Big Time Bake premiere recap: Ready for a little magic?

Host Buddy Valastro, as seen on Big Time Bake, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network
Host Buddy Valastro, as seen on Big Time Bake, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

Big Time Bake is creating a little magic for Food Network fans.

If you are hungry for a new Food Network baking competition, there’s a new option in town. Big Time Bake features four bakers given just six hours to produce cookies, cupcakes and a showstopping cake, all informed by a central theme.

At the two-hour mark, three judges will review the cookie offerings and one team goes home. At the four-hour mark, cupcakes are due and another team goes home. This leaves two teams to complete their cake. The winner receives an all expense paid vacation to rest up from their marathon of baking.

For this first entry, the theme is magic. Our bakers may look familiar to you. There’s Maeve Rochford, owner of Sugar and Scribe Bakery. Maeve has appeared on the Holiday Baking Championship, Beat Bobby Flay and the Kid’s Baking Championship so she is no stranger to televised competition. Her assistant, Ray Vizcaino, appeared on the Halloween Baking Championship. Her competition includes Cristina Vazquez, owner of Petal Dust Cakery and contestant on Spring Baking Championship. Also competing is Al DiBartolo who has competed on Halloween Wars, Holiday Wars and even on the Cake Boss: Next Great Baker Show which featured none other than judge Buddy Valastro. Our final competitor is Michelle Doyan. Though she may not have participated in televised baking competitions before, she is not one to be discounted.

While everyone must make magic-themed cookies, cupcakes and cake, they all interpret magic differently. Maeve’s mother is Irish and Maeve spent childhood summers in Ireland hunting for leprechauns. She is using that as her magical inspiration. Cristina immediately thinks of Fairy Godmothers. Michelle decides that magic for her is mysticism. Al feels strongly that Harry Houdini is the epitome of magic.

They also go about their planning differently. Maeve starts the six hours fully intending to get to the cake round. She wants her cakes baked, cooled and ready so she starts with those first. As she starts on that, she has her assistant work on the cookies, with the plan of trying to tackle components of all three bakes pretty much simultaneously. Cristina seems to be using a similar strategy, though she is not quite as quick to get working on cake batter. Michelle is doing the opposite. She is planning an elaborate cookie display and she wants to fully focus on that. She plans to only work on one thing at a time. Al is working on multiple components at once, but his strategy includes making a very quick, simple cookie to free up some additional time.

At the two hour mark, we meet our judges- Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s Bakery, Ralph Attanasia who is the lead cake sculptor in Buddy’s bakery, and Zoe Francois, pastry chef and author. They are judging the cookies on taste, design, and level of difficulty. They start with Maeve.

Maeve has started her leprechaun themed day with toadstools. The idea is that, when leprechaun hunting, you need to look for them sleeping under the toadstools. The mushroom cap is made of her famous ginger chew cookies filled with lemon curd and topped with marshmallow cream. In case you are interested, you can order these famous ginger chew cookies on Goldbelly. She has also shared the recipe on her website.

Because Maeve has been juggling all three rounds in the first two hours, she has had to frantically rush the finish of her cookies and is plating until the last second. I think it shows in her marshmallow which is dribbling and drooping all over the mushroom caps. However, the judges seem unbothered by the marshmallow. Buddy tells her she has knocked her presentation out of the park. Zoe and Ralph feel she has nailed the shape, texture and color of toadstools. When the judges go to taste the cookies, they leave long gooey trails of marshmallow, but they find that to be part of the fun. They like the flavor but want more lemon. Maeve injected lemon curd into the tops of her toadstools but she too felt she was not getting enough in there.

Next up is Michelle. For her mysticism theme, she has gone with the classic Zoltar fortune telling machine. You know the one; it features a mechanical man inside a booth who spits out a fortune card. She has taken her lemon almond shortbread cookies and stacked three of them using white chocolate as glue. She has stacked the three to allow for a hollow space into which she has placed galaxy sprinkles and an edible fortune. She has decorated these cookies to look like golden tickets that read “Buddy Speaks.” To really sell the Zoltar theme, she has made a 3-D Zoltar machine out of cookies.

Buddy really loves her Zoltar machine as does Zoe, but Zoe tells her that the cookies themselves are a lot less impressive without the machine to provide a wow factor. Zoe feels her shortbread is nice, but Buddy finds it slightly overbaked. Ralph wants more lemon flavor.

Next up is Cristina. She has made a Fairy Godmother wand. This is a three-part cookie. Two star-shaped cookies have been sandwiched with raspberry and dark chocolate ganache. Another cookie functions as the handle. To make them more fantastic, she has cut out a tiny star shape from each star cookie and filled it with red isomalt for a glass effect. Ralph feels like she has nailed the fantasy aspect. Buddy loves her idea and her almond flavor. Zoe finds the isomalt too thick and unpleasant to eat.

Al is next with his coconut macaroon. Though he has gambled on a quick and easy cookie, he has taken time on presentation by placing the cookie inside a chocolate magic box. The box features a rope tied around, like something an escape artist would be trying to get out of. Everyone loves the look of this display and in general finds the cookie to be delicious, chewy and sweet. However, Zoe feels there is too much chocolate.

The judges huddle up. Approximately two and a half hours of the six have gone by as they confer on the cookies. Clearly, they feel that Cristina and Michelle are on the bottom, but Ralph argues that they keep around the baker who took the bigger risk. Apparently they feel that Michelle’s 3-D Zoltar did not overcome the simple design of her cookie, and she is sent home.

Before long, we are at the four-hour mark and the judges are back to see the cupcakes. Al presents a brownie cupcake with peppermint frosting. To keep with his escape artist theme, he has a fondant key on the top of each cake, and each cake is also surrounded by a fondant shackle. The shackles are attached by chain. Overall, it is really well done. The judges like his decoration and the texture of his rich cake but Buddy thinks his mint frosting is basically breath spray flavored.

Cristina has gone all out. To me, her cupcake doesn’t scream Fairy Godmother in look but she has referenced her theme in flavor by using pumpkin and squash. A certain famous Fairy Godmother was fond of using these same things for magic carriages. Her cupcake sits in a gold wrapper and is pumpkin flavored with a mascarpone cream cheese buttercream. On top of her cupcake, she has added a butternut squash sage donut half as well as a cinnamon sugar macaron. It’s like those everything milkshakes but in cupcake form. She has also returned to the isomalt, this time making delicate curls that pop out of the cake to reference magic.

The judges are enchanted by the look of her dessert. Zoe loves the movement of her sugar spirals and loves her pumpkin cake. Buddy thinks she’s gone too heavy on ginger, but he keeps going back for more so it can’t be too bad.

I must have missed the leprechaun element in Maeve’s offering. Instead, her magic theme this time seems to be illusion. She has baked a carrot cake inside a sugar ice cream cone, then covered the cone in orange colored white chocolate so that it resembles a carrot. She has added clove buttercream with a surprise twist. Her buttercream has glow-in-the-dark powder in it.  The judges don’t seem to mind the lack of connection to leprechauns. They feel that her presentation is “next level” and the cutest thing ever. Buddy likes the crunch he gets from the cone but Ralph is overwhelmed by the clove and thinks the flavors are muddled.

He is not alone as, during deliberation, the judges all agree that Maeve’s creativity was top-notch but her flavors were the least successful. Everyone also seems to agree that Cristina won the round in appearance and flavor. In the end, they pronounce Al the “weakest link” and send his shackle and chains cupcake home. This happens with just an hour and eleven minutes left, which means that Al was well on his way to completing his cake. Hopefully someone gets to eat what he made.

After a small and adorable dance interlude to celebrate, Maeve gets back to work. Cristina has no time for even a quick wiggle. After much frantic finalizing, the clock runs out.

Cristina presents first. Capping off her Fairy Godmother theme, she has created a truly beautiful cake. On a golden pebbled bed lies a white pumpkin, draped in swags. Above that she has an elegant pumpkin coach. To represent the transformation, she has added large isomalt sails between the two tiers as well as fairy lights. The sugar represents the sweeping magic that transforms the pumpkin into the coach.

Zoe is entranced and calls it ethereal and magic. Ralph, who surely is trained in art, tells her that she has a perfect balance of visual interest and visual rest. Her smooth pumpkins and sweeping sugar sails are perfectly mixed in with the more intricate and busy areas. Buddy admits that she was clearly rushed and her work is not the cleanest, but he loves the details. Her dark chocolate espresso cake with pumpkin cheesecake filling also pleases the judges and is yet another reference to her theme. Even the espresso references her theme as one needs caffeine to be up at the magic hour of midnight.

Maeve’s creation is very different. She has decided to represent her leprechaun’s home, so I guess we were hunting for him in the previous rounds and now he is found. Her cake looks like a two-tiered tree stump. Inside the lower, larger stump she has inserted a hologram image of a pot of gold because lots of people think they spot the pot but no one can ever touch it. Her bottom stump also features shelf mushrooms and on top of one stands a little fairy. In the upper stump we see a leprechaun and above that, she has created a rice cereal leprechaun house that levitates using a magnet.

The judges are impressed and Zoe admits she has never seen a hologram used before. Ralph likes all her details- the bark texture, the sculpted fairy, her translucent wings. Buddy loves that her work is clean and meticulous but tells her that “the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze” when it comes to the levitating effect. Her whole cake is brown and the little brown house just sort of disappears so that you don’t really notice that it is levitating. Her cake is a coconut cake with a berry filling. The judges like the sweet and tart blend and find it moist and delicious. They keep sneaking bites as they talk with her about their judgement.

The judges compare notes. They feel that Maeve’s cake is just big and brown and it features too many elements that she just put on, instead of ones that she made herself. Cristina’s cake is not perfect and clean but they feel her vision all day as been unified and they love the look of her cake. In the end, her efforts at making every element of her cake win the day and Cristina earns herself a free vacation. I wonder where she is headed?

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So what do you think of this new competition? I’m always happy to watch skilled bakers do their thing and it is interesting to see everyone’s take on the theme. Until next time, stay magical!