It’s been a terrifying trek through this season of Halloween Baking Championship, and host John Henson greets the remaining four denizens of Camp Devil’s Food Lake while malevolently toasting marshmallows – a tip off to the contestants that this episode’s thriller challenge is a S’mores based test. The bottom two confections will land their creators in a sudden death challenge, and the loser sent off into the night to meet their gruesome ends at the hands of the mysterious camp killer. Here is our recap of the ghoulish season finale and the reveal of who wins this season of Halloween Baking Championship.
Fear Itself: The Thriller Challenge
Based on the questionnaire the contestants previously filled out, John has selected their most feared ingredients. A runner up from Halloween Baking Championship from Season 6 and a surprise entry into the competition in episode 2, Renee Loranger knows what her ingredient is before she even opens the box. “It’s sauerkraut,” she bemoans. “C’mon, I can smell it”. Each camper faces their nemesis; for Megan Baker, black garlic adds a wrinkle, while Adina Schaefer is faced with her hated rosemary. Guillermo Salinas, interestingly, has a composed dish rather than ingredient: a weird and wobbly gelatin dessert.
Renee wisely chooses to focus on the coconut-like texture of the sauerkraut, rinsing it well and adding it to a raspberry brownie with marshmallow, salted caramel and graham cracker crumble. It turns out to be a wise decision, as judge Zac Young loves the chew of the sauerkraut, but Carla Hall would prefer it chopped finer.
As an artist and a pastry chef, Guillermo Salinas is one to watch in this competition. On his Instagram, Guillermo says his goal in life is to make delicious things, but making creative edibles is his true passion. That definitely shines through in some of the plates we’ve seen from him, from gorgeous pastries and elegant cakes, to chocolate creations and airy croissants.
Faced with a cup of jelly, Guillermo makes the fearless decision to dice it and add it to a covered bowl infused with hickory wood smoke for a hot chocolate panna cotta with smoked gelatin, graham cracker and marshmallow. Unlike the other bakers, he opts for store-bought marshmallows, which costs him points with judge Stephanie Boswell, who calls him out for hermetically sealing his dessert with an impenetrable crust. Zac also points out that he could have transformed the ingredient better, by boiling and reducing it.
Megan Baker isn’t just ready to whip up those horror movie-inspired treats – she’s ready to take them to the next level. As a cake artist, Megan is used to working with everything from buttercream to fondant, telling a story with each delicious offering.
Megan makes the brave but ultimately foolish decision to try for a macaron in a limited time, which does not allow for an overnight set to get the signature chewiness. Her black garlic jam macaron with salted chocolate and toasted marshmallow ends up being overbaked, and Stephanie compares its texture to an amaretti, although she praises the fermentation and acidic quality.
As a small business owner, Adina Schaefer is used to working under pressure which will definitely give her an advantage in this competition. The cake artist runs her own shop, Sweets By Adina Marie, in California. There, she whips up custom desserts and cakes made from scratch that feature high-quality ingredients. Now, we can’t wait to see how those skills translate on the series.
Despite Adina’s profound dislike of rosemary (“it reminds me of being trapped inside a really cheap, bad Christmas candle,” she says), and burning her caramel twice during her bake, her honey rye graham cracker, toasted marshmallow, rosemary brittle and chocolate crémeux wins her the advantage for the next challenge. “I feel like we’re going to eat anger and disdain,” says Carla, taken aback by Adina’s vehemence.
Death by Pumpkins
The sudden death challenge tasks Guillermo and Megan with recreating John’s worst fear in a fresh, modern and unexpected way. A display of ugly and unsettling rotting pumpkins serves as inspiration for the two contestants, both of whom take on classic handheld desserts. Despite the judges pointing out the bitterness of Guillermo’s burnt pumpkin seed crumble, they find favour with the creativeness of the piped pumpkin-shaped cream puff with cream cheese filling, plated on a garbage can lid. Megan’s chocolate pumpkin whoopee pie with pumpkin cream cheese and candied pecan, although praised for its ethereal mousse consistency from Zac, ultimately sends her packing due to its lack of the grossness the challenge demanded.
And Then There Were Three
The remaining bakers are faced with a fiendish task for the final challenge: a towering tribute to the anonymous camp killer that has been lurking in the background for the season. The tiered or carved cake must contain a topper shaped like a brain, with a gooey filling. The five hour challenge has all the bakers scrambling to make the amount of cake necessary for 24 inches (for reference, says Guillermo, that is the height of his son. “That’s a toddler-sized cake,” he says wearily.) This challenge means that in addition to making three to four batches of cake, running between their stations, the oven and the cooling racks, the bakers have to contend with structural considerations such as the weight of the topper and the need for dowels to steady the cake layers.
As her advantage for winning the thriller challenge, Adina gets to choose between mousse, curd or gelatin as the filling for her cake’s brain decoration. She picks curd, but ultimately regrets the decision, opting to use a lighter filling for her cake topper just in case. Her devil’s food cake with malt whipped cream ganache, cherry curd, cherry jam, pecan streusel and cinnamon buttercream is inspired by John, whom she secretly suspects is the serial killer villain of the show (she adds grey tufts into the frosting to pay tribute to his hair). The piece de la resistance of her ghoulish creation, apart from disturbingly realistic stitched together human skin made out of fondant, is her decision to use agar agar and put jam in front of the brain’s lobe, so that it will weep blood when it sits (a fact that both impresses and horrifies Zac at the judging table). The softness of the curd she uses to fill the cake, however, interferes with the structural integrity and leads Carla to point out that the cake is leaning to the side.
Guillermo decides to revisit his successes of the season, making a multilayer cake decorated with a mummy, zombie, pumpkin and clown – all facing off into different directions so that at least one is always staring at the viewer. His orange sponge cake with chocolate ganache, cranberry mousse and amaretto buttercream, complete with crushable white chocolate molding for the brain and cranberry and raspberry interior, incorporates fresh fruit and candied nuts in what Stephanie calls “a cacophony of flavours”.
And The Winner Is…
Although Renee has experience with the final challenge, she feels as nervous as the other competitors. Unlike Adina and Guillermo, Renee uses round cake pans rather than baking sheets to make three tiers and a smaller tier in case her cake is too short. From the start, she’s behind in her bake, rushing to get the cakes in the oven and cooled successfully. When she goes to unfold them, however, they stick to the pan and need to be scraped out (thank goodness for frosting!). Her devil’s food cake with hazelnut buttercream, hazelnut feuilletine crunch and sour cherry crunch falls afoul of other problems, too; her sour cherry jam is initially too sweet and the cake topper white chocolate shell cracks, leading her to quickly make a rather flat-looking molded substitution (“it’s not the biggest brain, but it’s a brain,” she sighs).
Renee wowed the judges with her design of the screaming victim on the middle layer of her cake, and the design mastery at work. “It reads like a graphic novel,” says Stephanie, admiring her adherence to the story through fondant and chocolate, as well as shiny sour cherry blood oozing from gashes carved into the cake. Ultimately, Renee takes home the $25,000 prize and a handmade wooden medal from John, proving that her return to the championship was a killer decision.
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