James Beard Awards Outstanding Pastry Chef Nominees

Like the Oscars of the food world, the James Beard Awards generate media hype and provoke intense speculation. On May 6th and 9th, food-lovers, journalists, and chefs will watch as the winners are announced. Five of the nations best bakers battle it out in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category. 1. Joanne Chang: A Harvard graduate with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics, Joanne Chang runs Flour. A Boston bakery and cafe, Flour has earned Chang national media attention and critical acclaim.

2. Patrick Fahy: Working the pastry station at Blackbird, Patrick Fahy specializes in Italian pastries. A French Laundry veteran, Fahy crafts whimsical desserts like banana pain perdu with butterscotch, malt, pine nut, and bourbon barrel wood ice cream.

3. Dahlia Narvaez: After working with Nancy Silverton at Campanile, Narvaez joined Silverton and Mario Batali at Osteria Mozza. Her desserts are firmly rooted in the Italian tradition, ranging from a limoncello zabaglione to rosemary olive oil cakes.

4. Angela Pinkerton: Eleven Madison Park has become one of New York's most lauded restaurants, and Angela Pinkerton runs the dessert program. At Kent State University, she worked in a bakery making custom cakes-now, her desserts are elaborate and technically precise masterpieces.

5. Mindy Segal: Mindy's HotChocolate is one of Chicago's hottest dessert destinations. From "Thoughts on a Peanut Butter Cup" to a perfectly executed creme brulee, Segal's creations are divine. And of course there's an extensive hot chocolate selection, too.

Who do you think should win Outstanding Pastry Chef this year? For more on the James Beard Awards click here.

Fear of Baking

Overcome Your Fear Of Baking

Joanne Chang, chef/owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston, Massachusetts, has written a delightful article about how to overcome a fear of baking.  Especially at this time of the year, you might be planning to bake a cake and feel afraid about messing it up to the dismay of your guests.  Chang breaks the common fears of baking down into humorous anecdotes that inspired me to try something grandiose this holiday season.

Chang's main concern is that intimidated bakers follow the recipe.  The authors have done the 'heavy lifting' for you, making it all the more accessible.  Unlike savory cooking, which can be more flexible, recipes for cakes, cookies and the like are less flexible.  Follow the steps, and take the time to concentrate on the recipe, she says.  She compares following a recipe to following the GPS in your car, warning that while the voice in your car will recalculate if you make a wrong term, you cannot do the same if you neglect the recipe's guidelines.

Despite offering strict guidance for novice and experienced bakers alike, she comforts those who might have made an error: "Remember as well that one of the great things about baking is that if you make a mistake the result is usually still edible and even quite good. Unless you've totally burnt your cookies or added salt instead of sugar into your cake...you will likely end up with something that be fashioned into a new dessert that you can serve proudly to unsuspecting friends and family."

Well said, Joanne!

Read her entire humorous and encouraging article here.