In the words of the great Mike Shannon, “the worm has turned.”
After winning an episode of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” in 2011, and losing in 2012, Jilly’s Cupcakes chefs Casey Shiller and Dana Holland emerged victorious from a three-round trial-by-fire in their third episode of “Cupcake Wars,” which premiered last night. Way to represent, guys!
At stake was the chance to serve their cupcakes to the celebrity chefs bobbing about the Food Network’s South Beach Food & Wine Festival; $10,000; a whole lotta glory; and what would surely be beaucoup bucks at the bakery that wins, once the chefs returned home to reap the benefits of the national spotlight.
The show’s host, by the way, is Justin “Justin Kredible” Willman, a magician and St. Louis native.
In the first round, Shiller and competition were greeted with a table of Miami foods suggested to inspire the bakers, all former victors on Cupcake Wars, now in its eighth season: coconut shrimp, empanadas, key lime pie, and a pressed Cuban ham sandwich. The savory items gave everyone pause. The idea of a melding of a cupcake and a ham sandwich was daunting, to say the least. Most of the bakers, including Shiller, did not “go savory.”
One who did was Lori Levenson of Sugar Mommy Cupcakes of Denville, NJ. Her cupcakes dared to incorporate chunks of shrimp, and the judges were decidedly underwhelmed. She would not survive the first round.
Shiller and Holland’s “Cuban Coffee” cupcake took its inspiration from a relatively safe cue, and featured coffee-chip cake filled with toffee-flavored dulce de leche, topped with espresso-swirl buttercream, and “Café con Leche crunch.” The piece de resistance was pure Shiller: a tiny plastic pipette filled with sweet Cuban coffee syrup the judges could squeeze onto the cupcake to control the sweetness level. It was clever.
The second-round action was intense. Jessica Ward of LA’s Sweet Mess Cakery sported a vampy look, and it cost her. She tripped on her heels and sent a tray of unbaked, still-wet cupcake bases shlorping all over the floor. She had to start that little project over again, and after the commercial break, Ward and company went home.
The judges had nothing but glowing things to say about Shiller and Holland’s inventive treats. Their “Cruising Down Collins” was coconut cake soaked with dark rum syrup, filled with brown sugar-roasted pineapple, and topped with tangelo/cream-cheese icing, toasted coconut, an orange segment, and an edible Collins Ave. (the main drag in South Beach) street sign. Their “Miami Spice” was passion fruit cake soaked with Miami vodka syrup, filled with raspberry jam, and topped with mango whipped cream, ghost chili salt (!), a passion fruit “popper,” and a white-chocolate sail. Finally, their “SOBE Wine Fest” was chocolate-cabernet cake filled with Amarena cherries, topped with a Zinfandel/chocolate ganache, and piped grapes on a vine made from cabernet buttercream.
Candace “Sprinkles” Nelson, who insulted Shiller in 2012 by calling his cupcakes “self-indulgent” before booting him off the episode, did an apparent about-face after the second round. She complimented Shiller’s “ambitious” creations. Where is the line between “ambitious” and “self-indulgent”? We have no idea; we’re just happy that Shiller somehow managed to flatter this fickle diva of cupcakes with his dessert wizardry.
And then there were two: Shiller and of Carla Hesseltine of Just Cupcakes of Virginia Beach, Va. advanced to the third and final round. The challenge was no biggie – all each team of bakers had to do was churn out 1,000 cupcakes in two hours. (Gulp.) Fans of the show know that the teams that make the finals each receive four additional assistants to help in the kitchen along with a carpenter to fabricate an elaborate stand to display the cupcakes at the climactic party.
Shiller, Holland, and assistants made the three cupcakes from the second round again, this time tweaking the recipe of the Zinfandel/chocolate ganache to make it more buttery, at the behest of show judge Florian Bellanger. Their display unit was a multi-tiered shelf (below) with a lighted base and facsimiles of the art deco buildings of South Beach on its top.
Finally, the big decision: It was Jilly’s. Unbelievable. Shiller and Holland had done it again.
The show cut to footage of Shiller and his cupcakes at the South Beach Festival. The baker joked around with Andrew Zimmern, and received kind words from Bobby Flay.
At last night’s viewing party at Jilly’s University City location, among endless trays of ceviche, lump crab salad, and watermelon shrimp and Frenched lamp chops (above), Shiller revealed the cupcake maker’s next big move, too: four flavors of locally-made ice cream (sampled by all in mini cones, left) that incorporate crumbled bits of Jilly’s cupcakes.
Pints of all flavors will be available soon at the Jilly’s location on Delmar.
“Cuban Coffee,” inspired by the “Cupcake Wars” challenge, is Cuban coffee ice cream with Jilly’s coffee chip-cake morsels, dark chocolate shavings, swirls of espresso buttercream, and toffee dulce de leche.
“Space Monkey” is chocolate-banana ice cream with Jilly’s banana-toffee cake morsels, toffee bits, and swirls of caramel-and-cream cheese icing.
“Island in the Sun” is fresh mango ice cream with Jilly’s pineapple cake morsels, brown sugar-roasted pineapple, white-chocolate shavings, and swirls of mango buttercream.
“24 Karat Cake” is carrot-cake-and-cream-cheese ice cream, with morsels of Jilly’s carrot cake, swirls of cream-cheese icing, toasted coconut, sugar-roasted walnuts, white-chocolate shavings, and 24-karat gold dust.
Jilly’s is in negotiations to make the ice cream available at local groceries, too.
Also available starting today, the four flavors of cupcake that Jilly’s created for yesterday’s “Cupcake Wars,” as four-packs of mini-sized cupcakes (below) or individually as jumbo-sized cupcakes. The “Cruising Down Collins” is just stellar, and the “SOBE Wine Fest,” with its ganache topping, is rich like a Sinquefeld.