I don't know whether I was more surprised to be pronounced the winner of Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Cakes or to realize that my family actually kept the results a secret for almost 4 months. Not one slip-up, and believe me, people tried to get it out of us. My standard response was to say "It was a really great experience" paired with a look that said "It would be in your best interest to move on to a different subject now."
Well, being a part of URS truly was a great experience. Even before the results were announced, and I had already prepared myself to congratulate one of the other ladies, I had decided that I would gladly participate again if I am ever lucky enough to have the chance. Or....say....if I'm lucky enough to be offered my own show (Sigh! A girl can dream, can't she?) Just being able to spend time at the Food Network studios was a prize in itself. Opportunities like being in the same kitchen as real live Food Network star Sunny Anderson and getting a behind-the-scenes perspective of how these shows really work were just icing on the cupcake (Ba-dum-bum! Thank you, I'll be here all night.)
Many people have asked me if it was hard to prepare my recipes in front of the judges and an audience while surrounded by cameras and crew. Well....that's not really how I do things at home, so it was definitely different. The different kitchen and tools took a bit of getting used to, and the lights overhead added some heat (buttercream's nemesis!) I also kept apologizing to the camera guy because I spent what seemed like a lot of time chopping all of those pecans, and his camera looked too heavy to be recording something so repetitive and mundane. Truthfully though, the first round was 4 hours long, so after my initial nerves wore off, I kind of just eased into full baking mode and did my thing. Luckily, I was far enough away from the judges, so that I couldn't hear much of their commentary, although I caught occasional words like "sweet potato" and knew that I was in the hot seat. When I was working on some of the more difficult aspects of the recipe, such as adding the hot syrup for the buttercream or cutting even cake layers, yes, there was added pressure. The generous 4 hours was great though.
When it came time for the speed round however, the pressure was alive and well. Even though I had practiced my recipe over and over again at home within the 45-minute window, I knew that I had to remain focused. I couldn't forget any ingredients, so I needed to be meticulous, but I still needed to get my cupcakes into the oven in less than 10 minutes from the start. The overhead lights were also a concern, as I knew that this might affect the cooling time of the cupcake and, as a result, the stability of the buttercream (thus the refrigeration of the buttercream.) Note to self: Next time I practice something like this at home, I am going to have Eric run around the kitchen making comments and yelling things like "Ladies, you have 10 minutes remaining!!!"
Standing in front of the judges, watching them eat your creations, ponder, take another bite.....this was the most nerve-wracking part, in my opinion. Having Guy Fieri there next to me was really helpful. He was great with the one-liners and comic relief. And how about judge Katherine Alford's "happy dance?" I think that this might just be the next new dance craze. And to think that it all started with a little cupcake...
Although I was obviously thrilled, and shocked, to win, I would have been happy for any of the ladies if they took the title. I mean, I consider myself to be competitive, and winning is great, but the four of us spent quite a bit of time together, so there was a true sense of camaraderie among us by the end. The only semi-bummer is that I found out my recipe will not be on the Friday's menu, which is something that I was looking forward to. That being said, I completely understand that decisions made by a big corporation like Friday's are more complicated than a 45 minute cupcake, and these things sometimes happen. I'm sure that they have a good reason.
In the event that you want to try either of my recipes at home, they are both posted on the Food Network website. I sent some cupcakes into work with Eric yesterday, although it now makes me nervous to have people taste them. I sure hope they think they're worthy of the prize... This is new to me, so it's tough to look on the FN website and see reviews that say that more malt or more sugar is needed or that the cupcakes are "just O.K." Hey-I worked hard on those. I sure wish that I could please everyone with my creations. When I figure out how to do that, I'll let you know. That is definitely worth $25k!
One of the best things about my URS appearance was the number of long-lost friends who found me through my blog. Some just happened to be watching the Food Network and they had a "Hey! I know her!" moment. Others found out from a friend of a friend or from something like Facebook (just joined--I can see how it can become an addiction.) One such friend, Ellen, I hadn't been in contact with for almost 2 years. She was always a big fan of my Pecan Praline Scones, and she said that she had been unsuccessful in looking for a similar recipe on-line. So Ellen, today's recipe is dedicated to you. These buttery, rich, and flaky scones should be a welcome morning treat up there in blustery cold Chicago (don't you miss our 70 degree temps just a little bit???) Enjoy, and it was so great to hear from you! Here are a few extra tips for preparing perfect praline scones:
- Because the praline pieces melt a bit while the scones are baking, some of them may seep around the bottom edges. If this area starts to burn, you can either remove it with a knife or a spoon, or you can tent the scones loosely with foil for the remainder of the baking period.
- The scone dough can be prepared 1 day in advance and refrigerated, tightly wrapped. You can also pre-cut the scone shapes and freeze them. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and bake as directed. Fully baked scones can also be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to one week. Thaw at room temperature and reheat.
- If the scone dough is too dry after adding the buttermilk, then add a few tablespoons more. The dough should be evenly moist, but not overly sticky and wet. Be careful to not overwork the dough. Overworked dough will result in tough, not light and flaky, scones.
- I use a convection oven for baking these scones, which circulates the hot air and speeds up the baking process. Depending on your oven, you might need to add a few minutes to the baking time.
- These are LARGE scones. Feel free to cut them in half to yield 2 dozen.
Southern Pecan Praline Scones
Makes 12 large scones
For the pralines
2 cups light brown sugar
¼ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
For the scones
4 cups flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
10 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ⅓ cups buttermilk, plus more if needed
1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons milk
Prepare the pecan pralines: In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly so the sugar dissolves. Add the chopped pecans to the mixture and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drop the mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets; allow to cool completely. When the pralines have hardened, break into small chunks or roughly chop.
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds positions.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; pulse to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse several times until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the chopped praline pieces. Add the buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and gently knead a few times to bring the dough together. Divide the dough in half and pat it into two rounds, about 1-inch thick. Cut each round into 6 wedges and place the wedges on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash. Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes, rotating positions halfway through the baking process, until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean.