A Cookie Baking Challenge for the Ages

Food Network's Christmas Cookie Challenge, hosted by Alison Sweeney, is a furious but festive battle to determine the best cookie baker in the country.
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©© 2014 Felix Williams

© 2014 Felix Williams

The Christmas Cookie Challenge, hosted by Alison Sweeney, is a furious but festive battle to determine the best cookie baker in the country with the winner taking home $10,000. Five bakers’ holiday delights were judged in three rounds of competition by chef and culinary entrepreneur Sharone Hakman, American Idol-winner and seasoned baker Jordin Sparks and Food Network Star Season 12 finalist Damiano Carrara.

Photo by: EDDY CHEN ©© 2014 Felix Williams

EDDY CHEN, © 2014 Felix Williams

It’s no surprise that the champion was 29-year-old executive pastry chef Brittani Szczecina -- a self-described “Christmas freak.” Her family kept a 10x10 storage unit filled with decorations, and during the holidays they even called each other festive names; her mother is actually named Candy.

In Round 1 the challenge was to create two cookies – one that represented Christmas past and favorite memories and another that would look ahead to Christmas future. Brittani’s Christmas past cookie was a chocolate whoopie cookie filled with peanut butter fudge that harkened back to making fudge with her mom during the holidays. The classic combo of chocolate and peanut butter won over the judges. Her future cookie was a thyme raspberry butter cookie that included dried raspberries because fresh raspberries may not be available in the coming years. While this cookie was not as successful, it fulfilled the challenge and was well made.

Photo by: EDDY CHEN ©© 2014 Felix Williams

EDDY CHEN, © 2014 Felix Williams

In Round 2 the bakers had to create 3D snow globe cookies. Brittani was the only one to create an actual globe out of isomalt, a malleable sugar-substitute used in molecular gastronomy to form thin, glass-like structures. Inside was a Christmas-tree shaped pasta frolla cookie so good that Damiano said it was exactly how a la pasta frolla should be. He joked, “It’s my recipe. Did you steal it from me?” Her beautiful design and buttery cookie helped her skate on to the final round.

Photo by: EDDY CHEN ©© 2014 Felix Williams

EDDY CHEN, © 2014 Felix Williams

In the last challenge the bakers created cookie ornaments to adorn a wooden Christmas tree. Each baker had a different theme for this round. Brittani’s was the 12 Days of Christmas. After humming around the kitchen and drawing a blank on some of the lyrics, Brittani decided to dip into her family history again for a personal twist on the theme. Her 5-spice gingerbread cookies were shaped as a candy cane for her mom, a Christmas sweater with her holiday name, Elf, and an advent calendar. The judges were transported into her family kitchen and her authenticity. In each challenge her cookies stood out for their taste and creativity, helping her take home the $10,000 prize.

Photo by: EDDY CHEN ©© 2014 Felix Williams

EDDY CHEN, © 2014 Felix Williams

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