When Nailed It! first came out, I couldn’t stop cackling at how the contestants’ desserts turned out. “That cupcake looks nothing like the original!” “That cake is completely falling apart!” “That cookie is a total mess!”
Nailed It! Holiday!, a series of special holiday episodes which takes the amateur baking competition to a festive new level, was no exception. I was hysterical over the attempts at upside-down Santa cakes, wintry animal doughnuts, turkey cakes with trimmings, and more that the contestants presented to host Nicole Byer, head judge Jacques Torres, and the rotating guest judge.
It didn’t take long before I decided to put my time and energy where my criticisms were to see if I could successfully recreate episode 5’s (“Toying Around”) toy robot cake, which Byer described on the show as a Christmas toy “made from four layers of sweet red velvet cake, wrapped in metallic fondant with fondant buttons and knobs. His head and legs are sculpted from Rice Krispie treats and his little robot feet are made of cake.”
Sounds difficult, but manageable enough, right? I kept telling myself that, BUT JUST LOOK AT THE ROBOT CAKE UP TOP! WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!
Now, before we get into the “Who baked it better?!” of it all, it should be known that Netflix provided me with the toy robot cake recipe, which allowed 90 minutes to work on the challenge. (Contestants on the episode had 75 minutes.) And a challenge, it DEFINITELY was.
Sure, there were some perks to working on Mr. Robot (whom I affectionately named Robert) alone — the biggest perk being that I had little to no distractions, or a “Nicole Nags” button to contend with. That said, I’d 100 percent take distractions over the lack of resources I had at my disposal. Like, if I couldn’t find it at my local Ralphs, it wasn’t going in my cake (looking at you metallic fondant!).
Not only that, but the recipe instructed me to use cake mix, so I opted for Betty Crocker vanilla because there was no red velvet to be found — and ended up combining Betty’s and Netflix’s recipes. As you’ll see in just a moment, I’m no expert, but if there’s one thing I know about baking, it’s that precision is the name of the game, which is to say mixing recipes was definitely not my best idea.
Luckily, my competition isn’t exactly pro…
“It looks like a robot that maybe fell into a trash compactor a little bit, or perhaps some type of old-timey cash register,” guest judge Ron Funches said of Alicia Figliuolo’s cake. “It’s not pretty, but I’m just really proud of it,” the marine corps veteran responded, having only recently gained her ability to cook and bake again after a brain injury. (I’m proud of her too!) As for the taste, Torres would’ve liked more layers, but called it “good.”
Joseph Cogshell’s presentation was a little lackluster too. “Your cake also got a little too close to the sun, a little melty,” Byer cracked. And while the cake by Joe — a sales manufacturing manager with stage 4 chronic kidney disease, who wants to have fun baking — was so rock-hard it literally made a noise when Torres hit it against a table, the pastry chef said “it’s dry, but it doesn’t taste bad.” And hey, look at that one glowing eye! Good for you, Joe!
Elementary teacher Jill Briganti, meanwhile, did a little bit better all around. “It’s very square, so that’s not easy to do,” Torres explained, “but you spent so much time making the cake square that you forgot about all of the detail.” Still, her cake was tasty AF, and well put together. “The cake’s beautiful, frosting looks beautiful to me, job well done,” Funches said. It’s no surprise, then, that she won the whole thing.
But how did Jill fare against (Honorary) Contestant 4, a.k.a. me?! Well, I’ve baked in the past — a lot actually, and often successfully. But there’s something about tiered cakes that continue to elude me, and I can now add Robert the Robot to my #bakingfails list…
(HONORARY) CONTESTANT 4:
“He’s not upright at all,” my very brave roommate said of my robot that looks less like a robot and more like a friendly (perhaps too friendly?) marshmallow. BUT, she added, “he’s really cute.” During the taste test, she called Robert “delicious, so moist,” but on second thought… “maybe too moist even?” We both agreed it was basically a frosting cake. So, yep, nailed it!
Now, where did I go wrong? (More like, where DIDN’T I go wrong?) My theory is that the major disaster struck when I combined two recipes, causing my cakes to take longer to bake, giving them basically no time to cool (even if I did have extra time) so I wasn’t able to add any layers; when I attempted to, the frosting melted and literally pulled the second layer apart.
Not only that, but I have zero experience with fondant, so I gave up on that and overcompensated with buttercream frosting. And because the cake was still warm, it sort of absorbed that frosting, causing it to be more frosting than cake. Oh, and I completely forgot about using Rice Krispies to make the head and legs. *FACEPALM*
All that said, I will still continue to poke fun at the terrifying baked goods to grace Nailed It! (that’s part of the fun of it, right?). I’ll just do so knowing that I’m not necessarily any better — at least where tiered cakes are concerned (sorry Robert, you deserved better!).
Talk about eating humble pie…