Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart review: Welcome to Camp

Contestants Catherine Foley, Cortney Anderson-Sanford, Nate Clingman, Jessica Lugo, Kela Hunte, and Bryan Clark, as seen on Bakeaway Camp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network
Contestants Catherine Foley, Cortney Anderson-Sanford, Nate Clingman, Jessica Lugo, Kela Hunte, and Bryan Clark, as seen on Bakeaway Camp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

Does Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart sound like a baker’s dream? For these six bakers, the Food Network has created the ultimate baking experience.

I don’t know who came up with this concept of Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart but it sounds like a dream come true. Six home bakers have been selected to attend bake away camp. There, they will compete in challenges and along the way, winners will receive one-on-one instruction in baking from Martha Stewart herself in her farm kitchen. In the end, one home baker will be left standing, hopefully wiser from their mentoring and $25,000 richer.

We begin with an aerial view of a beautiful forested campground. We see tents, a fire pit, an archery range. It looks like a nice but fairly typical camping site until you note the signpost. It points to air brush, stand mixer, sugar box, and convection oven. This is my kind of forest.

Host and “head camp counselor” Jesse Palmer greets our six home bakers and explains the rules. Each week, the bakers will have two challenges. The first will be the “counselors’ challenge,” devised by two baking and pastry experts. These experts will mentor the bakers, offering advice as they bake, but will also judge them in both challenges.

After the first challenge, a winner will get to ride in a fancy SUV up the road to Martha Stewart’s farm where they will receive their private lesson meant to help them in the second challenge. For the second challenge, created by the “Camp Director,” the judging will include Martha and one baker will go home.

All of these challenges will happen in the camp kitchen. While nicely outfitted and sitting beneath a lovely Japanese style wooden trellis, it is open to the elements. After seeing the kitchen and hearing about the structure of the game, Jesse offers to introduce the Camp Director. In glides Martha atop a stunning black horse. It is all very regal, as one would expect from Queen of Domesticity, Martha Stewart. It is at this point that home baker Kela loses it. She starts weeping in excitement and awe over meeting her idol. Martha very kindly tells her to pull it together so she can bake well.

Our first counselors’ challenge is a camp classic- s’mores. But they don’t want just any old s’more. These need to be elevated, elegant and modern. They have sixty minutes to reinvent the s’more into a plated dessert. Jesse reminds everyone that Martha won’t be judging this round and home baker Cortney says “phew!” Martha replies, “well, I may not be judging but I will always be watching.” If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is. I have two people I admire and would be terrified to cook for- Martha Stewart and Alton Brown, and this comment chills me to the bone.

As they bake, Jesse gives Martha a rundown of each baker, FBI-style. Baker Catherine Foley should know because she works for the FBI. She grew up baking with her Russian Orthodox family so has a long history of home baking. Her goal in camp is to improve her fondant technique. You and me both, Catherine. With just sixty minutes in the challenge she is taking the risky move of making macarons. She laments the number of bees hanging out on her station.

Kela Hunte from Texas works as a food service director at an elementary school. Her camp goal is to improve laminating dough, also a very good goal. I have tried croissants at home and they did not go well. She started baking just five years ago. She would love to win so that she can have a teaching kitchen to share her love of baking with children. She believes in “everything is bigger in Texas” as a motto and she is making a stuffed cookie. She makes her dough with graham cracker crumbs, chocolate and marshmallows. She then builds an entire s’mores and covers that in her cookie dough. She ends up with a circle of dough the size of a newborn’s head.

Nate Clingman from Tennessee is a global training and development specialist and father of two. His baking camp goal is to improve his sugar work. These guys really do have solid baking goals. He’s making a s’mores pot de crème. Jessica Lugo from New Jersey is a videographer who wants to improve on baking macarons. She is making a s’mores chocolate tart. Bryan Clark from Utah is a triplet and one of nine children. He is quite competitive as he had to be to stand out among his siblings. He hopes to improve his decorating skills and he is making a s’mores éclair. Finally, Cortney Anderson-Sanford from Seattle is an etiquette consultant who grew up on a farm. I sense she may be a bit of a Martha Stewart herself with that job and background. Her camp goal is to improve in tempering chocolate, and she is making a brown butter blondie.

With thirty minutes left, we see that Bryan has burned his eclairs. Not only that, but they didn’t puff in the oven. Given their tan color from the graham cracker crumb that he added to his choux batter, their flatness, and their burn, they look a lot like cooked shoe inserts. I am horrified when he says he will just cut off the sides and use them anyway. I am unclear how cutting off the sides helps in any way, as they seem to be burned throughout.

At the fifteen minute time call, we see Kela pour hot cream in which she has steeped marshmallows into a ziplock. She then places that in another ziplock with ice and salt in the hopes of making camp ice cream. She stands there shaking it and occasionally tossing it to Jesse and I am pretty sure she is not going to have time for ice cream.

After a few tense moments of final plating, their first desserts are ready for judging. We meet our camp counselors- Dan Langan and Carla Hall. Together they have a lot of experience in baking, competition and teaching. Both teach courses on the Food Network Kitchen app.

Kela is up first. I am amused that her dish is presented as a s’mores chocolate chip cookie with marshmallow anglaise as that anglaise was meant to be ice cream. Her cookie is the size of a plate. As the judges break into it, you can see the melting chocolate and gooey marshmallow inside. Carla loves the cookie and is surprised that it is not too sweet.  She and Dan both enjoy the soft center and crispy exterior. However, Dan thinks her anglaise is lackluster. Without toasting the marshmallows, all they lent was a sugar taste. Fun fact- I have a recipe for a s’mores cookie where the marshmallow goes all thin and crunchy and caramelized. They are delicious.

Nate presents his s’mores pot de crème next. It is presented in a glass with layers of chocolate mousse, marshmallow cream, and a candied graham cracker crumble with juniper berries. He’s added the juniper so they can taste the pine trees in his dessert. Dan really likes the touch of bitterness from his toasted marshmallow but he finds the juniper medicinal. Carla likes how light the dessert is.

Cortney took the brief literally and has in fact elevated her dessert. She has taken a jumbo pre-made marshmallow, torched it just a bit and used it to elevate her dessert which is stacked on top. On top of the marshmallow is a brown butter graham blondie. Onto that goes a dark chocolate salted bourbon ganache and then marshmallow cream. Beside her dessert stands a bittersweet chocolate and smoked sea salt tuile in the shape of a log. It is indeed very elegant and Carla calls it glamping. Carla enjoys her soft blondie texture but Dan gets no graham flavor in the blondie.

Bryan is next with his s’mores éclair with marshmallow filling and chocolate ganache topping. Carla focuses on the positive and tells him the filling is good. Dan tells him that his éclair is burnt and Carla admits the éclair hasn’t puffed. She explains that he has removed gluten from his batter by replacing flour with graham cracker crumb so he has lost his rise. That may also be why it burned as the graham surely added sugar to his dough which would quickly burn.

Catherine is next with her risky s’mores macarons with marshmallow filling. She has put some graham cracker crumb in her macaron batter and she has topped her macaron with a chocolate ganache mixed with hazelnut spread. She has defied the odds in such a short time and made a great macaron. Carla declares them delicious and balanced and insists Jesse have one. After shoving an entire macaron in his mouth for him, the judges continue to gush. Dan says her marshmallow is toasted beautifully, her dark chocolate is smoky and her macaron is baked well. His only complaint is that he is missing graham flavor.

Jessica is last to present her salted dark chocolate tart with marshmallow meringue and caramel drizzle. Dan loves her sandy tart shell but feels her meringue lacks flavor and adds nothing. Carla likes the size of her dessert, which is elegant, and likes that it is not too sweet.

After force feeding Jesse Catherine’s dessert because it was just that good, the judges declare her the winner. The bakers learn that their next challenge will involve a layered dessert which must include either a custard, a curd or a ganache. Left with that to ponder, it is time for Catherine’s lesson. She is whisked off to Martha’s farm. On the way, she interviews that she is really nervous and when asked to elaborate tells us she feels like she is going to throw up on herself. Relatable. Meanwhile, the other bakers play badminton while Cortney lounges in a camp chair and wonders what Catherine will learn.

Martha starts off with a crepe cake. Made of layers of crepes and custard, it certainly counts as a layered dessert. Along the way, she offers tips. For instance, she creates her crepe cake inside a springform pan so her layers are perfectly straight. She also uses a small ice cream scoop to ensure that she has just enough custard between layers so it won’t ooze out, and so each layer gets the same amount of custard. After sharing a slice of crepe cake, Martha moves on to a layered cake with lemon curd filling. Her tips here are to use some gelatin in the curd to thicken and stabilize it so that it stays put. She also recommends using dowels to stabilize any layered cake, even small ones. With an individual, small cake, you would just use the skewer to allow it to set and to keep it together until just before serving.

On her way back from her lesson, Catherine is overwhelmed with pride to know that she had earned that time with Martha. She appreciates the validation and hopes to not disappoint. Once back, everyone must scramble for their filling, a competition trend that I do not love. They all leap for the table with the fillings, knocking it down and Catherine and Jessica literally wrestle on the floor for curd. Apparently Jessica spent Catherine’s entire lesson plotting to get that curd and she does get it. Catherine jokingly mentions that she got some scrapes on her hands when Jesse calls it a football tackle.

With her hard-won curd, Jessica is making key lime pie cake with a graham cracker cake, cream cheese filling and lime curd. Bryan also got curd and is making a lime coconut chiffon cake with a key lime curd and coconut buttercream. Right after he finishes making his swiss meringue buttercream, Dan and Carla stop by. Dan tastes it and tells him it is very gritty and grainy. His sugar has not dissolved. He recommends that he start over if he has time. He does start over but then scrambles madly to plate in time.

Kela has gotten custard. She is making a layered banana custard cake with a vanilla custard, banana sauce, butter cake, and cinnamon whipped cream. When Carla and Dan stop by, Carla mentions that she needs something to lift her dessert and cut through all the fat. Kela decides to use alcohol, specifically bourbon. Catherine has also gotten custard but she’s not letting that stop her from using her desired curd. She is making a dessert of lemon cake, coconut custard and passion fruit curd. She uses Martha’s lessons of gelatin in her curd and a cookie scoop to help her get perfect amounts of custard. The one thing she doesn’t do is use a skewer in her cake.

The outdoor kitchen is hot and the bakers are relying on the fridge and freezer to help things set. Unfortunately, when Catherine unmolds her little cakes from their acetate collars, they droop and her custard starts to seep out the sides. They just never cooled enough to set. Trying to cover up the oozing sides, she sticks coconut to the sides of the cake and hopes for the best. Also struggling with the heat is Cortney. She is trying to make a vanilla bean Chantilly cream but the heat and humidity are keeping it from whipping up. Carla pops by and recommends that she add a little sour cream to stabilize it and help it whip. Cortney wants the cream to lighten the chocolate overload of her ganache dessert. Nate also got ganache and he too is creating a chocolate extravaganza.

Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart
Judges Carla Hall and Dan Langan with hosts Martha Stewart and Jesse Palmer, as seen on Bakeaway Camp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

Ready or not, it is time for judging, the bakers’ first taste of having Martha judge their desserts. Kela is up first with her layered dessert of crumbled wafer cookies, pastry cream, butter cake, caramelized bourbon banana sauce and bourbon cinnamon whipped cream. It sounds like banana pudding and bananas foster had a wonderful baby. Martha says it is satisfying with a real hit of bourbon, which she likes. Carla loves the banana sauce. Dan thinks everything is too soft and she needs a crunch. I think Dan may be the bad cop to Carla’s good cop.

Catherine is next and some of her little cakes have disassembled themselves as the layers have slid off. Martha quietly tells the other judges that she told her about skewers. Catherine presents her mini coconut custard cakes with toasted coconut and passion fruit curd and she admits that Martha told her about skewers but that she forgot. Carla says the flavors are successful. Dan likes the bright, tangy curd. Martha tells her she clearly had a timing issue in that her dessert didn’t set and she seems quite disappointed that Catherine forgot the skewers. Catherine goes away embarrassed and I guarantee will never forget skewers again, but she may have nightmares about them.

Jessica is next with her key lime pie cake. Martha tells her it is very tasty and Carla thinks she has nailed a balance of tart and sweet. Dan finally gets his graham cracker flavor in her cake which he says lends a wheaty nuttiness. Martha tells her it also looks good and could fit into a bakery case.

Bryan is next with his lime coconut chiffon cake with lime curd and coconut swiss meringue buttercream. Dan really likes his bright lime curd and commends him on his second swiss meringue which is silky and smooth. However, he says the cake is dense and borderline gummy. Carla notes that his curd has run out onto the plate and Martha clues him in on the gelatin trick. Martha agrees that the cake is really heavy, especially for a chiffon. Bryan has had a rough day.

Nate is next with his offering which is a giant chocolate brick. It’s huge and decadent and reminds me of those crazy milkshakes that have other full desserts perched on the rim. His creation is a dark cocoa cake with stout and espresso in the cake batter. He also has both a white chocolate and dark chocolate ganache, salted caramel with pretzels mixed in, whipped cream, and nuts spiced with brown sugar and cayenne. I am really not sure how this over-the-top cake will be received but Martha calls it a tour de force of flavorful oddities, which I think is good. Carla starts off just saying, “dude.” She says it is a party cake with so many flavors and experiences. Dan thinks the stout in the cake was brilliant and really likes the cayenne on the nuts.

Cortney is last to present her ganache dessert which is a chocolate cake with a raspberry liquor soak, chocolate ganache, Chantilly cream, and fresh raspberries. Presented daintly in a glass with a little red chocolate heart on top, she proves looks can be deceiving. Martha says it is certainly impressive looking but the judges find it is too much. It’s just too much chocolate and it seems her ganache is too solid and hard. Dan says he could only ever take a few bites before getting overwhelmed. So Nate presented a huge chocolate cake but found the right balance to mellow out the chocolate, while Cortney’s small and delicate looking dessert was too chocolate forward to be pleasant.

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Jesse announces that Jessica and Nate have earned top honors (or merit badges) and sadly, Cortney is out. I think Bryan was lucky today and needs to step up his game. Stay tuned for more camp shenanigans including more bees, rain, falls, and possible spider eating.