Outside of New York, where she’s made a home and a name for herself at Milk Bar, I’m not sure how widely known Christina Tosi is. She’s won a handful of James Beard awards and you can buy boxes of her cookies at Target now, as well as order national delivery of any number of delicious Milk Bar desserts via Goldbelly. You might have heard about Milk Bar’s infamous “Crack Pie,” which was rebranded in 2019 to “Milk Bar Pie” amid criticism that the name made light of the drug epidemic. It is a very good pie. I like pie. And cake. And cookies. Desserts, in general. Watching Bake Squad on Netflix is the kind of enticing homework I can get behind.
Bake Squad is a competition between four chefs known for their various pastry prowess. Handpicked by Tosi for the show, The Squad is Maya-Camille Broussard (Chicago’s Justice of the Pies,) known for her creative flavor combinations; Ashley Holt (Brooklyn’s Sugar Monster Sweets, famous for her cake decorating and sculpting skills; pastry chef Christophe Rull, who makes beautiful sugar work; and Gonzo Jimenez (co-owner of Colorado’s Miette et Chocolat), who is a chocolate specialist. Each episode features one “customer” who needs a spectacular dessert for an upcoming event. The chefs each create a masterpiece and the customer has to chose which one they want.
It’s not very competitive. The chefs are all supportive of each other and help one another out on the challenges. Jimenez, for example, offers plenty of advice and helping hands to the other squad members who decide to dabble in the chocolate arts as part of their creations. Like, when Christophe constructed this life-sized chocolate drum set for a wedding. The cymbal is made of sugar and each drum has another dessert hidden within it that the bride and groom reveal by banging on the set and breaking up the chocolate.
The customers all seem to be normal folks working within budgets for their events. A mom planning a birthday party in the park for two of her kids, a sister helping with wedding plans, a celebration for someone who kicked cancer’s butt, someone planning a baby’s first birthday party. There is no monetary award for the chefs at the end of the season and I wonder if they’re being compensated for their creations beyond bragging rights. And, if so, how much they’re charging for making this sort of magic.
Each tier of this cake has a different theme based on the birthday kids’ favorite foods.
Apparently, the secret to getting the inside to look this cool is to freeze the blobs of the colored cake batter before laying them into the pan to bake.
There is no real drama to be had here. No screaming or yelling. There’s a time limit for each bake, which is my least favorite part of the show. Honestly, they could have achieved the same effect with editing rather than generating a false sense of urgency. Creations like these don’t normally come together in a few hours, something Ashley remarks upon in one of the later episodes. There are personal interviews with the squad members cut into each episode to manufacture competitiveness that doesn’t translate into what we see happening in the kitchen. Really, I would like to watch each of these folks bake and talk about their creative processes without the constraints of episode length and shoehorned narratives.
This is a four-tier, four-flavored bread pudding cake decorated with chocolate shards and sugar detailing around the top.
The levels of creativity on display are mind-boggling and inspiring. They go way beyond the 2D Pikachu cake I made for my kid’s ninth birthday. The mirror glaze on this fairy castle cake is gorgeous. How do you even eat something that pretty?
The weakest link here may be Tosi herself. She acts as a cheerleader and a fixer — obtaining odds and ends to make the projects even more spectacular, like the stands for the chocolate drum set, or sourcing fresh flowers to mix in with the cake pops in this stunning centerpiece.
While the show is an extension of her bakery’s core mission to “spread joy and inspire celebration,” there’s nothing to give us much sense of her talents. She’s here to wear crazy outfits and tell the bakers that they’re running out of time to finish their projects. Christophe Rull, a veteran of a couple of Food Network shows, seems to be having the most fun and best understands the playful showmanship that needs to go into baking on TV. At one point, he makes a grand entrance on a moped to deliver the cakes he made to look like pizzas for a Sweet Sixteen.
In most parts of the world, it’s too hot to consider baking projects, but watching all eight episodes of Bake Squad has gotten me in the mood for lavish desserts and thinking about what I’ll be putting in the oven when the weather cools down.
Header Image Source: YouTube