This Stuffing Stuff My thoughts on Episode 3

Interested in recipes from the latest episode of Holiday Baking Championship? Click here or read on to learn more about the episode.

So… I’m coming into week 3 with a spring in my step. Of course it felt awesome to win, but I also felt like I saved face in front of the judges and let the other bakers know that I was a force to be reckoned with.  Standing there in the kitchen, we see a turkey with basters sticking out from behind it.  I’m thinking, “What the heck is this challenge gonna be?”  Perhaps they have caught on that we caught on to their hints.  Well played Food Network.  I’m praying we don’t have to make a dessert with gravy… though, true story, my mother once baked the stuffing for Thanksgiving in a bundt pan and “frosted” it with gravy!  “Stuffing cake”… lets put a pin in that one for a moment shall we!

Bobby tells us our next challenge is making holiday whoopie pies!  Balls!  I’ve only ever made a whoopie pie once in my life.  Its not exactly a recipe I have in my back pocket.  A whoopie pie by definition is a little cake filled with a marshmallow or cream cheese filling.  Thankfully, I have a great chocolate cake recipe and I can make marshmallow in my sleep.  Those little turkey basters each have a random fall theme to act as our inspiration for decorating our whoopie pies.  I select pilgrims.  I immediately think of the signature black band and buckle around a pilgrim hat.  I decide to bake my whoopie pies in a donut mold, and to make little buckle tuiles.  I’ll thinking these little brown “belts” with buckles will be awesome; you’ll know instantly that my inspiration was pilgrim.

I choose to make devils food cake not only because its absolutely delicious and moist, but I think its kind of cheeky to use it on a pilgrim inspiration, since they came to this country seeking religious freedom.  I’ve made this devils food cake a million times and I know that it bakes up really fast.  I have this little voice in my head warning me that the judges might not get my departure from the “traditional shape” of a whoopie pie.  I glance around to see what some of the other bakers have made.  It seems I’m not the only one who has strayed from the traditional shape.  Guess my idea wasn’t as ground breaking as I thought.

On to judging… The judges have quite a debate with each baker over what is and what isn’t a whoopie pie.  It got quite heated.  It didn’t air, but at one point the judges actually said to us, “You’ve seen whoopie pies before, right?”  Of course… I thought we’d be applauded for thinking outside the box.  I’m feeling a bit nervous.  Will they get it?  Lorraine is on board, Nancy is not (shocker!). So it’s all in Duff’s hands, and he’s totally on board… exactly what a whoopie pie should be!!!  (Get the recipe here).  Bobby announces that the top bakers are me and Melody.  She’s a great baker and they loved her traditionally shaped whoopie pie.  In the end, I take the win by a buckle.  Two wins in a row!!!!!  SPATULADROP!

On to our main challenge… remember that pin from earlier in my post… stuffed cakes.  Never heard of one!  We have to stuff our cake with candy, and as my winning advantage I get to pick my candy first.  There are all sorts of jars with everything from salt water taffy (no thank you), candied almonds (death), M&M’s (safe), peppermints (been done), and a bunch of ball shaped candies (could be anything in there from gum to malt).  So I choose Reese’s Pieces.  Those fall colors will look so pretty falling out of the cake.  Another nice thing about this advantage is I have a few more seconds to make a plan.  With the peanut butter candies in hand, I’m thinking about peanut butter and jelly and my nieces and nephews!

I have a plan to make a fall themed cake based on the colors of the Reese’s Pieces.  It will have stenciled leaves on the outside, with rosettes of peanut buttercream topped with raspberries and candied peanuts.  The filling for my cake will be a fresh made raspberry jam and peanut butter mousse.  I should state here that I am allergic to tree nuts only, so peanuts are something I can eat.

Two hours isn’t a lot of time, especially when you have to bake, cool, frost, stack, and fill a cake.  I bake my cakes on a sheet tray, since they will bake faster and I can cut them into round shapes once they cool.  I also decide to build my cake in a ring mold, so essentially it gets frosted as it’s assembled, saving time.  I stencil leaves on a sheet of acetate that will be on the inside of the ring mold with different colored buttercream.  Once the cake is unmolded and the acetate peeled off, I will have a finished and decorated cake… or so I think!  I have used this technique a lot and it works very well… when there’s time for the buttercream to cool and harden.  My cake didn’t have much time.  So, when I pulled off the acetate, the stenciled leaves came off with it.  I now had a cake with a very rough exterior, not a beautifully smooth and decorated one.  I literally had minutes to “decorate” my cake.  I grab the peanuts to cover the sides.  I gather whatever buttercream I have, and pipe whatever shapes I can think of on the top.  I run out of buttercream and have to resort to mousse.  I plop raspberries on the top of the cake.  I use leftover colored buttercream to pipe a boarder on the base, but I run out of yellow so I have to switch to orange.  My cake has two different colors of piping on the base, so I mash handfuls of candies to cover it up.  I dust the berries with powdered sugar as Bobby calls time.  I am totally embarrassed at the disaster.  Its not a decorated cake, its humble pie!

malcolm in the middle embarrassed

In front of the judges, I get a chance to explain what happened, though it didn’t air.  I cry talking about my nieces and nephews and how they don’t care what I make, just that Uncle Steve made them something.  I joke that I should just plop my face into the top.  Duff offers me $5,000 to do it.  I tell him make it $50,000 and he’s got a deal.  No deal.  My cake is like the ugly cousin the family can’t seem to marry off…  rough on the outside, but sweet on the inside.  Thankfully, my cake tastes absolutely delicious, the judges love the peanut butter mousse.  They also praise me for my appropriate filling to cake ratio.  In the end, I’m safe to bake another day.  Tears of joy stream down my face….I can’t hold them back.  I truly have something to be thankful for!!!

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Trending….. My thoughts on Episode 2

Interested in recipes from the latest episode of Holiday Baking Championship? Click here or read on to learn more about the episode.

So if you have been watching Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, which I hope you have, you will know that week one was not my best week.  Little brown spheres of death and a dark pie crust were almost my demise.  It didn’t make air, but I was crossing every finger possible behind my back.  Those few moments standing in front of the judges felt like an eternity.  I bawled like a baby as soon as I walked off the set; tears of joy for being able to stay to bake another round.  I think I went back to the hotel and sat in the hot tub for an hour to relax and take a little Taylor Swift advice, shake it off!!!

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Thank you Swifty, thank you!!!

So after a good night’s sleep and a little peppermint tea (how holiday) I report to the kitchen to begin a new day.  We walk into the kitchen and I immediately see this huge display of candy canes behind Bobby.  (I learned from Episode 1, it’s never just decoration on that podium.  When I saw the Nutcrackers I thought, “Wow, that is so festive.”  It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a clue to the challenge.  Well played Food Network, well played.)  So, peppermint…..good thing I had that tea!  Bring it on!!!   Bobby tells us our challenge is about getting crafty.  That resonates with me.  As kids, we made crafts all the time.  My mother had, correction has, boxes upon boxes of all sorts of items to make crafts.  Buttons, ribbons, shells, paints, the list goes on and on.  I want to make sure that my plate is decorated so I get crafty with colored sugar in red and white stripes.  I thought it was pretty clever.  I don’t think the judges really got it.  So, it’s Susan with the win.

Time to get crafty again……this time with a holiday wreath-shaped dessert.  I immediately think of my sister and her family.

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My sister is possibly one of the most creative and crafty people I know.  You can check out her blog here.  My sister, like a lot of people in this country, is on a tight budget, especially at the holidays.  I am so inspired by all she does and sacrifices in order to make a magical Christmas for her family.  So, I want to make something that she would be proud to have at her house on Christmas.  I also think about the great American holiday tradition of the cookie swap.  Eureka, Cookie Swap Wreath.

I make 4 different kinds of cookies; Spiced Sugar Cookie, Orange Langue de Chats, Coconut Lime Russian Tea Cakes, and Hippen Tuiles.  My plan is to cut the sugar cookie into a large wreath shape, then attach the Langue de Chats to the sugar cookie wreath to give it texture and look like pine bows.  The Russian Tea Cakes will be holly berries, and the Hippen Tuiles I’ll pipe to look like holly leaves.  It’s a pretty ambitious plan, and only 90 mins to pull it off.  I’ve made each of these cookies a hundred times and I know that each of them takes between 5 to 15 mins to bake, so if I work fast I can have these done in no time.

Time flies in that kitchen.  You think you have plenty of time……but you don’t.  In the blink of an eye, Bobby yells, “Time’s up.”  I look at my wreath and I am so proud of what I have made.  I know that my sister will be proud too.

Cookie Swap WreathI deliberately made it monochromatic because I think it instantly reads sophisticated and it is very trendy.  Maybe you heard me say that during Episode 2, like 10 times.  I just want you to know that it is on trend.  It’s on point right now.  Got it? ….monochromatic is on trend.  Embrace it.  Love it.  Get trendy with it.

And the judges agree……WIN!  Last episode I was about to go home.  This time, I won.  It felt amazing.  I had a clear vision in my head and I was able to execute that precisely.  So let’s start a trend, shall we.  Get the recipe for my Cookie Swap Wreath.

Perhaps you have seen our baking classes on the website.  Perhaps you have seen that we have a cookie class in November.  Guess what, we are going to make Spiced Sugar Cookies, Langue de Chats, Coconut Lime Russian Tea Cakes, and Hippen Tuiles…….and we are going to put them together in a monochromatic wreath.  Haven’t you heard?  It’s on trend right now!

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HUGE Announcement!

I have been bursting with HUGE news for weeks, and today I can finally share it! I’ve been wanting to talk about this for so long, and I’m not going to spend one more second holding back, so here goes:

In just a few weeks, I will be competing in this year’s Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network!!! Beginning November 1st, you’ll see me face off against some phenomenal bakers in Season 2 of the show. I am beyond excited that I was selected to be part of the competition!

Seriously, you guys. It still doesn’t even feel real to me that I actually got to be part of something so cool.

I don’t want to slip and accidentally share a spoiler in all my excitement, so I’m not going to say too much more about being on the show at this point. But I will say that it was an absolute blast! This whole experience is something I really want to share with my husband, family, friends, and the whole community. We’re having a viewing party for the first episode on November 1st, so if you live near Denton, Maryland come out and join us!

Wish me luck! #HolidayBakingChampionship

Chef Steve Konopelski

What is a Kouign Amann? (And how the heck do you pronounce it??)

Kouign Amanns are a simple yet insanely delicious pastry. These crusty, round cakes have been known to cause stampedes among our guests at the B&B. There’s something very appealing about the crackly, caramelized exterior that gives way to a surprisingly light center. And the simplicity of the flavor, which is derived from butter and sugar (LOTS of butter and sugar!) is truly delightful. I could take a bath in it!

Kouign-Amanns

For me, Kouign Amanns are a perfect example of one of life’s simple pleasures. I make many other desserts and pastries that are more elaborate, with complex ingredients and precise presentations. And don’t get me wrong, those elaborate desserts are a lot of fun to create and share with people. But when it comes to simple pleasures, nothing beats a Kouign Amann. A cup of coffee, a Kouign Amann, and a few minutes of solitude has me feeling like…

So what exactly is a Kouign Amann? Kouign Amanns are made using bread dough with layers of butter and sugar folded in. As the cake bakes, the butter permeates the dough and puffs it up. The sugar becomes caramelized, creating that great crusty texture on the outside of the cake.

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Over time, I’ve perfected this simple recipe to create a Kouign Amann with a center that is lighter and moister than is typical. But sorry folks, that little trick is one I’m going to keep secret!

But I will tell you how to pronounce “Kouign Amann.” It’s basically pronounced like “Queen Ah-Mahn.” The translation of “Kouign Amann” is “Cake Butter,” which is pretty appropriate. The origin of the name is Breton, which was a Celtic-based language spoken in the Brittany region of France during the Middle Ages.

So there you have it… A linguistics lesson and a bit of information about one of my absolute favorite things to bake. Just call me the #KingofKouigns!

Chef Steve Konopelski

P.S. For those of you who live near Denton, Maryland, you can order Kouign Amanns for local pickup.