Expect some gore, some surprises, and lots of scintillating sweets on the new season of Halloween Baking Championship, premiering Monday, October 3 at 9|8c. The seven multitalented bakers competing sure know their way around Halloween tricks and treats, and baking feats. But what may be even scarier than the challenges are the three intimidating judges: Carla Hall, Damiano Carrara and Sandra Lee, whom everyone knows as the maven of Halloween entertaining. This season comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham hosts with a deftly creepy hand, doling out good and bad news to the bakers competing for $25,000.
FN Dish recently chatted with Sandra about the new season. In this exclusive interview she details the difficulties involved in judging a baking competition, and reveals her favorite things about the hallowed holiday, her favorite costume and more.
What is your favorite dessert or treat that you bake during Halloween?
Sandra Lee: I have a chocolate double-scoop cake that I hollow out and I fill with candy corn. I don’t eat them together, I eat them separate, but I love the look of it because it says Halloween, and I love the chocolate cake. So, that would be one of my favorites, and I also make an Oreo tiered cake, which is a beautiful display and something that can anchor a buffet, a dessert buffet, and make a huge statement with just a couple packages of Oreo cookies, and it’s going to be under $20, and anybody can do it. So, [if] you’re a kid, it’s going to be successful. [If] you’re a busy, overextended mom who just needs to get it done, you’re going to be successful, and the end results are going to be dramatic.
What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
SL: I am a huge fan of candy corn, my favorite candy of all time.
What’s your favorite way of using up leftover Halloween candy?
SL: Chocolate candy bar brownies are great.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever had to bake? And by scary we mean like a croquembouche or a wedding cake.
SL: Baking is my strong suit. Nothing really scares me.
What do you usually give out to trick-or-treaters?
SL: I’m a good one. I give out big candy bars. I’m Aunt Sandy — are you kidding me?
What’s your favorite Halloween memory from when you were a kid?
SL: I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, so we didn’t celebrate Halloween. However, one of the beautiful things about that is it really allows me as an adult to see things differently, because I didn’t experience it. I still, every Halloween, get silly and giddy and dress up just like a kid does, and when you see all of my specials and all of my costumes, it’s because it really matters to me. … I think so many people who are raised with Halloween just take for granted that it’s Halloween, and some of them are even over it. … I feel like it works really well for our viewers and our readers because I’m so invested, and whenever you’re invested and you really love something, it’s going to be fantastic.
Is there a Halloween character that you think you have the most in common with?
SL: Cher, because I probably do the best impersonation of her.
What’s your favorite costume from one of your past Halloween episodes?
SL: The Mad Hatter.
If you could bake a cake for any Halloween character, what would you bake and for whom?
SL: My favorite new show on television is called Penny Dreadful, and I love this character and this personality [Vanessa Ives] so much that she would probably be the person that I made it for, and I would make it for her because she deserves a little sweetness and light in all the darkness she experiences in almost every single scene of this show.
How was it being a part of the new season of Halloween Baking Championship?
SL: The baking championship was incredible this year. The bakers were, each one of them, so incredibly talented, but in their own way, and as they took on the different challenges you could really see their talents at work and also their creative side, not just their talent in what they bake but how creatively they look at things, and when they were given each challenge how thoughtfully they put things together.
What criteria do you go by when you’re judging these Halloween desserts?
SL: You know, because a lot of what I look at is decor and I’m known kind of for the decor and the food and these days food is fashion, I think that what I really look at is the refinements of the elements and the presentation first, because we always eat with our eyes, then our nose, then our palate. So, I’m always looking for the visual, and sometimes it’s hard to judge against two visuals because they’re so different, and then you have to look at the criteria of the competition and the judging to really make a decision, which is hard to do because you don’t want to send anybody home. By the time people make it to our competitions on the Food Network, they’ve really stepped up and honed a lot of their talents.
What advice would you give the competitors on day 1 of the competition?
SL: Hydrate. You know, everyone in our competition is really in it to win it, and sometimes they forget to relax into it. They get a little anxious and stressed out by each challenge, because they’re so emotionally invested, plus it’s a very personal expression. Baking is an extremely personal expression. As much as it is a science to bake and requires a great artistic talent to design, especially in this competition, it’s also emotionally arresting, and with our competitors they leave their families, they leave their homes, and they are doing this for days and days and days and days on end. So, emotionally and physically it’s exhausting in every way.
Why should fans watch Halloween Baking Championship?
SL: There are a lot of stunning surprises. There was a lot of drama. There’s a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. The challenges were not easy. They were extremely difficult. And these bakers had to rise to the occasion or they literally got baked.
Watch the premiere of Halloween Baking Championship on Monday, Oct. 3 at 9|8c.