I’m back! . . . in all senses. Back from France, and back in the “rat house.” It’s amazing that we spent almost 2 months (7 weeks, to be exact) away from our house and all our belongings because of some stupid little rodents. And to think, our landlord said we’d be back in shortly after Thanksgiving.
Anyways, I’m sorry for posting this so late after the Holiday Baking Championship ended, but I didn’t want to dive into 6.5 hours of baking until my kitchen was available and thoroughly cleaned. With all my supplies out and ready to go, it was time for the preheat.
For this challenge, the bakers were given 90 minutes to make one sweet and one savory snack for Santa’s overlooked friends. In the nature of the competition, I wrote down the 3 subjects (reindeer, polar bear, and penguin) and blindly drew. Of course, I got polar bear which was the one I was completely unprepared for. After a quick minute of brainstorming, I came up with Coca Cola cupcakes (who doesn’t remember that polar bear??) and comforting mac n’ cheese.
The first thing I did was put some coca cola in a saucepan and got it simmering. Then I started on the cupcakes so they would have time to bake and cool before frosting. I made a cocoa batter adding about a cup and a half of cola. Took about 20 minutes until they were ready for baking.
Then I got some water boiling and started grating cheese. In another saucepan, I melted the cheese with some milk, salt and pepper, cream cheese, onion, and jalapeños. Boiled up some pasta, drained it, and mixed with the cheese, scooped into ramekins and in the oven as the cupcakes came out.
All the while, I was swirling and keeping an eye on the simmering soda. It was starting to reduce and thicken, but still not quite enough. The cupcakes had a lovely dome, so I guess the cola didn’t affect the leavening process. I got those in the freezer for a quick cool down and started on the frosting. I made the ol’ standard, American vanilla buttercream, adding just a little bit of soda. Checked back on the reduced soda which was starting to smoke and smell a little burned. I took it off the stove and set it aside to cool slightly. Well cool it did, and harden. I guess I boiled it to hard ball stage. It was not usable.
I was able to start assembling the cupcakes with 15 minutes left. After frosting them, they just looked kind of boring. I didn’t have cola gummy candies, but I still had lots of holiday sprinkles. So I sprinkled those on. Drizzled a little bit of cola over the tops, and they were ready to go.
The mac ‘n cheese was bubbling away. It was left in the oven until the very last minute. I realize now that they probably don’t qualify as a baked item. But in my haste, since it goes in the oven for 30 minutes, I was thinking it would count. Oh well, I like mac ‘n cheese and I think polar bears would too.
The main heat was to create a North Pole inspired cake in 5 hours. The three options were: elves in the workshop, snowman family Christmas, and Santa’s sleigh ride. I did not choose this one at random because I wanted the cake to be multi-purpose and work for a family belated birthday gathering. My aunt celebrated a big birthday while we were in France and we were celebrating late. I chose to make the elves cake so I could turn all the little elves into my family members. I set the timer and got to work.
This was going to be a big cake so I wanted 2 flavors. My aunt doesn’t like nuts, my boyfriend doesn’t like coconut, so I kept it neutral and made a white cake with Christmas sprinkles mixed in the batter, and a moist chocolate cake. Vanilla frosting would go with both, but I’d need a lot of it, so I settled on swiss meringue buttercream. The cake batters took about 40 minutes to make and divide into 4 pans. While they were baking, I made the buttercream. Whoa that’s a lot of butter! But a very nice consistency for spreading.
I had pre-made white modeling chocolate so while the cakes cooled, I started on my elves. That is, until I got a message from my mom that our birthday gathering would be postponed until a week later. This cake was not saving that long! Making elves that look like us would take a lot of time, probably more than what I had to work with, so I redesigned the cake and made the elves normal looking. Also scrapped the idea of the workshop being decorated for a birthday and the elves holding a birthday cake. They would now be working on making Christmas presents, like elves do.
I wanted to have the cake assembled early so I could put decorations on it. So I put aside making the elves and rolled out a strip of modeling chocolate colored brown to look like a wood floor. The cakes were sufficiently cooled at this point so I split the small 7 inch cakes and frosted them. The 10 inch bottom tier was shorter (on purpose) so I didn’t split the cake into layers. The white cake would have been fine because it was pretty dense, but the chocolate cake would have fallen apart had I split that one.
I stacked the cakes how I wanted them and added the wood floor. I took time cutting the modeling chocolate to fit the space I needed but it probably would have been quicker to cover the top of the bottom tier with the “wood floor” and then plop the top tier over it. Oh well, this is a learning experience, after all.
With the cake assembled, I was starting to feel a little better. Then I realized I was down to about 45 minutes and still had to make 2 complete elves (except the heads I made earlier), a table, some presents, and other little embellishments. Powdered sugar was flying, it was craziness! The elves lost a lot of details I had wanted to do. But I had to get them done as the theme to this cake was Elves in the Workshop. I only had time to make one little present out of modeling chocolate. The table I made was sagging. But I threw as much as I could on the cake before the time ran out.
I wish I had even just one extra hour for some of the other little details I had wanted to do. But it goes to show you how fast 5 hours really is. One thing I wish I had done was put dowels in the bottom tier because the weight of the top tier pressed down on the bottom. But I didn’t have any dowels. Overall, I was happy with the final result. I love working with modeling chocolate and though I’m not an artist or sculptor, I can usually make things recognizable. Fondant might be easier to use, but I really don’t like it.
If my calculations are correct, that would wrap up 17 hours and 45 minutes of baking along to the Holiday Baking Championship. It was fun. Some challenges were more successful than others, and I got to try new things. I’ll keep practicing and maybe I’ll give it another go during the Spring Baking Championship. Thanks for following along!