Last season of Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship ended with a controversial mess that not even sprinkles could liven up. Thankfully, Spring Baking Championship season 9 ended on a more upbeat note, though perhaps a surprising one.
Food Network and/or the show’s producers made the disastrous choice to frame season eight around new host Molly Yeh, saying in a press release “Molly Yeh presents the bakers with weekly challenges based on her life on the farm.”
That included typical baking challenges such as, uh, a cookie salad, and left viewers blaming Molly for the dumb challenges, as if she was doing all of the show’s producing.
It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard to have a baking challenge themed to a famous chef’s style, but overlaying that on top of an established brand absolutely did not work. The Baking Championship shows are known for their dumb puns, predictable mid-challenge twists, and bakers trying to wow the judges and us.
Season eight culminated in a finale face-off bake-off, which charged two contestants with highlighting sprinkles, which Molly loves. And that choice led arguably the season’s most talented baker, Romy, to walk away from the competition. Then the win ultimately went to someone whose baking had been less impressive during the season, complete with an underbaked cheesecake.
Since last year, Romy has been hashtagging Instagram posts about the show #idontplaywithsprinkles—though he also posted, “We were 12 all talented bakers, we are now 12 friends… that was just a TV show! We all enjoy it or not! But please respect everyone, it was long filming, tiring, challenging! @mollyyeh is a formidable person, one of a few who shine around you! The judge were adorable, especially @duffgoldman Thank you for all this time together.”
Molly Yeh may be formidable, but did not stay as host of Spring Baking Championship season 9.
For Spring Baking Championship season 9, Molly Yeh was replaced by seasoned Baking Championship host Jesse Palmer, who’d previously hosted season three of the spring edition. (The show has now had five hosts in nine seasons.)
Judges Kardea Brown, Nancy Fuller, and Duff Goldman all returned; Nancy and Duff have judged since its first season in 2015.
In this season’s penultimate episode, Christian Velez won the Mother’s Day themed challenge, and seemed like the front-runner going into the finale, along with Clement Le Deore, who also made it to the finale.
Molly Robertson and Luke Deardurff were the bottom two, and Jesse Palmer told them “you are now on the verge of elimination—but that is not what is going to happen right now.”
They both looked distressed, perhaps recalling last season’s sprinkles nonsense. “There is still a chance for one of you to bake your way back into the finale,” he said.
At the start of the finale, Molly and Luke learned they each had one hour to make 12 donuts themed to a wedding shower.
Luke’s fried donuts failed, so then he baked donuts and decorated them as if they were a vintage 1970 blue tuxedo, like his dad wore. Molly’s donuts had icing that was too thick and didn’t have great flavor.
Both had donuts criticized for being too cake-like, but Luke won the bake-off and made it into the all-dude finale.
That bake-off was the first of three wedding-themed challenges, continuing, as Jesse Palmer said, the theme that is “all about love this season.” I guess that works better than theming the season on anger, like many fans felt last year.
The challenges were less wedding industrial complex than I expected, or at least were not drenched in guilt directed at couples to make sure they spend absurd amounts of money to impress other people.
The pre-heat—which Jesse said would “marry your skills and love for baking in one dessert,” ha!—had them create a proposal-themed cake for “a romantic proposal moment.” They had to hide a ring in their dessert.
“Last-minute Luke” created five bland individual boxes of modeling chocolate. “What happened?” Nancy Fuller asked him. The winner was Clement, who got a small advantage in the final challenge.
The final challenge was baking for three engaged couples: “spring love,” Jesse said. Alas, that spring love only went to white-presenting straight couples, all of whom had blonde women. The were:
- Autumn and Landry, who looked like he was on the set against his will
- Ali and Kieran, who seemed happier but just deferred to Ali
- Angela and David, who were an older white straight couple and thus the most diverse of the three
Apparently the producers couldn’t find a gay couple or a person of color anywhere. At least they included Luke’s relationship and story in the finale, but otherwise it was a very straight affair.
Clement assigned one couple to each baker, and they had five hours to make a wedding cake:
- Christian was assigned to Angela and David, who wanted a boho-style cake
- Clement went to Autumn and Landry, who wanted something Italian
- Luke worked with Ali and Kieran, who wanted the Eiffel Tower represented, because as Ali said, “it was kind of special.” Yep, so special it’s never played any role in any other romance, ever.
Christian worried there was too much sugar in his cakes, but didn’t remake the batter. As the cakes baked, that proved to be a bad idea, so he started over.
He ended up with a tres leches cake with macrame decor with subtle nods to the couple’s story. It was too brown and bland for Nancy Fuller, and Kardea Brown pointed out that the tiers weren’t even.
“It just exceeded expectations,” engaged person David said, and Jesse Palmer told him, “Christian’s been doing that for 10 weeks.”
Clement, meanwhile, struggled with lace, so he remade that. He ended up with a cannoli-flavored cake with lace and cherry blossom decor, complete with branches. It was his first-ever three-tiered cake.
Luke made an olive oil cake with basil syrup, with citrus marmalade and decor—plus a white chocolate Eiffel Tower. Once again, he was “last-minute Luke,” with an undecorated cake with minutes to go. But he pulled it off, even though his cake, too, had some “structural flaws,” as Kardea said.
Duff said he liked Christian’s cake visually the best, but Nancy thought it wasn’t spring-y enough. The judges liked Clement’s rum-soaked cannoli cake, but felt like the lace and cherry blossom decorations were discordant. And they loved Luke’s flavor, and the way “he put them into every single layer in that cake,” Kardea said.
After Jesse Palmer summarized all of this and made me wish I’d just quoted him instead of trying to summarize it during the judging, he announced the $25,000 winner: Luke.
That may qualify as an upset, as Clement and Christian both seemed to be more experienced bakers and Luke was the underdog going into the finale.
Overall, the finale was free of the weirdness of last year, though his come-from-behind win in the finale—Duff even said “he is here by the skin of his teeth; that donut challenge could have gone either way”—may add a little asterisk.
But that is certainly nothing compared to last season, and Luke seems like a charming and talented person.
Is Luke Deardurff’s husband a Spring Baking Championship producer?
Sunday 21st of May 2023
I will not watch anymore of their baking championships. He was the worst baker, and they kept him on! I watched many baking championships show. I am totally disgusted!
Saturday 20th of May 2023
I was so disappointed with the outcome of this season’s finale. Last minute Luke? How did he win after being in the bottom consistently. The producers need to reevaluate the judging and institute some type of point advantages for consistency. Why give butterflies and flowers if they are meaninglessness towards winning?
Thursday 18th of May 2023
Thank goodness we didn’t have any contestants acting like a child and storming off this year.
Tuesday 16th of May 2023
You are spot on about the Molly Yeh hosted season. I did not enjoy it at all even tho she seems like a nice person it didn’t work. Sprinkles ugh I hate them too. Love Jesse the best host glad he’s back. While the final 3 were deserving I wish Molly had made it and was shocked Christian did not win. Seems they base it all on the final but he was so good all season. Duff usually gets it right only one other time I disagreed with the winner. Sad that there’s a rumor about the winner that’s untrue. Next time FN needs to find more diverse couples who truly represent the USA. Still I enjoy the show and look forward to it. I like Kardea as a judge much better than Carla Hall also.
Sunday 14th of May 2023
Season 9 was great up until the finale. Clemont was CLEARLY the winner from the overall competition. Nothing again Christian or Luke personally, but this was such a disappointing ending to Season 9.