Bon Appetit’s 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party

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Bon Appetit's Holiday Dessert Bake-Off Party
So when you’re a food writer and the editors of Bon Appetit invite you to an exclusive party for 15 of their favorite bloggers at their Culinary Studios in New York, you go.

(Um, of course, you go!)

And when they add that it’s a bake-off, you go bearing your very favorite dessert.

For me, that meant a whirlwind run from Boston to New York City and back again in a single day, carefully protecting a little cooler full of chocolate caramel tartelettes.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse


(Yep. That’s this tart in miniature form. I’ll post next week about how I made them.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

The event was a blast. The food was amazing. (You can see all the desserts here.) The company was second-to-none. The weather was cold and clear, and New York was positively vibrating with crazy holiday energy.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Thanks to a train break-down (no really, they needed to replace the engine), I got in at 3 am on Friday morning. I think it’s safe to say that I’m still officially pooped.

(Quick, somebody get me a Corpse Reviver and two aspirin!)

Let me back up.

The idea of cooking for people you don’t know can be a little daunting when you’re not a trained chef.

I’ve never done any kind of cooking competition before, much less one judged by the likes of Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild, world-famous pastry chef Francois Payard (who has also been a judge on Iron Chef America), and Fox news anchor Dari Alexander.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

As a professional copywriter, my skin is pretty thick. After all, I’ve made my living doing creative presentations to large groups of people for almost 15 years.

That said, I’ll admit it: I had a bona fide case of nerves on the train down.

So what was the most memorable thing about the Bon Appetit Bake-Off?

It’s a toss up.

Francois Payard telling me that the crust on my tartlettes looked too thick. Or Andrew Knowlton telling me not to fret about it.

Seriously, though, it was the people: All of them.

The Bon Appetit editorial staff was wonderful. (Thanks so much to online editor Emily for organizing the event!) It was a pleasure to meet everyone and such a tremendous honor to be included.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Pastry Chef Francois Payard, Bon Appetit Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild

I also got to meet some the peeps behind some of my favorite blogs. (You know who you are: Megan from Brooklyn Farmhouse, Marc from No Recipes, Olga from Sassy Radish.)

And meet a bunch of new fabulous folks, including Lee from Peanut Butter & Co., Kelsey from the Naptime Chef, Alexandra from Blondie and Brownie, and Kat from AOL food.

Huge congratulations to Marc from No Recipes (below), who won with his Kabocha Pumpkin Cream Cake.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Ah, New York

I forgot just how much I love New York. The lights. The people. The sensory overload waiting around every corner. It’s intoxicating, really.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

My trip also made me realize that no matter how much I love New York, I’ll always love Boston more.

New York has changed so much in the last 20 years. I grew up in southern Connecticut, so I spent a fair amount of time in the city as a teenager.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

And it’s been way too long since I visited last, in early 2001. (I know, I know. Be righteously outraged with me: I live too close to New York to not visit at least three times a year.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

I ran into one of the other party-goers in the lobby of the Conde Nast Building.

“What the hell happened to Times Square? Where are all the hookers and junkies?” I blurted out after we said our hellos.

She burst out laughing. “Oh, Giuliani took care of all that.”

Don’t believe me? Here’s what I mean. (Weird, eh? I mean, nice. Totally nice. Charming, even. But weird, if you know old New York.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Thankfully, the Bon Appetit Bake-Off more than made up for what the neighborhood was lacking in flavor.

Getting to New York

(Because, you know, I have to get a step-by-step into this post somehow.)

More than a few of you said you wished you could come with me. I wish I could have brought a full party from Boston, but since I couldn’t, here’s what went down.

The Angry Chef packed up my tartlettes for me and took me to the train at Boston’s South Station. There was an ungodly amount of traffic for 10 am. (Really, guys, we don’t need such a massive escort!)

Traffic!

And by train, I mean the super-sexy and ultra-sleek Acela, which is so smooth that it almost doesn’t feel like you’re moving. The thing is like a spaceship compared to the commuter rail train I take every day to work.

Here’s my Obligatory Dramatic Train Picture. (Dammit, I forgot my little hat with the feather on it…)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Hmm, Payard was a judge on Iron Chef. What will he think of my tarts?

When you take the train from Boston to New York, you get to see a lot of quintessential New England-y scenes.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

There’s also a lot of this:

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

And some of this:

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

I started to get excited around Stamford, Connecticut. (“Oh no! You have to retake the picture! There’s a man in it!” exclaimed the very nice Asian businessman sitting across from me.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

And I got really excited when we finally hit the outskirts of New York. By that time, my case of nerves was officially gone. Hell, this was going to be fabulous, no matter what happened.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Once we landed, I walked the 8 blocks or so from Penn Station to Times Square.

(There’s the New Year’s Eve Ball.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

After a little hunting (make that a lot of hunting), I managed to find the entrance to the Conde Nast Building.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Around Bryant Park & Times Square

I was early, so I dropped off my tartlettes and trooped off to grab a quick bite to eat.

As a Top Chef fan, I opted to check out one of Tom Colicchio’s new shops, ‘wichcraft, in Bryant Park.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

They had some pre-made stuff in the case, but I was in the mood for a warm meatloaf sandwich.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Here’s the kid tending to my sandwich.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Honestly, I was skeptical about it. Colicchio may be an amazing chef, but there are about a dozen of his stands across Manhattan, and I wondered how that quality would translate.

The meatloaf was a little on the dry side (just a little), but the tangy tomato relish made up for it. The bread was really light, and melted cheddar and bacon added the right amount of smoke and gooey-ness. I would go back, definitely.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

I spent a little time walking around Bryant Park, snapping pictures.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

With super-human restraint, I managed to NOT buy the penguin hat.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

I stopped to watch the ice skaters for a minute or two.

Bon Appetit's Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

And because part of me is still eight-years-old, I couldn’t pass by the fountain without tossing in a penny.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Around quarter of five, I headed back to Bon Appetit’s offices.

Aureole, one of Charlie Palmer’s restaurants, is right next door to the Conde Nast Building, and had some impressive gingerbread houses on display.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

(Love the icicles and the windows!)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Getting ready for the festivities!

Egads, Mouse. It took you long enough! (Hey, Bon Appetit does know that they’ve invited a mouse into their kitchens, right?)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Upstairs at Bon Appetit’s Culinary Studios, they put a kitchen at our disposal to prep and plate our desserts.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Here are my tarts.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Once we plated them, we brought them out into the main room to be photographed.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

There was a lot of this: Food bloggers taking pictures of food bloggers who were taking pictures of food. (Meta-food blogging, anyone?)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

The desserts!

Seriously, I should have worn my fat pants. The desserts were just stunning. Somehow (don’t ask me how), I didn’t get pictures of all of them. Take a peek here.

These were awesome. (Little pies on a stick!)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Out of all the desserts, I think the Buche de Noel was my favorite.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Maybe it’s because I have fond memories of making this for my seventh grade French class (mine did NOT look like this).

Or maybe it’s those adorable meringue mushrooms! (If I had made this, it would have been hard not to tuck a few tiny, bright blue meringue Smurfs underneath.)

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Cocktail hour

We had a few cocktails while we were waiting for all the desserts to come out.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Let the judging begin!

After pictures, they lined our desserts up for judging.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

If anyone finds a clip of the Fox local news segment, please shoot me a link! I’d love to see it.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

They asked each of us to say a little bit about our dessert. There’s Olga, The Sassy Radish, (speaking) and Jennifer from In Jennie’s Kitchen.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

When it was my time to present, Payard told me that my crust looked like it was a little on the thick side for such a small tart.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

I explained that I had cut it down substantially (more on this in a day or two), but would love to see what he thought when he actually tasted it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to speak with him after the event and get his final verdict.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Escape from New York: In and out in under seven hours

(Snake Plissken would have been proud of my timing.)

I had to bolt right around 7 to make my 7:30 train back to Boston. (I mentioned that this was a kamikaze run, right?)

Couldn’t find a cab, so I trotted to Penn Station as fast as my heels would allow, goodie bag in hand, where I eventually made my way home.

I’m skipping the bits with the random guy in an unmarked black car who tried to offer me a ride (Me: “No thanks, mister! I don’t know who you are!”); the guy marching around Penn Station swearing at the top of his lungs; the businessman on the train who was getting tipsy on an impressively mismatched assortment of nips; how my train broke down and needed to have its engine replaced; and the odd flock of Russian cabbies that greeted me like vultures when I got into South Station at 2:30 in the morning.

A girl has to leave some things to the imagination, after all.

Oh, I did, however, meet Penn Station’s sweetest employee. She was on the job, but kindly permitted me to snap her photo.

Woof!

A deluxe goodie bag!

Thanks so much to the good folks at Bon Appetit for the sweet swag!

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Here’s the loot.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Three cookbooks, a box of Payard chocolates, a cookie decorating set (that I can’t wait to try out), a copy of the latest issue of Bon Appetit, and a cookbook masquerading as a daily calendar.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

The Payard chocolates are absolutely beautiful.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

They’re also deliciousโ€”if just a wee bit on the thin side for me.

Bon Appetit's 2009 Holiday Bake-Off Party at The Hungry Mouse

Cheers!

I had a blast! Thanks again to the good folks at Bon Appetit for having me. And thanks also to all our readers, who were so supportive and excited about the whole adventure!

And now, it’s time to get back to my own test kitchen here at The Mouse House. We have a lot of fabulous food planned for the coming months. I’d better get cooking.

Stay tuned!

Oh, this week only, don’t forget to enter to win a Vita-Mix 5200 blender! We’re also giving away our holiday eBook for free all month. Download your copy here.

Happy holidays!

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

27 COMMENTS

  1. What a great post. Loved all the pictures – glad you had a great trip! Can’t wait to see the recipe for your entry. I think it looked fabulous!

  2. Jessie, LOOKS scrumptious! And I realize that Payard fellow is quite the big to-do, but he mustn’t know everything about pastry since his shop closed and all! Can’t wait to see the recipe – they look delicious and sooo beautiful…is that candied orange on top?

  3. Firstly, Jess, you should have bought the penguin hat. Secondly, Andrew Knowlton is hot. Thirdly, your tarts look incredible. And I don’t think the crust is too thick. Personally, I think if you have a sweet and gooey filling like caramel and chocolate, you need a substantial crust to balance that out. But what do I know? I’m not a French pastry chef. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’ll get it next time.

  4. You packed a lot into such a short amount of time! Love the photos – especially the one of you on the train. The tart crusts look perfect to me. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This is such an awesome post! Thanks for sharing such an incredible experience – I would’ve been in such knots among that company of food bloggers and judges. Congratulations on your participation and I look forward to the recipe post!

    • Thanks, hon! It was really nice to meet the peeps behind the blogs and the folks at the magazine. If I can get my act together, I’ll post the tartlette recipe up tomorrow night. ๐Ÿ˜€

      +Jessie

  6. Wow!! Lucky you! Looks like you had the best time! Your tart looks perfect, I don’t care what that bigshot French chef says!! Lol! But seriously, looking at the richness of chocolate AND caramel, it’s necessary! And you put candied orange slices on top!!! I’ve been inspired by you to make them!!

    • Ha! Thanks Avanika. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Seriously, though, I’m bummed that I didn’t get to talk to Payard after he tasted it. The filling can be fairly gooey, and you’re exactly right that that’s why I did the cookie crust that way. I’m insanely curious about what he thought.

      Definitely try the candied orange peel! It’s so easy and positively addictive!

      +Jessie

  7. that is some adventure! Times Square sure has changed over the years. You know I am a new yorker born and raised, I got such a kick out of your hookers and junkie comment. That party looked like a blast! You tarts came out great and they look so yummy too everybody’s baked goods looked awesome.

    You’re so lucky you received such a wonderful goodie bag from Bon Appetit ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hehehe…I knew a few folks would appreciate that. ๐Ÿ˜€

      The party was a ton of fun. Next time, I’ll be in town longer, so we’ll definitely have to get drinks!

      +Jessie

  8. Jessie,

    It’s not because you are my friend but when I checked the link of all desserts I couldn’t find a single one which looks better than yours sweetie! And I bet it tasted so good, too.

    It must be something great to attend an event like that though.

    Congrats in all!
    And can’t wait to see what you gonna share with us for the coming months ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers!
    Banu

  9. what a great post! and I think you should have won… those tarts were amazing (and not too thick at all, iffin you ask me)

    lovely as always sweet lady!

  10. So much fun looking at your pictures– NY for Christmas, and cocktailing with other great food bloggers while scoping the competition. Your tart would be the first thing I would want to taste. Really can’t wait for the recipe!! I most definitely think you should have won! But what an honor to be invited to compete!
    Thank you for sharing!

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