It was a tough nine hours of baking and backstabbing, but Whidbey’s own extraordinary cake maker took home the ultimate prize.
John Auburn of J.W. Desserts in Ken’s Korner Mall in Clinton led his team to victory at TLC channel’s “Ultimate Cake Off,” winning $10,000.
Three teams of four were challenged to create a “Nutcracker” ballet-themed cake that would feed
3,000 people and be artistically worthy of a standing ovation. The cakes would be presented at a gala event for the Long Beach Ballet’s production of the “Nutcracker.”
“I’m a very competitive person. I’m good at what I do,” Auburn said at the beginning of the show. “Everything I put out has to be precise. I don’t intend to lose this competition, because losing is not an option for us.”
Teams were assembled according to color, and Auburn’s team was green.
With the teams competing within an excruciatingly tight time constraint under the glare of the cameras, the green team had a setback halfway through the day when it was chosen by the yellow team leader to sit out for 30 minutes, having lost the ribbon-making skill test. But Auburn came back and avenged himself later by winning the taste test for his chocolate espresso-bean cake and forced a half-hour break on the blue team.
Continuous mishaps were experienced by all the teams throughout the day, including the green team’s struggle to complete the Nutcracker prince figurine that would sit alongside Clara atop a huge sleigh being pulled off the ground by a wing-flapping edible sculpture of Pegasus, the mythological flying horse.
“I was really stressed out not having the prince in there properly and it’s almost the end of the competition,” Auburn said with an hour left to go.
It appeared that the tension in the kitchen was as thick as cream cheese frosting, and that the group leaders were showing signs of stress.
But Auburn said in an interview the following week that, most of the time, all of the team’s members were laughing together and having a great time. It is the nature of reality TV producers, he said, to edit the takes for confrontation rather than camaraderie.
“They hardly showed me smiling at all,” Auburn said.
As the “Ultimate Cake Off” came to the end of the episode, cake makers are shown scrambling to finish.
“The last few minutes I was extremely worried,” Auburn said, and he prodded his team to give it all they had.
“All I can say is details, details, details,” he told them.
All three teams were dealing with cake-trimming accidents and unexpected surprises until the very end, when “Ultimate Cake Off” host George Duran informed the competitors that their time was up.
But each team managed to finish on time and present their cakes to the judges.
The blue team’s cake was a six-foot-tall Christmas tree under which several elaborately decorated smaller cakes in the shape of presents sat surrounded by a motorized toy train set. It weighed 800 pounds.
The yellow team’s cake stood at five feet and weighed 400 pounds. It, too, featured a Christmas tree, but this one was made of translucent poured sugar which sat on top of three levels of colorfully decorated packages lined with delicately detailed edible figurines, characters from the ballet.
Auburn’s green team created the magnificent horse and sleigh that reached nine feet and weighed 500 pounds.
To create such a sweet storytelling concoction, his cake required 135 eggs, 32.5 pounds of sugar and 15 pounds of butter.
“We brought our vision to life,” Auburn said before hearing comments from the judges.
The client said his cake nailed the key element of the Long Beach Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” the final scene with the flying horse, for which the production is known. That fact seemed to put Auburn over the top.
Customarily, the leader receives the prize money and the team assistants go away with nothing. But Auburn gave each of his three assistants a portion of the money.
“I do it because they had to close their businesses or take time off from work to be in this competition,” he said.
“They spent a lot of time and energy and brought lots of ideas. I feel that they have to be compensated.”
To see more of what ultimate cake maker Auburn does, click here.