While we're waiting for Buddy and the Cake Boss crew to return, TLC is keeping us entertained with Ultimate Cake Off. Each week, three cake designers compete for the chance to be featured at an event and win a cash prize. Tonight the cake artists had to construct a cake 5 feet in height, for a national square dancing competition. They needed to include the bright colors of the costumes, the competition logo, and had to combine both beach and square dancing themes.
As I reported on the first episode of Ultimate Cake Off, the judges interrupt the designers twice for "skills" competitions. The winner then is allowed to bump a competitor out for 30 minutes. The show doesn't need the manufactured drama--it's interesting enough watching the incredible designs the Ultimate Cake Off designers come up with. There are also plenty of mishaps, mistakes, and nerves fraying as time winds down on the competition.
The cake tasting skill is an important one, but it would be nice if the winner of that competition would get an extra half hour to work on their cake. I hate the tendency of reality shows to always take the negative angle. Why not offer rewards instead of forcing one of the competitors to inflict a penalty on another designer?
Tonight's Ultimate Cake Off cake designers: Courtney, Clemence, and Norm. All three seemed to be experts in creating topsy-turvy Alice in Wonderland style cakes. Courtney and Norm were also adept at adding moving parts to their creations.
Time is definitely an important factor in the Ultimate Cake Off challenge. Clemence had a sort of airy-fairy "organic" approach to things and ended up way behind in getting her cake done. She won the cake-tasting Ultimate Cake Off challenge for her multiple chocolate layer cake, and did some scrollwork the judges liked, but she lacked experience in creating cakes on such a grand scale. The end result was that her cake was tasty, but unfinished, and she was eliminated from the final decision.
Norm was an experienced cake designer who apparently had a slew of awards to his credit. It was obvious he was a skilled competitor with a talented team as he created an ambitious cake tower with multiple layers. The entire piece was supported by four chocolate boots, and topped with a couple dancing their way across a globe. The globe trotters moved, as well as a circle of dancers at the bottom of the cake.
Courtney was an incredible perfectionist. Every detail was meticulously tended to, including using the perfect shiny gold dust on a sheriff's badge, and the paneling on a woodie station wagon. She had a plaid cake, a cow print cake, and a cartoonishly distorted red barn with a poppyseed roof and hand-lettered banner. She also had elaborately dressed dancers spinning at the top of the cake.
Unfortunately her perfectionism caused her to run out of time for other elements. The judges noticed that a few of the mechanical elements hadn't been covered with fondant, and that her dancers' faces weren't very detailed.
While Norm had arguably the most complex Ultimate Cake Off cake, and also the only one who fully completed the task, the square dancing competition representative noticed a few key errors. First, Norm had done dramatic lettering on the cake, but wrote "annual" instead of "national" for the competition title. Second, the layering of the cowboy hat, shirt and tie, and jeans cakes were out of order, with the jeans on top of the shirt.
Norm confessed later that he fully expected to win, but he was gracious when it was announced that Courtney's cake was the winner. I did appreciate the detail and accomplishment of Norm's cake, but there was something very eye-catching about Courtney's creation. The whimsical nature of it perfectly blended the somewhat disparate themes of beach and square dancing, combining some unexpected elements like the competition logo being emblazoned on a belt buckle.
Ultimate Cake Off does have its surprises, and as TLC viewers have learned from Cake Boss, it can be fascinating to see how designers sculpt these creative masterpieces. And as we've seen in promos for the upcoming season, there's always the danger of dropping one of these towering cakes on the way to the judges' table...
Watch Ultimate Cake Off on TLC, Monday nights at 10/9c.
PHOTOS: Courtney working on her "skills test" cake; Contestants Courtney, Clemence, and Norm on Ultimate Cake Off, c2009 Eric Biermann, TLC.