MANCHESTER, NH – Local baker Jon Buatti continued his roller-coaster performance in the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship Monday night, landing at the bottom of the Naughty or Nice list after the pre-heat featuring chocolate but making a “monster comeback” in the main heat moving into the second spot with his triple-flavored cheesecake.
In the pre-heat, the seven remaining bakers had to make desserts featuring chocolate with a surprise inside, whether a treat or a flavor.
Buatti had to use blond chocolate, an ingredient with which he had no familiarity. Sampling it, he said it tasted like caramelized white chocolate and he decided to make a blond chocolate mousse encased in a chocolate dome with a cookie inside for the required surprise.
The baking gods were not on his side, however. His mousse didn’t set up in the blast chiller. Acting on the fly, he decided to add melted chocolate to whip cream and top the cookie with it.
“Oh, good lord, good lord. Those are ugly,” said Buatti of Auburn, whose family own’s Bearded Baking Co. on Union Street.
The judges agreed. Nancy Fuller said it wasn’t worthy of a holiday baking champion.
“I keep waiting for that guy to step up,” Judge Duff Goldman said.
And step up Buatti did. The main heat required the bakers to make a cheesecake with three different flavors. The twist was to decorate them to reflect the flavors with two of the decorations baked from scratch.
Buatti chose strawberry, key lime and maple pecan for his flavors with a graham cracker crust. He baked cookies to divide the three sections. The maple pecan section was decorated with a cookie, a strawberry shortcake topped the strawberry section and a lime slice made out of modeling chocolate topped was the final decoration.
“That strawberry cheesecake tasted just like a strawberry shortcake,” Fuller said.
“Monster comeback. Monster,” said Goldman.
Lashonda Sanford of Newport News, Va., took first place for her cheesecake featuring sweet potato, pecan and cherry pie-flavors. Judge Nancy Fuller said there was more “flavor in those three bites than most people’s Thanksgiving dinners.”
Buatti’s second-place finish is his best yet.
Jamaal Nettles of Atlanta, Ga., who had problems in the baking of his sweet potato, raspberry and fig and honey cheesecake, was sent home.
Six bakers remain with the competition continuing next Monday on the Food Network.