusual choice and one that should be further explored. It was smart to see some of the bakers try to make a statement in the first challenge.

Winning the skills challenge was Julie. The Executive Pastry Chef at Café Boulud West Palm Beach made a classic princess cake. From the beautifully defined layers to the balanced flavors, this princess cake wowed the judges. Maybe it was her pastry crème that earned her the win.

Unlike other baking competitions, winning the Skills Challenge doesn’t necessarily come with an advantage. Still, the win will be taken into consideration during the elimination process. Basically, it can help her stay in the competition.

For the Master Challenge, the bakers had to create a royally inspired baby shower cake. While everyone is still gushing over Harry and Megan’s son, Baby Archie, these bakers were to create a cake using the flavors of elderberry and lemon (the flavors from Harry and Megan’s wedding cake).

While this idea shouldn’t seem too arduous for these talented bakers, some very surprising mistakes occurred. Several of the cakes titled, sunk and had structural issues. Although time was limited, it seemed strange that these bakers had so many structural gaffs.

Even more strange, several of the design choices didn’t seem right for a baby shower. Granted, this theme was a royal baby shower, but some styles didn’t even convey a regal nod. Majestic and over the top makes sense, but still with the baby at the center of the theme.

From shards of sugar to a black lace border, a few of these designs were more for an engagement party than a baby shower. Just because the baby was born into royalty doesn’t mean that the theme should be stuffy or old.

Only two cakes really conveyed the baby theme. Edet’s adorable baby shoes with stylized crowns and flowers was impressive. It was clearly a royal baby cake. Michael and Joshua also had nice cakes that embraced the theme.

Contestant Edet Okon and host Scott Conant during the Skills Challenge, as seen on Best Baker in America, Season 3. photo provided by Food Network

Overall, the decoration caused more stumbles for the bakers than the flavors. Combining elderflower and lemon takes a deft hand. Without the right balance, one flavor can dominate the other. More importantly, elderflower can become a little perfume-like if overused.

It was a little curious that so many of these bakers used elderflower extract. Food Network fans might recalled the admonishment that Spring Baking Championship contestants receive when using certain extracts in their baked good. Wonder why this extract is acceptable?

Since it is the first episode of the season, most of the explanations were quick. Some of the cakes sounded delicious, like the peach, tea, elderflower cake. How do you come up with that flavor combination?

Additionally, the difference between top and bottom bakers were slightly hard to tell. For example, Yolanda seemed like she was going to be in the bottom two, but she was safe. Her decoration was a total fail, but her flavors saved her.

Overall the bakers who used the lemon and elderflower in multiple ways were rewarded. From cake to fillings, the nuances of the featured flavors added to the cake’s success.

A top baker was Michael. It was an elderflower butter cake was the perfect balance of form and flavor. The cake was sturdy to hold the design but excelled in carrying the required flavor. From the elderflower buttercream to the tart coulis, this cake was impressive.

More importantly, the cake conveyed royal baby. From the crown to the shape to the color, it was royal elegance. He excelled in every way.

Another top cake was Joshua’s lemon cake with strawberry jam was classic in both flavor and decoration. The soft greens and yellows were complimented with various textures. It was a lovely expression for a royal baby cake.

Joshua impressed with his crunch layer. While the cake itself was a little too dense, he was the only baker to add an element of texture in his cake. This aspect pushed him to the top.

The winning baker was Michael. His cake truly found the balance of flavor and design. It was clearly royal and it had the best use of elderflower.

Unfortunately, the bottom bakers had errors in both design and flavor. Jeffery, who should have been able to tackle this challenge well, missed the mark with his bake. The sponge was over baked and dry. While the curd was nice, it couldn’t hide the issues with the overbaking.

More importantly, his cake design was not appropriate for a royal baby cake. The dark lace said more baby making cake than royal baby cake.

The other bottom baker was Casey. While she appreciated her design, the shards going up the side of the cake were not right for the theme. The visual was overwhelming. It looked like a mobile exploded on the cake

The bigger issue with Casey’s cake was her use of vegetable shortening in the icing. That ingredient created a greasy feel. In other Food Network baking shows, shortening has been criticized as a buttercream ingredient. It is strange that she used this ingredient for this competition.

The baker leaving the competition was Casey. While her baking skills are good, this week’s challenge wasn’t a good fit for her.

Looking ahead in the competition, this competition could be won by any of the bakers. It will be interesting to see how Best Baker in America evolves. Will flavor or decoration be given more weight with the judges?

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What did you think of the Best Baker in America Season 3 premiere? Did the right baker get sent home?