CHICAGO — Stephanie Hart's passion for cakes landed her on the Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship," but her lack of cookie-baking skills stopped her quest for holiday-themed championship gold just as soon as it began.
Hart struggled out of the gates in the competition, which featured two parts: a preheat and main heat. In the preheat, competitors were given a tool they had to use to help create the perfect holiday cookie. Hart was given a "scoop," which she used to create a Butter Cookie with powdered sugar and crushed peppermint.
"For the holidays we always made butter cookies. I'm going to keep it as simple as I can to make a butter cookie," the self-described "free spirit, who bakes from the soul" said on the show.
While Hart was clearly out of her element in the "Holiday Cookie Challenge" she soldiered on.
"That was the only cookie I make," Hart said before the final competition was announced. "I'm really hoping the next challenge is cakes."
The main heat forced the bakers to make three more cookies using three specific ingredients: fresh oranges, bittersweet chocolate and toffee bits, along with a surprise ingredient — raspberry jam.
Hart invented three cookie recipes of the cuff, which impressed the judges, but not quite enough.
"I'm wingin' it," Hart said simply before creating orange and ginger butter cookies, a black forest cookie and toffee pecan cookie.
The judges were clearly impressed by the taste but not so much by the presentation.
"The fact that you were able to make three cookies with no recipes only knowing cake up there, that's amazing," competition judge Duff Goldman said before letting Hart go.
"Stephanie knows cakes, but she doesn't know cookies. That being said, she completely invented three recipes out of thin air. I was pretty impressed," Goldman said.
Hart watched the episode Sunday night with family, which she admitted was hard to do.
"It was hard to watch a little bit because you don't feel like you lost. Overall it was awesome though. I watched it with family and they were really proud," she said Monday morning, admitting she had misconceptions about the show. "I'm not a competitor. I have a specific genre. I had one cookie recipe with me. That's it."
Hart also disagreed with the emphasis the judges put on presentation. Twice during the show she wowed judges with flavor but was reprimanded for presentation.
"Not that presentation doesn't count but I think I have a different perspective of presentation. I'm a professional but my style is homemade and simple. I'm not trying to impress my friends [with looks] they want something that tastes good. I make things that taste good," Hart said.
Since the episode aired she's been flooded with compliments though from fans new and old, which made it a bit easier to come to work Monday morning.
"Ultimately, today, where I would have some sliver of remorse I don't have any, " she said.
Hart will return to Brown Sugar Bakery at 328 E. 75th St. to focus on her signature cakes as the busy holiday season approaches.
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