Last time The Chronicle checked, things were going pretty well for Centralia baker Ashlee Shirer, formerly Ashlee Christman.
Now, she’s even better.
Shirer, 27, has turned sugar cookie making into her career after a 2020 appearance on “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” a show on Food Network, where she out-baked and out-decorated four other cookie bakers to win $10,000.
Since her win — which earned a front-page article in The Chronicle — her business has taken off. Her Instagram following has grown by more than 10,000 and she runs her fully online company Sweet Dough Cookie Co. out of a commercial kitchen in Chehalis.
Now, Shirer will get another go at it on a Christmas Cookie Challenge “Returning Champs” episode set to air at 7 p.m. Nov. 11. She will face off against other previous show winners for another chance at $10,000. The show can also be streamed on Amazon Prime or YouTube TV.
Along with her return to television, Shirer is gearing up to open a storefront on Main Street in Centralia by Napa Auto Parts. If all goes well, that will be open around the end of November. She envisions using the space as a classroom for cookie decorating parties and as a brick-and-mortar shop. She will start by opening on Fridays only.
To top it all off, she got married in July. Her wedding costs were significantly aided by her cash prize from last year.
“Two weeks before we got married, I signed the lease to this place,” Shirer said of her storefront. “I don't know what I was thinking, but it's coming together slowly.”
After starting a job decorating cakes when she was 15 years old, Shirer got her business license at 18. Now, she’s all about cookies. She sells her decorated batches by the dozens, with a normal order averaging about two dozen and a large one coming out to over 10 dozen.
“Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to be on Food Network. That's been my dream since I was like 5,” Shirer said this week. “Since I love cookies, my Instagram and online presence kind of just grew and followed naturally. So when I was posting cookies and my followers would grow, I'd be like, ‘OK, I know followers should not matter, but I know the Food Network looks at those too.’”
Meeting her lifelong dream for the first time at age 26 was no cakewalk.
After her first Christmas Cookie Challenge, she told her now-husband she never wanted to be on TV again. The show has bakers going head-to-head with a time constraint to see who can bake the best-tasting and most beautiful cookies within about an hour and a half.
“I was just running around with my head chopped off,” she said.
Instead of letting it get her down, though, Shirer rose to the challenge, and now credits her speed as the biggest contributor to her win.
Now, she can produce a batch of a dozen in 90 minutes regularly in her day-to-day work.
Besides the lessons in speed and the judges’ feedback on her baking technique, going on Food Network gave Shirer more opportunities. She now sells her recipe online, complete with her special ingredient for a delightfully moist sugar cookie: sour cream. She also taught at a 900-person cookie convention in Orlando, Florida, and two weeks ago at an event in Dallas, Texas.
“Sometimes I just sit there and think, who would have thought that cookie decorating could take me all these places? Because I never thought that it could,” Shirer said. “I mean, who doesn't love sweets? When you open a box of cookies, I don't think you can ever be sad.”
Orders for cookies, merchandise and recipes can be placed on Shirer’s website at www.sweetdoughcookieco.com. Her Instagram and Facebook can be found by searching “Sweet Dough Cookie Co.”