Thanks to Brittani Szczecina, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Known for the extraordinary desserts she prepares at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, the talented pastry chef triumphed in this year’s Food Network Christmas Cookie Challenge. We caught up with the Boynton Beach native for her take on festive confectionaries and life inside the Food Network kitchen.
PBI: How did it feel to win the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge?
Szczecina: It was so surreal. I get emotional when I think about it. I feel very proud.
How did you prepare for the competition?
It was hard, because it’s 85 degrees here. I watched Elf probably seventeen times. I listened to Christmas songs, drank peppermint mocha coffees, and made every cookie for an entire week.
Which skills helped you to succeed?
I’m a self-proclaimed perfectionist. My creativity and thinking outside the box helped me in the final round. I always say, “The root of all let down is expectation.” I went in there and did what I do every day.
Which round was your favorite?
Round two, the snowglobe round (Brittani’s dessert, pictured below). I pushed myself to do something I had never done before. No one else made a snow globe.
How do you plan to spend your $10,000 prize?
I don’t know just yet. Down the road, I’d love to open up a bakery. $10,000 is definitely a start. Maybe next year I’ll go back to Paris.
Any plans to compete in more pastry bake-offs?
It would be amazing to to be on Chopped and get to the dessert round. I don’t know much about ostrich eggs or some of the weird ingredients they use, but it would fun to do.
What prompted your interest in pastry?
I was always making cupcakes and in my family, nobody really bakes. I’ve always thought that it was something I was destined to do and I feel pretty lucky I realized that at a young age.
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What is your favorite dessert?
Who’s your greatest cooking influence?
That would be my grandmother. She was Italian. She taught me how to make everything from lasagna to meatballs.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m a very visual person and I love nature. Nature makes me feel at home. I also love to travel. I was in Europe for a month and was exposed to their flavors and different types of ingredients.
Do you have a baking philosophy?
I feel like there’s no limit. It’s very important to master your classics and your basic techniques like mousses, crème brulee, custards, and chiffon. Once you have that grasp, the world is at your disposal.
Which pastry ingredient can you not live without?
I’m a chocoholic so milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate—which isn’t even chocolate. It’s my goal list to become a master chocolatier. (Brittani’s chocolate cookies, pictured below)
Do you have a favorite cookbook?
I have a ridiculous amount of cookbooks. I actually collect them. One of my favorites is Antonio Bachour’s chocolate cookbook and Thomas Keller’s book on baking.
Do you follow any Instagram all-star chefs for inspiration?
I’m kind of obsessed with Antonio Bachour and love checking out what he is doing on Instagram.
Any tips you can share for newbie pastry chefs?
Practice makes perfect. A lot of young come into the pastry world and expect to be all-stars right away but uou really have to work hard. It’s not something you can just skate by doing.
Food and competition photos courtesy of the Food Network.