The tagline on the front of my April 2012 issue of Everyday Food magazine read The Ultimate Cake Recipe. I flipped to the article right away and when I saw the picture, the cake had me. There was no turning back. I just had to make it. Beautifully golden layers of cake topped with luscious raspberry whipped cream – who could resist that? I could already taste it!
So I baked it for Mother’s Day that year and it was everything you would hope for in a cake – moist, buttery, yet light at the same time – and truly, it was indeed, the ultimate cake recipe. My husband whipped up the frosting and we all swooned and raved over how good it was.
Then, several months later, my sister-in-law posted this on my facebook wall:
So, I thought about it. Actually, I didn’t think about it a whole lot right away, because I had a birthday cake to bake for my son’s 9th birthday party that week, and then there was Thanksgiving coming up, and then finally, after Thanksgiving, I thought oooh, I really should check that out! And the very day I thought about checking it out, I saw this on my twitter feed:
to which I tweeted back:
And I won a front of the line pass to the casting call in Nashville! Crazy, right?
I told myself this was really not something I would ordinarily do. I’m a mom with two young children and I just didn’t feel right about skipping out on them and my husband for a few days. I thought about it and then finally mentioned it to my husband several days later. He totally jumped on board! Even better, my sister lives in Nashville. What would be more fun than to spend a weekend with her? It was only a 5 hour drive. I just couldn’t pass up the chance!
I planned out my strategy. I would make a raspberry-cream layer cake each day to practice. I had 5 days! In essence, I was a recipe tester. I experimented with all the ingredients – which brands were the best, whether or not the most expensive butter really was worth all that money (it was) – taking notes as I went.
My husband said my 4th cake was absolute perfection! After some research, I discovered the secret to perfect whipped cream. I was slightly concerned about finding fresh raspberries since they were out of season, but knew I could always resort to frozen if I had to.
Friday came. I loaded up practically my entire kitchen and hit the road for Nashville! My big sis and I don’t get a lot of time to hang out just the two of us, so I was looking forward to spending some time with her. Friday night she took me to Etch, a new restaurant owned by Chef Deb Paquette. We dined on roasted cauliflower with truffled pea pesto, turkish spiced cobia, and a seasonal pumpkin semifreddo. Without a doubt, it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten!
The next morning, it was time to bake. The open casting call was from 11-4, and I had given myself enough time to bake a second cake if necessary. Good thing, because my first cake was an absolute disaster. As the cakes were cooling on the racks, my sister noticed cake batter pooling on the table below. Not good. I had taken them out of the oven too soon, and they completely fell! Fortunately, my second cake was perfect. The batter was exquisite, the cake light and fluffy. I whipped up the cream, frosted the cake, and we were off to the audition site. Kudos to my sister, who kept her cool the entire time.
Once we got downtown, we had to park and walk. Walking through downtown Nashville with the cake and all my supplies was an experience I won’t soon forget. I had the cake in a carrier (praying the whipped cream would not fall), my plate and supplies in a bag (I had to plate a slice of the cake for the judges), and a cooler with fresh raspberries, mint leaves, and a raspberry reduction sauce to complete the presentation. It was quite a long wait before my group was called back, and all the while I was stealing glances at my cake to make sure the whipped cream was still standing. We were sitting under hot lights and I was starting to sweat. Finally we went back. There were about 20 of us, and we all lined up by these long tables, with our individual places marked by blue tape. I only had 3 minutes to plate my baked item. My plan: slice the cake, plate it, then add the fresh raspberries, mint leaves, and a drizzle of the raspberry reduction sauce to finish it off. 3 minutes may sound like a long time, but it really isn’t. The time went by so fast. I was worried I wouldn’t get the drizzle of sauce on the plate in time, but I did. Whew! Afterwards, the casting assistant came by and asked each of us questions one at a time, followed by the food judge (a chef from LA!), who tasted our food and inquired about the baking process. Then we were told to wait while the judges conferred. Soon the announcement was made: 5 of us would advance to the next round. I was one of the 5! We waited a little while longer, and then were called upstairs to a room for a brief interview with the casting producer and his assistant. We were then told that 3 of us from that group would move on to the next round, and we headed back downstairs to wait. At this point, I was quite nervous. The entire day had been such a marathon up until that point and I hadn’t really stopped to process it. It had been so fun and I was thrilled to be there. Soon the casting producer and his assistant came downstairs and made the announcement. I had been chosen as one of the 3! Here’s a picture of my plate, after the chef had taken a bite:
The next step in the casting process was the on-camera interview. Yikes! That sounded really professional to me and the more I thought about it, the more nervous I got. But I had a full day to prepare for it, thankfully. My sister, who knows much more about fashion than I do, took me shopping and we found the perfect outfit. The interview went well. The casting assistant was friendly and made me feel completely at home. The interview was done all on camera, so it was definitely nerve-wracking, but I just did my best. It was late once it was over and I was incredibly glad to be headed home. Later that night, I received an email saying that I had advanced to the next round! The next round involved producing a 10-minute home video of me baking my most impressive baked item. I also had to fill out all sorts of paperwork, complete a background check, and send in photos of myself and my baked goods.
Since I was a French major in college, I chose cream puffs for my baked item. I made cream puffs filled with lemon mascarpone cream, goat cheese and roasted cherry cream puffs, eclairs with Julia Child’s chocolate ganache icing, a croquembouche drizzled with melted white chocolate, cream puff swans, a cream puff gateau with layers of whipped cream, and savory cheese gougeres using a Dorie Greenspan recipe. Producing the video was the hardest part of the entire process. My husband was a trooper! We were up until the wee hours of the morning recording it, and then he had to edit everything and condense all of the footage down to 10 minutes before we sent it off.
Sadly, I did not make the final cut, but the entire process was such a blast that I am simply grateful for the opportunity. Just knowing that a chef liked my cake well enough to send me on to the next round was so fulfilling. I mean, she really liked my cake! For me, that was the ultimate compliment. From the meaningful time spent with my sister to the challenge of baking the perfect cake, the entire trip was a rich, rewarding experience that I will never forget.
I set out to accomplish something that day in my sister’s kitchen in Nashville. I wanted to bake a cake that would impress the judges, and I proved to myself that I could do it! And even though I didn’t end up in Hollywood, I’m so proud that I gave it my best shot.
What’s holding you back from doing something new? What is something you’ve always wanted to try, but never have? What’s keeping you from achieving that goal? My advice is this: What do you have to lose? Go after it! You won’t be sorry you did. And you never know what you’ll gain in the process.
The American Baking Competition airs tonight on CBS at 8PM EST. I can’t wait to watch it!
Click here for the Raspberry-Cream Layer Cake recipe.
Click here for the whipped cream recipe.
Until next time,