[and a recipe for sesame marzipan & sea salt mandel bread]
One of my best friends encouraged me to apply for The Great Canadian Baking Show last winter. After quickly looking through pictures from the first season of the TV show I told her there was no way that I was in that kind of baking league, but Andrea’s a great cheerleader (and works in reality TV!) so her encouragement was persuasive. Before leaving work that day I quickly threw together an application online and figured that would be the end of it.
The next day I received a phone call from the casting producer and was invited to audition. My mum – who has witnessed many a Katie-kitchen-mishap – thought this was hilarious, but kindly offered to chauffeur me to Montreal since there were no auditions in Ottawa.
Needless to say, I didn’t make it on to the show (mostly I’m just sad to have missed out on the opportunity to be on TV with Dan Levy). The audition itself was a hoot, though. I went in feeling like it was pretty low stakes (I mean, it was), but once we got to chatting and baking my competitive spirit kicked in and I *wanted* it. I turned on the charm (I think?!) and was humming to myself (I figured I could be on TV as the quirky baker who sang in the kitchen?!) as though this was just a typical morning. I also, while the producers were chatting with me, absentmindedly added eight cups of flour to my dry ingredients instead of one and tried to discreetly restart (don’t worry, my cookies came out just fine!). Maybe that’s why I wasn’t chosen. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ At least I got to taste everyone else’s beautiful treats!
And so, in case you are ever compelled to audition for a baking show, I humbly offer my tips:
- Make something memorable. It doesn’t have to be crazy or elaborate, but based on my audition alone it looks like the judges see a lot of layer cakes. Whatever you bring, you want it to stand out.
- Be yourself. But also…practice that. Understandably, they want folks who make for interesting television, so if you can’t chat with producers while your measuring dry ingredients (or if you measure the same dry ingredient eight times) that will be a strike against you. If you really want to feel prepared I’d suggest rehearsing telling people why you brought the baked good that you did, why you love baking, why you think you’d be great on the show, etc.
- Don’t make something for the first time the night before your audition! One of my fellow auditionees was perplexed by the way her pie was looking once it had been out at room temperature for an hour…turns out she had never made that recipe until the night before our audition. Talk about adding stress to your experience! Not only will that uncertainty add to your nerves, you won’t have a backstory to tell the producers when they want to know more about your dessert.
- Have fun, and be nice! Have you ever noticed that one of the lovely things about this show and the British original is that folks are just lovely to one another? Don’t be a dick. Oh, and taste everything! (Obviously.)
The recipe I chose to bring with me was largely based on the fact that it froze and traveled well, so I could make it in Ottawa and bring it to Montreal without worrying too much. The downside to that plan was that the Jewish equivalent of biscotti just doesn’t look as impressive next to macarons or pastries! So, they may not be showstoppers, but I quite like them. These mandel bread have a lot going for them: the nuttiness from the sesame (but they’re nut free! which was a must if I wanted to share with my twin who was hosting me in Montreal), the sea salt takes it to another level, and they are perfect for dunking in your coffee. Everyone’s a winner.
molly yeh’s marzipan and sea salt mandel bread (from Molly on the Range, Rodale Books 2016)
yields: 28 cookies
7 to 8 ounces marzipan (recipe for marzipan below)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup flavorless oil
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
Pearl sugar or sprinkles, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Cut the marzipan into ½-inch pieces and toss with the powdered sugar. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil until combined. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, and then whisk in the vanilla and almond extract. Use a wooden spoon to gradually mix in the flour mixture, marzipan, and cacao nibs or chocolate chips. (This dough can be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and place on the lined baking sheet. Mold the dough into two 14 x 3-inch rectangles about 3 inches apart. Sprinkle the tops with a few pinches of sea salt and pearl sugar or sprinkles.
Bake until the centers are set and the bottoms are lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 250ºF. Let the mandel bread cool slightly and then use a sharp serrated knife to cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Turn the slices on their sides and bake for 20 more minutes, or until desired crispness. Let cool slightly and enjoy with coffee, hot chocolate, or tea.
Sesame marzipan (also adapted from Molly’s book!)
1½ cup sesame seeds (I made one batch with white sesame seed and one with black sesame seeds, just for kicks)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract (or whatever you like – vanilla, orange zest even, the options are endless) – omit the almond extract if you’re catering to a nut allergy!
¼ tsp rosewater (optional)
¼ tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp light corn syrup
Blend the sesame seeds in a food processor until they are very finely ground and clump together, but before it turns into seed butter. Add the sugar, extract, rosewater, and salt and pulse until combined. While the food processor is still running drizzle in the corn syrup and blend until it forms a dough. (This means you may not need to use all the corn syrup.) Press the marzipan into a ball or disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap until ready to use. Keep in the fridge.