Holiday Baking Championship premiere: Cocktails and candy canes


Are you ready for the holidays? Food Network is holiday central with the Holiday Baking Championship premiere. The holidays are looking sweeter.

As nine talented bakers enter the kitchen, the dream of becoming Holiday Baking Champion is their goal. Like last year’s winner, Jason Smith, big opportunities could be in store for these bakers. But first, the bakers had to survive the Holiday Baking Championship premiere episode. Would these desserts be sweet treats or epic disasters?

Each episode of Holiday Baking Championship is broken into two parts. The pre-heat challenge and the main heat challenge. Winning the pre-heat gives one baker an advantage in the main heat. The losing baker in the main heat is sent home. Just remember, winning the pre-heat isn’t a guarantee that a baker will continue on in the competition.

Holiday Baking Championship premiere, photo from Food Network

The pre-heat challenge on the Holiday Baking Championship premiere was all about candy canes. These candy canes weren’t the classic peppermint variety that Santa enjoys. The bakers had to incorporate a non-traditional candy cane flavor into a dessert. While the candy cane shape was reminiscent of the holidays, the flavors were far from the holiday spirit.

Truthfully, the key to success in the pre-heat was the candy flavor. If you had a bad flavor, like blueberry, your dessert was going to be more difficult. Did you know that blueberry candy canes turn green when you melt them? One baker found out that difficult lesson.

Overall, the bakers did a decent job incorporating the candy cane ingredient. There were a few stumbles, but flavor won over the judges. Aveed’s dessert wasn’t visually appealing, but her orange scone was quite tasty. Even though it wasn’t pretty, Aveed won the pre-heat. As the youngest competitor (only 20 years old), the first win was a big accomplishment for her.

Holiday Baking Championship premiere, photo from Food Network

Other top desserts included a raspberry mousse. The combination of basil with the raspberries was a smart choice and the dessert had a holiday feel. The sour cherry cupcake had great cherry cordial flavor but looked like Valentine’s Day. The hot cocoa chocolate cake was a big hit on flavor and presentation.

Since the bad desserts are often the most fun to talk about, Aristo’s blueberry dessert was a disaster. His sponge cake was inedible (his egg whites fell). Plus, he fell victim to the dreaded color changing melted candy cane. No one wants a green melted blob on the plate.

A few other bakers stumbled, too. One bread pudding was dry. The pineapple upside down cake dry, as well. Still, the first challenge wasn’t a complete disaster.

The main heat focuses a favorite holiday tradition, holiday cocktails. Each baker had to incorporate the flavors of a classic holiday cocktail into their dessert. Depending on the baker’s holiday cocktail, the challenge could be easy or hard. Some flavors and spices are holiday classics and others are not.

Holiday cocktails, like a mulled wine or a hot toddy, should lend themselves to a delicious holiday dessert. Warm spices are comforting against the traditional chilly holiday weather. But, not everyone brought a warm glow to the main heat challenge.

In addition to creating a holiday cocktail dessert, the bakers had to incorporate a mid-challenge twist. Each dessert had to incorporate peanuts. Aveed’s advantage was that she had shelled peanuts, while the other bakers had to shell their peanuts.

Holiday Baking Championship premiere, photo from Food Network

Several bakers made picture perfect holiday cocktail inspired desserts. One of the hardest holiday cocktails was the champagne cocktail. Joshua made an exceptional holiday dessert. While his dessert was visually stunning, the dessert’s flavor was even more impressive. The champagne flavor was clear. The judges commented that they could feel the champagne bubble pop.

Other top desserts included the mulled wine pear tart. This dessert was a classic holiday dessert. Who hasn’t had a mulled wine poached pear during the holidays? Also, the apple cider tart was a big hit with classic flavors.

The top desserts incorporated the holiday cocktail flavors best. If the flavor is lacking, the judges aren’t going to candy coat their criticism. The task was to incorporate certain flavors. If the bakers aren’t up for the task, they may not be in the running for the Holiday Baking Championship title.

Holiday Baking Championship premiere, photo from Food Network

Holiday desserts don’t have to be crazy, overly modern or completely new. The desserts do need to taste great, be visually appealing and be free of technical flaws. The bottom two bakers failed technically.

Although Aveed won the pre-heat challenge, her main heat challenge was a mess. Although she can’t drink (she’s underage), she still had to complete the challenge. Truthfully, many bakers and chefs don’t or can’t drink. It’s not unusual nor is it an excuse for a bad dessert. Knowing how to incorporate all ingredients is part of the challenge.

Aveed had technical flaws. Her custard cake was under-baked. Just looking at how the cake feel, everyone knew that the cake was wrong, and almost inedible. The competition doesn’t give a pass for a pre-heat winner when she makes a technically flawed dessert.

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The other bottom dessert was Andra’s hot toddy desserts. Andra’s hot toddy cocktail should have been strong dessert. Hot toddy flavors are easy to use in a dessert. But, Andra’s dessert had more than flavor issues.

Andra had blackened crème brulee. Burnt sugar is quite tasty, but blackened sugar is just bitter. Also, her tart crust had burnt edges. The flame wasn’t kind to Andra. Her saving grace was hidden under the burnt layer. The crème brulee tasted good.

Even though she won the pre-heat, Aveed was the baker eliminated on the Holiday Baking Championship premiere. The youngest baker achieved a huge goal by becoming the youngest baker in this type of baking competition. But, she may not have had the experience needed to compete well in the competition.

What can we expect from this season’s Holiday Baking Championship? The banter between judges Nancy Fuller and Duff Goldman should be fun to watch. These two judges play well off each other. Plus, Nancy Fuller’s cocktail references are funny and she doesn’t candy coat her opinions. If the dessert doesn’t look holiday festive, she speaks her mind.

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Hopefully, the Food Network will continue the creative holiday dessert commercials throughout the show. This week the holiday bear pecan cookies were so adorable. Who else is making those cookies this year?

The Holiday Baking Championship season has just begun, but it looks to be a great one. Anyone else ready to start baking after watching the Holiday Baking Championship premiere?