The sweetest time of the year

Middletown’s Shandira Rivera appears on Netflix baking competition ‘Sugar Rush Christmas'

Icing on the cake: Middletown resident Shandira Rivera, owner of the home-based Affectionate Confections, can be spotted on episode six of the new Netflix series ‘Sugar Rush Christmas.’ Source: Shandira Rivera

If you’re one of the millions currently binge watching the slew of holiday-themed baking competitions on television, you may have noticed a familiar face on Netflix’s all-new series Sugar Rush Christmas – Middletown resident Shandira Rivera.

Appearing on episode six of the show, which premiered on the streaming service on Nov. 29, Rivera and a partner battled three other teams from across the country, all tasked with creating winter wonderland-inspired desserts for the grand prize of $10,000.

Though she (spoiler alert!) didn’t come out victorious, showcasing her skills on such a large platform was a dream come true for Rivera, who owns the home-based bakery Affectionate Confections. While Rivera has worked as a professional pastry chef for a little over a decade, her passion for baking dates to her childhood, and is largely credited to her grandfather.

“I started when I was 11. He inspired me every month to make him a cake. Then he passed away, so I stopped baking for a while. I became a medical assistant then decided to go back to school and become a pastry chef,” she said. “My inspiration has always been my grandfather, and I know that if he were here, he would be very proud of everything that I’ve accomplished so far.”

Landing the Sugar Rush Christmas gig has been (needless to say) a career highlight. After a lengthy application process, Rivera was on an all-expenses-paid trip to Burbank, California, where she filmed her first-ever baking competition.

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, participants are tasked with creating three desserts during a limited time. Any time remaining from the first two rounds is added to the final, most challenging round.

On Rivera’s episode, bakers had to create cupcakes, a confection and large-scale cake, all reminiscent of wintertime activities. Once a team completed a treat, they rang a bell and were judged by Hunter March, Candace Nelson and Adriano Zumbo, along with special guest Olympian Meryl Davis. One elimination took place at the conclusion of each round.

During the first high-pressure round, Rivera and her partner baked candy cane cupcakes, which were the judges’ top pick.

“It definitely felt as though I was sledding down a hill in the middle of winter with my friends as a kid,” said Davis. “I mean, what a beautiful memory.”

Rivera, who underestimated the amount of time it would take to hand-paint the miniature sleds that went on top of the cupcakes, said she was shocked yet thrilled over the unprecedented outcome.

“I was so surprised when we won best cupcake because I was nervous. I was so nervous. My hand was shaking when I was painting the little sleds. If you look at the video again, you’ll see that my hand was shaking so bad,” she said. “We had some difficulties, but then we got it together and I couldn’t believe that we won that round. I was in shock.”

Despite the stress, Rivera managed to have some fun, bringing a special Philly flair to the kitchen. When asked what she was mixing into the cupcake batter, she confidently announced, “Jimmies!,” which incited laughter in the judges, who were raised on “sprinkles.”

In the confection round, things weren’t any easier for Rivera, who drew from her Puerto Rican upbringing to make a coquito milkshake. With mere minutes left on the clock, all the other teams finished, the mixture refused to harden. Thinking fast, Rivera added ice to it, but this did nothing more than water down the flavors. Her team hit the bell with 17 seconds left on the clock – a Sugar Rush record.

“It was giving them something or not giving them anything at all and being disqualified,” she said. “I guess we did too much for the little amount of time.”

The milkshake didn’t quite cut it for the judges, and Rivera was eliminated before the final cake round. Still, she’s been getting nothing but positive feedback – especially from her youngest family members.

“It’s exciting just to see my niece and nephew see me on TV. That was awesome,” she said. “My nephew was screaming, ‘Oh, that’s Titi, that’s Titi on the TV!’ ”

Now, the big question is…would Rivera compete again?

“Oh yeah. I’m ready for another show because now I know what it feels like. I already put my foot in, I can do it again. I won’t be as nervous,” she said. “I’ll communicate and talk more because I’m the type of person when I’m concentrated, I do what I have to do. I don’t talk. I’ve always been like that. But in these shows, you have to talk to your partner. You have to communicate. So I know for the next time.” ••

For more information on Affectionate Confections, visit facebook.com/affectionate.confections.9 or follow the business on Instagram @affectionateconfections.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com