Big Time Bake review: Roaring 20’s offer bold flavors

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 with one of the most creative theme, the Roaring 20s.

Once again in Big Time Bake, four baking teams will battle the Food Network clock. Over six hours, it will tick relentlessly, never stopping. In that time, they must present a themed set of cookies, cupcakes and cakes, if they make it that far. Today the theme is the 1920’s.

We enter the kitchen with everyone bustling as the clock has already started. First, we meet Raina Washington and her assistant, Kyvaughn Brown. They are starting off with a red velvet cookie. While there are claims that the red velvet cake was invented during the Great Depression which technically started in the 20’s, it feels more like a 40’s recipe to me.

To tie it into the theme, Raina tells us that she is leaning on the classic nature of the 20’s and red velvet is now a classic too. To make it more fitting for the brief, she is adding a black and gold 1920’s style car as well as gold feathers to the top of the cookie. More interesting to me, she is making a stuffed cookie.

Raina could have made a sandwich cookie but being more interesting than that, she rolls a bourbon cream cheese filling into the center of her dough balls and bakes the cookies with the filling inside. For her cupcake, she plans to make a strawberry and champagne cake topped with a very art deco chevron topper.

Finally, she is being inspired by Josephine Baker and her famous banana skirt by making a roasted banana cake. It will feature a piano key tier, a tier with golden art deco fans and dancers on top, a tuxedo tier with a fringed bottom, and a feather as the cake topper. She really wants it to evoke a jazz feel. But for now, she and her assistant are focused on cookies and are not starting on any of the other rounds.

Ella Stone and her assistant Jossie Lukacik are doing the opposite and trying to get started on a little bit of everything. They are being inspired by a party at the Great Gatsby house. They plan to begin with an appetizer of deviled egg.

A quick search of deviled eggs shows that similar recipes existed in Ancient Rome, so she too is not really sticking to a 1920’s food theme. Regardless, she has ambitious plans to make a replica deviled egg out of a cream cheese cookie and passionfruit buttercream.

For her cupcake, she is being inspired by a Brandy Alexander, a mix of cream, cognac and crème de cacao. She wants to present these inside a smoke-filled glass cloche. I think she’s just going for the drama of it, but I like to think it echoes a smokey 1920’s lounge with drinks. For her final cake, she is planning a sort of pineapple upside down cake where she has a pineapple and maraschino cherry jam inside a vanilla cake. She plans to decorate it with lots of 1920’s décor.

Gina Montesino has a bit of an extra challenge in that she is today’s only vegan baker. After discovering that her middle daughter had a nut allergy, she took on baking for her sake and it has blossomed from there. She and her assistant, Ryan Delfranco, are pushing to get all their fillings, cookies and cupcakes done as soon as possible to get a head start on their cake round.

Her interpretation of the theme is jazz party. She is starting off with the idea that this party is private, exclusive, and probably not meeting prohibition standards. She will create a sugar cookie in the shape of a key filled with butterscotch rum. The only thing better would be if she incorporated some sort of password.

For her cupcake, she will be making a chocolate cake with a gin and rose ganache. This will look like a dressed up flapper with fringe, pearls and feathers. Finally, she wants to represent the party itself in her cake. She is planning elements such as piano keys, a saxophone, feathers, wine bottles and more. The whole thing will sit inside a bathtub to hold all the illegal booze for the party.

Finally, we have Max Soto. Max started baking at a young age so he has years of experience. He is also nineteen, so he is the youngest competitor this episode, or really any episode of Big Time Bake so far. He’s leaning into the prohibition era for his inspiration and plans to have an alcohol component to every round.

For his cookie, he is making a peanut butter rolled oat cookie topped with a fondant newspaper with headlines of the time. For his cupcake, he is making a chocolate stout cake with a whiskey barrel topper. His final cake will celebrate the mobsters that kept the booze flowing including stacks of money, a tommy gun, a pinstriped suit and hat.

Around fifty minutes in, the judges stop by to get nosy about what everyone is up to. Today we have head judge Buddy Valastro as well as guest judges Dan Langan and Kristen Tomlan. They arrive right after Gina’s assistant, Ryan, has allowed their butterscotch filling to overflow. Now the hot, sticky stuff is everywhere and she says they have to start over. Surely they didn’t completely start from scratch but rather placed it into a larger pot? In any case, she is pretty stressed and falling behind.

The judges start with Raina. She tells them that the 20’s was a sexy time and she is bringing sexy back. I think this is pretty funny as an intro to her cookie because I don’t consider red velvet cookies to be sexy at all. The judges aren’t worried about her cookies not hitting the brief, but they do express concern that they are basically only focused on cookies at this point. They have to start on the other rounds to have any chance of finishing, should they go through.

Next they visit Max. They marvel at his age but when he tells them he is putting alcohol in his bakes, they worry that he can’t taste them. He is going to rely on his assistant for all that.

They move on to Gina who is continuing to stumble a bit. They have their butterscotch back on track but now she feels her cupcake batter is possibly overmixed and lumpy. Regardless, she feels she has no time and just goes with it.

Meanwhile, Max has begun his cake batter but has a momentary lapse and puts his oil directly into his flour. He has to dump the whole lot and start over.

Before they know it, the two-hour mark has crept up and the judges are back to sample their cookies. They will be looking at the taste, design and level of difficulty of each bake. They start with Gina.

To me, Gina is the only one to really nail the theme. She has presented her key-shaped cookies inside a hollowed out book. Propped up is a little sign stating “shh!” to remind you that this is a secret, exclusive party. Her cookies are a vegan sugar cookie with a butterscotch rum filling, decorated with royal icing made of aquafaba and gold dust.

Buddy tells her she has nailed the theme. Dan loves the piping details and the golden shimmer. He also loves the taste, telling her he is pleasantly surprised that her vegan cookie is very satisfying. Kristen wishes for more of her yummy filling.

Raina is next with her classic red velvet cookie with bourbon cream cheese, topped with a car and two feathers. Kristen loves her details in the car and feathers but when they take a bite, they all exclaim. Dan tells her it’s like taking a shot of bourbon. Kristen loves the texture of the cookie but she also feels the bourbon is too strong, as does Buddy. I guess being encased in the cookie dough, it didn’t get the chance to cook out at all.

Max is next with his newspaper cookie bar. This thing is hefty, the size and shape of a large brownie. It is a peanut butter rolled oat cookie topped with peanut butter chocolate ganache, crushed pretzels, crushed peanuts and sea salt. Dan thinks the fondant newspaper on top is too thick. He needs to roll it thinner or use wafer paper. Kristen wonders if he meant for his ganache to drip over the sides, and Max asks her who doesn’t like melted chocolate? They each grab a cookie to sample and Kristen notes they weigh a lot. I’m worried the judges will find them to lack finesse but, though they are very dense, everyone agrees they are delicious. All the judges think it needs more salt, though. After they leave, Max’s assistant quietly admits that she forgot the sea salt on top.

Ella is last to be judged with her deviled egg look-alike. These things are really stunning. She has made a cream cheese cookie with lime zest and macadamia nut in the shape of egg halves. She has dipped these in chocolate to get the slightly shiny look of egg whites. She has then piped in passionfruit swiss meringue buttercream in the perfect imitation of egg yolk and sprinkled on something that looks just like paprika and parsley.

The judges are blown away with the look. These really would fool anyone and are some of the most realistic incognito desserts I have ever seen. However, I still struggle to see the 1920s theme in theme. I feel like, any time you need a story to explain how your dessert hits the brief, you have failed. The judges, however, do not worry about the theme, so impressed are they by the realism of the egg.

Biting into them is a different story. Each judge takes a hard bite and then makes a face. Dan asks if it is coating chocolate, which Ella admits to. He clearly doesn’t like it. Kristen says the chocolate was too thick and it took a lot to crack through. Buddy is disappointed as the chocolate has messed up an otherwise delicious cookie and buttercream.

The judges debate as everyone continues working. Despite her chocolate issues, Ella is considered to be on top due to her presentation and buttercream. Max’s giant cookie is on top as well. Raina and Gina are both considered for elimination but Raina’s heavy hand with the bourbon sends her home. She leaves with an hour and ten minutes left before cupcake presentation.

Everyone at this point is working on both cupcakes and their final cakes. Gina has a few tiers stacked, filled and covered. I keep thinking she is making a boat until I remember that the bottom tier is actually a bathtub. Meanwhile, she has made gum paste pearls for her cupcakes but they have gone dry and crumbly and won’t work. She decides to pipe pearls onto her cakes instead, though she is worried about time. Ella is planning her smoky presentation so about ten minutes until judging, she begins to fill her cloches with smoke. She really wants the cupcakes fully shrouded so she wants plenty of time for the smoke gun to fill the cloches.

Four hours in and the judges return for cupcakes. They start with Gina. She has completed a chocolate cupcake with a rose and gin ganache filling and chocolate frosting. Each cupcake has a wafer paper skirt, fondant flower, and wafer paper feathers but she never did finish piping her pearls. The judges are none the wiser. They love her presentation and feel she has nailed the theme. They also like the flavor but only Dan can taste the subtle flavor of rose in her ganache.

Max is next with his stout chocolate cupcake, whiskey ganache, Irish cream buttercream and chocolate ganache drizzle. On top, he has a prohibited symbol- you know the circle with a diagonal line. He also has a whiskey barrel. Kristen and Dan love the look and consistency of his cupcakes, but Buddy points out that the little 3-D fondant barrels are unfinished on the back side. Buddy also feels, upon tasting, that there is too much whisky in the buttercream. As Max couldn’t taste it, that is the second time his assistant has let him down a bit with the first being neglecting the sea salt finish.

Ella presents her Brandy Alexander chocolate cupcake with dark chocolate and cognac cremeux and nutmeg buttercream. As planned, she has the cakes tucked under a smoke-filled cloche. The judges lift it to release the smoke and reveal the cakes, which they find pleasantly dramatic. However, filling the cloches with smoke ten minutes ahead of judging has left the cakes far too smoky. The cake is springy and light but Buddy tells her it is so smoky, it reminds him of brisket.

The judges can’t name a favorite as everyone had issues but in the end, they agree to send vegan Gina home. Ella and Max now have an hour and ten minutes to finish their showpiece cakes. The time flies by and the judges are back for the final judging.

Max is first. He has gone for drama and height. His cake features a speakeasy at the bottom, surrounded by stacks of money. Above that sits a whiskey crate with a wanted poster draped over the side, a couple of used cigars and more money stacks. Separating this tier from the next is a life-sized tommy gun made of rice cereal, fondant, and a sneaky bit of plastic and cardboard since the thing wanted to fall down. Above the gun is a layer that looks like a striped suit, a whiskey bottle, and finally a fedora.

Dan especially loves the suit and hat as it really gets the gangster inspiration across. He also admires the number of techniques employed including air brushing, fondant sculpting, texturizing and more. Kristen agrees that the level of detail is stunning. Buddy loves the use of the gun for height and tells him there are glimpses of genius, but he thinks Max’s age is showing. He tells him he has made some rookie mistakes, because he is a rookie. For example, he thinks the gun should be modelling chocolate. Max admits he has never used the stuff.

His flavors are a brown sugar cake with vanilla bourbon buttercream and burnt butterscotch cream for the center. It sounds amazing. Dan tells him the cake is moist and tender. Both Buddy and Kristen wish he took the burnt butterscotch further for a deeper flavor.

Ella is next with a quite different cake. While Max went for sculpted drama and a “seedy” theme, Ella has gone for more traditional tiers and the epitome of elegance. At the bottom, she has a black tier with golden sugar lace. Above that, she has a white tier with black and gold chevrons. Above that is a precarious, thin gold wire separator and then a navy and gold tier, followed at the top by a white tier featuring an eye and a tear replicating the jacket art from the cover of the Great Gatsby.

Dan likes her piping work and Kristen feels this is a real culmination of her theme throughout the day. Buddy says some of her work is beautiful but he points out that her cake is crooked. Her gold separator does not seem to be doing its job well and the cake is a little wobbly. They then taste her vanilla bean cake with pineapple jam and brown sugar buttercream. Dan loves the texture of her jam and everyone agrees it is really good. They just want more. She has one thin layer rather than adding it between each layer of cake.

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The judges see pros and cons for each cake but, in the end, Max’s innovation with the gun as well as his delicious cake flavor has won the day! At just nineteen that is quite the feat. He will surely be one to watch and perhaps we will see more of him in future competitions.