Big Time Bake review: Who won the food fight?

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 /

A new crop of four Big Time Bake bakers enter the ring. They have six hours to produce cookies, cupcakes and a final spectacular cake.

After the two-hour mark, one team goes home on Big Time Bake. Another leaves after four hours. All the bakers must conform to a theme. Today’s theme is food fight. The Food Network bakers are expected to reflect this theme in the appearance of their bakes, but they are also supposed to represent food fight in the taste by incorporating savory elements into their sweet desserts.

The bakers are already hard at work, so we meet them as they tackle the massive amount of baking ahead. Bree Miller is our first contender, joined by her assistant Natalie Burke. Bree tells us her style is very detailed. She enjoys spending lots of time making a lot of little details and she feels that six hours for all this baking is unrealistic. This does not bode well for her. Her idea for the theme is health food versus junk food. She plans to start with a corn waffle taco cookie. She then plans to make an avocado toast cupcake, and to finish she is envisioning a large tiered cake representing healthy and junk foods.

For her cookie, she is thinking that making a thin batter and using a waffle maker will save her time. She is hoping she can cook her waffle cookies in moments instead of waiting for the oven. I’m not sure if this works for her in the end as she has never tried this technique before. She spends some time testing out her batter and the cook time using the waffle maker. She then has to monitor each waffle cookie as it cooks so she can pull it at just the right moment and place it in a taco holder. Given the individual attention they need, she struggles to multitask, burning some of the waffles in the shuffle. Not only do I doubt the time saving of her plan, I am not even sure these are cookies. She is essentially making ice cream cones in a taco shape.

Sam Cade is from Texas and wants to take her inspiration from her home. She is going for her favorite Texas food and for savory ingredients, she is relying on salt. I feel like Sam is playing fast and loose with the savory theme with that one. They show us some of her portfolio which includes hyper-realistic food sculptures so I am hopeful that the savory ingredient thing doesn’t send her home as I really want to see what she can do. Her cookie is going to be a realistic looking honey butter chicken biscuit. Her cupcake will be a lime margarita. Her final cake will showcase a smorgasbord of Texas BBQ and all the fixins.

Sarah Belote has an interesting bakery name. She owns Who Stuck Their Finger in the Cake. Right away, I worry for Sarah a little as she seems a bit frazzled and scattered. She tells us that she often struggles to figure out what to eat for dinner and so she is going to theme her desserts around her favorite takeout. Her cookie will be a ricotta filled ravioli. Her cupcake will look like General Tso’s sesame chicken. I am hopeful she will make it to the end so I can understand the drawing of her final cake. She is planning a hangry stomach cake. The drawing shows a stomach sitting up in a drawer filled with paper. The stomach is wrapped in what looks like white string and there are various foods on the stomach like an avocado and a pizza slice. At the top of the stomach, something yellow is holding what looks like a hot sauce bottle and pouring the sauce into the stomach. Sarah explains that the stomach is being attacked by takeout menus which helps but I still have so many unanswered questions.

For her cupcake, Sarah is making a yeasted dough and she says it takes a little over two hours for a double proofing. At one point, the judges visit and she explains her plans. They are all rather shocked that she is doing a yeasted dough and they worry if that is smart in a timed competition. I wonder how a yeasted dough fulfills the challenge of making a cupcake.

Timmy Norman is our last competitor. He is going for a fairly literal interpretation of the theme and is planning a kung fu fight theme. He will start with a blue cheese and fig cookie that looks like a throwing star. From there, he will make a habanero carrot cupcake decorated with carrot nunchuks on top. Finally, he will make an epic, carved, 3-D literal food fight. He plans to show a carrot fighting a banana. When the judges visit, they express concern about his blue cheese cookies. That’s a tough flavor for a dessert. I worry when his assistant says she is going to knead in some of their baked fondant. She points at what looks like black rock and she proceeds to knead this into white fondant to be used to top the cookie. I’m not sure why you would want that texture in fondant, nor am I sure how black baked fondant is yummy.

As the two-hour mark fast approaches, Sarah realizes she is behind. She has to pull her cookies before they are done. She frantically plates with seconds on the clock. When time is called, she tells her assistant that she is going home for sure.

Sarah is first to receive the judges. Today we have main judge Buddy Valastro along with guest judges Lorraine Pascale and Nacho Aguirre. Sarah has created a remarkable facsimile of ravioli. She has rolled her olive oil cookie dough to paper thin consistency and then assembled them exactly like ravioli. She has added a dollop of lemon curd and ricotta cheese and used a press to seal her ravioli cookies shut. She has displayed them on a plate with a fork. Over the top, she has added an “alfredo sauce” of almond anglaise as well as a sprinkle of fondant parsley and peas. Everyone is impressed with the look and thinks she has been very clever with appearance. The olive oil and ricotta fulfill the savory ingredient challenge.

However, when the judges try to pick up her cookies, they crumble in their hands. The dough suffers from being rolled so very thin and also from being underbaked. Buddy feels the flavors are well-balanced but Lorraine wants more lemon curd.

Bree is next with her corn waffle cookie. She presents them in metal taco holders. They look quite convincing with chocolate chili ganache “meat,” corn and strawberry salsa with lime zest and a dab of whipped cream. Her savory ingredients are the chili and the corn. Buddy proclaims that they could grace the cover of a magazine. Lorraine appreciates the look but questions if the little waffles are cookies. Upon tasting them, Lorraine finds the chocolate flavor too heavy. Nacho complements her use of fresh fruit. Buddy tells her that he misses the cookie texture because her waffles are actually soggy.

It’s now Timmy’s turn with his controversial blue cheese and fig throwing star cookies. Everyone is impressed with their look. They are crisp, with sharp edges. I still don’t like the weird chunky baked fondant added to the smooth fondant top as I think it makes them look messy. Buddy admits that he doesn’t usually love blue cheese, but here it works with the fig. Lorraine tells him he has a nice salt level and the cookies are beautifully baked. Nacho says that all he is missing is a glass of merlot.

Finally, it is Sam’s turn. She has lived up to her reputation for realistic imitations of savory foods. She has created a honey butter chicken biscuit cookie. This consists of two peanut butter sugar cookies sandwiched with a bit of honey. Onto this, she has added a generous dollop of peanut butter frosting mixed with cornflake crunch. This mixture then got a careful pat of extra cornflake crunch on the edges so that it would look like fried chicken. The sandwich was finished with another cookie so that she would have a bun. She has presented the whole thing in little takeout boxes with paper, giving it a really authentic feel.

Again, everyone is impressed by the look. Buddy tells her the taste blew his mind. It has a cookie texture but reads as a buttery biscuit. Lorraine raves that it is amazing, clever, and full of flavor. Lorraine tells her that the peanut butter addresses the savory ingredient challenge, but I disagree. I rarely see peanut butter used in savory applications. I think Sarah is riding on the theory that salt is sufficient for the savory challenge.

The judges deliberate. It seems Bree and Sarah are in trouble. Bree’s taco was too rich and somewhat unpleasant to eat. The judges also felt that, with the chocolate being so overwhelming, they didn’t get savory flavors. Though they complained to Sarah about the underbaking of her cookie and its crumbly texture, what they mention here is that she way overdid it on the almond extract. I am expecting Sarah to go home, but in the end, Bree is out. Sarah is clearly shocked but solders on. Her “cupcakes” are baking so she moves on to her cake. We leave her struggling with her swiss meringue buttercream which is refusing to come together.

Timmy is on to his cake as well. He has quickly polished off his cupcakes and has left hours three for working on his final cake. He plans to do an elaborate sculpted piece and needs every second. Meanwhile, Sam finishes her cupcakes with just minutes to spare, so she has less time for her cake. Taking that into consideration, she decides to go for a tiered cake and to focus on details. She would love to sculpt but feels she needs to save time with a stacked cake.

Before you know it, the judges are back to review cupcakes. Sarah is up first. She presents some very realistic Chinese takeout boxes. Inside she has made dough balls out of her yeasted dough and rolled them in a mix of sugar and sesame seeds. These were then baked together in a muffin tin so that she would have a pull-apart bread. This bread was finished with an apricot, yuzu, cayenne and honey glaze. When sitting in the takeout boxes, the bread looks just like chicken. She has even included gum paste chop sticks.

Lorraine is very impressed by the look but asks her if this really is a cupcake, or is it monkey bread? That makes two competitors that have strayed from the challenge- Bree with her waffles and Sarah with her bread. Everyone likes the flavor of the sauce on the bread but they feel the dough itself needs a flavor such as citrus. Everyone also agrees that this is not really a cupcake.

Sam is next with her margarita lime cupcake. This one looks the least realistic of the bunch. Rather than a traditional cupcake, she has stacked small cakes to form her “glass.” The cake is a white lime cake with cream cheese filling. On the top, she has added a lime sugar salt rim and she has also included a tequila shot in a pipette. Nacho likes the crunch from the sugar salt. Lorraine loves the consistency of the buttercream but wants more lime flavor. Buddy feels the cake is velvety but a very neutral flavor. He wishes for a tequila simple syrup soak. Also, Sam has again relied on salt as her savory flavor.

Timmy is last to present. He has gone less realistic and more cartoony. His cupcake sits in a traditional cupcake wrapper. On top of his habanero carrot cupcake he has spiced pecans and cute little carrot nunchuks- two carrots attached by chain. Buddy feels his presentation is amazing and is especially impressed that he has plated on top of a samurai sword. Lorraine feels his frosting is quite sweet but that it works very well with his earthy cake. She just wishes he had more carrot in the cake. Nacho loves the textures- crunchy nuts and moist cake.

The judges feel Timmy did the best in terms of execution and taste. They think Sarah’s Chinese takeout was cute but didn’t taste great but Sam’s was underflavored too. Lorraine also points out that Sam’s was hard to eat as a cupcake and she felt like she needed a knife and fork as it was really a small cake. In the end, Sarah is out, leaving Sam to battle it out with Timmy.

Sarah gets her cakes stacked quickly and spends all her time working on decorations. She makes incredibly realistic looking meats, applying texture, painting with food color, and adding touches of gel for a moist look. She also makes coleslaw out of rice paper strips mixed with royal icing and piping gel. On the other hand, Timmy is going for a more cartoony look and he is making the cake itself be the star rather than the decorations. He sculpts out a carrot in mid-leap, attacking a banana. On the floor he litters food from the food fight, some of it impaled with throwing stars like his cookies. His carrot is using carrot nunchuks like his cupcake. The battle is taking place in front of a screen made of a chocolate frame with wafer paper inserts.

Time is called and both cakes are impressive. We start with Sarah. Her three tier BBQ food fight cake features heaps of incredibly realistic brisket, sausage, ribs, pickles, coleslaw, and rolls. She also has a caramel drip that reminds me of BBQ sauce and she even has the state of Texas on the cake. The judges are amazed by the details- the textures and colors are spot on. Nacho is now hungry for barbecue.

Her cake is no less extravagant inside. It is a banana cake layered with cream cheese filling, vanilla wafers, caramel sauce, caramel crisp, salted caramel and banana slices. The judges like the banana flavor, love the buttercream, and just generally enjoy the cake. Buddy tells her it is everything you could want in a cake, but what is the savory element? It is the same thing as all the other rounds- salt, particularly salted caramel. Buddy tells her it is a real stretch.

It’s Timmy’s turn. The judges are equally impressed with his cake. They love the screen which looks like a true paper folding screen. They love the movement of the characters and the literal food fight happening. Buddy’s only critique of the outside is that he should have used modeling chocolate instead of fondant to cover the characters for the more realistic waxy look it would achieve. This is ironic as it took Timmy three times to get the carrot covered properly.

It’s time to taste the orange rosemary cake with Japanese white sweet potato filling. The judges are concerned. There appear to be dense, raw lines in the cake. He assures them it is the white sweet potato. The judges like the orange and rosemary blend but the potato has lent a weird texture. On the other hand, he has not shied from the savory ingredient challenge as he has used both rosemary and potato.

The judges are torn. Both cakes look great. Sam’s cake tastes wonderful but lacks the savory ingredient challenge. Timmy’s cake has a weird texture and appears raw (but isn’t). In the end, working hard to meet that savory challenge grabs the win for Timmy. Sam just couldn’t rely on salt to carry her for yet another round, especially when the salt was a background flavor to all the caramel and banana.

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It’s a lesson for future competitors. Big Time Bake rewards multitasking, speed, and nailing the given challenge just as much as taste and execution.