Haunted Gingerbread Showdown review: Calling all Ghostbusters


It’s that time of the year again. Fall is upon us, in month if not in temperatures, and Halloween is just around the corner. What better way to get in the mood than with spooky gingerbread art pieces?

Haunted Gingerbread Showdown takes the traditional Christmas gingerbread house and gives it a Halloween makeover. Each episode, talented bakers compete in a themed challenge to advance to the final round. The winner of that final round will earn a feature in Food Network magazine and 25,000 dollars.

Three teams will compete, and as their gingerbread sculptures require hours of design, baking, and decorating, they have had three weeks to work at home. They will have twelve hours in studio to complete their pieces.

Host Clinton Kelly, who you may know from The Chew, introduces this week’s Haunted Gingerbread Showdown theme- Ghostbusters! This year is the iconic movie’s thirty-fifth anniversary having been released in 1984. Ghostbusters is near and dear to my heart, one of those movies that made an impact on me in my formative years. It was released on the exact date of my eleventh birthday and I fell in love. I even dabbled in paranormal investigation years later as an adult, but that’s a story for another time.

Three teams will try to impress the judges with their Ghostbusters scenes. Jorg Amsler is a Boston cake artist, formerly from Switzerland. His assistant is Sean Pierce, who used to be the executive chef in Jorg’s bakery. These two are a powerhouse of skill. Jorg mentions that he competed in Boston until they asked him to stop so others could have a chance to win. They will be hard to beat.

Gonzuela Bastarache is a workplace trainer from Canada. Her assistant is her sister-in-law, Jessie Arseneault. Her son became obsessed with building gingerbread houses as a child and it took off as a passion for her too. Our final team is Susan Rogers, a senior data analyst from Illinois, and her husband, Aaron Rogers. He jokes that he is a gingerbread widow during gingerbread season since he basically loses his wife to baking in those months.

Based on job title, it sounds like Gonzuela and Susan bake on the side and I wonder if it is fair to have them in competition with a professional baker. Perhaps gingerbread is the great equalizer and their skill in that medium is equivalent.

The Haunted Gingerbread Showdown teams jump into assembly and we get to learn a few of the tricks of these clever bakers. Jorg wants to replicate the office paneling in the Ghostbuster’s headquarters so he carefully layers wafer-thin pieces of raw gingerbread dough, bakes it and then air brushes it a rich wood color. Another part of his scene features an intricate medusa-style bust that sits atop the haunted apartment building in the movie. To make it, he creates a silicon mold and then pours in a mix of isomalt, ground gingerbread, and color. It emerges from the mold like a stone carving. It looks amazing and cleverly still includes gingerbread.

Another trick Jorg uses is to place rice paper behind his window frames. By air brushing the edges in black, he magically creates the illusion of depth in the window without using poured sugar window glass. He also shows the ingenuity of gingerbread makers, able to find materials to repurpose. He wants ghosts to rotate around his piece so he uses the motor from a rotisserie grill to turn the ghosts, who hang from wires stolen from drain snakes (the things you can use to clear out your drain).

Gonzuela has tricks up her sleeve too. I am most impressed with her construction of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. She sculpts him out of a mix of rice cereal treats and gingerbread flour. She then makes her own marshmallow fondant, because how better to mimic marshmallow skin than with marshmallow? Since rice cereal is rough, she creates a smooth surface by adding a second layer of marshmallow fondant.

Not to be outdone, Susan wants to create the Ecto-1, the famous Ghostbuster car. She gets a model of the car, disassembles it, and then lays pastillage into the model pieces. Once dried, she is able to piece her edible model back together for a perfect replica of the car.

She also wants to represent the scene in the movie when the ghosts escape in a pink burst of energy through the top of Ghostbuster headquarters. To do this, she covers an acrylic tube with red colored isomalt. Once covered, with a pool of red at the base of the tube, she inverts it so that the pool is at the top so that it looks like the crest of the wave of ghosts bursting out. While she is disappointed that the isomalt doesn’t spread as hoped, I still think it is a really neat idea.

I am less enamored of her idea of making individual bricks. Yes, she is building a huge brick building and covering it with tiny, individually baked gingerbread bricks. The amount of work to make and place each little brick is mind boggling, but also does not seem to be a good use of time. She tells the judges she likes the realism, but they feel she would be better served using a texture mat and focusing on other details.

As the teams work, Clinton comes out to tell them they must also make a tasting element for the judges. They will have two hours to present the treat, with the main clock still running on their twelve hours to complete their showpiece. Each treat must integrate into the design of their piece and must feature toasted marshmallow.

Jorg makes “Shandor medallions” named for the haunted apartment complex in the movie. These include a base of brandy-soaked genoise topped with toasted marshmallow mixed with gingerbread brittle and spices, covered with white chocolate and a flourish of orange. The final presentation is beautifully decorated in an art deco style.

Gonzuela makes “Marshmallow Balls” which consist of hollowed out marshmallows with a chocolate rim, filled with graham cracker crust and raspberry coulis, and topped off with melted and toasted marshmallow. These are like little marshmallow shot glasses which they cleverly create using an apple corer to get out the center of the marshmallow.

Susan makes a “Stay Puft Splat” which is essentially a smore. She makes her own shortbread cookie for the base and tops it with homemade marshmallow cream and melted chocolate. Right at the end, she makes the split decision to add sweetened coconut flake to the top. Her husband then torches the whole thing, which unfortunately lights the coconut on fire.

Our judges are Jamika Pessoa, a chef who is no stranger to food TV; Gesine Prado, pastry chef, cookbook author and sister to Sandra Bullock; and Jason Smith, adorable creator of delicious baked goods and Southern witticisms. Jason is also known to wear outfits as sparkling as his personality and tonight is no exception with his black and gold glitter jacket.

The judges love the look of Jorg’s dessert as well as the punch of brandy, the moist sponge, and the warm spices. Unfortunately, all those flavors have completely hidden any toasted marshmallow taste in his treat. The judges praise Gonzuela for managing to balance the sweet marshmallow with raspberry coulis. They only wish for more texture as those little marshmallow cups don’t hold much graham cracker.

I think poor Susan has the least impressive looking dessert, though the lived up to the name splat. The judges like her cookie base but felt the whole thing is too sweet and not toasted enough. They also feel the coconut is a step too far. Gonzuela wins the advantage which is to force the other teams to sit out for twenty minutes while she continues to work.

At two and a half hours left, Gonzuela takes her advantage. As Jorg sits watching her, he worries that his 2-D design can’t compete with her 3-D elements. Despite the sit-down, everyone seems to finish everything they hoped to accomplish.

Final judging begins with Susan. Called “Stay Puft’s Revenge,” she has imagined a scene in which Stay Puft returns from the dead to destroy the Ghostbuster’s headquarters and let all the ghosts loose again. Her scene features the firehouse, headquarters to the Ghostbusters. Stay Puft is at the side and has burst through the firehouse and pulled out the wiring that controls the containment unit to keep the ghosts inside.

Already ghosts are appearing. Slimer stuffs his mouth full of tiny hot dogs at an overturned cart. The library ghost hovers at the side of the firehouse. She even created her own, new ghost. He pops in and out of a manhole, and she has made his hair with colored corn silk. The Ecto-1 has crashed into a fire hydrant and the Ghostbusters stand, blasting away at Stay Puft. To show their blasts, she has colored ramen noodles that perfectly represent the look from the movie.

I am personally impressed by many of her details such as the little piece of broccoli she has placed in a pot for a potted bush look. Her individual bricks weren’t necessary on the building, and in fact give it a bit of an uneven, wavy look, but the little bricks scattered on the ground really sell the building’s destruction. I don’t love her Stay Puft as his proportions are wrong.

The judges feel that her piece feels unfinished and lacking in a little detail. They love the ramen noodle trick, her little manhole ghost, and her detailed car. They do not like the pole effect she used for the exploding ghosts. They can still see too much of the pole and the top, which was supposed to burst up, has drooped down. Jason recommends freeze spray to get her isomalt to harden in the right shape.

Jorg is next to present his “Ghostbuster Triptych.” He has created three scenes. The scenes rotate around while a model Ecto-1 sits in front so that it looks like the Ecto is driving around the scenes. One side features the façade of the firehouse. Below it, he has created the New York city skyline from gingerbread panels covered in black modeling chocolate with silver dragees for windows.

The next scene shows the inside of the firehouse. On the top floor, Slimer pops out of the wall to gorge himself on take-out food. Below is a perfect recreation of the office area complete with the tiniest 80’s computer, files, even a cup with pencils in it. Top and bottom floor are connected with the fire pole. Below is the containment unit for the ghosts.

The final scene is the roof of the Shandor apartment building, featuring Stay Puft and a demon dog with red glowing eyes. Above it all, three ghosts float round and round.

I would love nothing more than time to spend looking at all the details he has included in each scene. Each area is a fully completed dollhouse of items. I don’t love his Slimer which he created with isomalt to give him a translucent look. To me, that has made him harder to make out as his details get lost. But I appreciate the idea and I love everything else about the piece. His Ecto-1 even has a light that flashes different colors. No detail is forgotten.

The judges also love the detail and call most of his piece perfect. They don’t like the rotating ghosts on top, though. They are distracting and they dislike the large, clunky wires. Also, his tasting treat was supposed to be incorporated into the scene. He ended up laying the treats on the roof where you really couldn’t see them.

Gonzuela is last to present her “Stay Puft Takes Manhattan.” Her piece is huge. It features the Shandor building, created out of two-foot tall panels and roughly 1000 isomalt windows. Her perfectly proportioned Stay Puft is destroying the town. The road is broken. The Ecto-1 is crashed with one wheel spinning. Slimer has found an elevator shaft and goes up and down with a grin on his face. In place of the Ghostbusters, she has sculpted her son, nieces and nephews as the Ghostbusters.

The judges love her Stay Puft but think he is too perfect since he is being attacked in the scene. They love the motion in her piece but Jason says he can “see her underwear,” meaning they can see the mechanisms being used for motion. They want those hidden. They also wish the Ghostbusters had something coming out of their proton packs the way Susan had because they are clearing shooting but nothing is coming out.

The judges have made their decision. Jason tells Clint, “slap us and call us pumpkins. I think we know.” Jorg advances to the next round! Everyone should be so proud of their work as each scene was edible art. I can’t wait to see what the bakers dream up next.

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What was your favorite piece from this week’s Haunted Gingerbread Showdown