No Cake Walk
Johnny Iuzzini makes a case for chocolate and caramel with lemon and provides tips on how to keep your cake in tact in the heat.
Bravotv.com: Lemon and desserts. What can you tell us about working with lemon.
Johnny Iuzzini: I love lemons. They are bright, tart, and refreshing, but they can be difficult to pair sometimes, as well as difficult to work with. They can adversely affect other ingredients, like dairy, if not combined properly, causing it to curdle. I use lemons and other citrus quite often -- they help make a dessert that may seem heavy feel much lighter through the acidity. Also, when you heat any citrus you change its flavor, you lose some of the acidity, freshness and bite. Whenever possible I always try and add the citrus last and to a cool mixture.
Bravotv.com: Did you agree with the guest judges’ comments that caramel and chocolate don’t work well with lemon? How could the chefs have made them work?
JI: I do not agree with Margaret's comments that caramel and chocolate do not go well with chocolate. That said, the way that Orlando incorporated the chocolate in his dessert was not very creative or thoughtful. I often make desserts that combine caramel or chocolate with lemon. It is all about proportion and balance. They are all very strong flavors -- they can't all be the stars at the same time. What I mean is, if you are making a dessert with chocolate and lemon, pick which one will be the dominant flavor and have the second be the complementary flavor so they are not competing. The problems arise when you can't figure out if it's a chocolate dessert with lemon or a lemon dessert with chocolate. As far as caramel is concerned, I think the rich, bitter buttery flavor of caramel has the potential to pair nicely with lemon. The acid helps balance both the bitterness and fatty quality while contributing a brightness to the combination.
Bravotv.com: Did you notice a difference in the level of this week’s showpieces to last week’s?
JI: I think the chefs are starting to feel more comfortable in front of the cameras, they aren't as timid and they are sure cursing like the cameras aren't around. I think they are starting to figure who has which strengths, and the smarter teams are capitalizing on it. Unfortunately some of the chefs weren't so forthcoming with their strengths and weaknesses. I don't understand why the chefs didn't stop at any point and evaluate their progress and quality of their other teammates' work. This is a different genre of the business. Not everyone makes these types of cakes everyday. There is an art as well as a certain discipline to make these types of cakes. Some of the chefs definitely understood this more then others. Bravotv.com: Which ones stood out to you for better or worse?
JI: From the looks of all the cakes, at first glance I definitely saw a difference in refinement. Some cakes looked like the designs were very well-thought-out, and their tiers seamlessly melded together and flowed, while other cakes looked like cakes that had nothing to do with each other and were just stacked together. The same holds true for the flavors. Some teams cakes had some really great flavor combinations that worked well together, and others were either just too similar or had nothing to do with each other and just clashed. The Red Team's cake really stood out to me because it was three-dimensional. There were music sheets that seemed to be organically floating off the cake as if blown by the wind, like you see in the movies. The colors were in the same palate as the actual building behind them, the shape of the cake had lots of angles vs. a straight 90-degree edge stacked cake. The blue team's cake looked like it was in trouble from a distance, and it didnt get any better once I got closer, in fact it got much worse. The instruments all looked different and sloppy. The coloring on the cake was heavy-handed, and all in all, the touches were not precise on any of the tiers. In fact, it looked like they were trying to hide the imperfections. On the Black Team, I didn't think the cakes worked together at all. There was a big white triangle on the bottom. Nelson really did something special and showed us his architectural background. I have never seen a cake constructed like that before, but in the end reminded me more of a Roman building then the Gehry building, and Craig with his magical and mystical drum just plopped on top. This cake showed no harmony or flow from base to the top. I did like the cake topper -- too bad it had broken slightly. When it came to the Green Team, I really liked their tile work, but I don't think their color was what they were aiming for. The shape of the cake was cool. It was definitely an eye-catcher, and the delicate chocolate cake topper and motif of gears was done very well without making the cake feel industrial. The cake flowed well, and I wouldn't have known more than one chef worked on it.
Bravotv.com: What was the key to being successful in this challenge?
JI: The key was to create a design that incorporated the spirit of the Disney Concert Hall, yet showed creativity and coherence as a group, while at the same time exposing each chef's individuality. The chefs needed to make a large multi-tiered cake that was able to show a cohesiveness both in flavor and design. The cake or team I should say that took both of these variables into consideration the best would come out on top. The chefs really needed to work together both in the design aspect and talking about what they wanted to create flavor-wise. Some of the cakes had a bit too much repetition, and others had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Bravotv.com: Do you think a show cake can work if the layers are creatively different like Orlando’s team’s cake, or they should they all work together?
JI: I think Orlando's team would have been more successful if the cakes weren't so different in their color schemes. Maybe having very different designs with a similar color palette might have made the cake more appealing and less like three completely separate designs just stacked. Also when you saw the precision of Nelson's cake and then your eyes moved up to the messiness and non-precise detailing of Craig's cake, then things started to unravel. I am not opposed to three ideas contributing to a main theme as long as there is a simple idea or motif or theme that carried through them, and there just wasn't. Bravotv.com: What’s the best way to tie all of the layers together flavor-wise. Should they all have one common flavor element, or should they be complementary?
JI: The flavors of the cake do not necessarily have to have the same flavors, but they should have flavors that work together. Also, some of the teams had put some thought into the order in which the cakes were served which is also very important. If you eat a cake that is very heavy and rich first then when you eat a lighter and more delicate-in-flavor cake after, you tend not to pick up on its gentle nuances and flavor notes. I think as long as you design each cake's flavors on what you know works together and you think of the order they will be eaten, it is actually quite easy to connect a multitude of different flavors in a sequence. Some teams recognized this and others ignored it, even after my advice.
Bravotv.com: Why did the eliminated chef ultimately go home?
JI: In the end we have to decide which team overall did the worst job with the challenge pertaining to both the design and the flavor. From that team, we then have to figure out who contributed to which components of the team's effort. The chef in the end that will go home will be the person that either made our least favorite component -- worst design, worst execution, worst taste -- or the least amount of overall contribution to the team. It's like a process of elimination. We really take each of those categories and break them down and rate each chef and what they achieved and contributed, and the chef that has the lowest score goes home. In Vanarin's case, his design elements on the cake were very sloppy when it came to the musical instruments and the flavors of his cake were muted and didn't deliver on his promise of strong flavors.
Bravotv.com: Some of the chefs had problems with their cakes in the heat. Do you have any tips to help protect ingredients outside?
JI: There are many ways to stabilize a cake for heat. One way is to do many layers of sponge rather then only a few with thick layers of filling. When you do many layers of sponge, you do many thin layers of cream and this will ensure the cake has more integrity. Also, think about the types of creams used. Try to stabilize as best you can with gelatins, agar, or other stabilizers. Also, its best to do a buttercream with a high temp cooked sugar vs. a straight-whipped buttercream. This will help in preventing the cake from weeping too fast. Also, it is best to use a sponge that is naturally moist rather then adding a lot of syrup to the cake later. That syrup could end up leeching out and/or adding additional weight to the cake.