Big Time Bake review: Ready for some baking fantasy?

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 back and these desserts are full of fantasy.

Three baking rounds, four bakers, six hours. That’s the Big Time Bake formula for one lucky baker to win an all-expense paid vacation, recognition and bragging rights.

The theme for today is fantasy, and the four bakers can interpret that any way they wish. They need to decide what fantasy means for them and then create that in cookies, to be judged after two hours, cupcakes, to be judged after four hours, and cake, to be judged after six hours. Even during judging, the clock never stops on this Food Network baking competition.

Leigh Henderson and her assistant Robyn Hanisch are hard at work the moment the clock starts. Leigh plans to tell the story of a dragon battle over the course of the three rounds. Round one will feature dragon-shaped cookies. Round two’s cupcake will look like the sword in the stone. Round three will show the dragon of round one, sitting on the stone of round two, with the sword of the second round sticking in its chest.

Brittnee Klinger is here with her husband, Michael. She is planning to go to the darker side of fantasy. She will start off with a black macaron, then move on to a dark cupcake with a skull decoration. Finally, she hopes to create a skull cake. I have to admit, her ideas read the least fantasy to me in that I just don’t understand what the fantasy is? They also seem the least tied together as a cohesive set.

Nils Rowland, owner of Crème de la Cocoa, is planning something a little more fairytale. He wants to start off with a poison apple oatmeal cream cookie. He then wants to make a cupcake with an enchanted bean sprout growing out of it. Finally, he wants to make a cake showing the full-sized bean stalk as well as gnomes tending a fairy garden. Right away, I am worried for him for two reasons. One, I think he will be hard pressed to make an oatmeal cream cookie look fantastical. Two, the sketch of his final cake is confusing, including two large sets of lips, mushrooms, garden gnomes, a bean stalk and more. On the other hand, I am hoping that we get to see the final piece so I can figure out what the heck is going on with those lips.

Azara Krovatin, owner of Milkmoon Kitchen, is also leaning in a fairytale direction. She wants to start off with a fortune cookie, but not a normal fortune cookie made of tuile. Her plan is made of shortbread and is shaped into a sort of box. She then wants to make a “magic potion” cupcake followed by a dark forest mushroom cake. I worry about her a bit too. For her shortbread cookies, she is making two marbled recipes. One is rose and raspberry flavored and one is coffee and hazelnut. She plans to serve these cookies together but that seems like a very weird flavor combo. Also, the sketches of her cupcake and cake look rather simple, with the cupcake looking like your traditional cake with a few stars on it and her main cake looking like a fairly normal stacked cake too. However, the samples of her work that they show all feature intricate cake interiors with hidden colors and designs, so that could be cool.

As the clock ticks down, all the teams are working on components for multiple rounds, with varying degrees of success. Our judges arrive for a quick look around. Today we have our main judge, Buddy Valastro, along with guest judges Lorraine Pascale and Dan Langan. Nils is roaring through his prep but his first cakes have puffed up and then immediately deflated. They are now heavy and wrinkly and he has to start again. Azara is still working on shortbread dough and has yet to put anything for any round in the oven. Leigh’s cupcake batter is weirdly runny, but she decides to bake it off and see what happens.

The judges leave everyone to finish their work. Some teams finish early and move on to other things but Azara, having put her cookies in the oven late, is now behind. With just five minutes left, she has to throw out her idea of the cookie box. She decides the best she can do is stack three cookies together and include a tag that the judges have been poisoned. Her idea is that the first round is the poison but the second round is the antidote.

The judges return to see everyone’s completed cookies. They begin with Nils. He presents his poison apple oatmeal cream pies. These are filled with Italian buttercream, marshmallow fluff and apple pie filling. To add another dimension to the cinnamon in his apple filling, he torched his cinnamon sticks before use. For décor, his assistant shaped little apples. She then laid a thin square of gold leaf into a bowl of water and gently pressed the apple shape into that. The gold leaf folded up over the apple, and then she smoothed it down for a perfect little golden apple for each cookie.

Buddy flat-out tells Nils that he has missed the mark. He would never guess the fantasy theme with these oatmeal cookies. However, the judges love his flavors- the apples, the toasted cinnamon, the balance. Buddy calls the flavors a melody.

Leigh is up next with her habanero sugar dragon cookies with mango icing. Her assistant has pulled out all the stops, perfectly sculpting a little dragon on each cookie from frosting. The judges feel she has nailed the theme and they love the look. They also love the combo of mango and habanero, though Lorraine and Buddy want their dragon to be a little hotter.

Azara presents her shortbread cookies next. These are a simple stack of three cookies, as well as a small sign that the judges have been poisoned. She lobbies them, telling them that she knows a cure if only they let her through to the next round. Dan appreciates her marbled shortbread, which is unique, but she has mostly neglected the theme. Also, as I feared, rose, raspberry, coffee and hazelnut are not a good match. Lorraine tells her “it was a fantasy to think that these four flavors would go together.”

Brittnee is last to present. She has made a truly beautiful macaron. Jet black with red stripes in one corner, it perches upright on a bed of red cherry buttercream, the same that sits inside the dark chocolate shell. Into each macaron, a tiny pipette is stabbed, full of cherry reduction. Dan tells her that her dessert are picture perfect macarons. They have a well-defined foot and shiny sides. Lorraine loves the pipette and the combo of dark but beautiful. Buddy tells her the macaron is baked to perfection and Dan thinks her shell is packed with chocolate flavor. Lorraine agrees but wants more tart cherry flavor in the buttercream.

The judges stand to the side to deliberate. Nils and Azara are clearly in trouble. Nils had taste but failed on theme. Azara only hit the theme in her little poison sign and her flavors did not blend well. Azara is the first to go home. She leaves her partly frosted and stacked cake and everyone else keeps moving.

Leigh is getting worried about getting her cupcakes done in time. They are planning a brown butter frosting but her assistant burns the butter. Leigh is inclined to use it anyway but her assistant promises she can remake it in time. They end up scrambling a bit to get the cupcakes frosted, airbrushed, and decorated. For this round, Nils is hoping to increase the fantasy factor so he is pulling very delicate sugar beanstalks for each cupcake. Meanwhile, Brittnee gets her cupcakes done early and can focus on her cake.

With four hours complete, the judges return to judge cupcakes. Leigh presents her coffee cake with sage brown butter frosting. Just like Azara’s flavors last round, I am curious to see if sage and coffee go together. For decoration, they have carefully painted the top of the cake to resemble a stone and they have stuck a tiny, perfectly formed chocolate sword in each cake. Buddy is impressed by how well they mimicked stone and he loves the story. Dan is impressed by the tiny details of the sword, down to the copper colored hilts. Lorraine is wondering the same thing I am about sage and coffee and she is surprised to find they do go together. She thinks the combo is very clever. However, Dan and Buddy tell her that her runny batter has not worked. The cake is tough and more muffin-like.

Nils presents his magical bean sprout cupcake, a dark chocolate cake with a salted caramel center and candied hazelnuts on the outside. He has managed to make the top of the cake look truly like a pot of dark soil and rocks, so much so that Lorraine thinks it looks more like a garden theme than fantasy. She tells him it “looks like a really lovely cupcake with a plant coming out of it.” Everyone loves the caramel center but otherwise, they find the cupcake to be one note and sort of disappointing.

Brittnee is last with her dark chocolate cupcake with mint chocolate ganache filling and blackberry acai buttercream. Sticking to her dark fantasy theme, she has used a dark liner shaped like a tulip. The sharp lines of the liner are matched with sharp shards of chocolate sticking out of the cake. She has also added a white chocolate skull medallion. Dan likes the sharp chocolate shards but Lorraine worries that there is too much buttercream. Buddy loves her minty ganache but Dan feels her buttercream doesn’t have enough flavor. Lorraine agrees. She feels like there is too much frosting and that it doesn’t taste good enough to merit so much of it. One of Brittnee’s time saving strategies was to make one batch of buttercream and then flavor bits of it as needed, but so far it isn’t working as neither her cherry nor her blackberry buttercreams have had enough flavor.

Though the judges feel that Brittnee needed more flavor, they decide that Nils’ dessert was just too simple and they send him home, leaving behind yet another partially made cake. And then there were two.

Brittnee and Leigh work hard for the final hour and twenty minutes to finish their cakes as best they can. Along the way, they yell supportive things to each other across the space. It’s quite cute.

At last, the clock stops and both teams have made really impressive final cakes. Brittnee presents an absolutely massive skull. The entire huge skull is made of cake which she has airbrushed to perfection. On top of the skull are perched two large, curved rice cereal horns. Around the horns, the skull sports modelling chocolate roses. Lorraine is amazed by how lifelike she has made the skull, especially with the texture and coloring. Dan loves the height, movement and drama of the horns but wants more color. Buddy disagrees. He thinks the touches of burgundy and peach in the roses is just enough for her dark story.

Her cake is a black walnut and brown butter cake with chocolate hazelnut buttercream filling and Italian buttercream for the outside. Everyone loves her hazelnut filling and Lorraine is intrigued by the use of the black walnuts. Fun fact, we once put black walnuts in our homemade cranberry sauce on accident and those suckers were really bitter. Ruined the batch of sauce. Anyway, Lorraine thinks they go well with the hazelnuts. However, Buddy feels they have given her cake a coarse, dry crumb.

Leigh is next. She has brought her first two rounds forward into her final cake. At the bottom they have recreated the stone look of the cupcake. On top of that rests the green dragon from her cookie round. He is in agony, dying from being stabbed by a larger replica of the sword from her cupcake round. Lorraine is impressed by her skillful use of the airbrush and the textures she has given her dragon. Dan loves her ethereal wafer paper dragon wings and the furrowed expression on the face. Buddy is simply wowed and loves how well she has tied together all her rounds into one final masterpiece. Her cake is a Mexican chocolate cake with a hint of cayenne for dragon fire. She also has a raspberry white chocolate ganache.

Lorraine loves the tartness of her ganache but Dan tells her that her cake texture is “interesting.” Buddy tells her that it is under-baked but he still likes the flavor. Leigh quietly laments that their recipes have been off all day, recalling their runny cupcake batter.

The judges are really impressed with both cakes. They both look fantastic so on looks, it is a draw. Both cakes also had shortcomings on the inside, with Brittnee’s cake being dry and Leigh’s being under-baked. Dan would rather eat the properly baked cake, but Buddy prefers the flavor of Leigh’s cake which reads as a sort of gooey brownie. Feeling taste is a draw too, they look to degree of difficulty. Dan feels Leigh’s wins and Lorraine feels it is Brittnee, so it is left to Buddy to make the final call. And Buddy chooses….Leigh! Her commitment to a story really paid off! She tells us she finally gets to be the hero of her own story, and now she can ride off into an all-expense paid sunset.

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What did you think of this Big Time Bake Fantasy episode? What would your baking fantasy look like?