TC: Just Desserts 2.02 — Sweet Symphony

aka “Lemons and Layers and Losers, Oh My! 

They say nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake, but who are “they”? I say there were some pretty tasty looking cakes this week (and I’m not even talking about the Johnny cakes yet). This week brings us lemon desserts, a fabulous cake challenge, and more Bitchy O. (Orlando)! 

You know the phrase, “I like [blank] like a fat kid likes cake?” Just change “fat kid” to Sally because when it comes to types of desserts, there’s nothing I love more than cake. And there’s nothing I enjoy baking more than cakes. I love me some cake. And if I’d known beforehand that Tuesday was Johnny’s birthday I would have made him a kickass carrot cake and invited him over. Your loss, Johnny. Maybe next year.

The episode opens at the loft and right away we find out that Rebecca hurt her arm the night before.  She’s got a fractured left wrist and is wearing a brace. There’s a comment about her playing a ninja the night before. I kind of hope that’s not a joke, because that would actually earn her some cool points in my book. So she’s injured, but she’s staying in the competition. The One-Armed Baker is ready!

Right away we’ve got our Quickfire Challenge. Margaret Braun (maker of some ridiculous cakes and author of Chefwalk) is the guest judge this week and she’s brought some lemons. We get the old “when life hands you lemons” adage and I’m immediately reminded of an old Buffy fan fiction story with the line “Sometimes life hands you shit. You can’t make anything with shit, it’s just shit.” Will this challenge result in shit or lemonade? I’ll try to refrain from the scatalogical jokes; that crap’s for the turds.

They get 45 minutes to create an amazing lemon dessert and they’re encouraged to break away from the old standards. No lemon bars, I guess. We’re informed that lemon is hard to work with because it’s got a tough rind, a juicy center, and a lot acid. What a great combination!

Right away we see some risk takers. Lemon and hazlenuts? Hmm. Bitchy O. is allergic to lemons, but he goes for it anyway and decides to incorporate some chocolate. Double hmm on that. (I’m down with dark chocolate and lime, but lemon, I’m not so sure about.) We’ve got some traditional stuff like pound cakes, which are not so inspiring. And then there’s my girl Amanda thinking outside of the oven — caramel. Hmmmmm. Very, very interesting if she can make it work. (This show could use a little Tim Gunn.)

We get a shot of Rebecca struggling to juice lemons with her injured hand but the look on her face makes you think she’s chopping onions. The mixers are spinning. There’s double-fisted whisking — Wow! Points for Sally, because that is awesome. Nelson’s got candies that are not quite making it. There’s last minute plating. And, of course, a few curse words when they call time.

It looks like someone might not have finished. Let’s see.

Nelson — Lemon pavlova with mango coulis. Nelson admits to a lot of intentions, but not a lot of execution. He had lemon sour cream and candies that didn’t make the plate. Sour about your luck, babe.

Orlando — “Lemon Three Ways” — coconut lemon cream cake, lemon curd cream sauce, and lemon fritters all on top of a big smear of chocolate which brings to mind… Well, I said no scat jokes, right?

Katzie — It looks like my lunch of Asian noodles, but it’s actually lemon crepe cut in ribbons with egg yolk & butter emulsion and fennel sprinkles. Pretty cool and definitely not your traditional dessert. Bonus — Margaret thinks it’s a lot of fun.


Matthew — Lemon vanilla crème with mint purée & hazelnut sable. It’s a lovely plate and the mint puree brings a cool bit of color to things. “Nice but intense.” I would like to taste this one.

Carlos — Citrus soup with reverse sphered yogurt (which looks a lot like ice cream) olive oil powder, honey and thyme. “It looks like breakfast.” They like the thyme.

Amanda — Caramel crémeux with café dulce confit lemon segments with a tinge of sea salt. Margaret says it’s an interesting combination of lemon and caramel, but I’m reading that as not a good thing. They move right on. I am sad, but it does look kind of weird.

Melissa — Lemon beignet with thai basil sugar — Margaret says, “Hmm. That’s nice,” as she gives us an interesting twist of the face (but in a good way, you know?).

Craig — Oh boy. Lemon sour cream pound cake with French meringue and coconut cream. Looks okay, surprisingly. But would you call lemon pound cake new or adventurous? Probably not.

Vanarin — Lemon curd semifreddo with coconut brown butter streusel and blackberry & orange-thyme compote. Sweet and tangy. This looks really good to me. There’s cream on the plate that has been toasted like a marshmallow and really makes me want a taste. I see this being in the top.

The One-Armed Baker — Her take on lemon meringue pie with blueberries in ginger and lemon syrup. Not really a “pie” — there’s a graham crust on the bottom then the lemon, then meringue on top (but I see no toasty goodness on that meringue — boo).

So who wins? Well, Margaret was blown away and congratulates them all. However, there can be only one.

Her least favorites – Nelson (lemon and mango don’t need to be put together); Bitchy O. (she doesn’t think lemon and chocolate work together — Orlando gets bitchy [surprise!] about her decision being personal and not “professional,” and advises her to “leave her personal shit at the door”); Amanda (the contrast between the caramel and lemon was too great)

Her favorites — Matthew (his cake was “perfect and simple”); Katzie (her crepe noodles were “bold” and “funny,” and also good); Carlos (good balance of flavors, especially the hint of thyme).

And the winner is… Matthew! He’s got immunity for the elimination challenge. And boy is he happy. Look at that mint smiley face.



Elimination Challenge

There will be four teams. Orlando, Carlos, and Amanda have been randomly chosen (or so we are told) to pick the teams. Matthew, as the Quickfire winner, get’s the fourth team and the first pick. It’s like middle school gym class all over again. Who will be last picked?

Matthew takes Chris (good choice!), Megan, and Melissa (the last chef standing).

Carlos takes Sally and Rebecca (the one-armed baker).

Bitchy O. takes Nelson (interesting first pick) and Craig (Really!?! Do you want to win, or just have someone to bitch about?).

Amanda takes Katzie and Vanarin. (This team could do great or terrible, I worry for them.)

Melissa is embarrased to be picked last, but Orlando (in another wonderfully bitchy moment) points out that last week she threw he teammate under the bus. I can get why people would be cautious in taking her. But Bitchy O’s choices make zero sense to me. Zero.

The Challenge — The theme is the Walt Disney Concert Hall and LA Philharmonic. They must make a cake to serve 150 orchestra members. They’re reminded of the concert hall’s architecture (how gorgeous is this building?). Each person will be responsible for one tier of the team cake. And they should push the limits of cake making with new shapes and design, but don’t forget it should also taste delicious. I am so excited by this challenge. Have I mentioned that I love cake?

There is no shopping; they must use what’s in the pantry, but what a pantry it is. (My personal pantry ALWAYS has everything for a devil’s food cake with chocolate butter cream, the TC:JD pantry blows my pantry out of the water.)

The groups immediately start planning and right away we see teams discussing architectural features and music — so they at least listened to challenge details. On Matthew’s team it looks like Chris has taken charge, but not in a way that anyone seems to have a problem with. That’s cool — a good team lets people do what they’re good at.

Vanarin likes making cakes because he gets to let go and be “buckwild.” Really? Buckwild? Maybe his cake will be Wu Tangy? We also right away get to hear Bitchy O. call Craig a “nitwit”. Yeah, but he’s your nitwit today. You asked for it, you got it, Bitch-O-ta.

Carlos has a “clear vision”; however, he’s struggling to communicate with his team and his team is struggling to understand him. The One-Armed Baker has no clue what’s going on (not that’s new). This should make for a nice cohesive cake to present, huh? We get a close-up of Horizon milk and cream. I just bought some of that milk Tuesday night along with some Heinz ketchup and Kroger brand canola oil. Can I get a kickback for some product placement?

Vanarin’s using modeling chocolate to make musical instruments. Sounds great, except he’s never modeled instruments before. This show is about stretching your skills and pushing the limits. It’s also about knowing what your skill set is.

Oh noes! Emo Moment! Vanarin’s family came to the U.S. from Cambodia after being in a concentration camp and they’ve tried to live the American dream. Winning this competition would make his family feel like they belong here. Awww. [I wish that was just my snarky summation, but that’s actually about how fast they tell you his story.] What a better place for pursuing one’s dream than Houston, Texas? I’m sure Rick Perry is proud to have his state represented by a homegrown, white, Christian … oh wait.

Moving on, Melissa’s eager to show her skills. She’s putting cardamom in her layer cake and Chris is a little nervous about that. There’s talk of how spice is great, but this might be too overpowering. I LOVE me some spice cakes, so my thought is, “You go girl!” Show them that even grown women are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

We find out that Nelson is very technical and originally went to school to become an architect. We see a photo of a giant gingerbread creation he did. He’s got that ambition, baby, look at his eyes. This week he makin’ cake, next week it’s the pies.

Johnny’s here! And instead of one of his dapper suits, he’s got a fetching gray chef’s coat. His sleeves are pushed up, and you can see glimpses of tattoos. I’d frost his cakes any day of the week. Good god.

He starts with the Black Team (Carlos), asking them if their cake flavors will mix. What we learn is that they’ve got two devil’s food tiers. On the same cake. But they’re different the One-Armed Baker assures him — one’s milk and oil, the other is buttermilk and oil. Soooooooo different! Johnny agrees with me and deadpans, “Right, cause that’s so different.” I love his mocking and wonder at ability to not smack them.

Blue Team (Amanda) – Johnny asks about flavors. They’re not all the same and he seems pleased by that. Then he comments on the chocolate trumpet on the table. Hold me closer tiny trumpeter. Toot your horn and… that’s all I’ve got. So yeah, they’re making musical instruments and Johnny’s a little concerned. So am I. Johnny says they need to think bigger. Figuratively and literally, it seems. We shall see how that turns out.

Red Team (Chris, I mean Matthew)  — They talk to Johnny about architecture and he asks what they’re going to do that’s different. He finds their “topsy-turvy” design to seem pretty ordinary, but Chris is confident it will work. So am I because they have a really definitive sketch and it their design echoes the actual concert hall. I think this team will be conservative, but successful.

Green Team (Orlando) — They talk flavors. Johnny’s focused and attentive and then he gets to Craig and suddenly it’s a different level of focus. Craig says he’s going for the “real sweet pow-pow” flavor. Yes, you read that right. Johnny does a great job of not laughing at him as he asks, “What flavor?” and Craig repeats, “Pow-pow flavor” again and I’m imagining Batman covered in frosting. Mmm, kevlar and buttercream. Tasty.

There are so many details to make on flavors, coloration, decoration, hateration. Plus construction issues. But day one is soon over. Day two will be delivery and assembly.

I don’t always watch the commercials, but I’m typing when we go to break so I look up just in time for a preview of Top Chef: Texas. Interesting. Do we really need that show? Then there’s a movie preview with Sarah Jessica Parker with her hand up the back of her dress. That’s the show we need. I’d watch that every week. Especially if we could get her hand up her dress combined with pie eating (take that however you please).

Back to the show. It’s a lovely morning at the loft. Craig wants Sally (his former teacher) to cry if he gets kicked off. She says she’ll cry. I’m thinking they’ll all cry — tears of joy. I’ll be weeping right along with them.

Speaking of crying…

Another Emo Moment! So apparently Craig was an overweight and flamboyant kid and other kids were cruel to him. He wants the kids who were mean to him to see him kick ass and win TC:JD so they’ll then feel bad that they were mean to him. That’s not going to happen dude. And I gotta say, I’m not surprised about his childhood, no do I care. I don’t condone bullying at all, but this guy just doesn’t inspire any emotion in me other than irritation. I’m a mean girl, what can I say?

Back at the kitchen they have four hours to finish cooking, pack their stuff, and get loaded in vehicles for transport. They also need to take everything necessary for assembly and finishing.

Nelson takes his cube/building/thing apart. I’m excited because it looks terrible. But I don’t think he’s actually doing anything new. He’s just going to make it bigger. Instead of reminding us of the actual concert hall, his cake looks like a Lego Parthenon. Without any color. So make that a stucco-covered Lego Parthenon. And now we see he’s not changing it at all. He’s just putting in bigger dowels to support the upper layer. Brilliant!

Craig is making Orlando crazy and nervous. He’s painting his cake with a teeny-tiny brush. That would make me crazy too. Think painting your house with a one-inch brush. That’s the kind of scale we’re working with here.

Transportation logistics. Yikes. That’s always dangerous. Katzie calls her cake the Starship Enterprise. Geek moment! She might be a new favorite. Then again, maybe not.

They have to carry their cakes up a bunch of stairs from where they park to where they serve. And it’s a hot day. Heat melts things.

I’m having a season 1 flashback — there’s edible glitter! Where’s Zach when we need him? There’s melting. And cracking. And more melting. And stuff falling apart. And glitter and silver. And did I mention melting? Oh, and some airbrushing with a color that’s … not what they wanted, to put it nicely. But there are some lovely cakes.

Service starts. And the judges arrive. They’ve got Margaret Braun from the Quickfire challenge and Hubert Keller is back from last week.

Red Team (Matthew) — This is the only team with four people, so they’re also the only team with four tiers. It’s silver and lovely. I like the falling pages of music and the angled layers (which like Johnny mentioned earlier is not necessarily original, but works well for this specific challenge). On camera it looks perfect. Up close Johnny sees ripples in the fondant. They’re pretty honest about the flaws though and make no excuses. The judges do like the airbrushing and the design. The layers — lemon pound cake (Matthew), yellow butter cake (Megan), chocolate hazelnut (Chris), and cardamom sponge (Melissa). They’re all well received, but they love the cardamom!


Blue Team (Amanda) — They’ve taken a “whimsical approach.” Johnny points out that instruments are hard to do because if they’re not perfect they look sloppy. And here they’re a little sloppy. But so are other aspects of the cake, so at least they’re consistent? Gail would have liked to see it scaled back. The layers — buttermilk cake (Katzie), devil’s food (Amanda), and yellow cake in smoked salted caramel (Vanarin). Katzie’s sponge is so moist it’s almost mushy. Amanda’s is so good they don’t want to bother with the fruit. And Vanarin’s cake is dry (but at least there’s no forest-grown pineapple this week).


Black Team (Orlando) — They went with a triangular base to be different. Whatever. Then we’ve got Nelson’s cube which he says came to mind when he saw a picture of the actual building. I still don’t understand this. The top layer is Craig’s — a round cake that looks like a toy drum and I can see flaws all over the painting (Craig and his tiny brush!). Craig tells the judges that when he thinks Disney, he thinks Fantasia. But it’s a little more Phantasmagoria. Margaret points out that the layers are all so different and asks about how they wanted to complement each other. Bitchy O. says they wanted to incorporate their own personalities. Hubert notices the piece that broke in the heat. The layers — vanilla sponge (Orlando), white cake with lemon and vanilla (Nelson), and Grandma’s chocolate cake (Craig). Orlando and Nelson get props for texture, but their flavors are too subtle. Craig’s cake is moist but VERY sweet — I guess that’s the pow-pow flavor, baby. Bitchy O. doesn’t want to be in the bottom, but if they are he would send Craig home. (At least he’s honest?)


Green Team (Carlos) — Carlos starts by complimenting the building’s architect for being ahead of his time and says they wanted to pay homage to that. Hubert likes the overall result. They had some issues with airbrushing their cake and Johnny notices and comments on the color being “off-putting” to him. The layers — vanilla sponge (Carlos), chocolate devil’s food (Sally), devil’s food (One-Armed Rebecca). Johnny’s surprised Carlos’s cake is so dense for a top layer, but he likes it. Sally is complimented on her use of fresh raspberries. Rebecca’s happy to have built a cake one-handed (this is going to get old fast).

Time to head back to judge’s table. Catch detailed video here. 

Stew room. We find out that Craig’s “Grandma’s chocolate cake” is Sally’s recipe. Nice one, Craig. I wonder if it’s the same basic devil’s food recipe she used just with different fillings.

And here comes Gail — The Green and Red teams are up first. They’re the favorites!

Rebecca has a little emotional breakdown and says she wasn’t sure she’d make it through the Quickfire. Green team is commended on having a cohesive cake with layers that worked well together. They liked the use of fresh fruits.

Red team is lauded for combining complicated and simple so beautifully. Hubert liked their design and Margaret commends the cardamom again. Red team wins! And Melissa is vindicated after week one.

They leave and send in the Black and Blue teams to get a beat down. These two teams are obviously the least favorites. Johnny asks Craig why he thinks their team is there. Craig says their cake seemed disconnected. Gail says they wanted them to step out of the box, but this didn’t work. Margaret says their work fell short. Nelson is asked if they were in agreement about their piece working together despite the differences. He gives the same BS line again about each showing his own point of view.  Johnny comments on the messy details. Bitchy O. says he wanted to make a dense cake to support the upper layers; Johnny calls him on it being crap because they have the dowel system. (I’ve made a 3-tier cake and it’s all about the cake boards and the support rods.) Sponge cake should be light. Hubert says Nelson’s layer was the best and then the judges ask him what the weakest part was in his opinion. He’s asked if he would remove the drum but he says never and sticks by Craig (which is nice, but …).

Moving to Amanda’s team. What does Katzie think went wrong for them? She says there was cohesiveness in the theme but imperfections. Vanarin points out that they should have edited. And when asked who came up with the instruments, Vanarin takes the credit/blame. Gails calls them on problems not just with the instruments but with the seams. We see close-up shots and that cake is a mess. Regarding flavors, Katzie says she liked her cake, but Johnny … “didn’t love it.” Amanda wishes her cake had been neater but liked the flavor, and Hubert compliments her (it was his favorite cake of the day). Then Vanarin admits his cake was overbaked and Margaret says he needed to turn up the flavor. The judges wanted bold and didn’t get it.

Stew room — Craig knows Hubert HATED his drum and wanted someone else to say they hated it too.

Judges — Both cakes are a mess in a way. Johnny points out that part of Orlando’s cake broke. Margaret asks if Johnny would rather have a broken cake or an ugly cake?  Gail says what’s the point of cake if it’s ugly! Then she asks which individual chef let their team down the most. They discuss Katzie’s mush, Craig’s drum, and Vanarin’s weak flavors.

Decision time.  Blue team failed on design and structure as well as composition of the flavors. Black team lacked “synergy”; the cake could have been three separate cakes never put together.

Vanarin needs to pack his tools. Gail says, “Your dessert didn’t measure up.” And Johnny says, “Your design was amateurish”. He leaves with much less animosity than Lina, though. Catch his exit interview here.

In the previews we see a crossover for next week with a judge from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. And it looks like things might get a little juicy.

You can view all of this week’s Quickfire and Elimination creations here.  Each image gives detailed info on fillings, sauces, etc. and the chef’s name. And don’t forget to check out the show’s website.