Black Forest Napolean

The Great American Baking Show, Episode 5 – Pastry Week

A recap of all the action from The Great American Baking Show, Episode 5 -Pastry Week.

**SPOILER ALERT!!! THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 5! STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED YET!**

Tanya during Pastry Week
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Pastry and Cookie Week” – This week’s challenges have the six remaining bakers focusing on delicious, flaky and flavorful pastries and holiday cookies perfect for any Christmas celebration when “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” airs THURSDAY, DEC. 26 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) TANYA

I am writing this recap in Oct 2019, knowing that this episode will be the hardest one to watch when it airs in December, at least for me.

Read my other recap posts before reading this one!

Episode 1 – Cake Week

Episode 2 – Bread Week

Episode 3 – Spice Week

Episode 4 – Dessert Week

There will be tears. There will be massive embarrassment. There will be regret. There will be fear of judgment. And all of that will be just from watching the show and reliving two difficult days that I wish I could get back.

Would I have done anything differently? Yes, I absolutely would. But hindsight is 20/20 and, believe me, there has been a lot of hindsight! The two days that make up Pastry Week are constantly at the forefront of my mind.

Never mind the raving reviews by Sherry in Episode 1 about my German Chocolate Cake. Forget the Hollywood Handshake and Sherry’s high five on my breadsticks. Elevated cheesecake last week? Yeah, that was last week.

This week was a completely different ballgame. It shouldn’t have been, though. I make puff pastry all the time and not once has it failed me. I’ve seen other people make hand raised pies (only once but still). And a citrus tart? Easy enough, I thought.

Signature – Citrus Tart

I will admit that when the challenge for the Citrus Tart came in, I was not excited about it. It’s just not something that I would normally make. Coupled with the fact that the challenge rules stated that the filling MUST be baked in the shell, not just piped in, it was not one of my favorite challenges due to the short timeframe of the challenge.

But after a couple of practice bakes, I began to figure out a method that would work within the timeline as well as a flavor profile that I really liked. I grew up eating clementine’s almost daily and they are by far my favorite citrus fruit. After playing with a combination of clementine and lemon to get enough sweetness but not too much, I was happy with it.

I went with a plain pate sucre crust to allow the citrus flavors to shine…or so I thought. I also thought that a honey meringue topping was an inspired move that most others would not try. I’m meant to stand out, right?

I made that tart seven times at home, start to finish, within the challenge time limit. I made it two more times in the flat in London the day before the challenge. Now this is where one of my issues began.

In order to practice, I bought several bags of clementine’s as well as plenty of lemons to make sure that I got the right balance to come through. As mentioned before, ingredients are different in the UK. So practice was essential to ensure success.

Now make it in the Tent!

The tart was delicious and smooth and creamy in practice. The pastry was thin and crisp and well baked. The meringue set up beautifully. I was ready.

Well, it may have been good if I had actually read the bags that the fruit came in. I accidentally bought two bags of clementines and two bags of mandarins. No big deal, right?

Well, in the Tent it IS a big deal! Clementines are sweeter than mandarins and I wanted to strike the perfect balance. The problem is that I didn’t realize that the bags were different until after practicing the tart twice. I still to this day don’t know which one I practiced with.

Details, details, details.

Making adjustments in the Tent

Realizing this error just before going into the tent, I knew I would have to just taste and pray. At the last minute, I almost decided to change my tart shell to a chocolate pate sucre but decided against it since I was out of time to practice and an untested change would be a sure ticket home.

I had just forgotten one thing – the Tent factor. Your best-laid plans will go out the Tent flap when you least expect it with no explanation.

My pastry came together perfectly. But, in my haste to get everything done with enough time to cool and decorate, I rolled my pastry too thick. It went into the freezer to chill exactly according to my pre-determined schedule but when I took it out of the freezer to get it baking, I realized how thick it actually was. It was literally twice as thick as the day before. But once the pastry is rolled, shaped in the tart pan and frozen, it is too late to fix it.

Had I been at home, I would have let it thaw, removed it from the pan, rolled it thinner, reshaped it and rechilled it. But not in the tent under a strict time limit. I just had to go with it.

I was still feeling confident with the other elements and moved on. The shell was blind baked and then baked again and also chilled before adding the filling. Tip: If you add an eggy custard to a HOT pastry case, you will get a layer of cooked egg. Chill that pastry before adding the filling!

The filled tart went into the oven while I started on the meringue that never fails. Well, guess what…it failed.

I think Sherry jinxed me when she asked if I had ever had a hard time with the emulsion of the honey and egg whites. I never had before, thank you very much!

While distracted with my meringue debacle, my tart was in the oven for almost 5 minutes longer than planned. Now, with bread or something less precise, that wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker. But with custard, it is. I realized it too late and now knew that I had to present pastry that was too thick AND overbaked custard.

Fabulous.

Oh, how I wanted to impress these two!
I wanted to impress these two so badly! Photo credit: ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) PAUL HOLLYWOOD, SHERRY YARD

One issue after another!

And my meringue was still not coming together. I was determined to get at least one element right so I quickly restarted the meringue. I was pretty sure that the thicker consistency of the honey on set was to blame. I quickly changed the recipe – I cut the honey in half and added some caster sugar – and got a passable meringue on the second attempt. Still not perfect but I would make it work.

The meringue was quickly piped on and my clementine bruleed ‘stars’ were added. Then I saw the weeping of the juices on top of my custard from the stars.

Time was called and it was too late. I hoped for rave reviews on the flavor to carry me past the numerous negatives with my tart. I had no such luck, though. While I thought the flavor was good, the clementine flavor was not strong enough for the judges. Perhaps because they were mandarins?? I still don’t know but what I do know is that citrus tarts will NEVER be among my favorite bakes after this experience.

Technical – Hand Raised Pork Pies

On to the Technical Challenge. This challenge will forever be the most embarrassing experience that I can remember in my entire life. I was mortified to serve those Hand Raised Pork Pies to the judges and I am mortified for people to watch me fail so miserably and so publicly.

And that’s what I did…I failed. I second-guessed every step of the process. My nerves got the better of me and I froze.

Let me say that I really CAN boil an egg!! I have never worked with quail eggs but an egg is an egg, right? Well, I thought that since they are so small, they would take much less time to cook than a chicken egg. I also thought it would be good to keep the egg from turning into rubber by overcooking it, so I attempted to go with a soft-boiled egg.

I should’ve known from the problems I had peeling them that this wouldn’t work. Well, actually, I did know. Which is why I put the eggs back on the stove! But after two attempts to get them hard-boiled and the clock ticking like a bomb in the background, I decided that I had to move on. That was one mistake.

The other mistakes – like not cutting the meat and onions small enough, adding too much pepper, not chilling the pastry – all compounded to equal my worst bake in the tent ever.

In my defense and the defense of the other bakers, we are Americans and this is a distinctly British bake. But they call it a challenge for a reason and we did not rise to it!

What’s a Pie Dolly?!?!

I have made hot water crust pastry exactly once in my life before this challenge. Everything that I read about it said that you have to work with it when it is still warm. But apparently the trick that Paul thought we should know is that we should have chilled the pastry briefly on the pie dolly to make it workable. We also should’ve used the food processor to cut the meat and onions.

Ugh.

Not one of us thought of it until AFTER the challenge!

I was in last place on this challenge. Ouch. I knew it was coming but it was so hard to sit there and be ripped apart by the judges when I knew that I could do better!

Last place. OUCH!

To be clear, I am not blaming the judges. Yes, the criticism was harsh. But what I presented was crap. It was the worst in a pile of other not-so-good bakes. I deserved last.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to take. I am harder on myself than the judges ever could be and I will dwell on those miserable pork pies forever.

After my elimination, I searched all over London for a pie dolly so that I could try again. Well, no one sells them because no one uses them anymore! Even in Paul’s cookbook, he uses a cupcake tin – NOT the dreaded pie dolly!!

So upon my return to the US, I searched online and finally found a company that sells them. I ordered one and made these pies at home. They weren’t perfect. I still don’t quite have the knack for using the dolly. But so much better than in the tent!

Hand Raised Pork Pies that I made at home. My husband loves them but I can’t say that I will be making them often! Sorry honey!

My own worst critic

My husband says to not worry about it and not beat myself up over it. By being in the tent, I should realize that I’m not a half-bad baker. But my brain and my heart say otherwise.

My brain and my heart say that I let myself down. They say that I let down my husband and kids, who supported me in my never-ending quest to get to the tent. They say that everyone that watches the show will laugh and judge me and think that I can’t boil an egg.

I still don’t know what to say to that other than, I tried. I put myself out there – literally – for millions of people to judge me. Baking for Paul and Sherry was intimidating but being watched and criticized by millions of viewers is my worst nightmare.

I try to remind myself that everyone has a bad day in the kitchen. If it happens at home, you just start over. No one ever has to see your failures. But with judges, and cameras and a microphone that records every whisper on set, there is no place to hide. With a strict time limit on each challenge that is barely enough to finish, starting over is not always an option. And with specialty ingredients like quail eggs, we were warned that there were no more. If you messed up your first batch, that was too bad. We couldn’t ask for more.

So I tried. And I failed. And I will forever wish that I could take that entire day back and have a do-over.

My husband told me that night on the phone, through the tears that I held back from the camera, that I was a ‘show-stopper kind of person’ and I would redeem myself the next day. I had done it before and I could do it again.

Showstopper – Napoleans and Palmiers

But the next day wasn’t any better. Puff pastry is easy. At least it always has been before. Sure, it requires patience. But I had practiced, and I had a timeline and it really just requires a controlled hand and some resting time for the pastry to chill. That’s all.

The individual elements of the showstopper were easy. I just had to pull them off without a hitch and I would be able to salvage my performance from the day before. I had decided to make Double Chocolate Palmiers and Amaretto Cherry and Chocolate Napoleans with white and dark chocolate pastry cream.

But my confidence was shaken and doubt had crept into my head. During Bread Week, Sherry had told me after the luke-warm feedback on my bread sculpture to just trust my instincts. I didn’t do it then and it cost me. I knew the bread needed more hydration but doubt crept in and I let it win.

It wasn’t just the self-doubt that hurt me with the puff pastry though. It was a lack of patience.

Details, details!

One last laugh in thetent
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Pastry and Cookie Week” – This week’s challenges have the six remaining bakers focusing on delicious, flaky and flavorful pastries and holiday cookies perfect for any Christmas celebration when “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” airs THURSDAY, DEC. 26 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) ANTHONY “SPICE” ADAMS, SHERRY YARD, PAUL HOLLYWOOD, TANYA

The goal with puff pastry is to get the dough and the butter block to about the same temperature before rolling them together. But with my dough in the freezer and my butter block in the refrigerator, I had expected them to chill to the proper temperature in about the same amount of time. They did not. The dough was still not thoroughly chilled when I pulled it from the freezer and the butter block was rock hard. I should have waited to combine them but, in order to stick to my very detailed timeline, I encased the butter block that was much colder than it should’ve been into the dough.

I knew it was a problem at the time but I thought that I could overcome it. My instincts said to wait. My head said to stick to my schedule to ensure that everything was done on time. I pressed on with the pastry that I knew was substandard. I also started my pastry cream which took longer than it usually does. After a delay with the pastry cream and two folds of the pastry, I knew it was broken beyond repair.

So I started over. With shaking hands and frazzled nerves, I started my puff pastry over. I wouldn’t be able to keep to the strict timeline that I had mapped during practice but I hoped it would work out.

One of the main problems is that puff pastry needs time to rest after the folds are done. The gluten needs to relax in order to roll it out smoothly and complete another set of turns. Since I ended up with less than 10 minutes between turns, the gluten was not able to relax and the pastry resisted rolling.

Black Forest Napolean
Can I have a do-over?? These were made the day after my elimination.
For puff's sake!
For puff’s sake!

Just keep going!

I knew in my heart that I was done. I knew I would be going home. I kept working and kept hoping but with each turn, it became more and more obvious. I wouldn’t have time to finish and I would be eliminated.

But I kept going. Part of me wanted to just throw in the towel and walk away. I knew I couldn’t salvage this mess and it felt pointless to keep going.

But I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t walk away with time remaining in the challenge. Maybe there would be a miracle that would save me. Maybe the pastry would bake in time and I would save myself and everyone would be astounded by my perseverance.

I had all the elements ready to go. The pastry did come together and I got it in the oven with one hour left in the challenge. I thought I had saved myself. The puff pastry sheets have baked in 30 minutes both at home and my rented London flat when I practiced. If I could just get it baked in 30 minutes and then chilled, I would be OK!

I still had to find time to bake the palmiers so I decided to whack up the temperature on the oven to get the sheets for the napoleons done. But after 40 minutes, the sheets were not baked – not even close! I couldn’t raise the temperature any higher and I needed to get the palmiers in too. More baking sheets in the oven meant each would bake even slower but I had no choice.

Running out of time!

After 45 minutes in the oven at a much higher temperature than I used during practice, I pulled out the puff pastry sheets. I only had 15 minutes left for assembly and my pastry was still only 75% baked and steaming hot. Cold pastry cream on hot pastry will not work so I attempted to freeze the pastry briefly. A quick spell in the freezer had no effect so I began assembly with tears streaming down my face.

Alex helping Tanya
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Pastry and Cookie Week” – This week’s challenges have the six remaining bakers focusing on delicious, flaky and flavorful pastries and holiday cookies perfect for any Christmas celebration when “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” airs THURSDAY, DEC. 26 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) TANYA, ALEX
Marissa consoles Tanya
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Pastry and Cookie Week” – This week’s challenges have the six remaining bakers focusing on delicious, flaky and flavorful pastries and holiday cookies perfect for any Christmas celebration when “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” airs THURSDAY, DEC. 26 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) MARISSA and TANYA

Alex came over to help and placed the chocolate covered cherries on top of my melting napoleons. Marissa reminded me in the nick of time to grab at least one sheet of palmiers from the oven and she threw them on the serving tray. Without the two of them, my showstopper would have been even worse. I will be forever grateful to them and the other bakers for their encouraging words, helping hands and hugs that brought tears to my eyes.

It would be almost 2 hours before we were called back to the tent for judging and then another hour before going in for the judges’ decision. This was a longer wait than normal because the crew was doing group pictures but I knew my fate. I had sealed it with the eggy tart, the worst pork pies on the planet and then a showstopper that almost slid off the tray.

The walk to the judges table was the longest of my life. I think Paul and Sherry were nicer to me than they should have been. But they were proud that I stuck it out and didn’t quit and so was I.

Tanya is leaving the tent
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW – “Pastry and Cookie Week” – This week’s challenges have the six remaining bakers focusing on delicious, flaky and flavorful pastries and holiday cookies perfect for any Christmas celebration when “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” airs THURSDAY, DEC. 26 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Mark Bourdillon) BROTHER ANDREW, ALEX, TANYA, MARISSA

My elimination

The tears are rolling down my cheeks again as I write this, just like they were when I was rolling that pastry. It is impossible to explain why I get so emotional about this. I honestly am not a crier. I’m not an emotional person. But this was so important to me and I worked for so long to get there.

And even after the heartbreak of my elimination and the embarrassment of my failures, I would do it all over again – a thousand times! I honestly never felt like I was competing with the other bakers. We were and still are a team that bolsters each other through every challenge.

I was only competing against myself in the tent. The disappointment of being eliminated in week 5 stings. I wouldn’t make it to the semi-final or the final. I wouldn’t win. But I got to do something that so many people want to do! There are better bakers than me that have not been given the chance to bake in the coveted tent. I am eternally grateful for the chance to be there, even for just one day.

I learned so much from Paul and Sherry and the other bakers, I challenged myself, I laughed, and I cried. I did something that I never thought I would be able to do and met the most amazing people along the way. This was truly an experience of a lifetime. Thank you to everyone that supported me, encouraged me and believed in me throughout this entire process. I’m still learning to believe in myself as much as you all do but my time in the Tent has shown me that I can do anything I set my mind to.

To anyone that may be thinking or dreaming about applying to the Great American Baking Show, my advice is to just do it. Don’t think that you aren’t good enough, you aren’t creative enough, you aren’t skinny enough, or whatever you tell yourself that is holding you back. Take a chance. Send in the application and work your butt off to get there! Practice every day! Read everything you can get your hands on and learn something new every day.  Try a new technique or discipline every chance you get.

Not everyone will get into the tent. But someone will…why not you??

10 Comments

  1. It was a pleasure watching and cheering for you! I love reading your recaps! Thank you for your open honest reflection! All we can do is our best at the time! It was clear you gave your best through a very rough day! Kudos for perseverance and grace!
    I am sad I will not be able to watch you anymore on the show! But so glad to have been able to share this experience with you! It is obvious (through the show and the blog) your passion, love, beauty, and grace are a great blessing to those around you! Well done!!

  2. Angela Martinez

    Such a great reflective write-up, it’s very thoughtful of you to give a detailed account of your experience! Super proud to call you a friend!
    Well done you!!! 🇬🇧😉

  3. What a beautiful write up! You were so brave to put yourself out there, especially with the English ingredient curve balls and those horrendous time limits! I enjoyed watching you so much. I love the idea of a reunion!

    • Thank you, Karen! I am hoping the network goes for the reunion idea! I had such an amazing time baking in the tent and would love to go back to do it again!

  4. So now I’m crying. Beautifully written. I could write a novel so I will just say this… I could bake every day all day long for the rest of my life and I still would not come close to being able to do the things you do! And I’m not even putting myself down. I’m a way better than average baker. But you, my friend, are amazing!

    • Thank you! It is so amazing to have met wonderful people like you throughout the process! We still need to get together to bake!

  5. What a great write-up, Tanya! Watching the show I knew exactly how you were feeling and the write-up just settled it all in place.

    I know you are disappointed but you do take a lot of wonderful positive feedback with you, all well-deserved… amazing that you went and got the wooden things and did it again at home – I confess I balked at the price, and probably would make them once just for fun. So I am not getting the thingies, and might use the cupcake trick if I really want to try them

    I would love to go back to the tent for one final bake, who knows? Maybe one day they call us back together 😉 (hey, dreams are free)

    • I can tell you that I will never use the pie dolly again! It will sit on a shelf and remind me of the Tent! But, you are right, the feedback was amazing and I’m so glad for the whole experience!

      And I would love to go back for an All-Star Challenge!

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