Dessert Imposters! Now, this is in my wheelhouse! Ninety percent of what we do at Charm City Cakes is make cakes that look like other things, and a lot of times we make cakes that look like other kinds of food. Last week I made a cake for a chef in Los Angeles that was a giant pile of raw meat. True story. This week’s challenge was so much fun on Kids Baking Championship, but it was also one of the most difficult for the kids. They had to recreate foods using sweet, baked stuff. It’s very tricky to get right, because you really have to sell the idea that, no, this is not a cake, this is a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Last week was really tough, but I think the kids gained an advantage in that they got used to the cameras, lights and even my big loud mouth, and I think they really stepped it up when they faced an even bigger challenge than the bake sale.
I loved seeing the kids watch my demo of how to make the fried chicken. What is great is that you really get to see how they are super freaked out at the beginning, like, “There is no way I can do that!” to “Oh, that’s not too hard.” When the kids find out which item they have to create, it’s so funny that if it was a food that they liked, they were happy, but if it was something they didn’t usually eat, they were like, “Ew! I don’t wanna make that!” Annika hates sushi. Really? Who hates sushi? And I’m sorry, Natalie, but I don’t know any kids (or adults, for that matter) that don’t like burgers.
I was really impressed that Hollis was attempting pate a choux for her bagel — that is a super-tricky dough to make and pretty advanced. I don’t think I learned how to make pate a choux until I was, like, 19. Jackson had a really smart idea in that he has to make pasta, so why not use a pasta maker? Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees. One time, I had to make a cake of the game “Operation” and it had to actually work; they wanted to play the game and then eat the cake. I spent two days designing the electrical system for the lights and buzzer and stuff, and Geof says to me, “Why don’t you just buy the game at a toy store and take it apart?” That’s why Geof is in charge.
The best part of the Dessert Imposters challenge was about halfway through, when the kids really started seeing the work they were doing coalesce into something real. That’s why I love baking — every time I bake something, there is a moment when I hold my breath for a second and see if whatever I did is going to work. What really impressed me with Hollis is that she tried her apple scallions, didn’t like them and sought an alternative. That’s really the mark of a true chef’s mentality. And Cody, maybe wear gloves before you dive into a bowl of green food coloring, man! When some of Natalie’s cupcakes exploded, she taught us all two very important baking lessons. One, always scrape down the sides of the bowl or your ingredients won’t be mixed well. Some of those cupcakes had too much baking powder, and some had not enough. Two, always make extra!
These kids were under a lot of pressure, they were really venturing into uncharted waters, and then when I threw the twist at them and asked them to make a side dish, you could tell, they were MAD! But then as they thought about it, they realized how much cooler it could be. Natalie’s fries were genius, and Payton lit up when he thought of garlic bread. Pie dough has to be cooked hot! You’ve got to seal up the butter in that dough. Jackson really grasped this concept; the garlic-bread biscotti was total genius. Also, when Cody described his salsa, his inspiration was the real food he was trying to imitate. This is key when you try to make an imposter believable. I really hope everyone enjoyed seeing an 11-year-old play with a blowtorch, by the way. I also like to think that I might have had a hand in making that acceptable. Natalie used the torch to great effect. She wanted a toasted bun, so she toasted it. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Jackson also showed us all a trick that my great-grandmother taught me about baking and sweets: Always add a bit of salt. Always.
I have to say, I was so blown away when we said, “Time’s up.” It felt like a Friday night at the bakery when we clean up and look at all our cakes we made that week all together and just take it all in. Late Fridays are my favorite time of the week. These dishes were so much fun to see being made, but the rubber really met the road when it came time to taste them. Obviously, they had to work visually, but just as important, they had to be delicious. Cody was so impressive. His tacos looked like tacos, were served in paper taco containers, and they tasted fantastic. What really sold me was that they ate like a taco — very authentic and cool. I think Cody has made a few tacos in his day. Jackson likewise really stepped up and hit a home run. Gum paste isn’t the most-delicious thing in the world, but it was used effectively, and there was plenty of yummy dessert goodness to be able to ignore the garnish. Natalie, though, really shined. Her sliders were super-good, and there wasn’t any part of them that you didn’t want to eat. Her fries are what I think really tipped the scales. Did you see those fries? They looked insanely real and also tasted good.
I think what knocked Cody out of the top two was the fact that his side dish was chopped fruit with a repeat of the element he used in his main dish. His creativity was spot-on, but Natalie and Jackson both made completely different elements above and beyond what they had already made for the main dish. Hollis tried and succeeded at making a very convincing and delicious bagel, but the marmalade tart was just too abstract to be able to call it a glass of orange juice. I think artistically I know how she’s thinking, but it really has to be convincing and easy to read. That glass of orange juice made me think too much, which we all know is dangerous. Annika made very tasty and convincing sushi. The whole bite was really good and worked as a whole, which is a very difficult thing to do when you are using all these ingredients and trying to make them look like something. The problem was the side dish of rice. It was a bunch of cookies chopped up with chocolate sauce, which is awesome if you want cookies (and, by the way, I drank those cookies down like a shot), but to pass them off as rice just didn’t work. When they became croutons, she could have shifted and made a Japanese ginger/carrot salad. Or, grind them up and figure out some kind of dessert soup that looks like miso.
Payton made a really cool pizza. It looked like a pizza, and the way the marshmallows came apart, it really felt like a pizza. We could even cut it with a pizza cutter. His garlic bread was just a miss for him. The dough was too thick and didn’t bake long enough and therefore was very doughy inside. It also looked, as Valerie said, like a spring roll. It’s tough to see Payton go, because I know that kid can rally and would have done so good in the next challenge. Big up, Payton — you are a killer baker, and your pizza was awesome!
Thanks for watching, guys! Let me know if you have any questions about how to make any of the amazing things you saw these kids whip up. See you next week!