Spring Baking Championship Season 6 episode 1 review: Spring’s Natural Wonders

Group shot of host Clinton Kelly, Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. photo provided by Food Network
Group shot of host Clinton Kelly, Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. photo provided by Food Network /

Here in Atlanta, Spring has brought never-ending rain, but it has also bloomed a fresh crop of Spring Baking Championship. Eleven bakers with eclectic backgrounds will battle for a $25,000 prize, a feature in Food Network magazine, and the title of Spring Baking Champion. 

One of my favorite things about the Spring  Baking Championship is learning about the latest baking trends. For our very first challenge, the bakers are tasked with making a geometric tart. These tarts use precise, repeating patterns to decorate their tops. Often the patterns are highly linear, including triangles, rectangles, lines and squares.

The bakers will have two hours to use two spring fruit flavors in their geometric tart. To get their flavors, they must race to a “fruit salad tree,” a wooden cut-out with fruit names stuck to it. In their frantic attempt to get good flavors, they snap the tree in half and race back to their stations.

We spend much of this episode meeting the bakers, and with eleven of them, this gets to be a bit overwhelming. What is interesting is the variety that we have this season. We have bakers from across the United States including two from Texas as well as bakers from California, Florida, Connecticut, Wyoming, New York and Arizona. Our Connecticut baker is also a transplant from France. We also have two bakers from Canada and one from Puerto Rico. We have a baker with a home baking business, bakery owners, pastry chefs at hotels, and a culinary arts instructor.

Our judges, as usual, are Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman, and Lorraine Pascale. Each brings their own likes and dislikes. Nancy is notorious for loving alcohol flavors as well as homestyle bakes. Duff hates fondant and loves bacon. Lorraine brings her British tastes which often trend to less sweet, more tart and bitter.

Val Criado from Texas is first to present her tart to the judges. Somehow, Val ran up to the fruit tree and got two kiwi plaques. She rolled with it and has made a “kiwi squared” tart with kiwi pastry cream. Her pattern is little flowers cut from kiwi. The judges are pleasantly surprised by her pastry cream but find her crust a little chewy.

Molly Matthaei from Wyoming has made a rhubarb and strawberry crème fraiche tart. She is inspired by a quilt pattern and has made a beautiful design out of thin strips of rhubarb. Duff loves the look of the tart and the judges enjoy her crisp crust and rhubarb flavor. However, some judges want more strawberry flavor.

Spring Baking Championship
All bakers before elimination – Aris, Aisha, Anibal, Tati, Arin, Sandra, Molly, Val, Sohrob, Christine and Franck, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. photo provided by Food Network /

Franck Iglesias, our French transplant of Spanish descent who lives in Connecticut, received mango and rhubarb. But, much like himself, he decides to go more complex and makes a mango, rhubarb and strawberry tart with lime ganache. His design is very linear and looks a bit like a flag to me. The judges appreciate his geometry. Duff finds the tart very, well, tart. Lorraine likes it and thinks it is balanced if all eaten together.

Anibal Rodriguez from Puerto Rico presents a lemon and rhubarb tart with natilla pastry cream. He explains that natilla is a Puerto Rican version which is richer as it features heavy cream. His design in rhubarb doesn’t read as geometric to the judges. They feel like it just looks like rhubarb placed on top. Duff is also worried that his rhubarb looks mushy and oxidized. The judges love the pastry cream but find the lemon flavor to be faint.

Arin Hiebert from Calgary has made a kiwi and rhubarb tart with blueberry lemon curd. His tart also features an almond cream. His pattern, diamonds and triangles of kiwi and rhubarb, has been inspired by blankets his grandmother made. Nancy loves his pattern, Duff feels the almond ties everything together, and the judges think his rhubarb is perfectly cooked.

Perhaps because they have just had the perfectly cooked rhubarb, but probably because Duff is sick of the flavor, Duff tells everyone else, “I know this is a preheat but the next person who gives me rhubarb is going home.”

Poor Tati Vernot from Florida is up next and she nervously announces she has made a kiwi and grapefruit tart with vanilla pastry cream. Duff tells her, “that’s not grapefruit. You just don’t want to say rhubarb.” Indeed, she too has gotten rhubarb as an ingredient. She had a tough time in this bake as her pastry cream came out thick and lumpy. She tried to save it by paddling it in the mixer but Duff says it is gummy. The judges also don’t love her pattern of rhubarb flowers with kiwi leaves as the rhubarb is not cut precisely which makes the pattern messy. Nancy complains that the crust is the same thickness as the pastry cream.

Sandra Danso-Boadi from Ontario has made a lemon and strawberry tart with a hint of bourbon. Her decoration on top is a pinwheel, which Nancy likes. However Nancy complains that the bourbon is more of a whisper.

Aris Rodriguez from Arizona has made a lemon and mango tart with white chocolate pastry cream. He has decorated the top with a checkerboard of mango and white chocolate. Unfortunately, Lorraine wishes for better knife skills as his squares are all different sizes, with some not really being squares at all. Lorraine also feels that the mango and lemon are overpowered by the white chocolate.

Aisha Momaney from New York presents her strawberry and mango tart with feuilletine crunch. Her decoration is inspired by spring sunshine. Lorraine feels the design is “kind of geometric-ish.” More positive are the comments for her tart which are that it is springy, crunchy and features a nice balance of fruits.

Christine Nguyen, appropriately from Sugar Land Texas, presents her mango and strawberry tart with graham cracker and macadamia nut crust. Her design features flowers made of strawberries. She also has a coulis on top which Duff doesn’t like the look of as it has puddled. The judges find her tart delicious and love the macadamia nut surprise. However, her delicate crust started to crumble when she tried to remove it from her tart pans, so she made the decision to leave the bottom ring on the dessert for stability. Lorraine laments the metal on her plate.

Sohrob Esmaili from San Francisco presents his lemon and strawberry tart with sour cream custard as the final dessert of the preheat. Can you imagine needing to eat twenty-two desserts for one episode (two desserts for each of the eleven bakers)? The judges feel like his design in strawberries does not look terribly geometric. They also feel the strawberry is overshadowed by the strong lemon flavor.

Arin wins with his nearly perfect design and flavors. He earns an advantage for the main challenge. For that, the bakers must create another trendy dessert- a faultline cake. These cakes appear to have a gulf running around the middle which can be made either by baking a three-layer cake with a smaller middle cake, or by building up frosting above and below the middle of the cake.

Each baker will need to create their cake using spring flavors of their choosing and they will need to have a theme of spring transformation. They will have three hours to pull it all off. Arin’s advantage for winning the preheat is to select his theme, and he picks the bare to blooming tree.


After a mad dash for everyone else, the bakers have their assignments. Two hours into the bake, they get a twist. To highlight the contrasts of spring, they must add a flavored salt to their bake. The options are lime, lemon, smoked, matcha, or basil salt. The trick will be in adding enough salt for it to be noticeable without making their dessert salty. Aris, remembering the rhubarb invasion of the first round, jokes that he got rhubarb salt.

Val is first to present her white velvet cake with chopped hazelnut, basil salt and raspberry buttercream. Her transformation is a hibernating bear to an active bear. She has decided to treat her faultline as a cave and she puts a cut little fondant bear butt on the top of the cake with an awakening bear face in the fault. The judges love her design and feel the raspberry and hazelnuts are delicious. However, they can’t taste the basil salt, which is to become a theme.

Arin, winner of the preheat, presents a coconut cake with strawberry, black peppercorn filling and a smoked sea salt buttercream. Knowing the salt would be hard to feature, he used a smoking gun to put extra smoke into his buttercream. His transformation, bare to blooming trees, can be seen in his fault. He has created it with chocolate piped trees and fondant flowers. The judges like his trees but feel his fault is not quite noticeable enough. They would like a contrasting color of buttercream in there or a deeper fault. The judges like his flavors and get the salt but they can’t taste much coconut.

Aris has made an orange cake with blonde chocolate ganache and honey buttercream in a cute nod to his theme of sleeping and waking bears. His twist was lemon salt. The judges think his fault is a little too large and not very neat. Nancy loves the texture of his cake and the honey flavor. Lorraine can taste salt but not lemon.

Sandra has made a vanilla rose cake with raspberry filling. When she gets matcha salt, she decides to make a toasted hazelnut, caramel, salt and matcha powder filling too. Her transformation is caterpillar to butterfly. To do this, she has filled about half of her fault with green leaves on which sit white caterpillars. The other half of the fault has flowers and butterflies. Duff thinks her fault is overcrowded and kind of disappears. I think her white caterpillars look like maggots (sorry). The judges find her rose flavoring to be subtle, and a wonderful nod to butterflies. Lorraine, who loves matcha, calls her hazelnut layer a stroke of genius.

Tati has made a coconut cake with vanilla, smoked sea salt and lime buttercream. Her transformation is bare to blooming tree. To convey this, she has made a brown colored fault to represent the bark and then colored her top and bottom off-white with lots of piped flowers. Lorraine would have liked her fault to be smaller, but Duff likes the antique look she achieved. Her cake lacks lime and so it reads as a bit one dimensional.

Spring Baking Championship
Host Clinton Kelly interacting with Molly, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. photo provided by Food Network /

Molly presents a buttermilk thyme cake with blueberry earl grey jam. Molly got lime salt which she put in her jam along with extra lime zest. Molly wasn’t thrilled to get the caterpillar to butterfly theme. She says it just isn’t her kind of decorating. This shows a bit as she decided to make the cake itself her caterpillar, coloring it in green and brown. In her faultline, she adds sprinkles and fondant butterflies. Duff doubts if she has really met her theme and her fault area is quite small. However, her sponge is moist and they get the salt. Lorraine would like more tea flavor.

Sohrob has made a blueberry butter cake with lemon curd and matcha salt buttercream. To show his transformation of rain and sun, he has decorated his fault in yellow and peach. Above and below the fault, he has used dark colors and he even included rain drops. Duff likes his interpretation and Nancy loves the lemon and blueberry flavors. Lorraine can’t find any matcha.

Franck has made a lemon cake with port syrup and a strawberry buttercream. His twist was basil salt. He has gone all out for his caterpillar to butterfly theme with marzipan caterpillars and chocolate butterflies. Lorraine feels his fault kind of disappears among all the stuff. Also, she feels the flavors aren’t popping and she doesn’t really get lemon or basil.

Aisha is up next with her lemon cake with raspberry pastry cream. Her salt was lemon salt, a good match for her cake flavor. She too got the rain and sun transformation and she went with a bright middle and gray clouds for top and bottom, similar to Sohrob. Nancy loves her cake flavor; Lorraine wants more lemon salt.

Christine has had a tough time of it today. First, her graham cracker crust crumbled for her tart. Then, her lemon elderberry cake for this round is so tender that it falls apart in her hands and a large chunk drops to the floor. To save herself, she decides her fault will run up the side of the cake instead of around the middle, to hide the missing chunk.

Her transformation is nest to hatched chick so she puts a little chick on the side and makes the rest of the cake the cracking egg. Her cake also features a lychee buttercream and lime salt. Duff isn’t convinced she has made a fault cake. Nancy tells her she defaulted. However, her sponge is moist and light, as to be expected since it fell apart for those reasons. Her elderberry and lychee flavors are subtle and floral. Nancy doesn’t get lime salt.

Last but not least, Anibal presents his almond butter cake with marshmallow chicks. He too has had a rough time. He makes a swiss buttercream for his cake but it initially comes out all runny. He must remake it but this leads him to last-minute decorating and nearly forgetting his smoked salt. He frantically adds smoked salt to his marshmallow chicks at the last moment.

The judges find his decoration a little messy. Worse, Nancy feels there is not enough almond flavor and Duff and Lorraine think he needs another flavor in the mix. They find it too simple and one dimensional.

In the end, Val, Sandra and Tati are the best of the bunch today and Val wins. Safe are Arin, Aris, Molly, Sohrob, and Aisha. On the bottom we find Franck, Christine and Anibal. Unfortunately, the simplicity of Anibal’s cake is his undoing and he is first to go home.

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So, do you feel inspired to try a new trend? I haven’t mastered pie yet, but that faultline cake is pretty cool. Until next time, here’s hoping for sunshine and sweets.