Contestant Hollis Johnson is shown baking during the challenge “Dessert Imposters” as seen
on Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.”I’m so excited! I’m on cloud nine to represent Jacksonville, and I’m really proud of the effort and hard work I put into my winning cake.” Hollis Johnson bubbled with excitement as she spoke with the Times-Union in a phone interview Tuesday. The night before, it was revealed that the 13-year-old from Jacksonville Beach had won the Food Network “Kids Baking Championship.”

Hollis is a longtime fan of one of the show’s hosts, Duff Goldman, best known for his signature Baltimore bakery, Charm City Cakes, which was featured in Food Network’s series “Ace of Cakes.” “My sister and I have been watching Duff’s show Ace of Cakes since we were really little, and he is such a talented baker. I think of him as an artist, and cakes are his medium,” Hollis said. Several times during the competition, Goldman expressed his respect for Hollis’s baking chops. “I really hope Hollis doesn’t open a bakery within 10 miles of me,” he quipped in the show’s third episode.

Unlike a generation of fans before her, she hadn’t heard of Goldman’s co-host, two-time Golden Globe Award-winning actress and New York Times best-selling cookbook author Valerie Bertinelli. Her mother told her all about her before they met on the set. She enjoyed working withher though. “She was very kind and gentle, and fun to work with,” Hollis said. Bertinelli influenced the competition early on when she revealed she loved lemon-flavored sweets. Three of the final four cakes were lemon flavored, including the one baked by Hollis. Her winning cake was a simple, elegant four-layer lemon yellow cake with lemon curd between the layers, white buttercream frosting with yellow flowers and sparkling sugar decoration. Goldman has adapted a version of the winning cake, and it is on sale for a limited time from his Charm City Cakes website.

During the finale, her buttercream frosting separated and she had to dump it and start over. It was a bold move, but a no-brainer for Hollis, who strives for perfection. When asked where that drive comes from, and if she feels that same pressure when she’s baking for friends and family, she answered, “Of course, I mean you’re giving it to someone and you want them to look happy and smile. You can’t have a cake with melting frosting and drooping flowers. You’re making something special, and it represents you, so you want to be sure it looks absolutely the best.”

Despite the obvious pressure of competition, Hollis always seemed composed. “You’re on TV, with these huge cameras following you around, and you want to make sure you’re very calm and collected, but on the inside, of course, you’re very stressed out,” she admitted. “Panicking isn’t going to help you just want to make sure you use your time wisely.”

The show, which ended Monday night in a four-baker finale, was actually filmed last year in Los Angeles. Hollis keeps in touch with her fellow competitors, whom she refers to as very competitive, and very talented bakers. “The competition was fierce, but they were very sweet children,” she said. Hollis will split her $10,000 cash winnings with her sister and best friend Devon, and they will use the money for college. The prize package also includes a complete set of Food Network bakeware products and a profile in Food Network magazine. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what the future holds, but she’s looking forward to what will happen. This spring break, for example, she and her family are going to the United Arab Emirates. Right now, though, her life is full of excitement. “To be the winner of the Kids Baking Championship, it’s beyond amazing.”