About a month ago, my boyfriend's sister sent me a link to an online application for The Great Canadian Baking Show. I wasn't sure I would make it but the next day I thought, why not try! I answered questions that asked what kinds of things I liked to bake, who taught me to bake, my favourite thing to bake - stuff like that. A few days later I was in a coffee shop, trying to cross off things on my to-do list, when I missed a call from a strange number. I called back and they asked if I wanted to be directed to "Canada's Worst Drivers" - I laughed imagining those shows where a "friend" reports another friend for having bad style and that person is secretly videotaped to highlight all their faux pas. I hoped that wasn't me! Then the lady said, "or the Great Canadian Baking Show?"
I was put through to someone who asked me some follow up questions - one of them being if I had ever watched the show - the great British bake off or the American version. I had not! That night I YouTube'd some episodes to see what exactly I was getting into, and who Mary Berry really is! The show isn't like most cooking shows- it's not cut throat. Maybe that has something to do with bakers, or maybe it's the amateur component. Either way, after watching it I really wanted to be on the show! If it was more intense, I don't think it would be for me (I like winning, but I'm not the super competitive type!)
Only a few days after the telephone call I got an email inviting me to audition on April 1 - no joke! The instructions said to bring six portions of my “signature bake” and I would have to bake something that day using a recipe they provide.
The time slot was 10:00a.m. and I would be driving from Kingston. So, the signature bake had to 1. Be able to travel and 2. Be baked the night before. I decided on meringues for those reasons!
I made a trial batch early in the week to see if I wanted to pipe them or not. They turned out not bad (I opened the oven door and they cracked a bit but I knew why and that I would show more self-control for the real batch!). Friday rolled around and it decided to rain - a lot! I’ve heard that tale – don’t make meringues when it rains or on humid days but had never before experienced the challenge myself. I ended up making multiple batches, changing this and changing that, trying to get them perfect.
I went to bed with the last batch in the oven. I couldn’t help but think I should have made something else, but convinced myself it would be fine! The next morning, I packed the prettiest ones up and put the lemon curd in the cooler. When I got to the audition, I assembled them in the car, which was pretty hilarious and more awkward than I planned. My hands were shaking and I realized that up until that moment, I was excited, but now I was only nervous!!!
Inside there were ten of us auditioning (and I think 30 total that day). It was at a cooking school, which was really neat because we each had our own work station AND someone did the dishes and wiped the counter when we were done! My signature bake was cut into four pieces and judged – I don’t know how well it did but she mentioned when she saw them she thought who on Earth brought meringues! She noted they were crisp – which I think was a compliment but not sure! That was pretty much it – I talked while she was scoring me and writing comments. I told her why I baked meringues and how I thought meringues represented what a baker should be (I practiced this little speech in my head on the drive down!). I basically said that the nest is the base, and it's sturdy and strong, which represents a baker’s persistence and practice – which I got a lot of the day before with my meringues! And the lemon curd on top is zingy and bright, and this is a baker’s energy and creativeness.
I think I wanted to tell her this because everything I make has meaning or gets meaning once I make it. And thinking about it now, it makes sense because I am slowly making my way through the recipes of my Grandmother’s cookbook. The recipes in her cookbook are so connected to her life on the farm and the stories that come from it. And of course, the ingredients grown around her.
After it was all done, I was interviewed one last time outside (Tom snapped a paparazzi style pic of me!). Throughout the day I was asked many times what I like to bake and why. After talking about it so much, I think I have an answer. I love to bake things that are meaningful to me – things my mum baked when I was growing up, things that are common in the area, things with fresh fruit like pies and cobblers and bread. And I also like to bake really pretty little desserts, the meringues, mini tarts, and madeleines. Both types of things I like to bake are full of butter, and I often use my giant wooden spoon somewhere in the process!
I feel like there are a million and one things on my baking list – and I have so much to learn. Whenever I watch a cooking competition on TV, I always think to myself, “I could never do that”. I would never know what to make, I would not be able to make decisions, I would have too much self-doubt. I don’t think I am the best baker, I don’t think I am amazing – I don’t have confidence like that – BUT I think I could win if I get on the show! Fingers crossed!
Lemon Meringue Nests
4 eggs whites
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla)
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
½ cup unsalted butter
For the nests: Preheat oven to 200F. Line two baking trays with parchment; set aside.
In bowl of a stand mixer, heat egg whites and sugar over a pot of simmering water until sugar dissolves and no longer grainy, about 3 minutes. (Run mixture between your fingers to test for sugar granules).
Remove from heat and whip using whisk attachment until white and fluffy, about 10 minutes. The bottom of the bowl should be room temperature.
Transfer meringue to a pastry bag with a large star tip. Starting at the centre, pipe 5 cm circles, 1 - 2 inches apart. (It helps me to trace a small jar on the back of the parchment). Build the nest up by piping one or two layers (depending how high you want them) around the edge of each circle. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave in for 30 minutes.
For the lemon curd: In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. Stir constantly and continue heating until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Add in butter and continue heating until thick, about 5 minutes. You should be able to draw a line in the curd with it staying put. When thick enough, strain into bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, to avoid a thick skin from forming, and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Use a spoon to dollop curd into nests, or pipe the curd into the centre. Keep meringues in air tight container and keep curd refrigerated, each for up to three days. Assemble as you need them!
Makes about 20 nests
*Recipe adapted from zoebakes.com