‘Tis the season for family, presents, cookies, cakes, and Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship. In the second season premiere, we met nine self-taught, professional, and classically trained bakers on the quest to be named the Holiday Baking Champion and a prize of $50,000.
As in the recently concluded Halloween Baking Championship, bakers are given two chances to prove themselves: the pre-heat and the main-heat challenges. During the pre-heat the bakers are given simple requests to create a dessert within the allotted time. The winner of these challenges earns an advantage during the main heat challenge. During main heats, the bakers are given a more complex task and more time to keep themselves from elimination.
In this first pre-heat challenge, the bakers were asked to create any dessert they’d like as long as it includes the two main ingredients: chocolate and the type of nut they are assigned.
One baker, Steve, has a severe nut allergy, which makes this challenge infinitely more difficult for him. Honestly, shouldn’t this have been something they double checked in pre-production? Or, maybe they did and decided it didn’t matter.
In any case, the top two entries for the pre-heat challenge were Briana’s pecan shortbread cookie with pecan caramel drizzle, and Padua’s triple chocolate bread pudding with walnut sauce.
Like the judges, I was skeptical of Briana’s cookie as it was the most simple dessert offered, but it was by far the most beautiful dessert, which helped land her in the top two. Padua won this challenge for his execution of the bread pudding, which he used challah bread for, and his walnut sauce. I personally thought the cookies were better looking and more impressive if they did indeed taste as good as the judges said, but Padua won the pre-heat, earning all the cookie cutters and pie cutters in the kitchen for the next challenge.
For the main heat, the contestants were asked to create their most festive pie. As a pie baker myself, I know how hit or miss pie can be (although I never miss): The crust can come out too dry or it won’t bake all the way through, and the filling can be too sweet or not thicken up correctly. It’s a real crapshoot when you make a pie, and having a time limit with $50,000 on the line doesn’t make it any easier.
Susan, who claims to hate making pie because her crust always turns out poorly, found herself in the top two. It was no surprise after she spent five minutes harping on how she couldn’t make pies and then decided to make the pie she used to make for her nine children (can you imagine?!) for the first snow of the year. She was smart to create something she had a lot of experience making.
Joining her in the top two was Adalberto, who made a bourbon pecan pie with gooseberries dipped in caramel. His pie was certainly more festive looking than Susan’s, and the judges swooned over his ability to bring forward both the bourbon and the pecan without overwhelming the taste buds, but it wasn’t enough to beat Susan’s millionth first snow pie.
Joe, John, and Steve found themselves in the bottom three, which is always a tough place to be but especially on the first day. Steve’s crust was cooked unevenly with one side slightly burnt, and the judges were not happy with his tart cranberry sauce. John was reprimanded for having an incredibly dense filling, which looked like the consistency of a whole jar of peanut butter plopped on a cracker, and his incredibly dark crust. The guy broke his knife when cutting the judges a slice for crying out loud. Joe, whose claim to fame is baking a birthday cake for the Pope, had the most festive pie in the group but his crust was under-cooked (I mean, you could see it when the camera showed a cut dessert) and raw apples. It’s not the end of the world, but two raws don’t make a right, so he was sent home.
Personally, I think Steve should’ve been sent home. The judges struggled to find anything nice to say about either his pre or main heat challenge desserts. Plus, the faces they made while tasting his sauces seemed to say it all.