ROCHESTER, Minn. — Were you among the legions of viewers who watched Julie Domaille of Rochester, Minn., compete in the Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge" on Monday night, Nov. 9?
As one of the five contestants in the finals, she faced challenges few of us ever do in the safety of our own kitchens. But there she was, having to mix up, bake and decorate in front of a nationwide audience.
Once the finalists were announced, the competition began. The first challenge was to bake a cookie "puzzle." Domaille went right to work mixing up a salted buttery pecan dough. A problem right out of the gate: The food processor she had to grind up pecans didn't work, so very quickly, she had to find another. Also, an essential ingredient for the flavor in both cookie and icing — Cookie Nip Extract — had not arrived.
"I was problem-solving before it even started," she said.
A momentary glitch, but she moved on full-speed ahead, finishing a half-hour ahead of the 1 1/2 hours allotted.
"I ended up slowing down so I could get the frosting and decorating perfect," she said.
Domaille's puzzle cookies were a snowman with a Christmas sweater above his head, chosen because both her children have Christmas birthdays and the snowman and sweater are traditions.
The competing bakers had their own problems: One's frosting didn't set up, and another's cookie spread too much. The Disney pastry chef had an ingredient that was watery, making the dough too soft. So far, the Rochester baker was sitting pretty.
When time was up, judges Ree Drummond and Eddie Jackson went around to each contestant's station to observe and taste.
"Your decorating is excellent, but the cookie is underbaked. It's a little doughy," Drummond said. (Before she started decorating, I saw the cookies, and they were beautifully browned.)
Julie kept her cool, but did look puzzled (no pun intended). They also didn't get the significance of the snowman and the sweater.
Once the judges had made their rounds, the five bakers lined up for the eliminations. First to leave was the pastry chef, second was Domaille. The look on her face said it all.
"I was so surprised and disappointed, heartbroken, really," she said.
To her credit, she remained upbeat and gracious, thanking them all for the experience. The remaining three then went on to bake a standing nutcracker cookie, which bought its own set of problems. The winner of the $10,000 prize had created a mermaid nutcracker.
Domaille's takeaway from this experience?
"I was honored that out of the thousands, I was one of those chosen. It had been on my bucket list for a long time," she said. "It was the experience of a lifetime."
Rochester Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.