Christmas Cookie Challenge review: Merry Christmas Makeover


Five cookie makers are at it again on Christmas Cookie Challenge- competing in two challenges to win a grand prize of ten thousand dollars. Who will bring the most delicious and beautiful cookie to the table?

Christmas Cookie Challenge host Eddie Jackson introduces the first challenge. Standing next to a barbell decked with red bows, he explains that Santa is getting sensitive about the “bowl full of jelly” comments. He is putting the whole North Pole on a fitness regimen called Merry Fitmas. The cookie makers need to run with this theme (get it?) and create two cookies featuring North Pole characters engaging in one indoor and one outdoor fitness activity. As Eddie says, Santa wants everyone to get “pah-rum-pah-pum-pumped.”

As the bakers start working, we meet our Christmas Cookie Challenge contestants. Suzy Craven is an energetic baker from Texas with a big personality to match her state. She has been decorating cookies for twenty-five years and has won countless blue ribbons in local competitions. She is making a chocolate chipotle shortbread cookie with orange liqueur icing.

Suzy is using a snow globe cookie cutter for her outline and then plans to pipe in a scene of an elf running on a toy conveyer belt. For her outdoor activity, she plans to show Santa sliding down a hill on a sled in the plank position. Typically, the plank has you holding yourself up with only your elbows, but Santa will have some help from his belly.

Jasmine Cho lives in Pennsylvania but she has family in Hawaii. She is making a cinnamon brown sugar cookie with vanilla royal icing to create her Hawaii inspired scene of a narwhal windsurfing. She practices taw kwon do, so she decides her second cookie will feature a boxing polar bear. Rather than going the same route as Suzy and using a traditional cutter as a frame for her scene, she decides to create her own shapes so that the entire cookie is the animal.

Justin Salinas from California is making an orange spice cookie with a Mexican vanilla royal icing. He frequently hosts cookie decorating classes and he offers us this tip. He tells us he is using cold butter and eggs and that this will result in a dough cold enough to go straight in the oven without chilling. Normally, with rolled and cut cookies, you do need to chill the dough so that you can get crisp shapes that hold in the oven. Justin assures us his cookies won’t spread with this technique.

Justin is planning to make a cookie with Santa lifting weights and another cookie with a snowman doing cardio. He has decided against cookie cutters too. Instead he draws his design on paper, cuts it out, and then traces his design onto the dough using his paper template.

We first meet Jennifer Grayer as she seeks out lemon extract. She is standing in front of the array of extracts, asking everyone if they have the lemon. No one does, as the cameraman zooms in on the lemon sitting with the other extracts on the shelf. Deciding she has to change plans, Jennifer goes with a vanilla sugar cookie as the cameraman again pans to the unfound lemon extract. This decision could be good or bad. Sometimes judges complain about extract as tasting artificial. Sometimes they complain about a plain sugar cookie.

Jennifer plans to depict an elf lifting weights, but in place of weights are presents. She also wants to show Santa trying to climb a rock wall. To depict this, she will create the wall and show only Santa’s rear end and legs as his other half is over the wall. Jennifer uses cookie cutters to make her shapes but in a unique way. To create the rock wall, she uses a large rectangle, but then she adds the top half of a heart to the top of the rectangle for Santa’s rear. She says a sentence you don’t hear every day- “I use hearts for butts all the time.”

Great minds think alike because Jeff Groche is also planning an elf lifting weights, with presents for weights on the barbell. He is using a chocolate peppermint dough and his elf will be a little different in that it will also be balanced on a snowball. His second cookie will feature Santa eating his way out of a cake. Though he understands the challenge is fitness, he plans to turn the theme on its head. Santa is trying to get in shape and his preferred shape is round, so he is eating cake. He knows this is a risk and they may say he hasn’t met the brief, but he wants to be different.

Justin removes his cookies from the oven and his technique of cold butter and eggs has not worked. His shapes have spread and are now too large. He moves forward with his design, but the little stick legs and arms of his snowmen don’t fill the space, leaving plenty of unfrosted cookie.

Justin’s other cookie has the opposite problem as he finds it is too small to allow for his detail. He tries to add a barbell and weights but they end up being a fine horizontal line and little gray vertical lines on the ends which does not read as a barbell.

Jennifer is having a similar issue. Once her cookies are out of the oven, she uses an edible marker to sketch her design onto the cookie. She will then pipe over that. Justin notes there is no time for this extra step. Jennifer notes that her design does not fill the cookie space.

After creating her elf in icing, she decides to go back in a fill all the empty space with green icing. But it is very time consuming to try to get icing into all the little spaces and she gives up after one cookie, adding a blue icing border to the rest instead. Having taken so much time sketching, icing and filling her elf cookie, Jennifer has almost no time for her second cookie so her rock wall Santa gets rushed.

Contestant Jeff Gosche and host Eddie Jackson during the first challenge, as seen on Christmas Cookie Challenge, Season 3. photo provided by Food Network

Jeff is attempting to work on his weightlifting elves when one cookie snaps in half. With little time left, he must roll, cut, bake and frost a brand-new cookie. He ends up with less time than desired for decorating and has to add very simple faces to his elves.

As the bakers race toward the finish, Eddie says he will take some time to lift his new weights. He lays on the bench and lifts the loaded barbell. After some reps with much groaning, Ree Drummond comes out and reveals that the weights are fake. It’s a cute interlude and shows Ree’s sense of humor as she stands there throwing and catching one of Eddie’s weights.

Time is up and we meet the judges- Brandi Malloy, Matt Adlard, and of course, Ree Drummond. Suzy is first to present her chocolate chipotle shortbread. Matt enjoys her planking Santa with the detail of his belly being the support to hold him up. Brandi likes the movement she got in her Santa cookie as she has shown his hat flying in the breeze of his sled ride. She also likes that she flooded the background of the cookie with a blue and white marble, thereby avoiding the blank cookie that other bakers suffered.

When the judges taste her cookie, Ree coughs a bit and Matt jokingly pants. The cookie definitely has heat, but Ree loves it. Brandi thinks it is deliciously fudgy and Matt likes the combo of bitter chocolate, warm spice and sweet icing.

Justin is up next with his orange spice cookie. His snowman is cute, with little blue sweat drops on his forehead, but Matt doesn’t think it is clear what he is doing. He’s supposed to be doing aerobics. Ree points out that his little arms don’t fill the cookie space, and she notes that Santa’s weights are ridiculously small. Brandi does commend him on Santa’s facial expression. To show effort, Justin made one eye bigger than the other. The judges do enjoy the flavor of his cookies. Matt likens them to hot crossed buns and Ree quips, “that’s the name of Eddie’s exercise DVD.”

Jasmine now presents her cinnamon brown sugar cookies and they may be the cutest thing I have ever seen. She is clearly fantastic with whimsy and detail. Ree loves how clean and precise they are and everyone enjoys the flavor. However, she has used a vanilla royal icing and Matt wishes for something a little different.

Jeff is up next with his chocolate peppermint elf lifting weights and Santa eating his way out of a cake. His elf is cute but it is not clear what is happening with his Santa cookie. He kind of looks like he is sitting in a hot tub. The judges do enjoy the amount of mint in his cookies, though.

Jennifer is last to present her version of the weightlifting elf as well as her Santa on a rock wall. Though Brandi likes the amusing image of Santa’s butt attempting to get over the wall, Matt finds the cookie to be one large expanse of same. He wants more texture and variation in technique. Also, they note that only Brandi got a fully decorated elf cookie while everyone else got a cookie with only an icing border. Finally, they complain that her flavor choices of vanilla cookie and vanilla icing are too simple.

It is no surprise, given her challenges with extracts and time, that Jennifer is eliminated after round one. Justin is also eliminated for the difficulty in telling what his activities were as well as the unfrosted parts of his cookies.

For the final challenge, the remaining three bakers will need to remodel the home of Mr. and Mrs. Clause. In the spirit of innovation, they must also incorporate one innovative flavor selected from avocado, olive oil, tahini or almond butter. Their structure must be at least six inches tall and feature two different doughs. They have just four hours to complete all this.

Jasmine has decided to call upon her roots to create a traditional Korean house shape, a hanok. She wants to blend traditional Christmas with Korea so her walls will be red and green. Her roof will be an intricate peaked, curved and sloped affair that requires careful planning for it to all fit together once baked.

She chooses almond butter for her special additive and uses it in place of some of the butter in her recipe. She is making a chocolate and almond cookie for one of her doughs (this will be her roof) and a vanilla lemon sugar cookie for her walls. The cameraman amusingly lingers on the lemon extract she is using, reminding us of poor Jennifer’s need of the stuff.

Jeff is planning to make an alpine A-frame house for the Clauses. This will be literally shaped like an A with roof on each side. One end will be a Christmas tree, and one end will be a Santa hat. For extra interest on the sides of the house, he will build little dormers that look like Christmas presents.

He is planning to use a sugar cookie dough as well as a gingerbread dough. He does not plan to incorporate his required ingredient into his dough. Instead, he will make sandwich cookies and put his almond butter in as the filling.

Suzy has decided to bring Santa and his wife to Texas. She is planning a ranch house with rock walls, a metal roof, and a grand entryway. She’s calling it the Rancho Del Norte. She is making an orange and ginger sugar cookie and a gingerbread. She makes no mention of what special ingredient she will use.

As the bakers work, each one starts to encounter difficulties. Jennifer has forgotten to bake supports for her roof so she must do that with just forty-five minutes left. She gets those done but then has another minor disaster. She has spent time creating beautifully detailed Korean-style windows and doors only to have a roof piece fall off and mar a wall.

Jeff puts up his roof pieces to find he has a large gap at the top. He cleverly addresses this by laying in large marshmallows which fill the gap perfectly and fit with his theme. Jeff also discovers that he decorated the wrong side of some of his cookies, so when he has to use them, they are bare. He has no time to frost that side of the cookie.

Suzy has forgotten the fancy entryway of her house in the oven and decides she doesn’t have enough dough or time to remake it. Suzy has also forgotten that she has to use a special ingredient. She asks Jeff what he did and decides to use his sandwich cookie idea. Mixing tahini with sugar to thicken it, she quickly makes sandwich cookies.

Time is called and Jasmine is first to present. Her hanok is adorable and retains most of the fine detail she has added. The judges love her design and enjoy her cookie flavors, but Matt doesn’t taste almond butter in her cookie.

Suzy brings up her Texas ranch house. Matt likes the tin roof but feels everything looks rushed. They enjoy her spicy gingerbread but they do not really like her orange ginger sandwich cookies. Ree feels that the tahini was an afterthought (it was) and Brandi thinks the orange and tahini do not get along.

Jeff is last to present his alpine A-frame. Matt loves the architecture and many textures and techniques he has used. Brandi laments the unfrosted cookie pieces. Matt finds his vanilla sugar cookie too simple and Ree thinks the almond butter in his sandwich cookies is too sticky. They like his gingerbread but it can’t stand against Suzy’s extra spicy version.

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In the end, Jasmine’s adorable blend of western Christmas tradition with Korean style wins the Christmas Cookie Challenge and $10,000. Congratulations to her! Jasmine has been crushing on Eddie the whole episode so she also gets the reward of a hug from him, which she thinks is almost as good as the money.