Upper Cape Tech teacher Douglas Alley reflects on his Food Network victory, and how family got him to where he is today
Growing up on a small island off the coast of Maine left little for teacher and winner of Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge, Douglas Alley, to do. But one activity was always an option in his household: baking. “I grew up around everyone constantly making pies and muffins and doughnuts and everything imaginable because you didn’t run to the local grocery store to buy desserts and baked goods—we made them,” Alley says.
Alley’s love of baking is symbolic of earlier times: without Amazon Prime, cellphones, or even DVDs. With little to do on the island, Alley started baking when he was in high school, making everything from pie crusts to cookies to doughnuts, which were his favorite. Even homemade ice cream was common for the Alleys’ to make, especially in the winter when snowbanks would act as excellent freezers.
“All of my baking skills come from a range of individuals that I grew up with on the island,” says Alley. His grandmother was known for her biscuits and cookies, while his mother baked continuously at home, as she preferred it to cooking.
Having fallen in love with baking throughout high school, Alley attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales University, where he studied culinary arts and business management. Even though his focus wasn’t on pastry, it was the pastry students who Alley hung out with the most.
In his last two years at Johnson and Wales, working as a teaching assistant and in the midst of a fellowship, Alley says he “honed and refined” his pastry skills. “I always say I got a free pastry degree while I was at Johnson and Wales too.”
After graduating from college, Alley spent time working as a culinary correspondent with WMBB News 13 in Florida, creating a cooking segment for their midday show. He then owned a successful catering company before returning to Johnson and Wales to be a professor.
Alley also combined his pastry skills and his degree in management to open his own bakery in Rhode Island called Patticakes, which he describes as a “cupcakerie and bakery.” There he made a variety of baked goods and specialty cakes. But, looking to make a shift in his career, Alley decided last year to close his retail space and shifted to an appointment-only cake business. “I was looking for something different,” Alley says, “and I didn’t want to be tied down to a retail space.”
Baking has bonded Alley and his daughter, Morgan. Since she was little, Alley has been teaching his daughter as much about baking as he could and has fostered a love of baking in her as well.
It was actually his daughter’s common teenage sass that inspired Alley to apply for the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. After Morgan told him that he was “too old” to be on one of these cooking shows, Alley accepted this comment as a challenge but didn’t really think he would be considered.
The selection process was long, beginning in March of 2017 and not reaching completion until July. Those five months were filled with phone and Skype interviews and sending photos of his cookies to the producers. “People don’t realize how long the process is,” Alley says.
But, if selected, the process then moves quickly. Alley only had a matter of days between learning that he was a competitor to flying down to New Orleans and begin filming his segment.
One of the hardest parts of filming the show was keeping it a secret for so long. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving that Alley could tell the ones who had introduced him to baking, his family, that he was taking his skills on-air. And even then, he couldn’t tell them that he won.
But this vow to secrecy was something that Alley shared with his competitors, who he remains in touch with. “It’s such a unique experience that you do really bond together quickly because there are so few people that actually have this experience,” he explains.
This camaraderie was fostered during the filming of the show, and Alley admits that he didn’t expect to come out on top because his costars were so talented. Even though they couldn’t taste each other’s cookies, “We were able to see each other’s work at the end,” Alley says. “I really thought it would be Marisol, a contestant from New York, who was going to win because her work was so out of the box [in terms of design] and her level of detail with piping.”
Retrospectively, however, Alley, who is currently working on a cookbook, can see that his work stood up to the rest and is proud of the cookies he was able to create, which earned him the $10,000 prize. Each recipe that Alley used has a tie to his family. His red velvet crinkle cookies are a favorite of Morgan, who loves the flavor. His lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies are a favorite of Alley’s wife, as well as Alley himself. And his winning sugar cookie reminds him of his early years spent on Beals Island.
2017 also marked Alley’s first year as a culinary arts teacher at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School. But even after his big win, Alley was still “a nobody” to his students. Alley says they thought he was joking when he told them he was on the Food Network. But Alley watched the show with his students, who after seeing their teacher compete on-air were excited to be taught by a Food Network winner. Receptive of their excitement, Alley taught them the recipes he had won with. “It was great to be able to share some of my experience with the students,” Alley says, and he hopes that it will encourage their interests in baking.
Click to the next page for a fun cookie recipe you can try at home. And, for even more great ideas, visit our recipes page!
Red Velvet Crinkle Cookie
By Douglas Alley. Time: 10-12 minutes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces butter
(1 stick salted, softened)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons red food coloring*
3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
*NOTE: If using food coloring gel or paste, it is more concentrated than liquid. Use half the amount required in recipes using liquid food coloring.
1. In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Stir or whisk to blend thoroughly.
2. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and food coloring until smooth and well blended.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and cocoa mixture to the batter. Blend well.
4. Chill the dough for at least 2 to 4 hours, or until it is quite firm.
5. Heat oven to 350°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick baking spray.
6. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl.
7. Shape the dough into small balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on the prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Once you have filled the baking sheet, roll the balls, one or two at a time, in the sifted powdered sugar and place them back on the baking sheet.
8. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are set and have that signature crinkled look.
9. Let the cookies cool in the pan for 4 or 5 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Tips and Variations
• Add mini chocolate chips
for more chocolate flavor.
• Use a small cookie scoop to keep the cookies uniform in size, and then shape/roll them with your hands.