Spring Baking Championship: Spring Flower Power

Bakers Val, Sohrob, Tati, Arin and Christine waving to judges, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. Image Courtesy Food Network
Bakers Val, Sohrob, Tati, Arin and Christine waving to judges, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. Image Courtesy Food Network /

Just five bakers remain in the running for the Spring Baking Championship title. In two floral challenges, who will blossom and who will be weeded out?

In this Spring Baking Championship episode, we open with host Clinton Kelly standing under cherry trees in full bloom. Under these delicate pink flowers, he explains the pre-heat. The bakers will need to make a cherry dessert in one of five styles: crumble, crisp, cobbler, buckle, or brown betty. To up the springtime factor, they will also need to include an herb from lemon verbena, rosemary, lavender, pineapple sage or thyme.

As usual, we start with a mad scramble for style and herb. The styles are printed onto little cherry trees and Sohrob manages to snag the crumble. As he stands there, Christine comes up and literally pops the top off his tree as she attempts to grab it out of his hands. He is left with nothing but a trunk and Clinton informs him that whoever has the treetop gets the style. Sohrob sadly goes and grabs the last remaining style which is a crisp. As I’ve said before, my favorite baking competitions are supportive and kind. This atmosphere of clutching and grabbing is not my style and I really wish the Spring Baking Championship would pull back from that.

Anyway, Clinton goes around visiting the bakers during their ninety-minute cook, mostly to ask how they define the style of bake that they got. Sohrob tells Clinton that a crisp is just a crumble but more finely ground. He blitzes up his oatmeal topping until it has a fine texture and adds a thin layer to his fruit in hopes of a crispy topping. He has pineapple sage as his herb which he mixes into sugar and also steeps in cream for a topping.

Christine explains to Clinton that she got crumble, to which Sohrob mumbles, “she’s a liar!” She has rosemary as her herb which she mixes into sugar and adds to her cherry filling. For her topping, she mixes flour, brown sugar and butter. As she works, Arin asks if she has the almond extract and the cinnamon. She initially says no as a joke and then admits to having both and laughs. Sohrob mumbles again, “she sounds like a demon!” Christine makes Arin hover at her shoulder as she slowly spoons cinnamon into her food processor. They do seem to be painting her as a bit of a villain, but I’m not buying it.

Val has gotten brown betty and lemon verbena. She samples the lemon verbena and makes a face. It is the exact flavor of her lotion at home. Still, she is going to use it in every way possible so she makes a simple syrup and adds it to her topping, filling and a whipped cream. She explains that a brown betty uses breadcrumbs.

Tati has gotten cobbler. She’s never had or made one, but she knows how to make biscuits. She makes her biscuits and cuts them into small squares which she then packs on top of the fruit. I guess I am more used to a cobbler with a batter topping or a very soft biscuit. I’m used to the topping being fall-apart soft, but she is making biscuits that could be lifted off her dessert to stand alone. She has also gotten lavender and she puts plenty in her filling to be sure the judges can taste it.

Arin has gotten buckle and he explains to Clinton that this involves layers of cake, fruit and streusel topping. The idea is that the weight of the fruit will buckle his cake. He has received thyme as his herb so he makes a thyme cake for the bottom of his dessert.

As time winds down, everyone focuses on trying to make their homey dessert look fancy. Sohrob and Arin make modeling chocolate cherry trees. Christine makes hers out of American buttercream. Val pipes melted chocolate into very small trees that look like chicken feet until she puts little flowers on them. Tati makes pink gum paste flowers. Christine notes that her dessert has bubbled over the edges of her ramekins and considers cleaning them but decides that looks tasty and leaves it alone. Tati notes the same thing and works hard to scrub away every dribble of bubbled over juice but doesn’t manage to finish cleaning all the dishes when time is called.

Sohrob is up first for judging. Things have not gone well as his crisp has sunk into his cherries and his cream has melted over the top. Judge Duff Goldman tells him he didn’t get a crisp. He got a bowl of fruit. Judge Nancy Fuller is unhappy about the melted cream. As they dig in, Clinton begs Duff to give Sohrob some good news but Duff says, “I don’t know if I can.” He tells Sohrob that there is nothing crisp about his crisp. His oatmeal topping has absorbed moisture and turned into an actual oatmeal texture. Duff admits there is complex cherry flavor but judge Lorraine Pascale wants more pineapple sage. Duff shakes his head in disbelief and says, “it’s a crisp. This is like idiot proof.”

Arin is up next and hopes for a better result with his cherry and thyme buckle. Sadly, though it looks really good, it lacks juiciness and they decide it is more a “weird, flat, oval muffin.” Nancy doesn’t really get the flavor of thyme in his cake.

They tell Christine it is her turn and she says she is scared as Duff comically glares at her. She presents her cherry and rosemary crumble and Duff starts to shake his head. He surprises her by exclaiming, “finally!” He asks if he scared her and is amused that he did. The judges appreciate the overflowing, bubbling juice which matches the moist interior. Lorraine gets the rosemary and Nancy proclaims it a cherry blossom festival on a plate.

Tati is next with her cherry and lavender cobbler. She has tried to clean the bubbles off her ramekins and Duff faults her for that. He likes the look of the juices pouring out. Though they think her biscuits look flaky, Nancy tells her the consistency of her dessert is odd. Duff tells her she needs more moisture, that the whole thing is too solid. Lorraine tells her that lavender says spring but that this dessert is yelling spring. She’s overdone it. I stand by my assessment that a cobbler should not be topped with fully formed, flaky biscuits but rather a soft, fall apart topping.

Val is last up. Duff yells at her playfully to come up and she says she doesn’t want to. Most of the bakers have not had good luck this round. She reluctantly presents her cherry and lemon verbena brown betty with cream on the side. Sadly, she suffers a similar fate as there is too much bread in her topping and the whole thing is too dry. Diff tells her she has made a muffin baked in a ramekin.

After this rather disastrous pre-heat, Clinton tells them all to go have a drink. It is surprising that such talented bakers could fail on such a homey and relatively simple dessert. They all baked in ramekins, perhaps for time saving or maybe for presentation, and maybe that threw the proportions off? Maybe they were all so focused on making sure they presented plenty of topping that they forgot that they should still have lots of juice? Maybe they all just got into their own heads and tried to overcomplicate things. Whatever happened, most are on equally unstable footing after the first challenge.

The only baker who did get solid reviews was Christine, and she wins the preheat as well as an advantage for the main challenge. As Clinton announces this, the camera cuts to Sohrob pulling a face. Clinton goes on to explain that the challenge is inspired by flower crowns and that they will need to create a flower crown cake. They will have two hours to create their cake and to recreate a specific flower crown for the top. The type of flower will be determined by the traditional dash up front. Christine’s advantage is that she has a basketful of decorating tools including wafer paper, piping tips, molds, and artificial stamens. Sohrob pulls another face as her advantage is announced.

Spring Baking Championship
Clinton Kelly, Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale, as seen on Spring Baking Championship, Season 6. Image Courtesy Food Network /

Val receives peonies which are beautiful and full and, she feels, the hardest to make. She is worried about their fullness and the number of petals each one has as she is not sure how to get them done in time. Tati is excited to get pansies and Christine is happy with tulips. Sohrob has gotten poppies and tells us that he finally got the thing he wanted without “someone ripping it out of my hands.” Arin has received daffodils.

In general, the bakes go mostly to plan though everyone feels rushed in creating their flowers. This is made worse when Clinton announces the challenge- an edible ribbon for the cake. Toward the end, there are a lot of frantic bakers trying to get everything completed and Christine completely breaks down in tears. Clinton goes to comfort her and to get her focused on the challenge again. Just before her tears, Sohrob noticed her acting frantic and confused and quietly commented that she has a whole basket of things to make her life easy so he doesn’t understand why she doesn’t just get on with it. It may be produced but they really are trying to create a little rivalry between these two.

Too soon, time is up and the judges are ready for cake. Val is first. She presents a really lovely cake with combed sides  and a shiny yellow ribbon of fondant. She has piped pink peonies for the top of her cake starting with a large cone of cream cheese frosting and then piping petals all around the cone. Nancy loves the movement she has gotten in her bow by drying it into a flowing shape. Everyone is impressed by her flowers. Lorraine feels her strawberry cake has a subtle flavor and she loves the pistachio cream cheese frosting. Nancy feels there aren’t enough pistachios but she still enjoys it.

Tati is next to present her carrot cake with sea salt vanilla cream cheese frosting. She has made a handful of gum paste pansies but, feeling she didn’t have time for more, she has also piped buttercream pansies in a multitude of shades of purple and white. She had hoped for a naked cake but she built her cake in ring molds and found that she ended up with a dented cake. She felt she had to fill in the dent using buttercream so now her cake is more heavily frosted in places than she wanted. Lorraine immediately questions the look as it is not really naked or semi-naked and just reads as incomplete. Nancy is unimpressed by the small bow gum paste bow that Tati added at the bottom of the cake. Duff is really impressed with her piped flowers, especially all the different colors.

Tati purposely made her carrot cake simple using just carrots and spices. Nancy was expecting pineapple or other add-ins and finds the cake lacks texture. Duff enjoys all the spice. As Lorraine agrees that there are two types of carrot cake- this more refined style and then the kind with more texture, Tati’s cake slumps sideways. The cream cheese frosting has gone too soft to hold up a tiered cake. Tati is horrified but the judges shrug it off since it happened after they had already judged its appearance and flavor.

Arin is next with his chocolate cake with raspberry filling and lemon buttercream. He has piped his daffodils in buttercream and added a small fondant bow, but he admits as he places the ribbon that it is not very impressive. Lorraine and Nancy do not like his bow and Nancy worries she won’t like lemon and chocolate together. However, she declares the cake to be delicious once she tries it and Lorraine finds it delicate and easy to eat. Duff thinks Arin needed to pick either raspberry or lemon and that together, it is too acidic.

Christine is next with her vanilla bean cake with passionfruit gelee. Christine has admitted in the past that her style is over-the-top and it has caused problems in previous challenges. During the minimalist challenge, her large chocolate cake failed to meet the parameters. Here, she has started with a semi-naked cake. She says that in spring, clothes are coming off and then corrects herself to mean winter clothes. Anyway, she feels the semi-naked cake is a nice reference to that, plus it is trendy. Flower crowns are trendy too so she is hoping to up the trendy factor with her semi-naked cake.

But from there, she seems to decide to put on every trendy idea she can think of and then some. She puts drips on the cake followed by buttercream rosettes and dragees. And this was all before she even gets to her flowers. Lucky for her, she has a tulip piping tip that creates perfect tulips with the squeeze of a pastry bag. But having gotten flustered has still cost her time and she has added a buttercream bow that just blends into the rest of the cake and adds to the overall messiness. Nancy and Lorraine admire her tulips but Lorraine says it is downhill from there. Duff calls it higgledy-piggledy and tells her that, just because she can do all these techniques, that doesn’t mean she should do them all on one cake. The judges say little about the flavor of her cake except that the passionfruit gelee is too tart.

Sohrob presents last with his apricot yellow cake with blackberries. He spent a huge amount of time on very large gum paste poppy petals and finds he has time to assemble only a few. He elects to put just three on the top of the cake rather than a whole ring, in part for time and in part as the flowers are huge. With just thirty minutes left in the competition, he was still working on flowers and had yet to assemble his cake or make buttercream. When he does make buttercream, the apricot jam causes it to break but he has to use it anyway. He just hopes the fat seeping out of his buttercream will soak into his cake.

Nancy wishes he would have just made smaller flowers and went all the way around. Duff defends him though, saying those flowers take a lot of time and he would rather have an incomplete gum paste crown than a piped crown that looks like something from a grocery store. The judges don’t like his bow, though, finding it cracked and unprofessional. Lorraine loves the fresh flavors in his cake. Duff notes that his buttercream broke but Nancy says she doesn’t care. She loves the apricot flavor.

In the end, Val’s cake takes the crown. Tati and Arin are safe. At the bottom are Sohrob and Christine. Sohrob exclaims, “three weeks in a row!” Christine asks if they should hold hands and they do briefly, until Sohrob takes a subtle step away and their hands drop down. Perhaps their little rivalry is not all created on the editing floor. Despite his broken buttercream, messed up bow, and incomplete flower crown, Christine is sent home for her over decorated cake. My guess is that his flavors saved Sohrob this week.

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Next week, the Spring Baking Championship challenges are margarita and pool float themed. Seems a little summer to me, but who am I to judge?