I've been watching a lot of Food Network lately. For the most part, the shows are mindless and filled with food porn. So you know, perfect for me. Your brain doesn't need to work hard while watching, and beyond thoughts like, "my God, how much butter is the Pioneer Woman going to put in this recipe?" or "where does the network find chefs for all these stupid cooking competition shows?" I don't get very engaged in the Food Network programs.
With one exception.
Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship. It is the cooking competition to end all cooking competitions. I'm not sure exactly how it manages it, but the show has hit upon the perfect mix of fun personalities, clever challenges, amazing food, and fair and entertaining judging.
I'll have one of each, please.
I was hooked from the first episode (which you can watch online here): Holiday Cookie Madness. 8 bakers compete in various cookie challenges, including having to make their best cookie recipe using a specific tool (some have to make drop cookies, some rolled cookies, etc.).
All episodes follow the same format; there's a pre-challenge where the bakers compete to win an advantage in the main challenge of the episode. Three judges, including Duff of Ace of Cakes, taste the results, pick a winner, and eliminate one of the bakers. The last baker standing at the end of the six episodes will walk away with a sweet $50,000.
The challenges have included the aforementioned cookies, holiday pies, a yule log (bouche de noel, if you're fancy), holiday cakes, and baking with certain classic holiday flavors like peppermint. In the final episode, which airs this Sunday evening, the bakers will be constructing gingerbread worlds. I repeat: GINGERBREAD. WORLDS.
I was having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year. Chalk it up to exhaustion, both emotional and physical. But dammit, if the Holiday Baking Championship hasn't turned things around for me and made me excited for Hanukkah and Christmas. And for that alone, I'm thankful.
Also, just seeing all the baked goods is pretty freaking awesome.