'Kids Baking Championship': Television Review

Courtesy of Food Network
A little over-produced, but ultimately a sweet treat

Cakes, cookies, tykes and tears

Kids are adorable and cooking competitions are popular, so why not keep combining the two?

Following on the success of Fox’s hit series Masterchef Junior, eight children, ages 10 to 13, compete in the Kids Baking Championship. They’re vying to have a story written about them in the Food Network Magazine, and for $10,000. “We’re going to be thousandaires,” Jackson, age 11, exclaims.

Duff Goldman, star of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, and actress and cookbook author Valerie Bertinelli host the four-episode series. The winner is crowned on February 23. 

In a happy surprise, the young contestants are genuinely nice to each other. They’re not jaded reality show veterans, nor are they practiced in bad-mouthing one another. When someone asks to borrow sugar, the ingredient is happily shared.  It kind of makes you wish all reality shows featured children and everyone was forced to be on their best behavior.

The judges are also benevolent. While their banter is somewhat forced, Goldman and Bertinelli help the kids to problem solve and to not let a mistake prevent them from persevering. “I mess up all the time,” Goldman says. “That’s how we learn,” Bertinelli adds.

When one contestant’s peanut butter rice crispy treats aren’t coming together the way she would like, Goldman encourages her to put them into a different shape. When another laments that she doesn’t have the time to slice and dice raspberries, Goldman tells her to use the best tools at her disposal – her hands.

Goldman and Bertinelli are also pretty great in the final judging. While Goldman throws around the words “amazing” and “fantastic”  too often, both judges offer constructive criticism and don’t sugarcoat it if a baked good is not up to par. A homemade-looking dessert or a crumbling fruit tart will be called out.

As anyone who has spent time in the kitchen knows, baking is a precise endeavor.  A little too much olive oil or pepper in your pork dish can probably be corrected but if your lattice cookies have an abundance of butter, they’ll fall apart. And if you are too heavy on the flour, your cake will be dry and tasteless. That makes it all the more impressive that these eight young bakers are able to recreate recipes from memory.

In the first episode, berry velvet cupcakes, a strawberry mascarpone tart, chocolate espresso cupcakes and raspberry swirl mini-cheesecakes are among the desserts they whip up. I make something from a box and I’m pretty proud of myself.  And while some of the baked goods look delectable, other are literally a hot mess. One contestant burns his cake while another has a pie crust that is about three inches thick.

The kids all have impressive baking backgrounds. I don’t know what exactly I was doing when I was a pre-teen but I know I didn’t have my own cupcake business like 12-year-old Caroline from Delaware, Ohio. Other contestants come across as too mature. Hollis, age 12, discusses how vanilla beans bring out a nice aroma in her frosting.  Cody, age 12, loves peanut butter and jelly because it “reminds me of my childhood.” And Peyton says if he wins the $10,000, he is going to invest it in mutual funds. But some are still delightfully young. Annika, age 11, wants to get a golf cart, a new puppy and a phone if she wins the money. “I really want my own phone,” she whispers in a phrase many parents are probably all too familiar with.

The worst aspects of the show are the same things that plague the majority of reality shows out there. The music is far too melodramatic – no one should get that worked up about baked goods. And the kids, while charming, have obviously been coached a little too much. They exclaim and “oooh and aaah” as if they were being told they didn’t have to do homework for an entire year. They gush over getting the chance to meet Goldman and Bertinelli. And while Bertinelli is an accomplished actress with a long and successful career, it’s hard to imagine that a bunch of tweens know who she is. “Valerie is not only an amazing actress, she is also a great cook and baker,”  Annika says sounding as if she is reading from a script.

The series is a refreshing change from the “everyone’s a winner” philosophy that's so popular among today’s elementary school teams. The first episode sees two contestants get eliminated and left in tears.

This trend of putting kids into popular competition shows is a great idea. Let’s just hope they don’t try it with The Bachelor