Well I’m desperately grasping onto whatever holiday cheer I can grab at this point. It has been 3 weeks since we’ve been displaced to hotels and Airbnb’s. The roof rats have been taken care of (I hope), the plumbing has been fixed, but there are still holes throughout the entire house, no insulation, and no hope of moving forward with repairs until our landlord hears from his insurance. It is beyond frustrating. But I managed to keep the baking challenges going from my parents house, once again.
In case you’re not following along to the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, week 5 was a fun one. The preheat: ugly holiday sweater inspired desserts. I LOVE holiday sweaters! I now own 7 of them, some of which light up. For this challenge, I decided to make my mom’s favorite Christmas cookie, chocolate chip shortbread, and decorate them as ugly holiday ties, because those are just as fun as ugly holiday sweaters!
The bakers were given 1 hour to complete their desserts. The cookies take approximately 9 minutes to bake. Add in the time it takes to make the dough, roll it out, and cut out shapes with a knife (I don’t own a tie cookie cutter), I figured I would have about 25-30 minutes to decorate.
The dough is simple. These are a variation of shortbread cookies, so you basically just combine lots of butter, sugar, and flour together, mix in mini chocolate chips, and you’re good to go. This dough rolls out perfectly between wax paper. I was even able to cut my ties pretty uniformly considering I was doing it by hand. While they were baking, I got all of my decorating tools ready. I was using melted chocolate to coat the ties and an easy icing of powdered sugar, milk, and corn syrup that could be colored and put in ziplock bags to pipe out designs.
Once the cookies were out of the oven, I gave them very little time to cool. Afterall, the first step was to spread on warm chocolate so I didn’t think it would matter much. The icing didn’t contain butter, so wouldn’t be too affected by heat either. I piped on some snowmen and pandas (inspired by one of my sweaters but looked more like polar bears or dogs), and dotted green and red icing all over. No problem completing on time. I would say the ties turned out more cute than ugly, just like my sweaters!
Onto the main heat: 2 hours to make an edible box filled with baked treats. The twist this time was to incorporate popcorn. I thought a lot about this one. I didn’t want to make a gingerbread box since I’ve made gingerbread already. I settled on good ol’ white chocolate. Some may find it boring, but it hardens fast. With that settled, the rest just seemed to come together.
I love decorating Christmas trees. We bought one for our house (always real because they smell and look so good), but it’s still sitting in the wrapping since we’re not there. Determined to not let it get me down, I went out and bought another little 4 foot tree which is now decorated in the Airbnb. My tree topper is a star. Lightbulb! I would make a star box to look like a tree topper and fill it with cake ball ornaments.
With the timer set, the first thing I made was a white cake batter and divided the dough so I could color half red and half green. Those were in the oven in 20 minutes. During the bake time, I made a vanilla American buttercream to mix into the cake crumbles. The cake would need to cool so I had some time before I could make the cake balls.
The popcorn twist kind of threw me. The contestants were given already popped popcorn. I had to spend extra time popping it with my mom’s hot air popper. Then I wanted to make caramel corn and treat the pieces as the little golden tops on glass ornaments. I made the caramel sauce but it smelled a little burnt. It would still be okay, I’ll just toss it around with the popcorn and get that in the oven on low heat while I started making the white chocolate star.
My mom has an aluminum star pan that I traced out on wax paper. I wanted sharper lines so I got a ruler out and fixed the design. Then I started piping the chocolate out. I wanted this box to be see through so you could see the ornaments inside. I achieved that by cross-hatching. The piped chocolate was already starting to firm up but I still put it in the freezer to set up.
The cake was cooled by now so I mixed in the frosting and formed the balls. In my original idea, I was going to make half of each ball red and the other half green, but I was running out of time. I didn’t even have time to make a nice poured fondant like I wanted and had to settle on a powdered sugar/milk mixture to pour over. I attached the popcorn tops, but the taste test proved that the caramel was indeed burnt.
Running out of time, I frantically started assembling the star box. Melted extra white chocolate to hold it all together, but I realized the 3 inch sides were too long and I had to try and offset them so it didn’t fall apart. The alarm went off and I still had to throw the cake ball ornaments in and close up the top. That only took a couple of minutes. I was frustrated that I didn’t finish this challenge on time. But also reminded myself that I had to take time to wash mixing bowls and pop popcorn which isn’t something the contestants have to do.
Now to eat the creation. I love sweet desserts but I thought the cake was too sweet. The white chocolate complemented the flavor, but wasn’t super inventive. The overall look to the dessert was quite impressive though so it wasn’t a complete failure.
Now for next week . . . I’m really hoping to get it done but I leave for France on Thursday, have to go through the rubble of my house (everything is sealed under plastic tarps) and somehow pack, and am not so sure my mom wants me frantically baking in her kitchen again. I will try, but I might have to take a raincheck on the next 2 challenges until I get back in early January. If that is the case, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!