Spring Baking Championship review: The One About Puppies and Kitties

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

When people think of Spring, they of course think of puppies and kitties, right? Today on the Spring Baking Championship, the remaining bakers will pay sweet tribute to our furry friends and one will sadly go to the doghouse. 

As I noted last time, I think the folks who are coming up with the Spring Baking Championship challenges are running out of ideas. We open with host Clinton Kelly sitting in what looks like the coffee house from the show Friends but decorated with a cat theme. The place is called “Purrfect Pour” and is decorated with cat pictures, stuffed cats, cat pillows and more.

Clinton explains that more kittens are born in Spring, so the first challenge will focus on cats. Even more delightfully random, the bakers will need to create kitty eclairs (kittyclairs) that represent orange tabby cats and popular names for them. Everyone will have ninety minutes to come up with twelve eclairs that look like orange cats and feature a flavor similar to an orange tabby name such as butterscotch, marmalade, or clementine.

After a mad dash for a coffee mug which features an orange kitty face and a flavor, the bakers get to work. To me, making eclairs look like kitties seems more of a Kids Baking Championship theme, so I am expecting really innovative and elevated treats from these bakers.

For most, the baking goes well enough. As Clinton checks on each baker, I worry about Sohrob. He tells us he is putting orange juice in his pate a choux, the dough or batter used to make éclairs. I am sure this will not go well. My husband speculates that the acid in the juice will denature the protein in the egg. He feels that this will make it so the éclair can’t hold itself against the steam that puffs it, and essentially, the puff won’t puff. I’m not that fancy but I feel like acid in the dough is a bad idea.

Sure enough, his pastry doesn’t puff so he doesn’t have a hollow to fill. He decides to remake the eclairs but uses the same dough, so he will have the same issue. He decides that the way to fix the issue is just to pipe them bigger. As expected, his second batch is little better so he struggles to be able to get sufficient filling in his small eclairs.

Though baking went OK for everyone else, as far as we see, decorating does not. Molly and Aris put craquelin on top of their eclairs which results in a crunchy texture. But now they can’t pipe clean little cat faces. Arin has gone with what I think he means to be an orange fondant, but it is pinkish. To this, he adds a round nose. Only when he steps back does he realize he has made something a little like a pig and he says “there’s no way I’m going to get this advantage.”

As Clinton says, “just for the record, cats have ears, tails and whiskers,” Tati watches her chocolate ears and tails melt. Aisha goes more abstract and agrees with Arin that she’s not going to win this challenge. Clinton begs them, “guys, please, make these look like cats.” Time is called and Sohrob says it was a nightmare while Molly blows a raspberry.

Aisha is first in front of our usual Spring Baking Championship judges of Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman, and Lorraine Pascale. She has made a butterscotch éclair to which she has added a dab of whiskey. To decorate, she has used orange glaze and piped on white stripes. Everyone agrees it is a nice looking éclair but it doesn’t scream cat. However, they lover her cream and her flavors. Nancy, as usual, wants more whisky.

Val has made a clementine cream cheese éclair with caramel top. She cut a head, paws and tail out of fondant and has used them to make it look like an upside-down kitty holding a clementine segment. The judges love her very cute kitty. Lorraine enjoys the crunchy caramel but Duff finds her cream a little bland and Nancy wants more flavor wow.

Christine has made a ginger pastry cream éclair. To decorate, she piped out little choux tails. She has also used yellow and orange coating chocolate, fondant ears and a little pink fondant flower. When baking, she commented that she didn’t want to go overboard on the ginger which I figured was a mistake since that was her challenge ingredient and since Lorraine loves ginger. Lorraine “kind of” sees a kitty but she misses the ginger flavor.

Tati has made a strawberry and ginger pastry cream éclair. She decorated with very thin colored chocolate heads and tails which have melted away to nothing. Though the judges see no kitty, they love her ginger and strawberry combo.

Franck, who has been on the bottom for both of the previous main heat challenges, tells us he is like a cat himself with nine lives. He figures he still has seven left, so he is OK. He has made a pink grapefruit marmalade and orange liqueur éclair. To decorate, he has colored marzipan. Duff isn’t convinced they are cats as the ears and tail are rather thick and possibly more mousey. Lorraine really likes his grapefruit flavor and Duff says it is really interesting and almost bubblegum-like in flavor.

Molly’s clementine cream and blonde ganache eclairs needed more baking but the cream and chocolate are a hit. However, her piping on the craquelin has not gone well and looks hasty and unprofessional.

Arin’s butterscotch and cherry éclair gets rave reviews for flavors and techniques. He earns a “perfect” from Lorraine, but Nancy teases him about making pigs instead of cats.

Aris has made an orange marmalade and mascarpone éclair. To decorate, he has made a cream puff with orange craquelin to make the cat’s head, but to me the heads are way out of proportion. Like Molly, he couldn’t pipe well on the rough surface and he gets dinged for appearance. Also like Molly, his choux needed longer in the oven. But his filling is delicious.

Sohrob is last to present. He tells them he has made a tangerine “meowmalade” éclair. Lorraine, holding it delicately between two fingers, asks, “is this the Spring Baking Championship or is it the world’s smallest éclair competition? Because you just won!” Lorraine thinks his tangerine flavor is divine but there is hardly any in the puff, given it didn’t puff. Duff tells him he needed to bake the choux longer as well.

In an unprecedented turn of events, the judges give the win to two bakers. Arin and Aisha have both won for fantastic flavor, though both failed on looks. Considering they both said out loud that they couldn’t win, they are both shocked and delighted to win an advantage in the main heat. Their advantage is exemption from any twist, one of the best advantages to date.

Continuing with the Spring Baking Championship pet theme, the main heat honors dogs. Apparently, dogs love Spring and they love to be active in the Spring so each baker will get a dog and a favorite activity. The options are Labrador retriever and tennis, French poodle and kayaking, dachshund and skateboarding, Australian shepherd and flying disc. Truly, I am delighted by the level of randomness in this season.

They all have two hours to make a dessert inspired by their dog and its pastime but it doesn’t have to look like a dog, thankfully. I do wonder if the bakers are given any kind of heads up on challenges or a dossier or something, because many of them know some really specific facts about their breed.

Almost all are inspired by the home country of their breed along with the sport featured. Molly, for instance, gets the Australian shepherd so she decides to make a traditional Australian dessert, a lamington. Normally a vanilla cake covered in chocolate and dried coconut, she’s giving it a twist by making a banana cake. Even more fancy than that, she is topping it with dollops of malted milk meringue (made with malted milk powder), raspberry gel, and namelaka, a silky concoction of chocolate, glucose, gelatin and cream.

As she explains her dish, she says she is adding bananas as they are springy. So here is my little soap box moment. Everyone on this show throws spring around willy nilly. It’s hard to define what flavors are spring because it can vary depending on where you live. But let’s say we look at a harvest calendar for Southern California, where I am guessing the show is filmed.

If Spring is March 1 – May 31, I see grapefruit, lemon, mandarins, strawberries, nectarines, navel orange, peaches and plums are in season in spring in California. In Georgia where I live, our wild blackberry bush is flowering. But in the grocery stores, you can pick up most fruits year-round. So what is a spring flavor, really, and what on earth makes banana a spring flavor? For the show, it seems any fruit at all is spring and any bright colors are too.

Soap box stashed away, we can get back to the baking. The twist turns out to be to make a dog bone shaped treat. Most of the bakers have something they can fairly easily re-purpose when Clinton announces it. Franck seems to be the only baker who makes something all new.

When time is called, Molly is up first. Her plate is beautiful and elegant and to represent the flying disc, she has added a simple and modern circle made of raspberry fluid gel to her plate. Her bone is made of leftover malted milk meringue. Duff thinks her banana addition is very clever and loves the crunch of her meringue. Lorraine says her cake is full of flavor and Nancy likes the pop of raspberry.

Val is next with her lemon meringue pie. She got poodle, so she made a nod to the French with a pate sucree crust. She has piped meringue fur around the border of her pie and decorated the fur with two red fondant bows. She has added a doggy face to the center of the pie and has made a fondant kayak to sit next to the pie. Her bone is made of leftover pate sucree. Her meringue is perfect, her curd is silky but her bone is a little plain.

Arin got the Labrador and tennis. He has made a blackberry mousse with maple shortbread and mint gel. Arin tells us that labs are from Canada, which I did not know, so he has made a nod to Canada with his maple shortbread. His dessert is very sophisticated- a perfect square of mousse covered in a Labrador-colored mirror glaze with green circles on the sides for the tennis balls.

Lorraine finds his presentation stunning and Duff is enamored of his perfect glaze. Nancy loves every element of the dessert but Lorraine wishes for more salt in the shortbread and more sweetness in the blackberry.

Aris got the Australian shepherd and flying disc. He is inspired by another Australian dessert, the pavlova, often eaten at Christmastime there. He has made an ube pavlova with coconut gel and ube yogurt cake. Ube is a purple tuber with a really distinct flavor. I find it earthy and I love it.

Aris tells us that the Australian shepherd is a hyper dog, so he is plating in a deconstructed manner. He has made a disc of purple ube meringue. His bone is made of leftover ube cake. Nancy loves the look of his disc but Duff says it is too sweet. Nancy thinks his coconut gel has a grainy texture. Lorraine says his bone is moist but doesn’t have a lot of flavor.

Spring Baking Championship
Christine process, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. photo provided by Food Network /

Christine has gotten the dachshund and skateboard. Thinking about the shape of a skateboard, she has made a raspberry mascarpone napoleon as it is rectangular. She has also made a large decorated lavender sugar cookie that looks like a dachshund wearing a helmet. Her bone is made of leftover sugar cookie dough and she has piped the judges’ names on each one.

Lorraine wishes her giant napoleon was a bit more refined, but she appreciates the attention to putting their names on the bones. Duff commends her delicate use of lavender and Nancy likes the refreshing raspberry and the little doggie helmet.

Tati got the Labrador and tennis ball. She has been inspired by Wimbledon, the famous tennis championship. Somehow, she knows that strawberries and cream is an iconic Wimbledon snack, so she has made a strawberries and cream mousse cake with hazelnut dacquoise. Her bones are leftover dacquoise covered in passionfruit chocolate and sprinkles.

To decorate her dessert, Tati piped meringue in a fur-like pattern and gently torched it to a golden color. Duff says it looks soft and he kinda wants to touch it. Nancy loves her cream but Lorraine does not. Lorraine doesn’t like the sourness from the cream cheese. Duff admits he loves the cream so Lorraine is the odd one out.

Franck got the Labrador and tennis. He made an almond cake with strawberry compote and a no-bake crème brulee. I have never heard of such a thing and wonder how that will work. Sadly, it does not. It doesn’t set and melts over his dessert, and because it is so soft he can’t brulee it. The judges find his dessert messy but really enjoy his flavors. They also like his bone, which he has made out of a melt-in-your-mouth sable Breton cookie.

Sohrob got the dachshund and skateboard and decided to go very abstract with it. He has made a round black forest cheesecake in honor of the German heritage of the breed. He has set his cheesecake up to look as if it were going up a meringue skate ramp and he has adorned the plate with fresh Amaretto soaked cherries.

It is a beautiful presentation that the judges call a work of art. His dessert gets nothing but praise- luscious, velvety, delicious. They are tempted to eat the whole thing, which is saying a lot of all the desserts that have come before. His bone is made of leftover meringue and is also delicious.

Aisha presents last. She got poodle and kayak. She too has gone rather modern and abstract. Her lime mousse is set in a half sphere and she has piped meringue around it for fur. The mousse sits on a graham cracker base which represents her kayak, and that sits on a blueberry sauce for water. To make it look a little more like a poodle, she has added a small blue bow.

The judges like her presentation and exclaim after their first taste. The lime is very strong. Nancy feels the blueberry sauce is excellent and the meringue is lovely but they can’t balance the strong lime flavor. Lorraine disagrees and loves the citrus. Nancy disagrees right back and Lorraine jokes, “I can’t work like this.”

It is no surprise when Sohrob and Molly are singled out for praise and Sohrob wins. In the bottom, we see Franck for the third time and Aris. Franck’s luck has run out and he goes home. He tells us he misses his family and feels like his head was just never in the game.

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Next week, the remaining Spring Baking Championship bakers will be in a team challenge and will need to make bikes. They look like paris-brest, one of my favorite desserts of all time. I better not watch next week while hungry.