As one of the most-successful pastry chefs in the country, Sweet Genius Ron Ben-Israel is known for creating sky-high cakes that are as deliciously whimsical as they are stunningly beautiful. On Sunday’s episode of Worst Cooks in America, however, he was forced to abandon the high-quality demands he prides himself on in his professional kitchen and think back to basics. Stopping by Boot Camp to offer the recruits an in-depth cake-baking how-to, he showed them seemingly simple recipes for creating wow-worthy celebration cakes, but for some of the competitors, this challenge ultimately proved to be nothing short of impossible. We checked in with Chef Ron to find out what it was like helping the competitors turn out their best-possible confections and to learn the most-shocking moment he experienced at Boot Camp. Read on below to get the insider scoop on what went down, plus check out Chef Ron’s easy tips for at-home bakers.
How was your time on the show?
RB: I’m a big fan of the show and always learn something valuable by watching Chefs Anne and Bobby. So I was so excited to be asked to come to the kitchen and teach the recruits how to bake a cake. And they were so sweet and excited to see me! Also, the kitchen was very well equipped with every tool and ingredient that a cake designer may wish for. I was so happy to be there and started demonstrating with great enthusiasm.
What was the most-shocking moment you came across with the contestants?
RB: What I didn’t expect was how bad these Worst Cooks were. Even the simplest procedures proved insurmountable obstacles for them. I didn’t know if I should scream or laugh! Shockingly, the recruits couldn’t tell when a cake was done and either under baked the layers or burned them totally. I noticed that they treated the cake they were constructing as if it were a foreign object. There seems to be a disconnect between their desire to bake and decorate cakes and their physical relations to food.
Why is baking such a challenge and fear for so many people?
RB: Baking is more like science, and accurate measurements and procedures are crucial. But technology has made baking much easier with digital scales, powerful mixers and accurate ovens. Still, so many people are afraid of baking, perhaps because one has to measure the ingredients, mix the batter, and then wait for the results to bake and cool. And there is no going back — in order to correct mistakes, one has to start again from the beginning. There is no immediate gratification when it comes to baking.
What are your top tips for creating the ultimate buttercream?
RB: The first ingredient in a classic buttercream is eggs. And separating the whites from the yolks is the first challenge, as one drop of fatty yolk will contaminate the fat-free whites and will ruin the whole batch. But perhaps the first hurdle is to recognize that a paste made of shortening with powdered sugar is not buttercream at all. The recruits never tasted such a heavenly concoction as the Swiss Meringue Buttercream I made for them, and they were afraid of it every step of the way.
You mentioned making a cake in a food processor. Is there a difference between using a stand mixer vs. the processor?
RB: The food processor method is based on the one-bowl formula, which is popular in commercial bakeries. It’s not as traditional as when starting by creaming the butter and sugar, but I believe it’s far more superior. The resulting crumb is moist, delicate and uniform. This method is really foolproof. The only possible hazard is overmixing.