This summer, my family and I have been following the show, “The American Baking Competition” on CBS. Unlike the majority of culinary shows on television, this program features contestants who are not expertly trained. They are neither Cordon Bleu graduates nor are they world-renowned chefs. In fact, not one competitor has a job within food industry. Instead, they are lawyers and firefighters, photographers and grandmothers. People who bake simply for the joy of it. People like you and me. As much as I adore shows such as Top Chef and Chopped, as much as I am in awe of the creativity and skill of these trained professionals, I constantly find it difficult to relate to them. They possess a level of knowledge and expertise that is worlds above my own. “The American Baking Competition,” however, is different. With its untrained, amateur bakers, the show is a testament to the fact that great bakers need not be trained professionals. All you need is passion, patience, and a thirst for learning.
With that being said, I believe that everyone has their own strengths (and weaknesses) within the art of baking. Some of us are skilled at comfort foods, others are talented in show-stopping desserts. But out of all the baking skills, I believe that one of the most impressive qualities is the ability to excel within the arena of competitive baking. Competitive baking is the ultimate test of culinary expertise, problem-solving skills, and time-management abilities all at once. In other words, it is the ultimate stress test. As someone who cannot make quick decisions and easily gets flustered when things get out of control, I would fail miserably in a timed baking competition.
For me, the kitchen is a meditative place. It’s an area I seek when I want to escape the worries of life and work. I use baking as a release, not as an added pressure. You know the old adage that the secret ingredient in a recipe is love? It’s actually pretty accurate. When I am stressed or frustrated, it shows in my products. Baking, like any art form, is an expression of yourself. You are not just throwing ingredients into a bowl, you are adding a piece of yourself into the mix. It sounds a bit abstract, but it’s true. It’s why we take so much pride in our work, because it is something that is uniquely ours. It is a part of us. And every individual requires a different environment in order to achieve this. For me, I know that I can best express myself in a place of calm and familiarity. I need an environment where I have no sense of time or place. A location where I can completely lose myself in my creation. That means no buzzing timers and no judges constantly breathing down my neck. No, I don’t think I’ll be entering a baking competition anytime soon. I think this baker will just stick to the kitchen.
Bourbon Nectarine Roulade
¾ cup GF Flour Mix*
⅔ cup almond meal
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar, divided
4 eggs yolks
4 egg whites
½ teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and line one 11 x 15-inch jelly roll pan or two 9 x 13-inch pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a food processor, combine GF Flour Mix, almond meal, xanthan gum, and salt. Pulse mixture until it reaches the consistency of a fine powder.
In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks, almond extract, and ¼ cup of the sugar on high speed until mixture is light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Fold in the dry ingredients and set aside (the mixture will be thick).
In a stand mixture, beat egg whites on high speed until they form soft peaks. With beater still running, slowly add in remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue beating until egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks.
Gently mix ⅓ of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk batter (don’t worry about breaking down some of the whites, you just want to make the batter more fluid). Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites in two separate additions, making sure no white streaks remain.
Evenly spread batter onto prepared pan(s) and bake for 10 minutes, or until top begins to turn golden brown. Immediately remove pan(s) from oven and flip out onto a clean tea towel. Remove parchment paper and roll cake and towel together into a log. Let cool completely.
Bourbon Nectarine Buttercream
1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
¾ cup bourbon nectarine purée **see recipe below**
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the buttercream filling, beat butter until creamy. Slowly add in powdered sugar and beat until mixture is smooth, frequently scraping down the sides as necessary. Slowly add in the nectarine purée and vanilla extract, a little at a time (NOTE: really do this addition in small increments. If you add all the purée at once, the buttercream may separate and will not come back together. So be patient). Continue beating until the buttercream reaches a light, whipped consistency.
To assemble, unroll the cooled cake and evenly spread the buttercream on top. Reroll the cake and garnish as desired. Best served at room temperature.
**Bourbon Nectarine Purée**
4-5 ripe nectarines, sliced ¾-inch thick
⅓ cup bourbon
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line and thoroughly grease a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange nectarine slices in a single layer on prepared pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together bourbon, butter, and brown sugar. Evenly pour mixture over nectarine slices, and toss to coat. Roast nectarines for about 15 minutes, or until slices are soft and liquid is slightly syrupy. Remove and let cool completely.
Once cooled, spoon nectarines into a food processor and purée until smooth.
*GF Flour Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch