MANCHESTER, NH – Local baker Jon Buatti, vying for $25,000 in Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, is entering the fifth week among the top three of the remaining seven contestants after weeks of baking quick breads, pies, cakes and tarts, all with tasty flavors and a decorator’s flair.
It’s still anyone’s game.
Buatti, whose family owns the Bearded Baking Co. on Union Street, did not have an auspicious start in the competition. In the very first contest, a pre-heat requiring bakers to make a holiday wreath out of quick breads, the 27-year-old Auburn native tied for dead last.
Buatti’s downfall was that his citrus ginger quick bread, shaped into a wreath with a winter wonderland theme featuring snowmen and snowflake cookies, had too much whiskey in the buttercream for Judges Carla Hall and Duff Goldman. However, Judge Nancy Fuller, who has a fondness for boozy desserts, found the whiskey to her liking. “It’s perfect,” she said.
He redeemed himself in the main heat where bakers had to bake a cake resembling a winter hat. Buatti chose to make a vanilla spice cake with a whiskey cinnamon buttercream filling and cream cheese buttercream.
“You were in the bottom and this is a really nice comeback,” said Goldman, Buatti’s idol, after tasting the cake. That put him in third place, tallied on a “Naughty or Nice” board.
In the second week, however, Buatti was back on the bottom again. In the pre-heat he placed sixth for his roasted hazelnut small cakes with hazelnut ganache and buttercream. His downfall, however, was his fruit tart that needed to incorporate holiday spice. He was criticized for using fruit more associated with the summer rather than winter. Still, he survived.
Pies were featured in week three. Buatti, in the last spot, had to feature peanut butter in his pie. He put chocolate ganache on the pie crust topped with a peanut butter mousse and peanut butter sugar cookies, with “Joy” or “Peace” written on top.
The judges said the crust was bland and Fuller thought the crust was “crackery.”
In the main event, Buatti made a cranberry cream pie with an almond pie crust and pastry cream blended with a cranberry compote. For a twist, he had to use egg nog somewhere in his pie. He opted to add it to the whipped cream. He decorated the pie with slivered almonds in the shape of a Christmas tree.
“The crust is to die for,” Fuller said. Goldman thought the flavors built but then dropped off. “It just doesn’t linger,” he said.
Buatti placed fifth.
The following week, Buatti continued his slow upward climb. In the pre-heat, the bakers had 90 minutes to turn a common breakfast item into a Thanksgiving morning dessert. Buatti turned a scone into a pecan walnut tartlet with a spiced rum-apple filling, and then topped it with a leaf-shaped scone. His whipped cream never made it to the plate.
“All that was needed to make it better was the cream,” Goldman said.
He ended the pre-heat in fifth place.
The main heat consisted of two bakers going head-to-head, taking an ingredient from a Friendsgiving potluck dish and making it the inspiration for a dessert. Buatti, with Lashonda his opponent, had to make carrots the star of his dessert.
Both opted to make a carrot cake. Lashonda added pineapple to hers and topped it with a fondant carrot, while Buatti’s carrot cake featured coconut with fondant autumn leaves providing the decoration.
“I make a really good carrot cake,” judge Duff Goldman told Lashonda. “This cake is better than mine.”
“Wow,” Buatti mouthed. “How am I going to top this?” he wondered.
But top it he did.
“Your cake is beautiful,” Goldman told him. As proof, his cake is featured on the network’s website for that week’s episode.
“Wow, this is really a good cake,” Fuller said. “They’re equally as good,” said Hall.
But it was Buatti who won the battle and, heading into the fifth week of the competition, Buatti now has inched up to third.
The competition continues Monday Nov. 30 on the Food Network with the seven remaining contestants.