The nights meet us sooner, the air gets increasingly crisper — we're approaching that time of year. It's the time of year when holiday treats and confections call our names, each cookie, sprinkle, and chocolate chip taunting us, hoping to seduce our gluttony. Food Network greatly amplifies this with shows like Christmas Cookie Challenge and Holiday Baking Championship. While both are Food Network classics, the latter has graced our TV screens for longer, this upcoming season being the show's eighth.
Hosted by former NFL star (and soon-to-be Bachelor host) Jesse Palmer, Holiday Baking Championship is an annual competition reality program that sees a group of bakers, chefs, chocolatiers, and more compete in holiday-themed "pre-heat" and "main heat" challenges.
Airing every November through December, contestants put their blood, sweat, and tears into their creations (not literally) all in hopes of being crowned the new Holiday Baking Champion, as well as winning a super sweet grand prize. Unbuckle your belts, folks — you're in for a real treat.
What is the 'Holiday Baking Championship' grand prize?
Season 8 will see 12 diversely skilled contestants flaunt their stuff, as well as their stuffing, to win $25,000. Showcasing a wide range of life experiences, each contestant has a unique goal for the prize money. With over 30 years of experience as a pastry chef, contestant Marilyn Santos McNabb, for example, hopes to put the prize money toward her retirement.
What are the "pre-heat" and "main heat" challenges?
Each episode features the "pre-heat" and "main heat" rounds. The pre-heat round often entails a less taxing challenge, something that can be completed in a shorter amount of time. The winner of that first round, aka the one who "takes the cake," will be awarded a special advantage going into the bigger, badder main heat round. Each creation is judged on three aspects: appearance, theme interpretation, and taste (duh).
In Season 8, Episode 1, titled "Falling into Winter," the pre-heat round will require the contestants to make both fall and winter doughnuts. The main heat will task the bakers with combining "holiday cheese board staples in creative apple and cheese desserts." The premiere episode will be a doozy, as the judges — Farmhouse Rules' Nancy Fuller, Ace of Cakes' Duff Goldman, and The Chew's Carla Hall — prepare to send two bakers packing. The series cheekily sees its eliminated bakers off by sending them "home for the holidays."
Season 7 saw Champaign, Ill., resident Julianna Jung earn herself the title of Holiday Baking Champion and a whopping $25,000, which was particularly impressive considering she was the only home baker of the season. With precision and grace, she rose to each challenge, sending home 11 professional bakers and chefs along the way. “If you’re working in a bakery or a restaurant, you have to bake the same things all the time, whereas I’m a home baker,” she told The News-Gazette.
“I get to bake whatever I want. So I have a little bit of a variety, and maybe that gave me an advantage," Julianna continued, clearly humble. She went on to explain that the judges take much longer to analyze and taste each treat than the minuscule portion of time shown to viewers watching from their lumpy living room couches. “It’s not just food, it’s also a form of art," Julianna said.
Season 8 contestants better have their spatulas, rolling pins, and whisks ready because holiday time has officially arrived. Cookie-cutter recipes just won't cut it.
Season 8 of Holiday Baking Championship premieres Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, at 8 p.m. EST on Food Network.