If you can ‘wow’ this judge, you can impress your guests.

By Annie Campbell
November 20, 2019
Hallmark Drama

Hallmark Drama’s newest holiday hit, The Christmas Cookie Matchup, combines the joy of cookie baking with appearances from some of your favorite Hallmark cast members. If you haven’t already fallen for the show, allow us to introduce you to one of the acclaimed judges, Chadwick Boyd.  

Although Boyd’s multi-media company, Chadwick Boyd Lifestyle, covers everything from modern home cooking to entertaining, Boyd was originally trained as a baker, purchasing his beloved Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book with allowance money in just the fourth grade. This treasury of cookie baking tips, now riddled with handwritten notes from his mother and grandmother, is still referenced every holiday. 

“I wouldn’t call cookies dessert,” Boyd shared of his holiday baking at home. “I would call them essential.”

Hallmark Drama

As the show filmed, Boyd didn’t hold back in critiquing the contestants’ work, noting, “I’m viewed as the Hallmark version of Paul Hollywood on this show because I’m the more critical judge.” Boyd does like to mix up traditional recipes, but doesn’t stray too far from the flavors our taste-buds crave and come to expect this time of year. 

Growing up, Boyd’s annual job was to create the Christmas cookie tray, whether it was prepared as a gift or set out for guests to enjoy with a cup of coffee. Boyd’s years of experience, and countless batches of Christmas cookies baked, have clearly made him something of an expert when it comes to the best ways to impress with your holiday cookie display. 

Here are his best tips for crafting an impressive, yet classic, cookie arrangement for the holidays.

Hallmark Drama

The Cookies

“There would be four you definitely need,” Boyd says. “A sugar cookie, a short bread, a spice cookie and another classic, like a chocolate chip or some variation of that.”

The key to giving these cookies a holiday spin is all about incorporating familiar seasonal flavors. For example, the “chocolate chip cookie” could be a Peppermint Bark Cookie or even a Peanut Butter-Toffee Turtle Cookie. A classic shortbread can get a pop of color from raspberry preserves, and a simple sugar cookie only needs a few white nonpareils to go from boring to beautiful.  

Photo: Randy Mayor; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross

As for the spice cookies, Boyd says he thoroughly appreciated clever applications of spices among the contestants, especially in a Christmas cookie. There’s a fine line to walk between deliciously innovative and too-far-from-familiar. “It's not necessarily something that everybody can do well,” Boyd shares. “You don’t want to alienate people, so you want to introduce them into new flavors.” He recommends starting with cinnamon as a familiar spice base, then adding in non-traditional spices (whether that be chili or cardamom) in a 2:1 ratio. 

The Decorations

Nowadays, creating impressive decorations doesn’t have to be expensive or overly time-consuming. Boyd recommends choosing three cookie cut-outs to turn into your signature cookie design. “Pick three that really feel like you, and use them.” Your cookie tray will be instantly recognizable on the dessert table when you stick to a few festive shapes every holiday season. 

He also suggests learning a basic buttercream frosting or royal icing recipe and committing it to memory. Just pop it in a zip-top bag and snip off a corner to make an instant decorating bag. Don’t worry if you don’t have a steady hand or ample creativity. “Just the little bit of detail makes it extra special,” Boyd adds. 

Photo: Linda Pugliese, Hector Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas, Buffy Hargett Miller

As for the best decorating technique he saw from the Hallmark Drama contestants, using melted chocolate as an adherent for a gingerbread house was a tactic Boyd had never seen or tried before. Boyd said he’s a traditionalist when it comes to gingerbread houses, but noted the use of chocolate was very successful. 

The Reason 

For Boyd, the most impactful part of filming this competition wasn’t observing impressive baking skills, but hearing the stories contestants shared behind why they made their particular cookies. “It re-reminded me of why making Christmas cookies is such a special thing,” Boyd says, pointing out that the recipes made over years and years become part of a families’ identity, and celebrating that connection is what the holidays are all about. 

Hallmark Drama

“There are thousands of sugar cookie recipes that have different techniques and twists—you use the butter one way, you add different amounts of sugar— and they will all turn out. But when you have a baker who has that technical skill and they have a reason behind why they do it, that’s what makes a very successful Christmas cookie recipe.”

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