Haunted Gingerbread Showdown- When Aliens Attack


In this review of Haunted Gingerbread Showdown, three new teams enter the arena to battle for a place in the grand finale. Whose showpiece will delight the judges with alien invasion, and who will be sent back down to Earth?

As usual in this Food Network show, our Haunted Gingerbread Showdown teams have had three weeks at home to work on their intricate gingerbread pieces, and they will have twelve hours in studio to complete their scenes. Our competitors are Grier Rubeling, Tarsha Joyner, and Donna Rorabaugh.

Grier is a small business advisor from North Carolina. Her assistant is her brother-in-law, Kolby Rubeling. Though not bakers by trade, they are not to be discounted. Last year, Grier entered the national gingerbread house competition for the first time and took third place with her reindeer playing poker piece. Kolby is a carpenter and will help her create a structurally sound scene. Grier’s theme is a farm under alien attack.

Tarsha is a bakery owner from Virginia and her assistant is a fellow baker she met online, Nicole Silva. Tarsha brings professional skill and advanced techniques to the table, as we shall see. Tarsha’s theme is cowboys vs aliens, with the aliens invading an old Western town.

Donna is a process engineer from Michigan. Like Grier, she has entered the national gingerbread competition and she has placed fourth. Her assistant is Dave Jamison, and he is primarily helping with the electronics of her piece. Donna has set the alien invasion theme on its head. Her work will show humans attacking the home planet of little worm aliens.

One of the best parts of the show is learning the techniques of the bakers. Gingerbread showpieces bring out real creativity, not just in style but in methods and tools. For instance, Grier uses pasta to create the legs of her farm animals. She also creates adorable sheep by applying icing to their bodies and then tightly packing sugar pearls onto the icing for a wool effect.

Tarsha demonstrates the creation of edible fabric for her awnings and covered wagon. She mixes together gelatin, water, and glycerin and brushes it onto wafer paper. After letting it set up a little, she covers it with cornstarch. For the awning, she paints on stripes.

Texture is all important in everyone’s piece and they each achieve it in unique ways. Grier wants a wood texture for her barn. I have seen people use texture mats that, when pressed into gingerbread dough, will leave a wood grain effect. Grier does that, but then goes further. After baking her gingerbread pieces which she has given a wood texture, she uses a scroll saw to cut the pieces into planks. She then lays these individual planks onto a large piece of gingerbread to create a very realistic barn.

Tarsha wants to create a brick look for her building. Rather than use a texture mat or even cutting and applying individual bricks, something we saw last week, she paints a gingerbread piece with titanium oxide, a white pigment. She then lays over a stencil she created with a brick pattern. With the stencil on her gingerbread, she adds layers of color and powder until she is satisfied and then lifts her stencil. She is left with the titanium appearing like white grout between her bricks, and the layers of paint create an actual brick feel as well as look.

Another way Tarsha applies texture is to create royal icing patterns on her flying saucer, letting them dry, and then painting the whole thing silver. This allows the pattern to subtly show through as part of the ship.

Donna wants an alien texture to the ground for her piece, so she uses a moon surface texture mat. She lays strips of this pock-marked, cratered ground cover on her board and then blends her seams with a crumpled up piece of aluminum foil.

As everyone is unpacking pieces made at home, Grier is horrified to find that many of her animals have suffered damage. As she assesses the broken ears, eyes, and heads, Clinton comes out to reveal the twist. Each baker must create a tasting element that will incorporate seamlessly into their final work. They will have two hours, and the main clock will continue to run so they must conceive of their treat, make it, and keep working on their gingerbread all at the same time. They also must marry two ingredients that are alien to each other- two things that don’t seem to go together.

Grier decides to use habanero and marshmallow. She makes a pumpkin cake that includes many of the same spices as her gingerbread. Once baked, she mixes it with marshmallow and rolls it into balls. As she begins to dip them into orange chocolate, she remembers she has forgotten her habanero. Panicking, she dumps some habanero powder into a bowl and rolls the uncoated balls around. Just as I am wondering how this could possibly distribute the heat evenly, Grier voices the same concern.

Tarsha shows off her baking prowess with something I have never heard of before- dragon beard candy. This is a hand-pulled candy made of sugar and corn syrup. She decides to flavor the candy with peach. She pulls it much like one would pull noodles, creating longer and thinner strips until it has almost a hairy texture. She decides to create a spiced pecan and to roll the candy around the pecans. She is hoping for a tumbleweed look for her Western town. I am wondering how peaches and pecans are strange bedfellows since that would not be a weird combo here in Georgia. Maybe it is her spice blend that she considers weird, which includes cayenne, jalapeno, and chipotle.

While working on their treats, Tarsha and her assistant are also trying to assemble their water tower. At one point, something happens and one side of the water tower breaks at the base. Tarsha screams “no, no” as we cut to commercial. After a mild meltdown, they jigsaw it back together and pray it stays up for judging.

Donna decides to combine chocolate and pickled beets for her treat, in the most daring combo yet. She decides to integrate it into her scene as an alien space pod. She finds a mold that looks something like a pinecone and uses it to bake cookie dough. Unfortunately, she can’t unmold the cookies once baked. She scraps that idea and instead creates a ball of crushed chocolate cookies, cream cheese and pickled beets. She dips them in white chocolate, puts on a blob of green icing and then a dot of red frosting on that, and calls them alien eyes.

Our judges, Jamika Pessoa, Jason Smith, and Gesine Prado, enjoy Tarsha’s dragon beard candy. It seems to be a new experience for them all and they like the alien texture, but Jason wishes it wouldn’t stick in his teeth. Jamika wishes she got more heat and Gesine complains that it doesn’t really look like tumbleweed. Tarsha has rolled her dragon beard candy up into balls, and the threads have come together more solidly than tumbleweed.

Grier isn’t happy with the shape of her pumpkins so she decides they are radioactive. Gesine tells her she gets very little heat from the habanero while Jason chokes beside her. As suspected, the heat is not evenly distributed. Poor Jason finally manages to say he got all the heat in the lowest, deepest voice to ever come out of his mouth as he tries to talk through the burn. Jason immediately solves the mystery of how she could have distributed the forgotten powder better when he recommends mixing it into the coating chocolate. Jamika didn’t mind the heat but didn’t get marshmallow.

Donna presents her alien eyeballs. When she announces she has used beets, Gesine looks horrified and whispers that she hates beets. She then has to take a deep breath in and out before eating the ball, and even then she gulps it down quickly like a kid taking medicine. Gesine dislikes it, of course, calling it her childhood nightmare. Jason thinks the beets and chocolate work together and Jamika calls the treat delightful. She likes the chunky texture.

Donna is shocked when they announce she has won the taste challenge. Gesine tells her it’s not her fault that she hates beets and the other judges loved it. Donna now has the advantage of making the other two sit out for twenty minutes while she continues to work. She takes her advantage near the end of their time, much to the annoyance of Tarsha. While Tarsha hates sitting out, she seems to hate sitting out with Grier even more. Grier is perpetually cheerful, singing little songs and clapping her hands. Tarsha would really prefer if Grier didn’t.

Once they have fulfilled their time out, it’s back to finalizing their pieces. As Tarsha nears the finish line, she says there just isn’t time to create cowboys. I find it weird that she didn’t make the figures at home, since her plan was cowboys vs aliens. She decides to rename her piece at the last minute to take out the emphasis on cowboys.

Time is up and we finally get to admire the finished pieces. Tarsha is up first with her “Wild West Invasion.” Her scene includes a saloon, general store, water tower, and bank. She has also created a covered wagon and two spaceships. She has cleverly used magnets with one spaceship so that it will spin and hover. Her scene is relatively unpopulated. She has a number of aliens, created from gelatin in a mold, but very few people. She says all the people are hiding.

The judges rave about her textures, edible fabric, and hovering spaceship. However, she hasn’t quite sold her story without more people and more action. Her gelatin aliens, all from one mold, are not doing her any favors as they seem stiff and don’t appear to be interacting or invading.

Grier is up next with her “Martian Madness.” Her piece features a spaceship with a gelatin dome hovering over a barn on a green tube. Her farm includes a spooky possessed tree, pumpkin patch, corn field and lots of animals. There is no doubting the battle going on in her scene as the farmer has taken out many aliens with pitchforks and other farm tools. She has dripped edible silver paint on the aliens for blood. Gesine loves her characters but feels she hid her radioactive pumpkin treat. Jason loves her barn and her story. Jamika agrees about the barn but complains of the seam in the center of her spaceship where she joined the top and bottom.

Donna presents “The Wormhole” last. Hers is a charming alien village made of pumpkin houses with little witchy roofs. The poor aliens, little worms, lie dead around the village as a human space craft hovers and astronauts attack. Gesine loves the realistic gourd houses but feels there is too much negative space. Jason finds the whole scene cute and loves the fall colors. However, he wishes there were more astronauts or that they were more front and center, so you could easily tell the story. Jamika doesn’t understand how her eyeball treats, giant in terms of the little worm aliens, fit into the scene.

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In the end, Grier’s adorable and yet deadly farm scene wins the day on this episode of Haunted Gingerbread Showdown, and she advances on to the grand finale. Next week, three new bakers will depict the mummy’s curse. I can’t wait!