The Spring Baking Championship final four are just two pool-themed challenges away from the finale and the grand prize. Who will sink and who will swim to the top?
We open this Spring Baking Championship episode with host Clinton Kelly enjoying a cocktail in a beach cabana. He welcomes the bakers to his retreat and reminds them that Mother’s Day is approaching. This year, mom will be celebrating with a Mexican vacation. To help her celebrate, the bakers will have an hour and a half to create margarita inspired treats. Their treats will have to feature a sweet and spicy combo of fruit and pepper. On that note, the best margarita I ever had was in Disney World. It was a blood orange concoction and had a Tajin chili powder rim so I can attest that a fruity and spicy margarita is delicious.
Clinton starts the clock and they all dash forward to grab their sweet and spicy combo. Val gets blackberry and jalapeno. Sohrob gets passion fruit and habanero, which would be the drink I would most like to try. Arin gets mango and bird’s eye chili. Tati gets the combo I would not want- watermelon and serrano. Watermelon is such a subtle flavor and the fruit is so watery that I fear she will struggle to find a good dessert to showcase it.
Things go smoothly, for the most part. Poor Tati gets pepper juice in her eye and just keeps stirring with her eyes closed. We are too close to the finale to take any time for tears. As everyone bakes, Clinton visits with them and we learn a bit more about them. He also reminds us of how they have all done in the competition to date.
Sohrob has made a habanero infused vodka that Clinton just has to sample. It’s so hot that Clinton squats on the floor with tears in his eyes after a spoonful. Sohrob is making a trifle in the hopes that it resembles a giant margarita. At one point he asks Tati how it looks and she tells him “a little messy.” Undeterred, he continues on with no change in his presentation plan.
When Clinton visits Tati he asks if she wants kids someday. She tells him, “if I have kids, I’m stuck with them for life!” Clinton agrees and tells her that’s why he doesn’t have any. Suddenly they realize that this is maybe not the best conversation to have on an episode celebrating mothers and they both nervously announce that they love kids.
As they finish up, Arin decides to add some sparkle to his dessert with gold dust. He uses the traditional method of applying a fine layer which is to blow it onto his dessert. Can I just admit that this technique completely creeps me out? Basically, the bakers who do this are spitting on your dessert. I will take mine without gold dust; thanks!
Time is called and we are ready for judgement from Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale. Nancy, known to enjoy a bit of booze, is excited about a margarita challenge. Tati is up first. Tati presents a toasted pavlova with watermelon curd, serrano simple syrup, sprinkled diced serrano and whipped cream. She has piled edible flowers on top of her pavlova to compliment the mother’s day theme. Duff thinks there are too many flowers on top. Edible or not, no one is going to eat them. However, everyone is pleasantly surprised that she has managed to capture the elusive flavor of watermelon. Duff remarks that the watermelon curd mixed with the pavlova on the plate is not very appetizing looking but it tastes good.
Arin has made an entremets. It has a lime shortbread crust at the bottom, followed by a bird’s eye chili and tequila gelee, topped with mango mousse. He has used an orange mirror glaze over the top and then added a white chocolate curl and a few fondant butterflies. Arin is clearly very good at mirror glazed entremets, but I do wish he would mix it up a bit as he seems to make them very often. Lorraine is not impressed by his little butterflies and wishes for something prettier. Regardless, the judges are blown away by his flavors. They love that they get the chili heat and then the creaminess of his dessert sweeps it away. They feel his dessert is very clever.
Val is next with her key lime pie with blackberry jalapeno compote in a macadamia shortbread crust. One of the things I think is most clever in her dessert is that she made a jalapeno simple syrup and then removed the jalapeno bits, now candied, and added those to her dessert as well. It’s two for one in terms of flavor with her syrup and her candied jalapeno. For presentation, she has taken excess shortbread and cut out a margarita glass shape. Nancy loves her margarita glass. Lorraine likes the feathering she has done on top of the tart with blackberry compote. Duff enjoys that he wouldn’t know she had jalapeno as an ingredient and instead would have tasted an interesting flavor that he couldn’t put his finger on. He also likes that her tequila is subtle, giving warmth more than flavor. Lorraine would like more tequila and also wants her crust to be baked more.
Sohrob is last to present and, as Tati warned him, it looks messy. He has presented his passion fruit panna cotta, angel food cake, passion fruit caramel and tequila sabayon as a trifle in a large glass. He has salted the rim to give the full effect of a jumbo margarita. With a trifle, you need to either have distinct layers or a pattern against the glass and you need to fill it right to the top. Sobrob’s does not have any noticeable layers and it stops a few inches from the top which somehow gives the effect that someone has already started eating it.
Lorraine tells him it’s not a looker. Nancy tries to support him, telling him it’s “not traditionally beautiful” but serves its purposes. Lorraine points out that “not traditionally beautiful” is no complement. Upon tasting, the general consensus at first is that it is spicy. Nancy tells him she can’t really discern between the sabayon and the panna cotta due to the heat. Duff thinks the panna cotta tastes really good but is too loose and he needs a better cake-to-goo ratio.
Despite being a bit predictable for his style, Arin’s amazing flavors win the preheat and an advantage for the main challenge. For that challenge, they will continue with the pool theme by making desserts that look like pool floats. For his advantage, Arin will have fifteen minutes of help from last season’s winner, Cory Barrett. Cory won on a mother’s day cake so he is eager to help someone advance on a similar challenge.
As Clinton cautions Cory to step back, he lets the bakers loose to fight for their pool float. Tati dives toward the flamingo like a professional baseball player but Sohrob somehow gets it first. She tells him “I hate you” as she instead takes the peacock. After this auspicious start, Clinton helps things along by reminding Sohrob that he has been on a downward trajectory, landing at the bottom for the last three weeks. Sohrob plans to pull out all the stops and really impress with his flamingo themed dessert so he can secure a place in the finale.
Like Tati, Val is a little upset that she didn’t get the floaty of her choice. She has gotten a seahorse but wanted the swan that Arin snatched. The reason she wanted the swan is because her planned dessert is already white. She is making a Peruvian sandwich cookie called an alfajor which is a family favorite and something she always makes for her mom’s birthday. She is hoping this family connection will see her through. She is our last family and self-taught baker so this is an homage to the women in her family that helped her get here today.
With only about an hour left, Val removes her cookies from the oven only to find one has cracked. She has to start over from scratch for that cookie and it is at this inopportune time that Clinton announces the twist. Everyone must create an edible pool for their floaty to sit in. He helpfully suggests they just use water.
As time ticks down, Arin has Cory come help him by asking him to temper chocolate and melt cocoa butter. Cory also helps by telling him that he had to make a swan in the first week on his season and he got berated for not having a head on the swan. He highly recommends that Arin make sure his swan is not headless.
In the final seconds, everyone is rushing to finish plating, but no one more than Tati. She has colored cocoa butter and painted small circles and then covered those with white chocolate. These are to represent peacock feathers but they won’t set and won’t come off the acetate. With the help of cold spray, she finally gets them loose and on her dessert, though they are perhaps more abstract than planned.
Arin is up first for judging. His swan is elegant, made of a vanilla shortbread topped with a strawberry mousse with a white chocolate pistachio insert. It’s no surprise that this is mirror glazed, this time in white. He has also created a white chocolate neck and head and white chocolate feathers. Arin tells us that once, he jumped onto a flamingo floaty and it popped. He was really embarrassed, but it has inspired his pool. For his pool twist, he has splattered blueberry coulis under his elegant swan.
Lorraine confesses that she is confused by the color and splatter of his pool and Duff says it looks more like swan hunting season. After a bite, Nancy declares it fantastic. She loves the pistachio flavor and the texture of his mousse. Duff thinks the glaze is too thick and he wants more strawberry flavor in the mousse.
Sohrob is next and he really has pulled out all the stops. He isn’t letting Arin corner the market on entremets and has created a chiffon cake with a rum soak, blackberry compote, and lime mousse. When given the twist, Sohrob represents the pool twice. First, he makes a blue almond crumble base for his dessert. Then he pours a pink mirror glaze around a ring mold and fills the ring mold with blue mirror glaze. This has the effect of looking like you are looking through the center of the pool float into the pool. He has decorated his entremets with white chocolate feathers in various shades of pink as well as a fondant neck and beak.
The look is truly stunning. Duff calls it striking and Lorraine deems it gorgeous. On top of that, they love his flavors and the textures in his creamy mousse and cookie crumble bottom. The only complaint is that he needs more sugar. Lorraine says she could almost eat this as a breakfast and feel like she was being healthy due to the lack of sugar. However they are still floored by his artistry, techniques and flavors.
Comparatively, I admit to finding Tati’s dessert boring in presentation. She has made small bundt cakes to represent a float. She then used these to make tres leches with a passionfruit soak that she has applied with a pipette to try to get even distribution. On top, she has a few swirls of passion fruit and white chocolate whipped ganache and her hastily added peacock feather. For her pool, she simply added more of her tres leches soak to the plate.
Nancy finds her dessert abstract but well done. Duff loves her white chocolate feather but argues that she has no pool. It’s more of a puddle. Duff tells her he wishes her presentation were better for this final challenge before the finale. Nancy loves the passion fruit flavor but Duff finds the cake to be dry and wants more soak. Lorraine prefers it drier but wishes she had either removed the passion fruit seeds or left them larger as it is all a bit gritty. I’m with Duff. I like a nice, wet tres leches cake. The best ones I’ve had are made with a sturdy pound cake that holds its integrity while also being drenched in the milks.
Val is our last baker judged. Her alfajor is sandwiched with homemade pineapple jam as well as manjar blanco. She explains that this is similar to dulce de leche but whiter and using both evaporated and condensed milk. It required her to spend a long time at the stove, stirring nonstop. Looking at her dessert, I completely forgot her pool float theme because it honestly looks nothing like it. Her dessert is basically a giant sandwich cookie. To make it yellow instead of white, she has put gold luster dust in the powered sugar that she dusted it with, but it doesn’t read yellow to me. She has also added a cookie head and tail. For her pool, she has colored some of her pineapple jam a dark blue and added it to blue candy melts for a mixed blue sea.
The judges like the different colors in her sea and love that this is a family dessert, but they are disappointed in her simple display and do not get seahorse out of it at all. The judges love her flavors though. They find her cookie to be sandy and buttery and they love her manjar blanco. Nancy likes the jam and wants more of it.
As the judges deliberate, it is clear that Tati and Val are at the bottom. In the end, Sohrob has managed to prove himself and then some and is first to move on to the finale. Val, sadly, is out. The judges found her display too easy and simple compared to the others. It must be so hard to go home this close to the finale, but as a home baker, she should be enormously proud to have held her own against the training of the others.
Next time, the Spring Baking Championship finale! After making prom cakes specific to decades (yep, that sounds weird), someone will go home with a title, twenty-five thousand dollars and a feature in Food Network magazine!
Who is your pick to win it all? I really think anyone could take it home and I can’t wait to see what happens.