Centralia baker Ashlee Christman took home the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge’s grand prize of $10,000 after besting four other bakers from around the country in the one-hour television show Monday night.
The show was taped back in August, but at 7 p.m. on Monday, the episode featuring Christman premiered as she blessed TV screens around the nation with her cookie-baking skill.
Of course, Christman already knew that she had won, but she had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Food Network that she wouldn’t spill the beans about her victory — not even to her mother.
Not telling her loved ones that a $10,000 check would be coming in the mail for nearly three months was arguably one of the hardest parts of being on the show, Christman said, but it was worth it to see their reactions.
“After I found out I won, of course I wanted to tell someone,” Christman remarked. “... But I think it was even more rewarding watching everyone’s reactions when they found out, so I think it was worth it.”
To be frank, Christman put on a dominating performance. Her attention to detail in icing the cookies put her in a class above the competition, which was noted by Food Network personalities Eddie Jackson and Ree Drummond, who judged the competition.
The show consisted of two competitions before they crowned Christman as the winner. The first round, which gave contestants 90 minutes to complete their projects, asked the competitors to devise a Christmas cookie with a futuristic twist.
Christman took the challenge in stride and made Mexican vanilla, cinamon, almond, sugar cookies in the shape of a robot elf and a UFO with Santa in the cockpit. The idea fit the bill for futuristic, but it was Christman’s intricate designs that wowed the judges.
“I think the cookie was rustic, but because you were so neat and precise with the icing I forgive that, it was kind of a nice little combination,” Drummund said of the robot elf cookies.
But it was the UFO that really brought out the compliments from both Jackson and Drummond.
“I’m just struggling trying to find something wrong with this cookie, because I can’t,” Eddie Jackson said of the UFO cookies.
After Christman breezed into the second and final round, which gave bakers 150 minutes, the three remaining contestants were asked to create a 3-D, pinata-like cookie that would be cracked open to reveal more cookies — not an easy feat with only two and a half hours.
For the three-dimensional cookie, Christman got creative and made a sugar cookie yule log with stunning realism. Inside the yule log cookie, there were passionfruit and white chocolate, lemon sugar cookies cut and iced into cartoon-style forest animals.
The judges were skeptical of how a yule log would shape up with Christman’s peers, but their doubt proved to be foolhardy.
“Your attention to detail is one of the best we have seen in this competition,” Jackson said to Christman right before they named her the winner.
Even now, nearly three months after the fact, the comment sticks with Christman.
“When he said that, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Christman.
With the $10,000 bag secured, Christman says the plan is to put the money back into her business Sweet Dough Cookie Co., which she has owned and operated for about three years.
“I think my biggest thing right now is just trying to use it in the most beneficial way for my business, the goal right now is to expand,” Christman said.
The plan, Christman said, is to renovate her current commercial kitchen space — which shares a roof with her father-in-law’s workshop — to make the whole workshop into the Sweet Dough Cookie Co.’s kitchen.
With more space to work with, Christman says she would like to be able to teach classes out of the space in addition to running her business there.
She hopes to begin the renovation process when the weather permits it.
You can find Christman’s cookies online at sweetdoughcookieco.com or on her Instagram page @sweetdough.cookieco.