Welcome back once again to The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, filmed at La Maison Mizer, which sits snugly nestled on the shores of l’Étang Paid par la Saleté in beautiful Walton, KY, where this week our bakers brought their bite-sized best to Canapés Week!
Up first was Dan’s surprisingly scrumptious Crostini With Pear, Parmesan, And Caramelized Shallots. I’ve enjoyed apple/onion combinations in the past, and I know that a properly caramelized onion can lend a surprising sweetness to a dish, but I didn’t know if the apple and onion could offset the sourness and umami of the balsamic and Parmesan. I needn’t have worried. Dan managed to achieve a wonderful balance, a feat made even more impressive in that Dan had never before worked with pears in any dish, in this competition or otherwise. And he nailed it. Well played, Dan!
Mark brought us some decidedly old-fashioned American party fare with his sausage balls and ham sliders. These reliable staples of holidays and family reunions are usually a sure bet, and Mark did not disappoint. While his flavors were spot on as you would expect, my only real complaint was, as canapés go, these were simply enormous. A canapé is meant to be eaten in one bite, two at the absolute extreme. While very tasty, these were more on the order of full on servings. Were they delicious, filling, and wonderfully savory? Unquestionably. But were they canapés? No, I’m sorry to say I don’t think they were.
Mark’s portions may have been overly generous, but I would have traded dishes with him in a second. My bakes this week were, quite simply, a disaster. I decided to prepare two bakes of my own invention, which I called my Thanksgiving Canapés. First were my Turkey Dinner Canapés, a purée of mashed potatoes, roasted turkey, and turkey gravy, topped with an optional dollop of cranberry and walnut dressing, served on a homemade Stovetop Stuffing cracker. Where should I begin?
My potato and turkey purée was delicious, exactly as I hoped it would taste. Unfortunately, it came out an inexplicable brownish grey color that was immediately unappealing. I knew it tasted good, and even I didn’t want to eat it. In order to get that uniquely American holiday flavor, I crushed a box of Stovetop Stuffing mix to powder, added a little salt and flour, then worked it into a dough. And by a little flour, I mean FAR too little. The gluten in the flour was simply stretched too thin to hold the finished product together. The crackers looked good and smelled perfect, but in the end over half the batch broke or crumbled entirely as soon as I touched them. I managed to collect enough to plate my dish, but even the best looking cracker turns unappetizing with greyish potato goop piped on top of it. The cranberries were very pretty jewels on the final dish, but not attractive enough to save the day. Don’t let the photo fool you; those colors were not so vibrant in real life. My Turkey Dinner Canapés tasted fine, but they looked so bad I can’t imagine anyone wanting to eat them.
The second and more complete of my failures were my Sweet Potato Cana-Pies. I’ve never worked with sweet potatoes before, and I have to say, I absolutely nailed the sweet potato pie filling. It was sweet without being cloying, perfectly spiced, and wonderfully moist. I should have been happy with that and just baked them in a crust. But, no. I had to get fancy. You see, I love pie, but I don’t like crust. I consider it a necessary evil of pie making, and usually it gets pushed to the side of my plate and thrown away. I had seen toasted marshmallows hollowed out and used as edible shot glasses, so I thought, instead of putting marshmallows on top of sweet potato pie, why not eliminate the crust altogether and use the marshmallows to hold the filling?
It took a bit of trying to get the hollowing technique down, but once I did, the toasted marshmallows turned into perfectly solid little cups. I was so pleased. I thought I had this one in the bag. But I misjudged the mallow. The shot glasses I had seen were lined with chocolate, a step I omitted because it would have interfered with my flavors. Without that chocolate moisture barrier, however, the water in the sweet potato filling dissolved the marshmallows at an alarming rate. By the time I had filled the last marshmallow, half of them were liquefied and had to be thrown away. Again, I had gotten the flavors I wanted, but the presentation was a colossal failure. I received no votes, and I deserved none. This was easily my worst performance of any of these challenges. In fact, unless I were to manage to accidentally poison the other bakers, I would have to try rather hard to do worse than this.
As I so often do, I have saved the best for last. Mandy made for us her exquisite Balsamic Shrimp Bruschetta. I have to be honest here, I don’t remember a lot of what Mandy was telling us about these. I was too busy shoving them in my mouth by the fistful. Dan made crostini, which, as the name implies, are small and crusty. They are supposed to have a crunch to them. But if I had to find fault in Dan’s dish, it was that they were just a little too crunchy for my taste. Undeniably delicious, but mildly painful to eat.
Mandy’s bruschetta, on the other hand, were exemplary. The bread was toasted but not overly so, the balsamic was mouthwatering but used with restraint, and the shrimp were cooked to perfection. I could not stop eating these. I don’t remember clearly, but I’m not entirely sure there were any left at the end of the night. We often have a good bit of food left over from our bakes, but not these. We attacked these like whales swimming into a swarm of krill; we just opened up and let these delicious little crustaceans pour in. And it was this deliciousness that earned Mandy our unanimous votes for Star Baker! Congratulations, Mandy, and everyone be sure to join us next time when we trade in our spatulas for bar spoons and bring you Cocktails Week!
Until next time, bon appétit!