20 March 2012

signature cupcakes montage

06 March 2012

Cupcake Wars, Season 4, Episode "Year of the Cupcake"

Cupcake Wars, Season 4, "Year of the Cupcake"

 Have I ever heard of Cupcake Wars?  Not only have I heard of the show, but I've lived and breathed Cupcake Wars for the last 14 months of my life.  Batter was featured on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars, Season 4, "Year of the Cupcake!"

Living in Vail, Colorado, high in the Rocky Mountains (8,150 feet in the air), there are certain things that can only be addressed in Denver, like getting your car serviced.  On one fateful day in June of 2010, I was at the car dealership when I got the call.  The voicemail went something like this, “Hi Liz, this is so-and-so from Simply Delicious, and I’m calling you about Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.  Please call me back asap.”  After 3 different video submissions, and 14 months of waiting, I finally got the call I never knew I was waiting for all my life.  They had picked me for the show.
Less than 10 days later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles with my loyal assistant in tow, Cassie Harrelson of Carbondale, Colorado.

There were so many things running through my head about the impending battle...how would my hair look...did I chose the right wardrobe...and maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that 3rd piece of pizza.  Then, I had to push aside my ego and start thinking about the nitty gritty.  What were the scary ingredients going to be - in every episode, everyone has to bake with ridiculous ingredients in the first round.

When it was revealed that I had to use at least 3 Chinese-inspired ingredients for the Chinese New Year theme, I couldn’t believe my luck.  I’m thinking, “This is probably the most far-flung challenge that I have heard of, and also way out of my comfort zone.”  I’ve eaten Chinese food all my life, but never known what really goes into those dishes. 

I first thought of making a spiced vanilla cake with ginger and star anise, and maybe throwing some lychee in there.  But I didn’t want to play it safe.  During my Cupcake Wars episode research, I had found that lots of bakers went home too early for playing it safe.  I thought about an Asian slaw noodle cupcake, but then I decided that was way too far off the grid to even take the idea seriously.  After quickly deciding to go a different route, I ended up with a chocolate tofu lychee cupcake topped with ginger cream cheese frosting.  You can visit Vail's local newspaper, the vaildaily.com to see the recipe:

Being eliminated after Round 1 was disappointing because I didn’t get to show the judges and the world what I am capable of doing.  I’m happy though, to have taken a risk, and left the show with no regrets.
I am thrilled to have been chosen among thousands of applicants, and I am proud how I represented my brand and my home state of Colorado.  Even though baking at altitude is difficult for most, I’ve managed to find the right balance with nostalgic influences using elevated ingredients.  While on Cupcake Wars, I got to experience baking at sea level once again, and am reminded that not everything is as easy as it looks on TV.  Now I’m just waiting for that 2nd call - the redemption show.

Below is my photo documentary of the experience, beginning to end!

I had to send an approval shot of my wardrobe to CCW!  I was allowed to send a photo wearing any purple tshirt since the ones I ordered online had not arrived yet.
The new purple tshirts had arrived! The only tshirts I have had in stock for the past couple of years are white, and I was told we weren't allowed to wear white, red or any kind of patterns since those styles don't translate on TV.  After ordering 50 black tshirts to fill the minimum order, I got the call from CCW saying we couldn't wear black.  But, I said, "I already ordered them, CCW!"  They said, "I'm sorry, Batter."  Well, good thing customink.com is a great company and I was able to call the factory and halt production of 50 custom black tshirts.  I was able to switch the color to purple because they wanted us to look colorful and fun.  Looking at my competitors now, I can now see why wardrobe was so important - typecasting!

Before arriving to LA, CCW came to my commercial kitchen in Minturn, which I fondly call the cupcake factory.  That day, I had a couple originally from Charlotte (my hometown too!) picking up their order of red velvet cupcakes so they graced the Food Network too!  Thanks Vicki & Jim!
looking a little bit shell-shocked about heading to Los Angeles for the battle!
where all the magic happens!
Minturn thumbs up!
frosting the chocolate cupcakes in the Minturn kitchen
my blue ribbon made the cut!  it's for my red velvet cupcakes!  get some!
little did we know that they were going to use "bloopers"...this is me doing crab hands with my oven mitts
slicing and dicing mini pb cups for the cupcake garnish in Minturn
Cassie and I chatting about our impending trip to Hollywood
clowning it up
Cassie's now infamous fish face.  In her mind, she'll never live that one down.  I think it's cute!
observing our hard work
beauty shot!
my beautiful mountain cupcake factory
loading up the car on cold, snowy day in Minturn
trying not to fall off the icy curb while balancing a 20lb. bucket of supplies
I gave my dear Jetta a bath before her national TV debut
Cassie loading her 20lb. bucket of supplies
the now infamous soccer foot kick!  they wanted us to do something cute and fun as our exit move before driving away and a high-five wasn't good enough.  I guess the soccer kick will have to do.
jetta is packed up!
look how shiny the Jetta is!  she never looks that good shuttling cupcakes around Vail's mountain roads!
see ya later Minturn, here we come Hollywood!

leaving Vail for DIA!
Cassie anxiously awaiting the departure
we'll come back changed forever
yeaaaah batter!
making sure the flight is on time!
see you in a few days, Vail!
When we arrived in the City of Angels we were whisked away from LAX by APs, or assistant producers, as they call themselves.  On the way to our extended stay hotel, we saw this California sunset.  Cassie and I both agreed that it was a good sign!
Once we arrived to the studio the morning of the shoot, we were led to our own private dressing room with our names on the plaques outside the door!  They misspelled Cassie's last name, but at least they got it right on TV!
We even had a place to hang our extra aprons, and most importantly, a full length mirror!
getting ready to go on! it was about 6am when this photo was taken...
documenting this historic moment for myself & batter cupcakes!
let the battle begin!! these faces are our intimidation faces
their intimidation faces were much more convincing
waiting for Justin to tell us about our ensuing war
Chinese New Year?!?
red bean paste was a choice from "the inspiration table"
You can tell I'm thrilled about the cupcake theme
star anise was a choice from the "inspiration table"
rushing the "inspiration table."  of course I'm ahead of all the others, I was a high school track star
telling Cassie that we're going to make a chocolate tofu cupcake with sesame oil, lychee & ginger
Here I'm starting on the tofu cupcake batter and Cassie is starting on the walnut-stuffed, chocolate-dipped lychee garnish
Cassie drained the lychee fruit from its own juices, patted dry, and then stuffed each one with a walnut.  She then melted Scharffen Berger semi-sweet chocolate, and dipped each lychee by hand.  She then rushed them to the freezer so the chocolate would set with plenty of time left.
Cassie rockin' out on the walnut-stuffed chocolate-dipped lychee garnish!
I'm adding tofu to the dry mix.  The editing made the tofu seems much more jiggly and way "grosser" than it really was...
actually using my cute apron for hand-drying
the 30-minute warning
Cassie's telling me to get those cupcakes into the oven, quick!
really awesome hair flip after putting cupcakes in oven
Cassie rushing the chocolate lychee garnishes to the freezer
here I'm checking the tops of the cupcakes to see if they bounce back
those cupcakes, made by these hands, are on the Food Network!!
stress moment about time limit
are they going to come out undercooked?
crazy cupcake lady face, with little time left, headed to commercial break
back from commercial, I pull the cupcakes with little time left on the clock
I was shaking so badly from nerves, it probably took me at least 5 minutes just to pull them out of the oven.  Well, maybe more like 10 seconds, but normally it only takes like 2 seconds.  I didn't want to drop the tray!!
I am coring the centers of the cupcakes to add the lychee compote that Cassie was working on.  As soon as I see steam come out of the centers of the cupcakes, I start to get real nervous.  I've never made this recipe before!
adding finishing touches to the cupcakes
frosting the cupcakes with pure ginger cream cheese frosting - yum!
adding Cassie's chocolate-lychee garnish to the tofu cupcakes.  notice the awesome black metallic wrappers!
Cassie jumps for joy that we're finished AND they look great!  The frosting isn't melting off the cupcake and the garnish isn't too heavy.  Even though it wasn't a presentation round, and only taste, we wanted them to look perfect!
what just happened!?!  we're done!
we are told to approach the judge's table
my cupcake was judged 1st out of all 4 bakers! it took about 10 minutes of real time for the judges to gather their thoughts on my cupcake.  I bet they had never had a tofu based cupcake before!  The tofu was a substitute for oil, eggs & butter so it was light, moist & delicious!  They chose to use words like "confused" and "gummy."  That's alright because I left with no regrets! 
Cassie and I had to have an LA celebration meal for being so proud of ourselves!  We took a cab to Manhattan Beach for champagne, truffle fries, chicken wings, and a cheese platter!  No more National TV diet for us!
After our decadent meal, we went for a walk on the beach and then proceeded to fall asleep on the sand with the ocean waves crashing.  We woke up to the Pacific at our toes, and decided to move on, head back to the hotel & prepare for our journey back to our beautiful homes of Vail and Aspen, Colorado.  Until next time Food Network...