Sundae Roast
Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: All you need is love

You talkin' to me? Coz I don't see anyone else here: Eliott shares a moment with his sponge cake on MasterChef New Zealand.
You talkin' to me? Coz I don't see anyone else here: Eliott shares a moment with his sponge cake on MasterChef New Zealand.

Kelly nicely summarised what we were all thinking.

"So they're dropping hints about rising and all these sorts of things and I was like oh God."

I'm twisting her words of course. We are evil corporate media after all. She wasn't so much having a dig at the puns as the fact that it was a baking challenge. Although online another contestant kinda had a dig.

It's mildly interesting to have a search around the Internet to see what, if any, presence the contestants have put forward. Some have official "MasterChef Contestant" pages on Facebook. Some are updated regularly and some not in weeks. Hardly any of them seem to be on Twitter.

One of them has a professionally made website already, waiting to harness the publicity power of being an ex-MasterChef contestant.

It was Ella who kinda made that dig when talking about this week's episode, "as the judges will no doubt say - will I rise to the occasion?"

Okay so it's not so much a dig as an acknowledgement of the cheese we've come to know and loathe. Either way it's worth having a search around to see what they're happy to put online, if you're interested.

It's Ray McVinnie who confirms what most contestants seem to have been dreading.

"Tense up, because today you're facing a bake-off."

Knowing smirks and uncomfortable smiles spread about the kitchen. As usual it's Eliott who gives the most physical reaction to the disappointment. It's strange in a way. The person who wears his body language on his sleeve is also the one whose sound bites give so little away. Except for this Best Line contender:

"I've baked one cake and that almost ended up in divorce."

The special guest judge is accomplished baker Natalie Oldfield of Dulcie May Kitchen. Emett says it's won Best Cake Shop in Metro, I really hope it was the most recent evaluation. It's Vanessa who gets the prize for nodding first that yes she knows who she is.

"I knew immediately who it was. I know her shop. I know her book."

It is a sweet story that her recipes come from her grandmother, Dulcie May. It's something that rings true for Dana and we also know that Aaron has taken a lot of influence from his grandmother - like that soup and scone dish.

I don't have any recipes from my grandmother, but I do remember there always seemed to be shortbread biscuits when I visited, and for some reason she kept her lolly jar in the hot water cupboard.

But Oldfield's advice is disappointing. "It has to be: put love into what you're doing, I can't say it enough." Oh yes you can. In fact all series we've repeatedly heard about the secret ingredient you can't buy in shops. Not even Farro Fresh.

I've waxed lyrical before about the use of 'put some love in it' so I won't go on, except to say what a bunch of arse.

The hopefuls all have two hours to complete the perfect sponge cake, recipe supplied, with the edible bells and whistles being left to the contestant's imagination. Dana is going all out. "A ginger and coffee and chocolate and rum layer cake."

The Aaronator is going for layered tropical flavours. Kelly - who has never made a sponge - goes for strawberries, raspberries and vanilla cream. Even Ella is playing it safe. "I'm going to do a Nutella hazelnut chocolate cake." I'm slightly disappointed she's going for a ready made spread but then I see her chopping hazelnuts, is she making Nutella?

Dana strikes a problem we're all familiar with, lumpy batter. What actually causes this? Eggs not beaten enough? Or flour? Earlier when Oldfield wasn't spouting on about love, her useful advice was about sifting the flour as many times as possible. For a moment I screamed (well, spoke) at Dana saying 'pass it through a sieve!'. But I guess that would remove the air too? Oh man, no wonder baking is the downfall of many.

Paula is infusing her sponge with passionfruit powder. It's hard to tell from Josh Emett's reaction if it's a bad idea or not but there is a definite ring of "uh oh" in the air. If ready-made ingredients are so frowned upon, why have them in the pantry? Temptation?

McVinnie and Oldfield almost have to hide the smirks on their faces as David explains his creative vision. Strawberries macerated in balsamic with fresh basil and black pepper. I've seen some crazy shit in my time but this takes the... sorry I mean, sounds very interesting. Why anybody would use balsamic vinegar with anything is beyond me, but perhaps I've just never had the good stuff.

Speaking of crazy shit, next up is Jennis. She plans a spicy sponge with "cinnamon, allspice and ginger, then having fruits and mascarpone cheese done with dates and some cream cheese icing." I'd say that sounds awful but doesn't her brilliance of late always sounds awful to begin with?

Sushil has taken the love advice in a more literal sense, chopping berries into little heart shapes. "It matches to your shirt too," Sushil tells Emett. I'm glad something does.

"Making cake for the first time why not make it for the person I love," says Sushil. I think he's talking about his wife, but him and Josh seem to be getting on well.

At this point Simon Gault pulls Oldfield aside for a little sponge 101. "It should slightly spring back, but it's a fine line and if you overcook it it's going to be dry."

Ella's sponge springs back a little, "I'm happy with that." Eliott however isn't sure what to think.

"I don't know why because I've never made a sponge before but it's sort of risen in the middle and stayed reasonably flat on the sides," he tells us. It's a problem I'm very familiar with and I look forward to someone explaining why that happens but no one ever does.

Sponges start coming out of the ovens so Emett and Gault have a little tête-à-tête. Emett suggests Dana could have solved her lumpy issue by "working it a bit more to get them out of there" but I don't know what that means? More folding? Won't that get the air out too?

Meanwhile Eliott looks like a broken man, slumped over the bench resting his head on his hand and staring at his sponge. He's turned it upside down so the top is flat and now appears to be attempting to decorate the cake with his magic stare.

With 30 minutes left on the clock it's been ages since we've heard Gault say 'rise to the occasion', so Gault says, "rise to the occasion everybody just half an hour to go," before adding, "we want to see a lot of love today." Ugh.

It's full steam ahead for decoration. Dana is struggling to create her "layers". Jennis describes her cake's smell as "earthy". David does his best to convince Emett about his flavours but neither of them look confident. But Emett's had enough of crushing David's spirit so moves on to crush Eliott's.

"It doesn't taste good, it's split it tastes split," he informs. It looks like Eliott doesn't believe Emett, a chef with over a decade's experience, who has worked in Michelin starred restaurants, and who owns a restaurant in Queenstown.

"Yeah, I spose it looks like that too I guess," he replies. But Emett wants the last word.

"Yeah. I mean it looks like what it tastes." Awkward.

Eliott's stopped listening so Emett heads over to Papa Gault to keep at it. "It's split, it taste's split, it IS split, there's no getting round it, no matter what you do with it, it's buggered."

Anyway what's the deal with tasting and feedback? Last week Gault made a point of saying he couldn't tell David what his trotters tasted like but this week Emett's floating about splitting everywhere.

With ten minutes on the clock contestants start bogging up the gaps with icing, and who hasn't done that before, amirite?

However Vanessa is full of a cult-like confidence. "Yeah I'm happy, I think this sponge looks lovely," she says. Gault raises his eyebrows just as we hear a sound effect of a cymbal crashing so I'm guessing he doesn't share her optimism about the un-iced cake.

"So that's going to set in ten minutes?"

"It's not going to set it's not meant to set," Vanessa says before talking over Gault, "my kids would love this cake and I'M REALLY HAPPY with how it's come out."

It's a very odd exchange. "I just don't understand what you're doing," Gault says shaking his head, but Vanessa is still smiling. On the outside anyway. The whole conversation was like watching Hekia Parata read a prepared statement while being methodically dismantled by John Campbell.

"Today I am the chef," she says to Gault, the actual chef.

Meanwhile Emett is still trying to cause a split-storm and this time Sushil is in the eye. The eye of the split-storm. "Are you happy with your meringue? Because it looks split. I'll leave you with that thought," Emett says before wandering off. But in the next shot he's back again and this time he's saying he was only asking the questions and it looked good to him. I feel like a scene is missing.

Ella is first to be judged and it seems she didn't make the Nutella from scratch. Ray points out it was smart thinking to spread the sponge over a few layers to make it seem more moist. Natalie Oldfield is kinda impressed but she's obviously not going to be one of those guest judges who feels the need to be overly complimentary.

I've seen Ella cook way more inventive and successful dishes so I'm surprised she still gets a ringing endorsement, but you know I haven't tasted it.

Ray thinks Paula has the lowest sponge of all but due to the folding rather than the passionfruit powder. Save for the praline topping Oldfield also isn't too impressed. The leaders are struggling.

Earlier McVinnie had admitted he quite liked Eliott's presentation despite it being "an evil cake". I don't really know what he meant by that, but I do know it's the stupidest looking thing I've ever seen. To me it looks like something that's just been surgically removed from a human body but Emett thinks it looks luscious. Perhaps he thinks it matches his shirt too.

McVinnie pushes his glasses up with his finger and he seems to think if you can't say something nice... Emett meanwhile sums it up with "rough as guts" before reminding Eliott that the creams have split. SPLIT I TELLS YA.

An audible "ugh" emits from Oldfield as she delivers "wasn't pleasant to eat at all". I'm warming to her. Gault tells Eliott he's in the dodos, and he shrugs his shoulders in reply.

Sushil's love cake doesn't look too bad up top with some quite appealing texture and colour but side on it's uneven. Emett thinks the berries taste nice but the filling is, wait for it, split. Gault thinks it needs booze and love.

"You might have put some hearts on top mate but it wasn't enough."

I actually get quite nervous as Aaron approaches. I feel like I have an investment in his future. Luckily the topping actually looks quite good, although those flavours aren't my bag.

Then it came. Nine weeks out from the grand final we finally get a negative comment for Aaron. "It's almost... doughy," Oldfield says. The earth moves a little on its axis then the rest of the judges weigh in. McVinnie thinks Aaron could have done Ella's trick of splitting up the dense layers.

"Everything you've given us in this competition has just been amazing and when I first looked at the top of that cake I thought here we go again," said Gault. "It's not here we go again today."

But it's hardly the end of the road for Aaron or even anywhere near it. His comments were not the worst by a long way, he's safe. And philosophical. "I am human, I'm not some cooking monster."

But if I had expected bad-ish news for Aaron, I was pretty confident Jennis was going to do well. "You seem to have a special gift when it comes to thinking out flavours of food and the great thing about it is they seem to work all the time," Gault beams. For Jennis the presentation is pretty clean, simple and sleek too. Even Oldfield is impressed enough to drop the P word.

No one seems very sure about what David delivers, Gault shows a cautious optimism. I actually think the presentation is quite nice, if a little off kilter.

There is a drawn out silence after the judges dig in. Emett looks anywhere but at David. He doesn't want to speak first. Oldfield feels the need to fill the vacuum.

"Um.. no I didn't really like it."

Once again McVinnie shines with some actual constructive feedback for David and the audience to take away. "Not all balsamics are created equal and if you're going to use a balsamic on something like this, I would have used a glaze, or a really expensive balsamic which is more syrupy and sweet."

"I'm cross at you because I think you should be in this competition," Gault says. "And you've given us a cake that should be sending you home."

Kelly gives them a cake which should send her to the final. It's her first time making a sponge cake so naturally she nails it. Her presentation is outstanding. Dusted with a pastel pink that makes it look like the biggest, most decadent macaron you've ever seen.

"Look how high it is, it's definitely the prettiest so far today," Oldfield says. In fact when Kelly took it out of the oven it looked good enough to eat as is. Beautiful rounded edges and a nice even colour all over. The judges are in agreement - it's what they've been waiting for.

Vanessa's Saigon Sponge is a symphony of beige. I can't tell if it looks good or not, but the little silver dots around the edge make it look like it's staring back at me. Not a good start for a sponge cake. Still though, chilli, chocolate and salted caramel all rock my boat.

McVinnie reminds her she is cooking for the MasterChef judges not her children, and perhaps thinking back to the Gault run-in she keeps her answering back almost in check. Oldfield isn't sure what to make of it and the whole thing is starting to feel like a mistake. It has an odd messy quality about it that makes it look like something Jennis would normally make, but Emett leaps to her defense.

"Those Saigon flavours you've got going on - great. There's a hint of that saltiness and chilli and everything coming through and it works great." McVinnie has come around to thinking it works too, "in a bizarre sort of way."

As Dana walks up I get the feeling her time has come, a thought not helped by McVinnie's first serve. "Dana. It looks like hell."

It actually looks a bit like Eliott's fracas but without the crazy infected-nipple colouring. Oh, McVinnie's not finished.

"It looks like you dropped it on the floor then tried to do a quick repair job."

There are too many flavours that don't work together. Dense-Detective Oldfield has a familiar complaint. "It's just sooo dense."

Actually speaking of the judging, how come they tasted in front of the contestants this time?

The ten of them all line up in their black t-shirts, and this week there is easily a good four or five who would feel right to be nervous. "I felt like I was on death row," said Dana. "And they were judging me for whatever crime against baking I did."

I'm sure when you're standing there on an emotional knife edge the thing you look forward to most is the judges telling you what you just did. "Today's challenge was a bake-off," Emett says. Noooooo shit. You know they were there, right? In case they weren't actually there McVinnie fills in the details, "you had two hours to make a ..."

So with the recap to end all recaps over, it's Jennis and Kelly who take Aaron's usual job of stepping out front first.

Ella and Aaron both get a pass too, and I'm thinking this is the best possible thing to happen to Aaron - he now approaches the final weeks with the mental block of "first-fall-fear" behind him. He's the All Blacks after a loss at home, or something.

I don't know how I feel about all this messing with the elimination order. Step out, step back, take your bloody partner by the hand, etc. Why make David join those other three then tell him to step back in line?

Paula and Sushil both get ticks, Dana is told to step back, Eliott puts his hands through his hair. Are you guys just making this up as you go?

"Eliott, Eliott, Eliott," Emett starts. "What can I say?" I've got a couple of ideas if he ever gets stuck again.

"Dana and David somehow managed to cook a worse cake than you today."

"Thanks guys," Eliott says to them. Kinda rude, but also quite funny.

After a dressing down from Gault to both of them it's Emett who delivers the judgement. "Dana, the coffee buttercream saved your MasterChef dream.

Dana seems genuinely floored and back on the couches the other contestants can't believe it either. Hands rush to mouths.

But that it was such a shock should come as a compliment to David, who despite the odd hiccup presented some great dishes.

He said he wants to travel and from what I've seen online it looks like he already is, good on him.

So nine left, I guess it's time to start making some top five predictions huh? Any food or kitchen supply companies want to throw some prizes in? Leave your top five in the comments before next week's episode and I'll check them when we get down to five left - and hopefully we can, um, whip up a prize.

Episode 9

Best line: "I've baked one cake and that almost ended up in divorce." Eliott tries to shift blame again.
Worst line: "Put love into what you're doing, I can't say it enough." Natalie Oldfield.
Current favourites: Aaron, Ella, Paula, Kelly.

Episode 1: Fourteen Grand Up
Episode 2: A Route Of Pleasure
Episode 3: Keep Blowin' Brother
Episode 4: Wake and shake
Episode 5: True Colours
Episode 6: Dropping the ball
Episode 7: Get your ship together
Episode 8: A journey of dumplings

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