It was the final round of the premiere episode of Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge, and contestants were creating cookies inspired by their favorite carols.
As Aime Pope of Beverly raced to finish her work, show host Eddie Jackson asked her to sing a bit of her choice: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
“Glory to the newborn king!” she belted out with Jackson as she mixed her batter.
In the episode, which aired Nov. 6, Pope goes on to win the challenge, with her gingerbread cookie puzzle inspired by the song, and the $10,000 prize. The competition — judged by celebrity chefs Ree Drummond, Aarti Sequeira, and Dan Langan — pits five bakers against each other for two rounds of intense cookie-making and decorating. Pope’s episode is one of seven that will air over the next couple months.
“Yeah, now they have me singing in all the promo videos,” Pope said with a laugh.
Pope, 32, hasn’t always been a Food Network star — or even a professional baker. About five years ago, her aunt gave her the reins to the dessert menu for the reception to her wedding with the request Pope make decorated sugar cookies.
“I was like, ‘OK . . . we’ll see.’ I’d never done them before,” Pope said. “But I gave it a try, and it just clicked.”
Pope had always been artistically inclined, and others took notice. Attendees of that wedding made requests for cookies for their events, and her customer base grew from there. Eventually, she started her cookie shop, The Painted Pastry, out of her home kitchen in Beverly.
For years, she ran a day-care business during the day and the cookie business at night, all while raising three boys. She closed her day care in August to focus more on the baking.
All Pope’s dough and icing is made from scratch using recipes she’s developed over the years. She uses royal icing — which dries hard with a glassy sheen — to decorate her cookies. Pope usually makes about 50 to 75 cookies a day, although she said that will likely rise to more than 100 through the holidays. Her Instagram page, thepaintedpastry, has more than 90,000 followers.
Pope was first contacted by the Food Network about competing in a similar cookie challenge three years ago, but had to turn down the offer. But the network kept her contact information, and after a monthslong interview process she was on a plane in August to New Orleans to film the special.
Pope said the biggest change since the episode aired is that she now spends three hours a day answering e-mails from interested cookie fans, explaining that she’s been booked through December, or that she can’t ship cookies out of state.
As for the prize money, Pope isn’t sure where she’ll put it yet. She’s been thinking about gutting her kitchen and customizing it for The Painted Pastry.
“The $10,000 probably wouldn’t cover all of that, but it’d certainly help,” Pope said.Laura Elyse King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauraelyseking.