The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Crawls Through Party Week
11:48 AM EST on November 21, 2023
Welcome to a new series called The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, where Kelsey and Chris attempt to complete the technical challenges from the newest season of The Great British Bake Off in their own home kitchens, with the same time parameters as the professional-grade bakers competing on the show.
There are some moments in life when you are forced to come face-to-face with the kind of person you are deep inside. Are you the type to push hard through moments of intense and destabilizing failure? Or are you the type to moan and weep and cry? Are you the kind of baker who will toss an entire cake into the trash in a fit? Or are you the kind of baker who is going to buckle down and do a hard thing a second time because you crave finesse and beauty?
This week, the Defector idiots were forced to come to terms with who they are, and the results (both the bakes and their own personalities) are not pretty. The last week they competed (Botanical Week) was difficult and finicky. It had nothing on Party Week, which was a terrible purgatory the bakers were forced to live in for hours on end.
Party Week is an exciting theme week because it asks bakers to make something that not only tastes great, but that would not bring shame upon them or their families when presented to a greater public. Sure, the bake is complicated, has 52 different steps, and requires a decent management of time. But the real challenge of Party Week is the knowledge that you will not only let yourself down if you fail, you will make the children (mythical, unreal, only important for the theory of this week) for whom you are making this cake cry.
This week's technical challenge started with a time limit of two hours and 30 minutes—enough to evoke a spirit of terror but not quite enough to imagine that you might find brief moments of calm. The creator of this awful challenge was, yet again, the dreaded Paul Hollywood. When will he give it a rest? When will the Defector Idiots get a break from his reign of terror?? Not today, I tell you.
The recipe was for Caterpillar Cake. This is a cake that (theoretically) looks like a caterpillar. Ideally it should be shiny and colorful and have a face as round and beautiful as the sun. It should be playful and happy and bring joy to those who see it. That, however, is not what Kelsey and Chris baked.
Chris Thompson: Kelsey, perhaps we should discuss the fact that we missed Dessert Week altogether. Turns out this might’ve been a good thing: Everything I’ve read about this challenge seems to indicate it was the worst technical challenge in the history of the show.
Kelsey McKinney: I would apologize to the readers for missing this challenge, but I was very tired! We had big weeks and I had to travel and you had to be a solo parent for a little bit and sometimes you can only take so many abuses at the hands of the Great British Bake Off creators!
CT: So we missed a bake that Prue and Paul agreed was the worst they’ve ever judged. Feels like we dodged a bullet, except that we then had to do Party Week and this caterpillar business.
KM: I guess, to me, if all of the interpretations of your bake were poor, it might be time to consider whether the issue is not in fact with the bakers but with you! That, however, is not an excuse for what happened to us this week, unfortunately.
CT: How did you feel when you saw that we would be making a “caterpillar cake” for this challenge?
KM: Initially, I felt scared. My most recent interaction with caterpillars was Sabs’ blog “When The Legs Are A Lie,” so I had many fears headed into this challenge. How were you feeling?
CT: I have this irrational confidence about cakes. I am an AWFUL cake maker—cakes might be the food thing that I am worst at making—but I also feel like a cake is a cake. How bad can a cake possibly be? Even if I screw up a cake, it is still a cake. And so I was feeling pretty good about this challenge.
KM: I am also not good at making cakes. But I agree. Cakes are good at base, so I think in my head that it will be good no matter what, but in reality this is not true. Luckily for me, at the beginning of the bake, I had rejected reality and fully believed that I was about to make the cutest caterpillar cake known to man and then children would begin to beg me to make my special caterpillar cake for their birthdays, and I would do it because I love them. This was very wrong.
CT: My attitude about this bake changed a lot when I got a look at the instructions. There are so many steps to this bake. And the challenge gives us two-and-a-half hours, which is always a red flag for me. Super long time commitment, tons of steps—there was so much that could go wrong, and so much time to be mired in failure.
KM: I do feel blessed in that, like the bakers, I did not see the instructions until it was time to bake, so I got to maintain my good feelings right up until I started the timer, at which point my heart plummeted into my stomach. This week, again, we decided to go Chaos Mode at the same hour, which honestly thank god. The solidarity I felt, that you were also living inside hell, was enough to get me through the two-and-a-half hours of self-flagellation that was this bake.
CT: I can’t say how differently it might’ve gone if I’d been doing it solo, but I do agree that unlike last time it was comforting to be doing the bake at the same time.
KM: It’s funny because despite the evidence (every single week we release these blogs), I do feel like we are getting better on the whole. We know how to make ganache now. We know how to make lots of things! I think the cockiness I felt wasn’t entirely unearned but did turn out to be entirely wrong.
CT: Well, hmm. I certainly thought I knew how to make ganache.
Ingredients and Shopping
CT: Nothing too weird in the ingredients for this one. We were asked to get two different quantities of fondant, but decided together that we could go without, which I think was reasonable.
KM: We did not do it! I think we were right. I did not even know that you could purchase fondant, so I was very surprised to see it on the list of ingredients. Based on everything else in this whole series, I would have expected Paul and Prue to expect us to make it. But I wouldn’t have done that either! The fondant turned out to be decorative only, so we were right in the end.
CT: Right. The caterpillar bake is a chocolate sponge, which you then fill up with chocolate meringue buttercream and then cover with chocolate ganache, and then decorate with little colorful meringue pieces. And it has a face made of white chocolate. The only use for the fondant is to make little eyes and rosy cheeks for the face, which I figured we could do with icing or whatever. But the actual challenge is to make sponge and buttercream and meringue and ganache.
KM: I would describe the caterpillar as a kind of Thomas the Train figure. It has this big round face like a moon or a clock slapped on the front of this big chocolate body. It really looks weird, in my opinion.
CT: Yes, that’s a really good comparison. I don’t really see a caterpillar. I see a train engine. I want to say “choo choo” every time I look at it.
KM: Well, I mean there are many reasons we don’t see caterpillars when we look at our caterpillars, which we will get to. But it is “choo choo” indeed. I agree! Choo choo!
CT: I did have to purchase a new pan for this bake. The equipment section of our instructions asks for a “Swiss roll pan” measuring approximately 13 by 9 inches. I looked this up and I don’t have anything even remotely close in my kitchen. But I was able to find one almost exactly the right size when I was out buying my supplies.
KM: Oh wow! One thing I’m very impressed by with you is that you are always making sure you have the equipment. It is such a struggle for me to get the ingredients correct that I never even look at the equipment and end up in hell. I do have a lot of half-sheet baking sheets (which are very handy for almost everything), and I used one of those.
CT: I assume you used Ziploc bags instead of piping bags?
KM: I did, yes. I also ordered piping nozzles, so that will be an exciting development, but they did not arrive in time.
CT: Oh nice! I have a little baggy of piping nozzles from a Christmas baking project from ages ago, so I was all set.
KM: I did have a couple of ingredient issues, to be honest. I do not wish to lie. The first was that I could not find black food coloring. I do not even know what that is.
CT: Oh no!
KM: I thought that I had everything else at home. This was also wrong. After weeks of saying that my caster sugar was on the verge of running out, it did run out last week! Whoops! So imagine me, every time it calls for sugar, pulsing regular sugar in the spice blender.
CT: Oof, that’s annoying. I have so much caster sugar. Even after this bake, which uses a ton of it, I still have an insane amount of it in my pantry.
KM: I also did not have a clear acetate circle or cutter. Whoops!
Stage One: Making the Sponge, Baking the Sponge, Making Swiss Meringue
CT: Kelsey, what was the first thing you did after starting your timer?
KM: The first thing I did was panic. I had not read the instructions, so I read them all the way through, and immediately wanted to die. Once this passed, I decided that probably the eggs and sugar needed to go whip whip whip for a long time so I pulsed the sugar, and threw the eggs into the stand mixer and left them to whip while I heated the oven to a whopping 425. What did you do?
CT: God. The first thing I did was preheat my oven. My first fateful decision was to heat it only to 350. The second thing I did was put my eggs and sugar into the stand mixer and get them mixed. But I had no sense that I needed to do more than simply mix them together, so that’s all I did. As soon as they were mixed—it was still a yellow liquid mixture—I sifted in my cocoa and flour and used the first of like seven rubber spatulas that went into this bake to stir it all together. I knew pretty much instantly that this was completely wrong. It was like thick chocolate milk, not batter-like at all.
KM: I can tell you that the only reason I knew that it needed to be whip whip whipped, is because there are not a lot of ingredients in this cake. There are very few things! So I was like there is no way that is gonna be enough substance to fill my half-sheet cookie tray which could be the wrong size entirely.
CT: Yeah, and then there was also no rising agent in there, which did not occur to me until after I’d mixed up that first batch and was looking at it and wondering how in the hell it was supposed to become a cake. So I poured it straight down the sink, rinsed out the bowl and whisk, and started over. I don’t think this cost me a meaningful length of time but it added enormously to my anxiety.
KM: OH MY GOD! No! I’m impressed that you knew it was wrong. And I’m also impressed that you had enough eggs to do this. I distinctly remember thinking that if my batter went awry, it would have to continue forward because it had FIVE eggs in it, and we needed FOUR egg whites, and I only had a dozen eggs.
CT: I pretty much always have a huge number of eggs in my house. My child is a prodigious egg eater for a two-year-old.
For this second try I did whip the eggs pretty good, until they were foamy and pale. I still wasn’t sure whether this was right, but it felt better as I was stirring in the cocoa and flour. It was much more batter-like. I spread this mix out in my new baking tin and socked it into the oven. I was very worried that my oven wasn’t yet up to temperature but the lost time in the restart freaked me out and I didn’t feel like I could wait and lose more time.
I also had no idea how long to bake this thing. What were you thinking, there?
KM: So, I was very scared of rolling the cake. This made me believe that it was better to be slightly under-baked than over. I also had an issue where I mixed the cake so gently that when I poured it into the tin, there was some unmixed flour/chocolate mixture at the bottom, so I just kind of swirled it around. Things were already going poorly. I set the timer for 10 minutes and assumed it would take 12. Then my timer did not go off, so I think actually it ended up baking for 15. How long did you bake yours?
CT: I’m not entirely sure. I was very frantic in the early stages. I knew that the next item of business was to make Swiss meringue, which involves gently cooking egg whites and sugar over a double-boiler while whisking—a very intensive cooking process. My plan had been to make my meringue while the sponge was in the oven, but I realized that in order to do so I would have to clean my mixer bowl and whisk a second time, and then I would have to be engaged in this extremely active cooking process while also minding my sponge in the oven. So I was flying around in a panic, throwing things and shaking and freaking out.
I’m looking now at the recipe on the website and it seems that my oven was WAY too cool. The recommended temperature is 425. All of this is to say that I think my sponge was in the oven for at least 20 minutes.
KM: I also tried to make the meringue while my sponge was in the oven. This turned out to be a mistake, because I was in fact whisking the meringue in a double boiler on the stove while trying to find out if my sponge was done, and pulling it from the oven. I would have burned my hand a little if it were not already dead to this world from being burned by hot things in the kitchen. I literally had to pull out my sponge with one hand while my other held the hand mixer in the double boiler with the egg whites and sugar. Truly, it was chaos.
I don’t have a working hand-mixer, so I was holding my bowl of egg whites over the saucepan with a gloved hand and using my other hand to manually whisk. This, as all bakers will tell you, is absolute hell on the wrists. And from time to time I would have to set my bowl down—even beyond the times when I had to set it down because my bones and ligaments were howling—in order to check on my sponge. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I figured it would be done when it was, you know, done, like the way that a cake sponge is done.
It’s clear to me in retrospect that I misjudged this.
KM: Wow, I cannot believe that you hand mixed this. I was looking for it to hold a little ribbon on the top, this took about three minutes, maybe four on the stove top, then I moved that sucker to the stand mixer. She whisked in there for probably ten more minutes.
CT: Oh Jesus. I was whisking this goddamn meringue for a minimum of 12 minutes. It didn’t get ribbon-y at all.
I gave up when I simply could not physically continue any longer, and poured it into the stand mixer to finish up. I was certain that the sugar was melted because a couple times I jammed a finger down in there and it was smooth.
KM: You’re an athlete, and you’re brave! I have to admit that I do not like to eat meringue, and therefore it is not a high-priority for me to learn how to make. So I had never made Swiss meringue before. I have (once) made Italian meringue. When my meringue got very glossy inside the stand mixer, I was maybe the most proud I’ve ever been in one of these bakes. I turned my bowl upside down on top of my head like they do on the show and nothing moved. I felt like the best baker alive. This was misguided. This came very much back to haunt me.
CT: I also have not made Swiss meringue before, but I’ve made French and Italian meringues and I understand more or less what is supposed to happen in there. Right around the time that my wrists gave out, I noticed that my sponge had pulled away from the edges of the pan a little bit, so I yanked it out of the oven.
KM: Woah! I was not doing this kind of noticing. I was just darting back and forth in a tizzy. Once my meringue was done, I rolled my sponge. I did not know how to do this, and am still not sure if I did it wrong or not.
CT: Here was my second fateful decision. My wife was doing a Zoom class in her office and I was staggering around in the kitchen and I heard my child wake up from her nap upstairs. Because I am a crazy helicoptering bozo, I decided that she could not be alone for two minutes, and since my sponge was already out of the oven I ran up there so that I could help her along. It was only after I ran back downstairs that I endeavored to roll my sponge.
I did this by turning it out onto a sheet of parchment paper and then putting a second sheet of parchment paper on top of it. The sponge felt very firm but I figured it was supposed to be a cooked sponge. When I rolled it, I immediately had the sense in my hands and fingers that it had not gone well. I was certain it had done some amount of crumbling, but it was wrapped up in parchment so I couldn’t really see the extent of the damage.
KM: LOL! It’s called loving your child! Look it up! I think it’s nice that you did that, and I can tell you from my experience that even if you were standing right there, you might have waited too long.
Okay this is interesting, this is something I missed for sure. I did not have two parchment papers. I had parchment paper on the outside of the sponge and not the inside. It makes sense to me that I should have had two. That was a good instinct.
CT: I’m not sure it was! Because it occurred to me later that getting the piece of parchment out from inside of the roll would be a challenge. And it would’ve been a challenge, had things gone differently.
KM: I wasn’t really sure how to roll the sponge, but I felt it should be left rolled up. One thing that was humorous to me at this point was that I was running around doing lots of things, panicking a little, and the whole time, the sponge is done. I’m not sure why this was so funny to me, but it was. The most important part was either completed and successful or going to absolutely ruin my life but not for another hour.
CT: YES. I knew that my sponge had not held up very well to rolling, but I didn’t think I would have time for another try, so I just moved to the next thing, knowing all the while that the bake might already be ruined. This was a rotten, awful feeling.
KM: Yeah, I would say that, of the two-and-a-half hours, there were maybe 20 minutes of good vibes in this bake.
CT: It really was amazing how quickly all of my optimism drained away and I became a bundle of anxiety and misery. I never for a minute felt like I had things in hand.
KM: What’s very embarrassing for me, in retrospect, was that I was so happy to have made the meringue correctly that I did feel a burst of adrenaline (if not optimism)! This was wrong to do, and I regret it.
Stage Two: Making Meringue Decorations
CT: So at this point we still had at least three tasks in front of us: We had to dye meringue and pipe some shapes; we had to make meringue buttercream; and we had to make ganache. We also had to melt white chocolate for a face, but I considered that a dumb final thing because it only really had one ingredient.
KM: I do think it’s important to note here that the making of the sponge did go quickly, so while there were many things to do, we also had quite a bit of time to do them in! This was objectively true, but did not feel true. At no point did I feel calm. In fact, I felt very, very bad and scared.
CT: Yes. Just a very bad feeling. I at least felt good about my meringue: The time it spent in the stand mixer brought it to a lovely glossy finish and it was sturdy and beautiful. Now we just had to divide it into half, divide one of the halves into three parts, and dye the three parts three different colors, for making antennae, legs, and, uhh, bumps. This all went very smoothly for me.
KM: I did this part, and felt good still, though it took so much more food coloring than I expected to get the meringues to a color that I liked. I don’t know why, but I expected two drops of food coloring to be incredibly saturated.
CT: Yeah, food coloring always fucks me up. The little kit that I have in my pantry actually has a guide for making different colors, so I was able to follow instructions for this one. 15 drops of yellow and two of blue to make green; 17 drops of yellow for rich yellow; 17 drops of red for rich red.
KM: Wow! That’s convenient! I was just squirting colorful blobs into the bowls. It is possible that the instructions existed, but I did not even consider that as a possibility. I just started making colors willy-nilly.
How did your piping go?
KM: Well, Chris. I thought it went pretty well considering that I did not have any nozzles. I also had plenty of meringue, so I made extras. I made eight dots of each color, and some extra legs, and some extra antennae. I felt very proud of myself for these decisions. How did your piping go?
CT: Pretty well. I got the hang of it after the first few tries, but as a consequence of this my red and yellow dots were somewhat larger than my green ones. Also I tried to make some little yellow and red flowers using the surplus meringue but they kind of ran together and were very messy. Nevertheless it’s hard to look at a plate of bright glowing meringue shapes and not feel some measure of contentment.
KM: All my dots were kind of small. I did not have enough red in the end to make more than two flowers. Trying to remember any of this makes me want to cry, to be honest.
CT: I feel like we deserve some extra vacation after this shit.
KM: Yeah! When will we be given Purple Hearts and time off for our struggles?
CT: Did you stay at 425 for baking your meringues?
KM: Chris, thank you for asking. Here is the thing: I didn't mean to. I thought that probably the Swiss meringue needed to be baked at something like 250 degrees for a long time. So mentally, I decided this and then … I did not change the oven. This was a fatal flaw, because I did in fact put the meringues into the 450-degree oven and I did not turn it down, and then I set a timer for 45 minutes. It is torturous to type this. How hot was your oven when it went in?
CT: Oh God. No!
I think you’re right about the 250 thing. When you make a pavlova, you preheat the oven to a high temperature—maybe 400—and then as soon as the meringue goes into the oven you lower the temperature down to, I think, 250. And since these were tiny little button-sized things, I felt sure they needed a lower temperature. So I put my decorations in at 300 degrees.
KM: Yeah, let me tell you, if you do not in fact lower the temperature, your beautiful little meringues that you have lovingly dyed and piped and are proud of, will absolutely scorch. About twenty minutes into making the ganache, I smelled burning, and was concerned. I opened the oven and a big whoosh of smoke came out. Then my fire alarm very helpfully said, “There’s smoke in the kitchen.” And I was like, “No shit, asshole!” So I had to run over and turn her off, and then remove my blackened meringues from the oven.
After doing this, I sat down on the ground to allow myself to pout for a minute. I was so sad.
CT: Oh man. That’s so painful. Just the fucking worst.
Did you attempt to redo your meringues?
KM: At this point, I had plenty of time to redo them. There was something like an hour and change left on the clock. I absolutely could have redone them. But I was so defeated, and there were still so many steps left, and I just… I couldn’t. I accepted my fate. This made my feelings worse, because I knew I was headed toward absolute and complete failure and that while I could do something about that, I was choosing not to. Also, I did not have enough eggs to do it again.
CT: Ah yeah, without the eggs you were truly screwed. Awful. A nightmare!
KM: Thinking about it now, by the light of day. I could have used the remaining meringue which was already made to put in the oven as decoration and made a new meringue for the buttercream, but i was too sad to think straight, so I did not do this.
CT: Yeah I guess you could’ve used your last couple eggs for this. Still, I understand the feeling of surrender.
KM: Yeah, now that I do the math, I only needed half as much meringue, which I definitely had the eggs for (I had three eggs).
Stage Three: Making Ganache, Making Meringue Buttercream Filling, Making a Caterpillar Face
CT: While my meringue decorations were in the oven, I heated up some cream for making ganache. When we had to do ganache before, I just heated cream in a saucepan then added butter and chocolate and stirred like crazy. So that is what I did here, as well. It worked well enough in Cake Week, so why should it not work in Party Week? That was my reasoning.
KM: I also used your method this time. I also heated the cream in a saucepan, then the butter and chocolate, and stirred. Like Cake Week, I decided to put my ganache into a little glass bowl and put that glass bowl into an ice bath. So I did this.
CT: I completely forgot about that part. But the thing was that we had so much time left at this stage that I was certain I could bring my ganache to temperature by just socking it into the fridge.
KM: One weird thing to me about this challenge, is that unlike the other two-and-a-half hour challenges, there actually was enough time to do all these things. But the other challenges have corrupted my brain into believing that if I do not move at the speed of light, I will not complete everything. So even though, on this one, we could have moved a little slower, I did not know that until basically when I began making the ganache after my pity party and still had 90 minutes left.
CT: Yes, I’m right there with you. Whenever a task would wrap up quickly I would sort of look around, expecting there to be some enormous thing to immediately tackle or die.
After the ganache was in the fridge and cooling, we then had to make a meringue buttercream. The ingredients for this were just meringue, softened butter, and melted chocolate.
KM: I have to admit, I had no idea what to do with the buttercream meringue. What did you do? I am 90 percent sure that what I did was wrong.
CT: I still had half my meringue in my bowl for the stand mixer. I swapped out the whisk for the paddle and added the softened butter, and set it to a low mix. Then I fucking melted my chocolate in a damn fucking double-boiler, even though my hands and wrists were still completely toast from the meringue. I used tongs to hold the bowl this time because my left wrist sincerely could not manage it.
KM: Okay, I did this same thing, but the texture of the meringue became very upsetting to me. I also made chocolate in a double boiler! But my wrists were less at risk than yours. I am never holding the bowl of the double boiler with anything except like a weird kitchen towel. I should probably find a new method for this, but as of now, I do not have one.
CT: Once the chocolate was smooth—and this took a really surprisingly long time—I spooned it into the mixer and bumped up the speed a little. Within 90 seconds it was mostly done.
KM: Wow, okay, so maybe I did do this right. This is exactly what I did. And it did taste good in the end, but I felt very confused the whole time. What was the point of the meringue here? It felt to me that I could have used the rest of my meringue to try to redo my decorations and just made a regular chocolate buttercream, and no one would have been any wiser.
CT: I didn’t like the color of it, a very light brown that made me think of bad bakery chocolate cakes. But it tasted really good and had a nice texture, not too buttery.
I’m not actually a fan of chocolate buttercream, really at all. My ideal chocolate cake is a Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker chocolate cake, with icing that is like 95 percent vegetable shortening. To me buttercream is too buttery. So the meringue was nice, for cutting down on the butter content. I know this sounds like blasphemy.
KM: I respect your opinion, even though I think it is incorrect. I did not hate the color of it, because it reminded me of Texas sheet cake, which is a very nostalgic flavor for me. But I believe that chocolate buttercream should have sprinkles on it, and there were no sprinkles in this recipe despite it being Party Week.
CT: At this point I felt like I was WAY ahead of the game, timer-wise. I’m not sure how much time we had left but I feel like it was close to an hour? And I had a rolled—or, rather, “rolled”—sponge, I had ganache in the fridge, I had chocolate buttercream filling, and I had meringue shapes, which I think by this time were finished baking.
KM: We had quite a lot of time left. I’m not sure exactly what we did wrong to end up with this much time left, but it must have been something! I also had all of my components with almost an hour left (thought my meringues were burnt). I considered again at this point whether I should try to make my decorations again, but I really just wanted to be done with all of this at that point.
CT: Yeah, we’re making it sound like we were having an easy time but I think this was close to as miserable as we’ve ever been in one of these bakes. We both badly wanted to quit. I was having daydreams about setting my house on fire. I knew that my sponge was in bad shape and the dread of that was overwhelming. And my kitchen was an absolute fucking wreck. And the physical exhaustion from the double-boiling was taking a toll. I knew that I still needed to melt and temper white chocolate; this knowledge was like having an evil clown stab a pencil into my brain.
KM: By far this was the worst bake we’ve had. I truly wanted to quit. Even when I've had terrible results in the past, it has not felt as defeating as this. Something about knowing the sponge is bad, while it sits there looking at you, and being forced to use 72 bowls and 41 rubber spatulas and clean the KitchenAid bowl (and nothing else), made me feel like I was in hell. I was so emotionally done by the time of the white chocolate that I just melted it in the microwave inside a measuring cup.
CT: Oh my God! Kelsey! I also melted it in the microwave!
KM: LOL. We were defeated! It was game over for us!
CT: I remembered the stupid caramelized white chocolate from the cheesecake challenge and I just said fuck it. If it’s good enough for Prue in Chocolate Week it had damn well better be good enough for Prue in Party Week.
KM: Same! I was also out of bowls that fit on top of my pot that I use as a double boiler, so it was kind of a forced conclusion. It worked fine. It did, in fact, melt. I also did not have an “acetate ring.” They are always asking us to have these, but I will never have them. I made a little ring out of butcher paper. I was so angry at this point that it was barely even round. I poured the white chocolate into there, and threw it in the freezer and banged my head against the counter.
CT: I didn’t have an acetate ring, but I did have a sheet of acetate. I used foil to make a ring and I set it on the acetate.
I overcooked my white chocolate so then I had to stir it back until it was not crumbly and dry. I never got it all the way back to melted, exactly, but it softened into a kind of gummy clay-like texture that allowed me to shape it into something circle-ish. I then wrapped this in the foil and stuck it on the acetate and then jammed it into the freezer.
KM: What! How! You tried to caramelize it again! You love caramelized white chocolate now?
CT: No, in fact, I hate caramelized white chocolate more than ever. Never say to me “caramelized white chocolate.”
KM: I shan’t, because I respect you, unlike Prue Leith.
Stage Four: Assembly
CT: The only thing left to do at this point, really, was to finally face the carnage of the sponge.
KM: There was one very long bullet point in the instructions that I was dreading the whole way through this bake. The instructions said that we were to unroll our sponge and cut thirteen slices in it, each five centimeters long, and then remove every other finger and blitz those to make dirt for the caterpillar? This seemed unnecessary to me. This also made it very clear to me that my cake would not be holding up very well because every slice I made caused some crumbling. I overbaked my cake somehow?
CT: I envisioned this going really smoothly. I went through a whole thing where I sat there and pondered the meaning of these instructions until I had a really clear idea of what they were meant to produce, and how. And then I walked over to my counter and tugged on the parchment paper and saw that, no, I would not be doing this really at all. My sponge was an absolute fucking disaster. It had not "rolled" in any real meaning of the word. What it had done was break into four completely distinct and absolutely flat pieces.
Also, because it was overbaked, it was dry as desert sand. This is maybe as close as I have ever come to walking away from my life, just disappearing into the wilderness.
KM: My sponge did not fully break, but was so cracked that it looked like shit. This did not make me feel good. In fact, it made me feel worse. When I began to try and spread the chocolate buttercream onto the sponge, it did not want to go on there. Little pieces of cake kept ending up on the spatula, and the buttercream was so thick.
CT: I’m surprised your buttercream was thick. Mine was still pretty airy, I think.
I considered quitting at this point. I badly wanted to. But I figured there wasn’t much left to do. I simply grabbed the three slabs that were nearest in size, slathered them with buttercream, and stacked them.
I then took the remaining slab of sponge and cut it into strips, and then trimmed the strips and glued them to the top of the stack using more buttercream. The mood in the room was very, very dark. I was alternating between insane cackling, grey-faced rage, and loud wailing sobs.
KM: I really think that if we had been going Chaos Mode at different times, I would have quit. I felt so defeated at this point that I decided that I would not be making the black icing or the red icing we were planning to make to sub in for the fondant. I decided that instead I would just use ganache. Whatever!
I was able to roll my cake back up, but all of the fingers fell off. So then I had to glue them back on using buttercream. This did not work. At this point, I realized that my ganache was too thick somehow, so I had to blast it in the microwave for 15 seconds to get it to the point where i could spoon it onto the cake. But the instructions said “pour” so I knew that was wrong too.
CT: My ganache was still liquid. It had thickened somewhat but not nearly enough for use. So I put it into the freezer. Fuck it, man! We still had something like 25 minutes left and I did NOT want to use all of them. I wanted to get this fucking caterpillar finished so that I could throw it away as soon as possible.
KM: The freezer! I was so tired of this bake, that with 20 minutes on the clock, I just put some of my burnt meringues on top of my ugly-ass caterpillar, and used ganache to stick two burnt meringues on the face as eyes. I made a little ganache smile, and shoved the face on my caterpillar. Enough of this hell! I had 20 minutes left when I decided I was done.
CT: I was so jealous of you when you said your bake was finished. I gave my ganache another six or eight minutes to cool, alternating pointlessly between the freezer and the fridge. Finally I had had enough. Nothing was going to make this bake a success, and I was running the risk that my ganache would become too thick and then I would have to apply it daintily, using a spoon or spatula, which to me was an outcome worse than death.
KM: It’s incredible that you felt that way when I texted you the following verbatim: “aheif;maoeikodl;mcew / i wish i were dead.” I was not having a good time. But something about the smile on the caterpillar was so upsetting, that I began to find my own pain funny and was laughing hysterically. Literally in that I was hysterical and should have been checked into a mental hospital
CT: At this point I just took the bowl of ganache out of the fridge, marched over to the counter, and began to pour it onto the caterpillar.
KM: LOL. This is an iconic tent move, in my opinion. Who cares if my ganache isn’t set? I’m done.
CT: Instantly—like, within a microsecond—I understood the scope of my failure. The ganache didn’t cling to the cake AT ALL. It poured right down the sides of this motherfucker leaving behind barely a hint of moisture, and formed a horrible brown pool around the base. I was screaming, screaming.
All I could do at this point was pick up my stupid little meringue decorations and the dumb face and stuff them willy-nilly onto the stupid awful nightmare beast. I in fact did make the black icing, using hot water and icing sugar. I used this to paint on a dumb little happy face. What I wound up with is an abomination that would make John Carpenter scream and faint.
The Finished Product
KM: Show caterpillar?
CT: Sure, man. Fine. Here it is.
Behold the affront to God that I have made.
KM: Wow. That’s something, that’s for sure. I’m proud of you.
CT: Kelsey, thank you. I would like to be shot down in the street by a million bullets.
KM: Fine. Here is my caterpillar or whatever.
Behold, my beautiful son.
CT: Well. Happy birthday, children! Here is your caterpillar, you little shits.
KM: Yeah! Hope you like misery and burnt Swiss meringue!
CT: My piece-of-shit caterpillar is still sitting in my fridge, facing outward, so that when I opened it this morning the first thing I saw was his stupid awful face, full of accusation.
KM: My sister is here for Thanksgiving, and I heard her yelp this morning, and she came upstairs and was like, “Sorry, I opened the fridge and the caterpillar scared me.” So that’s a good sign for sure.
CT: That’s just what you want from a cake: revulsion and terror.
KM: Finally, we have achieved our dreams: upsetting our friends and family with our terrible creations and foul moods. I have to admit that my cake didn’t even taste that good. Did yours taste good?
CT: I haven’t tried my cake, but my wife ate some last night. After her second or third bite she looked over at me, wrinkled up her nose, and shook her head. She advised against eating it.
I don’t even want to know what the next challenge will be. My confidence is shot.
KM: Unfortunately, this is going to be a big problem. Because next week is Pâtisserie Week.
CT: Oh wow. I am going to absolutely kick ass this week.
KM: Same. The caterpillar was a fluke. We are actually the best bakers alive.