elimination challenge: fire!

Ever wanted to light something on fire?  Well… I guess not just something… but your baking?  I have.  I’ve wanted to flambé bananas, apples, sauces over cakes… but I haven’t.  Until last night.  That’s right… last night I lit some apples on fire… and loved every single moment of it!

It’s elimination challenge time!  The Top Chef Just Dessert’s cheftestants were challenged with building a chocolate show piece and lighting something on fire!  I had a moment of panic… would I have to build a chocolate show piece???  I wasn’t the only one wondering, so Kelly (@evilshenanigans) clarified – we could either make a chocolate show piece or we could use fire.  I opted for fire!

Since this was the first time I would set anything alight (that wasn’t a campfire or a s’more), I wanted to make sure that I got it right (and didn’t cause any kind of damage).  First up – text to my mom.  Every Christmas my mother (like her mother before her), presents us with a plum pudding – a cake covered in Grand Marnier and set alight.  Every year all of us greet it with cheers… and then eagerly dig in.  I figured my mother would be able to provide me with some solid advice.  She suggested that I heat the alcohol before pouring it over the cake and lighting it on fire. 

Ok… but how long do I heat it?  How much do I heat?  The only thing clear in my head at this point was… use a long match!  I trust my mother… but I felt that I needed a second opinion.  I texted Charlotte.

me:   to flambé sailor jerry’s – heat it first?

charlotte: if you heat it, it catches on fire

me: I want it to catch on fire. 

charlotte:  Use a long match or something… be careful

Well… since Charlotte basically reinforced what my mother had told me… it was time to get started.

Out came the puff pastry, a couple apples and some cheddar cheese… oh yes… and my bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum.  90% proof… this was going to be FUN.  I decided to make an upside down flambéed apple-cheddar tart… it sounds delish doesn’t it?  It was.  I was even able to watch the episode this challenge was based on, as my puff pastry baked in the oven, while I peeled and cored my apples, and sliced my cheddar cheese.

I think my tart could have competed with Zac’s Chocolate Cake with Fambéed Cherries, Morgan’s Almond Cream with Spiced Cherry Flambé, or Yigit’s Almond Mirliton Flambéed with Bourbon Peaches.  Considering last week’s challenge took me two attempts to get it right (and I made it again on the weekend and it turned out even BETTER), I am pretty darn pleased with myself!  Claps!!!

I only made a couple of tarts – since I was really only making them for this challenge.  I would have brought them into work… but I didn’t think a flambé would have the same effect the following day – not really a travel friendly treat for my colleagues or friends… but it was based on a recipe that serves 8.  I’m going to provide you with the original inspiration recipe – that way you can impress friends, family… heck, even just yourself over and over again, by lighting these babies on fire and eating them!

upside down flambéed apple-cheddar tart


1 x sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator.

4 medium apples – pick your favourite type – but I heart something tart and crisp

4 tbsp salted butter

8 thin slices extra-old white cheddar (about 1/8 inch thick)

4 ounces Sailor Jerry’s rum (or rum of your choosing)

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry – you want to get it to a 12×15-inch rectangle. 

Grab a 3-inch round cookie cutter (or biscuit mold), and cut out 8 disks from the pastry dough. 

Prick each disk all over with a fork. 

Arrange them on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper – and bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples (hint… use an apple corer… I didn’t and I had to use 3 apples for 2 tarts… sigh.  Good thing I like apples!).  Cut off a piece from each end, creating two flat surfaces.  Then cut the apples in half (along the equator) – you end up with 8 slices of apple.  You want them to be the same size as the puff pastry – use your cookie round if needed to trim the apple rings down.

Heat 2 tbsp of butter in an oven-proof skillet, add 4 apple rings to the pan, and cook until the slices are golden-brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the pan, add the remaining butter and apple slices and repeat. 

Once completed, return the first batch of apples to the pan and bake all of them in the oven (keep your oven at 350 F) until tender and slightly caramelized – about 40 minutes (reduce if baking less rings – my 2 only took 20 minutes).

Remove from the oven, add 1 slice of cheese on top of each apple ring, return to the oven and allow the cheese to melt – about 1 minute.  

Top each apple – cheese combo with the puffed pastry disks.  Return to the oven for another minute or so – you want the cheese to be completely melted. 

At this point, grab a good couple of ounces of Sailor Jerry’s (or whatever rum you choose to use), pour it into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat for a few minutes.

Now to have some fun.

Remove the skillet from the oven and flip each disk over – so that the puff pastry is on the bottom and the apple is on the top – the melted cheese happily wedged in between the two. 

Pour the warmed rum over each tart – and light them!  Make sure you use either a long match or a lighter with a long handle. 

It looked so pretty: I wasn’t able to take a picture of the flame though!  Sorry! – I feel a bit like Yigit’s team who didn’t flambé their peaches in front of the judges… a big no-no! 

I can’t wait to make this again… this time for other people.  AND – perhaps for brunch… what about adding some bacon to the mix?  And a poached egg?  Oh yum……


and then… it kinda, sorta worked…

Ok… so we all know that I participated in my little online Top Chef Just Desserts elimination challenge (as hosted by Kelly @ evilshenanigans).  And we all know that I wasn’t pleased with the outcome… actually I was flat-out disappointed that it didn’t work out.  I promised to try again.  And I did.  Yup.  I went home – baked a wedding cake (apple spice and carrot cakes), baked some cupcakes, went to Costco… and then pulled out all my ingredients to re-attempt my bake sale elimination challengesalted caramel.

I decided to do a little research before starting – thank you David Lebovitz and James Peterson for offering some helpful advice.  I realized two things:  I have a candy thermometer – –  I should use it!!!! And, I should also use my largest saucepan – that way the caramel cooks more evenly.  Done & Done!

Out came the brown sugar, the sweetened condensed milk, butter and honey – all were thrown into the large saucepan and out came my whisk.  Over medium-high heat I whisked it as it melted down, thickened and came to a boil.  Time for the candy thermometer – in it went; and while I vigorously whisked for 3 minutes (as opposed to the original 5 minutes), the candy thermometer informed me that I was getting to the soft ball stage.  At just under 245 F, I removed the caramel from the burner, and continued to whisk it for another 2 minutes.  The result was as thick as the day before, just not as dark in colour.  I figure that’s a good thing… since getting it too dark means that I over cook the caramel… so paler is good.

I poured the sweet, gooey sauce into my pre-sprayed and lined 9-inch loaf pan, then allowed it to cool for about 45 minutes. Looking good… right?

Time to melt my chocolate chips.  No issues there.  Once ready… I poured the melted chocolate over the now firm caramel, and finished it off with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and bacon bits.  Yup – you read correctly – – I sprinkled some bacon bits on top of the chocolate (along with the sea salt).  This is going to be some yummy salty / sweet goodness.

See… I was able to cut through it!  I count this version far more successful than my first attempt.

I tried a piece this morning (eating salted caramel at 6:25 am is not the smartest thing…) and was super happy with it… and I still think it would be a pretty popular goodie at a bake sale ;0)

Check out what the others made!

evilshenanigans baked a beautiful bunch of sweet potato cupcakes with brown butter cream cheese frosting

the pêche made a batch of peanut butter crispy bars (very similar to my peanut butter pretzel bars… just different base)

restless chipotle baked up some pretty sweet lookin’ fluffernutter whoopie pies(check out the pictures… you’ll see one very happy face biting into her whoopie pie)

fun as we go‘s offering was some tasty looking raspberry squares I would probably be hanging out in front of her table.  These look good.  Real good.

food. soil. thread baked up zucchini coconut bread

annie’s dish whipped up some fluffernutter brownies – I want one.  now.

flamingo musings pumpkin rocky road brownies look pretty darn sweet (both literally and figuratively)

Which ones would you buy?  Or perhaps bake if you were bringing in some goodies?  Or would you make something completely different?  I’d love to know :0)

top chef just desserts elimination challenge …. challenge!

I’m putting aside my wordless wednesday entries for the next little while… because I’ve decided to participate in an online challenge :0)

As you all well know – I heart Top Chef as well as it’s sister series, Top Chef Just Desserts (are we surprised I’d heart the desserts version of the series?).  So when Kelly @ evilshenanigans decided to start her own version of the show’s elimination challenge, I jumped at the chance to participate.

The basis is this… I get to make at home whatever the theme of the previous weeks elimination challenge is.  From the comfort of my home… no tears, no fits, no drama… just me, my kitchenaid stand mixer, oven and whatever the challenge requires me to do.  AWESOME.

Last week the challenge was all about creating something for a bake sale.  That’s right… I have to bake something that would sell at a high school bake sale.  I hope that I followed the rules… I seem to be having a problem downloading last week’s episode (not having a television or cable might actually affect my participation in this challenge) – therefore… as of today, I still haven’t seen the episode!

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to contribute to the challenge.  I kept thinking squares or bars or brownies or cookies… Cupcakes were definitely out.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks elbow deep in flour and powdered sugar, making dozens of cupcakes and frosting them, first for a birthday celebration, and then for a wedding (although… honestly, if you are making cupcakes for a bake sale – you should check out these babies… they are AWESOME) – no more cupcakes!

Then I remembered that I had an open can of sweetened condensed milk in the fridge (thanks to said cupcakes) and wanted to use that.  I could make some sort of square?  Yeah… that could work.  Or something else… something that is super sweet and salty at the same time.  Maybe I should make those peanut butter and bacon cookies I’ve been dreaming about?  I do have lots of bacon in my fridge… but I didn’t want to make cookies.

And than it hit me.  Salted caramel. Holy heck!  That would be amazing!

1.  It’s a recipe that doesn’t include peanuts – so no allergy alerts.

2.  It’s not a cookie, or a square, or brownies… all things you would expect at a bake sale (at least that’s what I’ve always made).

And 3.  I’ve been meaning to make salted caramel for quite some time.  Perfect.

What you’ll need:

1 loaf pan.   Some brown sugar, condensed milk, honey, butter, chocolate chips and coarse sea salt.  Not bad eh?  I bet you have most of that in your pantry.  And whatever you don’t have – easy to find – even at the corner store.

Let’s get started.

salted caramel (thank you the happy baker chick for the inspiration).


1/2 c. salted butter

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk

2 tbsp honey

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tsp coarse sea salt

Grab your loaf pan and spray it with non-stick spray.  I also lined it with some parchment paper and then sprayed that (I really didn’t want the caramel to stick to the pan).  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, honey and condensed milk.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue to stir it for another 5 minutes.

the ingredients before i dumped them all in a saucepan

just before i cooked everything over medium heat

Remove from heat, and continue to beat for another 2 minutes.

Pour the caramel into your loaf pan.  Set aside and allow it to cool. (I left mine for an hour).

this is when i should have realized that the caramel was overcooked

Once cooled, melt the chocolate.  I melted mine in a double boiler.  Once melted, pour the chocolate over the caramel – spread it around evenly.

Sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the chocolate.

Allow to cool.  Once ready – pull the salted caramel out of the loaf pan (see… using the parchment paper is handy) and cut into small pieces… almost like cutting a loaf of bread.

This recipe is super simple… or so I thought.  Except for one thing… DON’T BURN THE CARAMEL! I did.  Sigh.  And yet… the lead up to the final result looks right.  But I cooked the caramel probably 2 minutes too long… and so now when I go to cut into it, it’s hard… not the chewy deliciousness that I envisioned.  Hard caramel… like the kind you need to suck on… because quite frankly, you’d break your teeth if you tried to bite into it.  BOO.

there you have it… hard salted caramel.  boo.

However… I’m not giving up.  I’m going to try this again tonight.  My goal is to post new pictures tomorrow.  Pictures showing a chewy, lovely, gooey salted caramel… so stay tuned.

As for this challenge… well I think I would have been in the bottom 3 – and quite possibly eliminated if Gail Simmons and Johnny Iuzzini (host and judge of the show) had anything to say about what I made.  Good thing this is just an online thing… and there is no drama, tears or fits… just some fun trying new recipes ;0)

Can’t wait for next weeks challenge.  This is the beginning of a really fun project.  Thank you evilshenanigans for organizing this.  Amazing.