It’s hard to guess what might another person’s worst nightmare might be, but a decent bet would be that a baker’s would be putting something in the oven and then noticing a bowl with the sunny sides of three eggs staring back at her.
The yolk was on Jennifer Barney, although she didn’t find it funny, because she knew immediately that she had forgotten to fold the eggs into the batter in the Pre-Heat challenge in the “The Holiday Baking Championship” episode that aired on the Food Network this week.
“It was horrible!” recalled the Stoddard baker, who had advanced to the reality show’s third episode the previous week by not only avoiding elimination but also winning the Main Heat challenge.
On Monday, the bakers were charged with making a dessert featuring a canned item that was a mystery to them until they removed the plastic Christmas wrap. Barney’s can contained mandarin oranges, so she opted to devise Honey Caramel Mandarin Orange Nut Tarts on the fly.
Knowing that other contestants had forgotten ingredients such as salt or vanilla in some recipes, Barney had adopted a protocol to avoid such pitfalls.
“I was really trying my hardest to make sure to slow down and have all of the ingredients measured out before I started mixing the ingredients together,” said Barney, a Chippewa Falls native who operates her business, Meringue Bakery, out of her home.
Following her protocol, she lined up the ingredients in advance, but putting the eggs into the mixing bowl got lost in the shuffle of the pressure-packed preparations.
It wasn’t as potentially perilous as, for instance, forgetting to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving, but Barney was left scrambling to fix her egg gaffe.
“I immediately pulled them (the tart pans) out of the oven, and I debated what my next step would be,” she said. “I could have let it go and continued to bake them, taking the risk that the judges would not know.”
Thanking her lucky stars that she had rescued the tarts before the filling had started to bake, she said, “I scooped out as much of the filling as I could, remixed the eggs in and then started all over with the filling and baking process.”
Although Barney kept her game face on as she frantically did a remix, the average viewer might have surmised that her tarts would be toast.
The fix took about 10 minutes out of the hour that the seven contestants were allowed to produce the dessert.
The judges were generally complimentary, with Duff Goldman, aka the Ace of Cakes, declaring, “I like the burley flavor. It’s like a bulldog.”
With a tinge of the playful camaraderie among the rivals on the show, Barney expressed teasing gratitude toward one of her opponents during an interview. Stephany Buswell, a pastry arts instructor at the International Culinary Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., was courting a culinary calamity with her own dessert, which didn’t set up and was oozing across the plate like a volcano run amok.
“The cameras loved all of her drama, and my mistake and my drama took a back seat. Thanks, Stephany,” said Barney, a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis who was head pastry chef at The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern in La Crosse before starting her own business.
Although Barney didn’t win the Main Heat elimination challenge, her creation passed muster, so she wasn’t eliminated, either. Plus, the judges complimented her efforts, which was more than she did for the challenge to craft a holiday dessert featuring the flavors of a pecan pie and lemon bars. (And a surprise ingredient to be added later.)
“I bet the producers had a fun time thinking up this challenge,” said Barney, who keeps her game face on for the cameras, regardless of the situation.
“There were a few contestants that got lucky and had easier combinations. In the bakery, I am known for my lemon cake filling. It is a homemade lemon curd, and it is fantastic,” she said.
Recalling her days at The Waterfront, she used the base of the recipe for her crunchy meringue cake there to make a pecan daquoise, which is a layered dessert cake.
Then came the surprise, when the bakers were about halfway through their 90-minute challenge and host Jesse Palmer announced that they had to incorporate sweet potato.
“Don’t get me wrong — I like sweet potatoes, but not in a lemon pecan cake,” Barney said. “In the end, my cake was full of fun textures. The cake was crunchy, and the lemon curd was smooth.”
Barney, who knows her overall finish in the contest, covered the cake with a marshmallow frosting, which she toasted to make it look like an acorn.
“I have to be honest,” she said. “The second I got the sweet potato addition, I knew I had a slim chance at winning. This ended up being a week for me to fly under the radar — and that is OK.
“I only need to be better than one person,” she said, heading into episode four of season four of the Holiday Baking Championship, to air at 8 p.m. Central time Monday.
For the record, Buswell bounced back from her busted Pre-Heat so well that she was the winner of the Main Heat on Monday.