The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Is Ill-Tempered For Chocolate Week
3:28 PM EDT on October 27, 2023
Welcome to the 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 is not one week of The Great British Bake Off, the immensely popular and long-running British baking competition, that goes by smoothly. It's supposed to be hard, and the technical challenges in particular are constructed to be maximally punishing of the smallest of errors. Even in weeks where your technical bake comes out beautifully, you will have spent the two hours making it in a state of panic. Sometimes it's a slow-burning panic, as you wait in a state of horrible powerlessness to see whether yeast and flour and warm water will cause your enriched dough to rise almost entirely without accepting your assistance. Other times it's a frantic panic, a heart-pounding acrobatic speed-dance back and forth across an increasingly trashed and wasted kitchen, where even a few minutes of remote calm, even spent in despair, would be a blessed relief.
The technical challenge presented by the fourth week of the 14th season of this show presented the latter: two hours of breathless, uninterrupted chaos. The theme was chocolate; the mastermind was Prue Leith; the experience was Total Hell.
The recipe for Chocolate Week was for cheesecake, which was surprising. Normally, for chocolate week, contestants expect to make something showcasing decorative chocolate work—and, yes, this had that—and, more importantly, something that foregrounds the flavor of chocolate. Cheesecake is famously a tart made out of cheese, and not something that you associate in general with chocolate.
But this recipe was for Prue Leith's Caramelized White Chocolate and Black Currant Mini Cheesecakes. If you are asking yourself what in THE HELL is caramelized white chocolate, you are right in line with just about everyone who completed this challenge. Including, of course, your demented Defector idiot bloggers.
Chris Thompson: So, Kelsey: “Caramelized White Chocolate and Black Currant Cheesecake'' is a dessert featuring two good words surrounded by like a billion terrible words. Caramelized what now? Not black currants! How did you feel when you learned about this challenge?
Kelsey McKinney: I want to say that my body was immediately filled with a dread so thick I could no longer read. When you sent this over, I felt the dread, and then my mind told me actually, it was fine, and then I thought no more about it for several days on account of being in the woods with our co-workers and generally refusing to believe that collection of words “caramelized white chocolate and black currant” could be a real recipe. How did you feel?
CT: I was sitting in a crappy hotel room in Doral, my feet were shredded from clomping around a golf course in $30 loafers, and I was completely overwhelmed by the concept of caramelized white chocolate. Last year I learned that I am awful at working with white chocolate, so the idea of needing to caramelize any quantity of it emptied me of all hope.
KM: No! Not your feet! The thing we learned last year, if I remember correctly, is the universal truth that white chocolate is not good and that in almost all circumstances it is neither fun to work with nor fun to eat.
CT: I don’t mind chomping on a small handful of white chocolate chips, but I really do not understand how to do anything with white chocolate as a cooking ingredient. I think it was last season's biscuit week where it took me several tries to simply melt white chocolate.
KM: I think we should also address that the reason this blog is late this week is not because we hate white chocolate so much.
CT: Yes, right. For one thing, the airing of this episode of the show was delayed by a day because of a televised soccer match. For another, you were in the woods and I was in suburban Florida and neither of us had access to a kitchen suited to maniac baking projects.
KM: Yes, and then my baking this week was further delayed by a combination of two grocery store experiences, which I will get into shortly, and the podcast taking over my whole life. Luckily, we are brave and we are persistent and we did in fact bake the cheesecakes. At least in theory, we did.
CT: Well, we certainly tried to bake the cheesecakes. I’m not sure it would meet our high standards of journalistic integrity to say that we successfully did so. This was a hell of a challenge.
KM: For years, I have been shaking my fist at the sky and yelling, “PAUL HOLLYWOOD!” Only this week did that honor or shame descend upon one Prue Leith.
CT: Yeah, she truly got our blogger asses with this one.
Ingredients and Shopping
CT: Kelsey, would you like to share your unfortunate grocery store experiences?
KM: Oh god. I have to because the readers are already so mad at me, and I want to explain myself. Famously, I go to the grocery store early in the week, which I did this week, but for some reason my grocery store had basically nothing that I needed. This, I reasoned, was fine. I could go back to the grocery store after my gym on Thursday before I baked. This was very brave of me because I’m a spoiled child who hates doing chores. So after my gym, I went to the grocery store, and they had most (though not all of the things I needed). I was feeling very proud of myself! I went up to the counter … and … I did not have my wallet with me.
CT: Oh my God! The absolute worst feeling known to humankind.
KM: So then I was defeated. I also had to put all the groceries back because I once worked in a grocery store kinda place and the thought of making an hourly wage worker put back my stupid shit made me want to cry. Also I wanted to cry because this was such a failed enterprise, and I was sleepy. However, I did not have enough things at my house to do the bake, so I went to a little bodega where you can use phone money and bought … um … cream cheese, and decided that this would be enough to continue forward.
CT: Yes, so, to put this into context, this recipe does use cream cheese to form the base of the cheesecake filling. But what it does not use cream cheese for, notably, is to make whipped cream.
KM: Yeah, okay so we can discuss the black currant situation in a second. But here are the other ingredients I did not have: porridge oats (I had rolled oats. I don’t know the difference), caster sugar (I am out), runny honey (I put water in non-runny honey), gelatin leaves (I had Pectin powder), and double cream. That is, I would say, about 50 percent of the ingredients. Did you have all the ingredients?
CT: All but the currants and the gelatin leaves. The recipe called for gelatin leaves but I have never been able to find these in a grocery store, so I used gelatin powder. This is always dicey for me because I've made several attempts to figure the proper ratio of powder to uhh leaf (?) but none of them have ever really worked out very well, and I am awful at eyeballing science things.
KM: Do they have gelatin leaves in America? I have literally never seen them, and so many of these recipes call for them. The only science things you know how to eyeball are ones that could explode you, amiright?
CT: I’d like to eyeball a mushroom cloud as it consumes my flesh, yes.
KM: As would I, after this challenge. The big ingredient here that we were never gonna be able to find was black currants “fresh, or frozen and defrosted.” I did not even try. Almost instantly, we gave up on that. I chose to use raspberries on account of having a lot of them in my freezer from the other challenges.
CT: Right, so, I would never have been able to put my hands on fresh currants. I did look for frozen ones but only so that I could say that I looked. My grocery stores have almost certainly never stocked those. My preferred local grocer does stock pretty good dried black currants but those would not have worked for this recipe. The currants are used here to make a jelly, and I would’ve had to soak them in hot water to plump them back up, which would’ve meant leaching out a lot of their flavor, and only so that I could then purée them in a food processor. So I also went with raspberries.
KM: Definitely not! But the good thing is that almost all jellies are good, so it didn’t really matter that we used raspberries, in my opinion. Some of you may be saying at this point, “How can you even say you did this challenge when you went rogue in so many ways?” To which I say, how 'bout you be quiet? We did our best.
CT: Yeah this fruit swap, to me, is fine. We deserve some slack. It didn’t make the challenge any easier or change any of the steps, it just changed the color and flavor of the finished product.
KM: It is kind of incredible how, even after all this time, I believe that if you put me in the tent with all the right ingredients and supplies, I would crush it. This is called Delusion, U.S.A. and it is my home. Can you talk about the other thing we didn’t have: the chef’s rings.
CT: Yes. So this challenge was very equipment-heavy. The only other challenge that I can remember being quite so equipment heavy was last season’s patisserie challenge, which was the hardest bake of the entire 13th season. For this bake we needed acetate sheets and silicone mats and multiple sizes of trays, and we needed seven-centimeter silicone rings or circular molds. Outrageous.
KM: I did not have any of these things. What I have are regular baking sheets.
CT: I did have some acetate sheets left over from last year, and I have two silicone mats of different sizes. As for the rings, what I had was aluminum foil, several things shaped more-or-less like cylinders, and my own creativity.
As this combination has failed me pretty badly in the past, I of course felt confident that it would work perfectly this time.
KM: I have to admit that I had planned to make the little aluminum foil rings like we did last year, and was feeling confident that I could do it decently. But when I returned from being destroyed at the grocery store, it turned out I did not have any tin foil. At this point, did I sit down on the kitchen floor and consider defeat? Yes. But I am braver than the troops, and I decided: Fuck it, I will use a muffin pan.
CT: To me this is another area where we deserve some slack! We put it all on the line for this damn bake!
KM: Yeah! We aren’t buying damn chef’s rings! And we went hard in the paint on this bake!
Stage One: Mixing Biscuit Base and Making Jelly
CT: So this bake gave us two hours on the timer.
KM: Two hours is less than two and a half hours, which we had last week.
CT: This is true. But where last week’s bake had lots of nervous downtime, this bake had tons of steps and no proving. It would be a two-hour sprint.
KM: Yeah, I have begun preparing for my bakes but putting my hair in a ponytail inside a hat, and putting on tennis shoes, and tying an apron around my waist like I’m going to work on the line. Every week, I assume that this will be a sprint, but this week was actually a sprint. I hit the timer, and then I don’t think I stopped moving for the entire first hour? I was exhausted!
CT: I didn't anticipate at the outset quite how intense this bake would be. I sort of moseyed into the bake itself. I didn’t even bother putting on my trusty purple apron.
KM: WOAH! You didn’t?
CT: I spent a lot of time pre-bake constructing my stupid foil implements.
Then when they were done I was sort of like “Pfft, now comes the easy part,” and just started the timer. Turns out this was the wrong approach!
KM: Yeah, I think this bake was sneakily incredibly hands-on labor intensive. I also want to note that my baking scale is still refusing to tare, and refusing to turn on without the batteries being removed and put back in. So please imagine me darting back and forth in a fury while fuckin' Olivia Rodrigo plays.
What did you do first?
CT: The first step on our instructions said to use “the rub-in method” to make the biscuit base for the bottom of the cheesecakes, so I started by rubbing butter into dry ingredients with my bare hands.
KM: Oh my god, I just realized what I did wrong.
CT: Uh oh.
KM: So the first step of the instructions says to use “15g of butter” and on the ingredients, it says “50g” of butter. So we were supposed to subtract and use only 35g later. I used 50 more, but we will get to that. Goddammit! Math gets me again!
CT: Right, this was a tricky thing, almost a little trap. The ingredients list the total amount of butter used in the biscuit base, but then the instructions specify how much of that butter goes into the initial mixing. So if you’re reading fast you might miss that you’re supposed to only use a portion of your butter, and that the rest is supposed to be melted for a later stage.
I will admit that I felt like I’d successfully hurdled a tripwire when I caught this.
KM: Yeah, I’m proud of you for figuring this out. I did not end up putting the whole 30g in later, but we will get there. What I did do correctly was make the little pie dough from the butter and flour. I love pie dough so this was fun for me to do the crumbling.
CT: I love when a bake starts with this kind of step, a rough hands-on process where you get your fingers down into something. Especially because I am so unbelievably bad at using the stand mixer. So I threw the oats and the sugar and flour and salt into a big mixing bowl, grabbed up a little hunk of butter, and just went at it. Very satisfying.
KM: I also find the stand mixer … boring. It’s fun to make the flour and butter all crumbly! Once I felt like it was successfully crumbly enough and that butter wasn’t going to melt in the oven, I threw it in there at 350 and set a timer for 10 minutes. I assumed it would take 30 minutes to brown, but I was afraid.
CT: It’s really interesting how our temperatures have been very different this season. I once again went cooler because I am afraid of my oven, so I was at 325. I didn’t bother using a timer because I figured I would need to check it constantly and that I would smell it as it started to bake. I also figured that I had some wiggle room on the timing of this part because the next couple of steps could overlap with it without costing much total time.
KM: That’s a really smart intuition.
CT: I assume you started your jelly as soon as the base went into the oven?
KM: Oh yeah, immediately. I began smashing the raspberries and the sugar together in my little pan. But then I went sicko mode. I looked down at the big mound of raspberries and thought two things: 1) I’m gonna make double the recipe to give myself space, and 2) there are seeds in there. The seeds upset me because I knew from reading the instructions that we were supposed to cut little rings out and place them on top of the cheesecake, so I lost a good amount of time straining the seeds out before making the jelly.
Did you also start immediately?
CT: Ah ha! I used a food processor to puree the bejeezus out of my raspberries. But here I ran into some trouble due to careless reading: After pressing my puree through a strainer and into a small saucepan, I just dropped an unmeasured but small quantity of sugar into the juice. I failed to notice that the recipe does, in fact, call for 50 grams of caster sugar—I basically thought that I was improvising sweetness into my jelly where the recipe was more restrained. Had I actually double-checked the ingredients I would’ve used much more sugar.
KM: That’s kind of what I did too, to be honest. After my experience last week with Paul Hollywood, I ignored the recipe for the jelly entirely. I just made my own jelly. I put lemon in it! I like that you went with God on your jelly journey.
CT: In retrospect I wish I had gone with Prue instead.
The jelly process was very quick. I had constructed a little pan from foil for spreading and cooling my jelly, so after boiling for a couple minutes I poured it down into there and spread it around with a rubber spatula. Here is where I made a second mistake: I allowed myself to believe that 90 minutes (or so) would be long enough for the jelly to cool and set on my countertop, at room temperature. This was bad and reckless.
How were you feeling about your custom jelly?
KM: I was feeling good. I used the pectin powder, so it did set pretty well, and I shoved it in the fridge. Unfortunately, while the jelly was on the stove, I also began the absolutely hellish white chocolate process. So I was dripping with sweat.
Stage Two: Caramelizing White Chocolate
CT: It is time—DUN DUN DUN—to discuss the caramelizing of white chocolate. May I say: WHAT THE FUCK.
KM: No! No!!!! I hate it!!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS!
CT: I was expecting a double-boiler situation, and the punishing wrist work of holding a mixing bowl over a steaming quantity of water, and frantically stirring in order to keep fussy and punitive white chocolate from seizing up into a boulder. What I was super-duper not expecting was for the instructions to include the word “microwave.”
KM: When we got this recipe, I jokingly said “caramelized white chocolate? You mean browned butter?” And I fucking stand by that. This could have been browned butter. The whole point, theoretically, of doing this process was to make the white chocolate have a “nutty” flavor. Which you could do in four minutes with regular butter! I am so angry about this and I will never move on.
CT: That’s a really good point. Because in the end—yes, I did successfully make caramelized white chocolate—really all it added to the finished product was the nutty taste of caramelization. A blind taster would never guess that the cheesecake contained white chocolate, because the chocolate flavor was overpowered by the caramel flavor.
KM: What was your method in the microwave?
CT: So the instructions say to “heat the chocolate in bursts in the microwave,” and to stir between each burst. I just put my white chocolate chips into a bowl, put the bowl into the microwave, and hit the “Start” button, which runs the microwave on high for 30 seconds. I felt 100 percent certain that this was wrong, but it was all I could come up with.
The first two bursts didn’t do much but by the third the chocolate was pretty well melted. I wasn’t sure why exactly I was supposed to stir, but I stirred. In fact I was doing so much stirring that I was cooling the chocolate down between each burst, which I eventually told myself must be the reason for the stirring.
KM: “Bursts.” After this challenge, I wish I could heat my brain in short bursts! I did this exact same thing. The stirring scared me. It was so much stirring. And every once in a while, when I stirred it, the white chocolate would have a little clump in the middle of it that looked like dough.
CT: Yes. At a certain point it started to clump. But I had not noticed anything that seemed like caramelization, so I assumed that I would need to just do more bursting and stirring. I made it my job to stir the white chocolate between each burst until it had fully softened and homogenized; I could not heat it again until it was all one smooth texture. This became more and more ridiculous over time, as each successive burst made the chocolate more and more into a dry clump that required several minutes of stirring and cooling to become soft again.
KM: The clumping made no sense to me. This whole experience was so unpleasant because 30 seconds is not really long enough to do anything else, and the beeping was extremely stressful, and then the bowl was hot. So you have to get it out with a towel, and let me tell you, it is a good thing I already don’t have heat sensitivity in my fingertips.
CT: Oh yes, the bowl became insanely hot. I was holding it with a stupid oven mit and both my wrists were becoming so tired. Over and over I would pull the bowl out, find that the chocolate had clumped up even worse, stir it madly to make it smooth again, and then pop it back in for another 30 seconds. I had no idea whether I was on the right track, but I had no better ideas. At some point I messaged you to say, basically, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW.
Also I was having eyeball problems in my left eye.
KM: Lol! Yes, tell them about the eye.
CT: I don’t know what happened but at some point in Doral I had sunscreen drip into my left eye, and then I of course rubbed my eye, and afterward it was sort of mildly irritated for a couple days. Then on Tuesday right before I started my bake it, like, exploded? And was extremely red and painful, bad enough that I briefly considered going to the emergency room.
KM: Oh my god, Chris! I hate that!
CT: It’s fine now! I think I had something under my eyelid. But my left eye is my only good eye so every time the pain would flare up and my eye would water like crazy I would be blind for a few minutes. I was extremely blind as hell during this caramelization phase.
Anyway this went on for some hellish length of time, until you boldly suggested that I should stir less and just let it rock. A few bursts later I achieved the first signs of caramelization, a distinct browning in the middle of my blob of white chocolate.
KM: God, I’m so glad you are not blinded in the left eye. I suggested that before I had entered chaos mode, myself, and it was in fact good advice. My entire premise of these bakes is vibes only. So if something sucks to do, I want to do it less. One smart thing I did was at the beginning dip a spoon in the white chocolate so that I would have a color contrast with the spoon I was using to stir.
CT: Damn! That’s slick!
KM: This always happens to me, where something begins to carmelize, but I can’t tell because my memory is so short that I just assume it has always been that color. I need to see it right next to the original color. This also took … so long. I think I was stirring this damn chocolate every 30 seconds for like 12 minutes.
CT: I’m looking at the Slack logs and it appears I was microwaving and stirring for fucking 23 minutes. I lost so much time on this.
KM: TWENTY-THREE MINUTES? Is your rotator cuff okay?
CT: I was pouring sweat by the end, but sure enough I had achieved robust caramelization. I had a nice crumbly light brown white chocolate clump to stir down into a smooth blob.
I unfortunately had to leap IMMEDIATELY, with NO REST WHATSOEVER, into the making of cheesecake filling.
KM: I cannot explain how tired I was. I consider myself in reasonable shape, and I was completely out of breath. I was huffing and puffing around the kitchen. But I also proceeded IMMEDIATELY with NO REST WHATSOEVER directly into dumping the cheesecake filling shit into the stand mixer and letting it mix for a little while.
CT: That was smart of you. I moved my thick sludge out of the hot bowl and into a cool bowl, and then I started mixing cream cheese, eggs, and sugar in the stand mixer. Once again I had to fight with this stupid thing to make sure it was actually mixing all of the stuff, and not just a thin top layer. I hate the stand mixer!
KM: I did something not smart, that I always do, which was try to move the stand mixer without making sure it’s head was locked, so I pinched my little finger and yelped. The stand mixer strikes again.
CT: An evil contraption. After a few minutes of mixing together the eggs and cream cheese and sugar, I added the blob of white chocolate and the heavy cream, and then sifted in the corn starch. Soon I had a smooth yellow custardy mix going in there.
KM: At this point, hysterically, it was like light-brown chocolate. I did not sift shit. I was so stressed. My hands were shaking. I was just dumping stuff. But it did end up yellow and custardy and it tasted pretty good, so who am I to complain.
I began my crust at this point too, and made two crucial errors: the first was melting the entire 50g of butter, the second was blitzing everything together in the spice grinder. I think this ended up making the little clumps too fine. So then when I added the butter, I realized it was getting too wet, and I withheld probably 10g of it.
CT: That’s interesting! I found that it was harder than expected to get my food processor to really break up the biscuit, which after a few pulses I decided was just how it was meant to be. It was still pretty coarse, like the sand at San Onofre.
KM: The other stressful thing about this bake, that I really think we are underselling here, is that Prue does not want you to have any extra ingredients at all. So there is so little of everything that it feels very stressful. I almost dropped my little biscuit when I was adding it to the bowl, and had a whole heart attack.
CT: Oh yes, that’s a really good point. There is absolutely zero surplus in the ingredients. The crumb crust seemed like a very tiny amount as it came together. I was picturing a thick, robust crust, but it was just a few flimsy spoonfuls. It constantly fucks with your confidence in what you're doing.
KM: There was so little of it! I was spooning it into the muffin tins, and it was like 1.5 spoons worth of biscuit per cup. That’s not enough! That’s a baby crust! It was in fact enough to fill up the stupid muffin cups.
Stage Three: Filling Molds and Baking
CT: As I was filling my custom tinfoil molds, I began to realize that they were waaaaaay too tall for the purpose. I could never get the filling down in there without losing a third of it on the way down. This is another area where Prue’s vanishing margins forced my hand.
KM: No!!!! How tall?
CT: The molds were made of tin foil which I shaped around an aluminum can. Then I lined the inside of the molds with parchment paper, including little circles of parchment paper to line the bottoms. The foil reached up probably five or six inches, and the parchment paper another two or three. There was simply no way to efficiently spoon custardy cheesecake filling down eight inches of wobbly parchment. So I lost a bunch of time here cutting my molds down to a shorter stature.
KM: No!! That’s so stressful. I had kind of the opposite experience in that it took me almost no time to fill in the muffin tins, but I also knew very innately that I did not think they were going to work out. It just felt like failure filling them.
CT: I think muffin tins were a reasonable choice for this but it’s fair to say they were the best of several not very good options.
KM: I also made a key mistake at this point. I was certain, for some reason, that I needed to do something with the crust before I put the filing on top of it. I’m not sure exactly where that instinct came from, or if it has any baking basis. But I stood for 45 seconds holding the muffin tin, trying to decide whether the thing I should do was freeze for 10 minutes or bake for 10 minutes. I went bake, and I think that was the wrong choice. I think I should have frozen.
CT: Oh, so you prebaked your crust?
KM: I did, yes.
CT: That never even occurred to me. I guess I’m glad it did not!
KM: As you will see later, it was not the right choice. Did you spoon your filling in immediately then and throw those puppies in the oven?
CT: Well, yes, immediately, in the sense that 15 or so minutes went by where I was snipping and rebuilding my molds. But I did not freeze it or otherwise treat it. I just pressed it down with my fingers and then spooned the filling on top and then threw those suckers into the oven!
KM: Oh, the pressing was smart. That was a good instinct, in my opinion. I know you do that with graham cracker crust, but it never occurred to me here.
CT: I felt like I needed to because it wasn’t evenly distributed, and because there was a slight gap between the bottom of the parchment paper tubes and the little parchment paper circle at the bottom of the molds. I needed a pretty firm and tight base or the filling would escape during baking.
Kelsey, how crushing was it to realize once your cheesecakes were in the oven that you had no time at all to relax, but had to immediately leap into the tempering of white chocolate?
KM: Let me show the people our slacks:
The fury I felt after a day where I recorded an episode, went to the gym, went to the grocery store, re-stocked my groceries, went to the bodega, and did a whole hour of frantic baking only to be confronted with TEMPER WHITE CHOCOLATE, will go unmatched perhaps in my lifetime.
CT: Yes. For all the hurdles we’d already encountered in this bake, tempering white chocolate was by far the most likely to lead to total failure. Good thing we were completely physically exhausted.
KM: Also, unlike the other challenges this year, which have had enough downtime to do a little tidying, my kitchen at this point looked like a hurricane had been through it. So I had to literally wash the little saucepan I used for the jelly to make the double boiler for the white chocolate. Nightmare shit.
Stage Four: Tempering Chocolate, Making Whipped Cream, Assembling
CT: I know there are precise temperatures for tempering chocolate but I don’t remember them and anyway I did not feel that I had time to root around for my instant-read thermometer. I decided all I could do was melt the chocolate and then add more chocolate to it and then let it cool. It would either work or it would not.
KM: I don’t know the temperatures of anything. Most of my temperature checking for meat and stuff involves poking it, so whenever we are supposed to be aware of temperature in baking, I just shrug my little shoulders and continue on my way. What I did was just chunk some white chocolate and some butter into the double boiler and then once it was melted, added more a little at a time, and call that good enough.
CT: Oh wow, butter! Another Kelsey special.
KM: I like butter!
CT: Certain of our readers will continue to give you shit for stuff like this but to me this is baking genius. It worked! It’s not even on the ingredients but it worked!
KM: It worked perfectly! I poured my tempered chocolate onto a ziploc bag because I did not have whatever shit Prue wanted us to have, and threw it in the fridge.
CT: I had a sheet of clear acetate, which I put on top of a sheet of blue cutting plastic so that I could find it on my countertop. I spread the chocolate out thin using an icing spatula and left it on the countertop. I remembered from last season that if you let tempered chocolate cool completely you can’t cut it, you have to break it, and I really wanted to cut it. So I checked on it pretty regularly while attempting to make whipped cream.
This, the simplest step of all, was of course a huge fucking fiasco.
KM: Oh yeah, lol, the whipped cream. I forgot about that.
CT: We both screwed this up, but in ways that I think are illustrative of our differences as bakers. I was unprepared and inattentive, whereas you were in full Kelsey Mode.
KM: Yes, because of my Grocery Store Struggles, I had no heavy cream nor whipping cream. Being an idiot, I decided that heavy cream was nothing but high-fat milk. So I melted some butter, and added that to half-and-half, and put that in the stand mixer. I left it over there churning for about 10 minutes. This, perhaps obviously, did not work at all and what I ended up with was something that looked kind of like cottage cheese, but tasted like nothing.
CT: Amazing and incredible.
At some point in here you messaged me that you were doing a pivot, and I was like oh god yes. It was at a stage of the bake where I knew a pivot would have to be into a deeply deranged direction.
KM: Yeah, so my cheesecakes were still in the oven, and I knew I had like 30 minutes left on the clock, and I also knew that I could not pipe cottage cheese that tastes bad onto my cheesecakes. So I dumped all of that out. And then I was just staring into the abyss of my fridge which is filled with things like pickles and spinach and three eggs, begging the fridge to provide me with a solution. It did not, but the counter did. Because on the counter was the rest of the cream cheese that I did not use to make the cheesecake. I know how to make cream cheese frosting, so I just did that instead.
CT: Listen, there are worse things to put atop a cheesecake than delicious cream cheese frosting. Like, for example, my whipped cream.
KM: Yeah I like cream cheese frosting! So I was like, worst case, this will taste good!
CT: At least you had an excuse. I simply lost track of my whipped cream while staring at a thin sheet of cooling chocolate, and it separated and became disgusting. I poured it out and measured out another batch of ingredients (whipping cream, icing sugar, vanilla extract) and started it again.
But now my cheesecakes needed to come out of the oven. It was at this point that I looked at the timer for the first time in a long time and discovered that I had 14 minutes left on the clock.
The wave of dread and self-loathing that washed over me in this moment was overpowering. I almost fell over. I grabbed my cheesecakes out of the oven and ran down to the basement and hastily set them one by one among the fish and stock-veggies of my basement freezer, and then ran back upstairs to discover that my second batch of whipped cream had also gone to hell.
For the third batch I just randomly chucked ingredients into the bowl and then stood there over it while it mixed, which is what I should’ve been doing all along. When it was finished—after maybe two minutes of high-speed whipping—I discovered that my tempered chocolate was ready for cutting. I used a paring knife to cut some triangles. At the end of this I had approximately nine minutes left in the bake.
KM: OH MY GOD!!!! You did it thrice!?!?! Be fair to yourself. You had just come down from the adrenaline rush of trying to fix those damn tin foil things.
I had slightly more time than you on account of not having the tin foil drama. I had 20 minutes left when my cheesecakes came out of the oven. I immediately threw them in the freezer still in their muffin tins.
While my cheesecakes were in the freezer for their allotted 10 minute cooling time, I broke the tempered chocolate with my hands into triangles. I don’t know why I didn’t cut it. I was feeling frantic, I guess.
What happened with your jellies?
CT: I assumed that by now my jelly was set, and I used the can to press some circles into it, at which point I realized that it was still very runny. I think I was cackling madly. So many things had gone wrong, not least of which was how little time I’d left myself for assembly. When I pulled my cheesecakes out of the freezer I had less than four minutes left on the timer.
KM: Usually, at this point in the bake, I am still happy in my home Delulu, U.S.A. But not this fuckin’ week, buddy. When the timer went off, signaling that I needed to remove my cheesecakes from the freezer and begin assembling, I thought I was going to collapse with defeat. I knew it wasn’t going to work. I am not strong enough for the real tent. I would have cried for sure, and then everyone would have made fun of me on TV.
CT: How did assembly go, in the end? How was the jelly?
KM: Wait, I just remembered at this moment that I made two jellies. Because after pouring the jelly into its mold, I realized there was no way that I would be able to get more than 4 ravioli stamps worth of jelly out of it. It turned out to be a good choice, because I did have just enough jelly in the end even with twice as much of it. My trusty ravioli stamp did a very good job and I think the jellies looked cute.
CT: So you removed the cheesecakes from the pan, and went jelly-frosting-triangle-berry?
KM: I did, yes. Except removing the cheesecakes from the pan went so poorly that I had to take a break because I was laughing so hard I was crying. The crusts did not remove from the pan (probably because I pre-baked them) so I had to remove them separately, at which point they crumbled. So my assembly went: pile of crumps, cheesecake body, jelly, frosting, triangles, berry.
CT: Oh man, that’s brutal. The worst feeling in these bakes is when you get to the end and something breaks or crumbles. It’s awful when it happens to someone on the show and insanely painful when you’re the one whose shit falls apart.
My assembly went relatively smoothly, all things considered. I had to carefully snip and unwrap the foil from around my cheesecake, and of course my jelly was more of a sauce, and of course the cheesecake was still too hot and so the jelly and the whipped cream and even the tempered chocolate all soon melted. And also I ran out of time after assembling only one of them.
KM: I think that what you ended up with looks very much like a fancy restaurant dessert. I know that the goal of these is to make whatever stupid thing Paul and Prue come up with exactly the way they want it, but I liked the way your jelly looked. It was pleasing aesthetically to me.
CT: Yeah! A rustic vibe!
The Finished Product
CT: Show cheesecake?
KM: Here is my cheesecake. The top view is nice.
Here is the side view:
CT: Poor crumbled biscuit base. Still! Considering the struggle with ingredients and the pivot to cream cheese icing, that’s a very decent looking mini cheesecake!
KM: Yeah, I do feel more proud of this than I expected. They tasted fine, which was a relief. If they had tasted bad after all of this I might have had a full mental breakdown.
CT: Well, OK, here is my one completed cheesecake:
This photo was taken in the roughly 18 seconds before everything melted into a gross oozing puddle.
KM: I think this looks great! If I were served this at a restaurant, it would be my honor to eat the oozing puddle. How do you feel at the end of this bake?
CT: I really believe this was one of the hardest challenges we’ve tried for this damned stunt. I could not believe how tired I was at the end, and how absolutely wrecked my kitchen had become. It took me two days to get it back into shape, in part because I have been limping around and whimpering like someone who just survived a hurricane while atop a mountain.
KM: I do wonder how much easier this would be if we had simply had all of the supplies that the bakers in the tent had. But this was a dead sprint the whole time. My kitchen is obliterated. I have no idea when it will return to stasis.
CT: Right, even if we’d had all the supplies this challenge still would’ve been an end to end sprint. There was just no real extra time in there at all.
Also, I didn’t love the flavor of my cheesecake! It wasn't helped by the sorely under-sugared jelly, or the substitution of raspberries for currants, but I definitely would’ve preferred just a slice of normal cheesecake. The caramelized flavor is more than I want. I like a nice smooth ricotta cheesecake, with a hint of acid. This one's over the top.
KM: Yeah. My take? Maybe use regular fucking chocolate. That’s a real flavor!
Luckily, because we are so late this week, I might as well leave my kitchen messy because we are baking again this weekend bay-bee!!!!
CT: We truly cannot be stopped!
KM: Do you know what this next week’s trial will be, Chris?
CT: I want it to be pies. Is it pies?
KM: I truly hate to tell you this. It’s pastry week, Chris.
CT: No! No!!
KM: Pray for us!