Meet the inaugural class of James Beard Award outstanding bakery semifinalists

KANSAS CITY, MO — The James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards have been around for over 30 years, and while they’ve awarded an outstanding pastry chef and baker in the past, 2023 marks the first year the awards are also recognizing outstanding bakeries.

The awards define a bakery as “a baker of breads, pastries or desserts that demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality and operations while contributing positively to its broader community.” While a brick-and-mortar presence is not necessary for nomination, eligible candidates must sell products directly to the public and have been in business for the past three years.

For retail bakers, making the shortlist for awards ignites an array of feelings. For Marisca Trejo, founder of Richardson, TX-based La Casita Bakeshop, the nomination serves as a nod to the hard work she’s put into creating her bakery.

“It feels so weird because I truly never try to do any of this stuff, but I mean, it feels really good to get the recognition,” Trejo said.

This is Trejo’s second James Beard Award nomination in the past two years as she was named a semifinalist for the outstanding baker category in 2022. With both nominations, she learned about making the shortlist from someone else but this year she got to celebrate with her team, who were all together for a meeting when the news came out.

“It’s rare that we all are together but all of my people are together on Wednesdays,” Trejo said. “It’s funny because the same people have been with me for two years already and they were like, ‘Oh my god, we got one again?’ We were freaking out, it felt really good to share that with them.”

Caroline Corrente from Middlebury, VT-based Haymaker Bun Co. shared a similar sentiment to receiving the nomination. Familiar with the awards from her time as a waitress in college, Corrente quickly learned the significance of the award and even uses the nomination and winners as a guidebook for dining in different cities.

“I first learned about the [award nomination] in a meeting and I got a text message from a friend saying congratulations,” she said. “I had to excuse myself from the meeting for a second so I could Google it, and that’s how I learned. I was shocked.”

Corrente began her bakery in her home kitchen in 2017. In balancing a business and a newborn, the pastry chef’s business grew to the brick-and-mortar operation it is today selling brioche-based cinnamon buns and all different kinds of pastries in addition to breakfast, lunch and other offerings.

Being named a semifinalist has caused not only a surge of pride for these bakers but also an uptick in sales and foot traffic to their respective bakeries. Given the difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic the retail baking industry is currently bouncing back from, it makes all the difference to receive this nomination.

“It’s definitely been busier than normal, which is awesome. We’re getting waves of new business,” Corrente shared.

With increased coverage of the nomination in local news, she said that some people were coming from an hour away to try her product.

“It’s definitely been cool to see new people but also just a lot of the community,” Corrente continued. “It’s a small community, people know us and know me. I had a woman come in the day after in tears and she was like, ‘I hope you know this community is so proud of you.’ It was really heartwarming and sweet.”

Trejo likens the increase in sales to the opening day of her bakery, with lots of people and not enough baked goods to go around (she was better prepared this time around.) The nomination also drew in more local customers, some of whom had never noticed the bakery beforehand, and more followers on social media.

“It’s definitely impacted our sales and our Instagram,” she continued. “I think we gained over 2,000 followers in that span of time from that moment to now. Our number was just skyrocketing.”

With distinct plans for both bakeries moving, the James Beard award nomination puts Trejo and Corrente on the path to continue to develop and grow their respective bakeries. The winner will be named on June 5.

The full list of semifinalists is listed below:

Insomnia Cookies shares cocktail-inspired LTO

PHILADELPHIA — Insomnia Cookies, known for cookies made to cure late-night hunger, Insomnia Cookies is ringing in spring with its limited-time Spring Baked collection inspired by popular cocktails.

Though they share the names of these cocktails, the cookies contain zero alcohol by volume. The lineup includes:

  • Classic Piña Colada: A piña colada cookie with coconut shavings and white chocolate chips. Contains artificial alcohol flavoring.
  • Classic Limoncello: A buttery lemon cookie with candied lemon pieces topped with sugar.
  • Deluxe Filled Espresso Martini: An espresso dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips filled with mocha fudge sauce.

The collection is now available in Insomnia stores nationwide, while supplies last.

Krispy Kreme consumers in for a lucky surprise

CHARLOTTE, NC — Krispy Kreme lovers are in luck. The donut company has released a new gold themed line of donuts, along with the return of the beloved green O’riginal Glazed Donut.

“Wherever you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day – at home, the office, with friends, even parades – you can make it golden by enjoying and sharing our Good as Gold donuts,” said Dave Skena, global chief brand officer for Krispy Kreme.

For a limited time, customers can shop the four new donuts at participating US shops.

The Good as Gold line of donuts include:

  • Golden Cookies & Kreme Donut​: A golden cookie creme-filled donut shell dipped in white icing and covered in golden cookie pieces and a gold sprinkle blend.
  • Hat O’ Gold Donut: A chocolate iced donut decorated with a plaid green icing pattern and topped with a leprechaun hat sugar piece.
  • Golden Sprinkle Donut: A glazed donut dipped in green icing and topped with a gold St. Patrick’s Day sprinkle blend.
  • Rainbow Kreme Filled Donut: An unglazed shell filled with white kreme topped with green icing and decorated with a rainbow sugar piece, vanilla buttercream and gold coin sprinkles.

As a promotion, Krispy Kreme is giving away a free O’riginal Glazed Donut to all customers who wear green to participating locations March 16 and 17.



How a kouign-amann changed one baker’s life

OAKLAND, CA — Seventeen years ago, Brian Wood had his first experience with a kouign-amann. That initial introduction eventually led him to open a wholesale bakery in 2010.

Translating to “butter cake”, the layered butter and sugar creates a caramelized flakey pastry that makes a good breakfast dessert. Wood learned how to make the pastry while teaching at the San Francisco Baking Institute.

Wood’s kouign-amann have been a Bay Area favorite for years. Wood just opened Starter Bakery, his first ever brick-and-mortar in Oakland. On opening day, people lined up, many with high hopes of getting their hands on the kouign-amann.

Typically, the sweet good is made with double the butter and 10-times the sugar as a traditional croissant — making them is time consuming and can take a full day. Wood puts a twist on his kouign-amann, adding seasonal fillings to the usually unfilled pastry.

In addition to kouign-amann, Starter Bakery also features freshly baked ciabatta and sourdough bread, croissants, sticky buns, and other traditional baked goods.

Benefits of High-Ratio Cake Mixes: TechTalk with Dawn Foods

Joanie Spencer, editor-in-chief of Craft to Crumb, talks with Ashley Kerns, technical sales representative of Dawn Foods, about the benefits of high-ratio cake mixes for retail bakers.

Celebrating Pi Day in a mini way

CUDAHY, WI —Vegan bakery East Side Ovens is celebrating Pi Day by branching out of its normal Sunday-only hours and opening its doors today to offer customers a variety of savory, sweet pudding and fruit pies, both big and small.

Pi Day is celebrated annually on March 14. It recognizes the mathematical sign pi. Why March 14? Because the date — 3.14 — represents the first three digits of pi.

There are three different, 6-inch savory pie options:

  • Veggie Potato
  • Chorizo, Potato and Roasted Veggie
  • Veggie and Potato Curry

Customers craving something sweet can choose from 3-inch pudding pies:

  • S’mores: a graham crust, vanilla pudding, chocolate drizzle and marshmallows
  • Banana Cookie Butter: Biscoff crust, banana pudding and a cookie butter drizzle
  • Lemon: shortbread crust lemon pudding and a lemon zest
  • Chocolate Coconut: shortbread crust, chocolate pudding and toasted coconut

EOS also bakes fruit pies, available in 3-, 6- and 9-inch sizes in the following flavors:

  • Apple
  • Three Berry
  • Cherry
  • Raspberry Rhubarb


Spring into upcoming RBA events

TINLEY PARK, IL —Retail Bakers of America features educational sessions and events where bakers can learn about trends and develop new skills.

As part of its virtual programming, RBA is hosting Baking Technology: Data Driven Production Planning and Waste Reduction on March 20.

Cybake founder Jane Tyler and US business representative Luke Karl will explain how bakers can use technology to predict what baked good to produce based on previous sales data. Learn how to better pick best sellers by analyzing critical data to help eliminate guesswork.

Stay up to date on the latest retail baking industry events by checking Craft to Crumb’s event calendar.

The impact of transparency and sustainability in ingredients

NEW CAMBRIA, KS — The new age of retail baking is here and driving innovation, from ingredients to the final product in brick-and-mortar bakeries. With increased consumer consciousness on what goes into the products they enjoy, retail bakers are more selective in their suppliers.

Flour, in all its forms, is the core of the baking industry. It serves as the foundation for everything from classic cakes to delicate pastries, and the caliber of quality is being set by innovators such as New Cambria, KS-based Farmer Direct Foods, one of the sponsors of the Craft to Crumb Great Ingredients Giveaway, along with the California Walnut Board.

With more consumers and bakers showing an interest in products that are better-for-you and better-for-the-planet, the brand is in a unique position to support both through its production practices.

Hayley Eckert, head of strategy and sales of Farmer Direct Foods, noted the brand is able to distinguish itself in the market due to its commitment to supply chain transparency and sustainable, regeneratively grown wheat.

“We can tell you from field to flour where each bag of flour came from,” she said. “Transparency is key to consumers, and no other producer is currently offering stone-ground, whole wheat flours with this level of commitment to consumers, farmers and the earth.”

The milling company has expanded its sustainability practices by using techniques such as no-till farming, no irrigation, cover crops, crop rotation and the integration of livestock. In doing so, Eckert noted, Farmer Direct is creating a farmer network rooted in improving soil health and minimizing carbon in the atmosphere.

The company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2003, and even before as the American White Wheat Producers Association in 1988. Over time, the company have expanded beyond organic and traditional flour into innovative types such as rye, heirloom and buckwheat that boast being non-GMO verified and certified kosher.

As a result, the relationship between the multi-generational farmers who supply the raw material needed to create the stone-ground, whole grain flour and Farmer Direct Foods is highly valued.

“Truly to our core, we’re better for the earth and better for the farmers,” Eckert explained. “We pay our farmers a premium for the grain that they sell to us, and then on top of that, they participate in a profit-sharing program.”

For bakers like John Friend, president of Farm to Market Bread Co., the interest in transparency of its ingredients drew them to Farmer Direct Foods, a connection that’s expanded into other aspects of the business.

“One of the initial things that drew us to Farmer Direct flour was being able to fulfill that long-term goal of being able to know where our wheat comes from, and it’s been great,” he said.

In addition to proximity and product availability — Farm to Market Bread uses red wheat flour, a product produced in Kansas where Farmer Direct operates — Friend noted that the quality of the product and knowledge of its origin is exciting for the company across its different distribution avenues.

“Being able to be more conscious about where the flour is coming from as far as having a positive impact on the environment is an added plus,” he said. “We divide our business in lots of different categories and one way is our retail side with our branded breads that we sell fresh to grocery store seven days a week, 365 days a year. I think that those customers are going to be really happy to start learning about where their flour’s coming from and that it’s going to have a more positive impact on the environment.”

From field to flour to final product, the transparency and celebration of the effort that goes into the production of Farmer Direct Foods’ flour varieties paves a path for other suppliers.

“We have this incredible network of multi-generational farmers and the fact that bakery customers and, ultimately, the end consumers know that their money is going to the farmer who’s doing the hard work is really important to us,” Eckert said.

Levain dishes out its first-ever GF, vegan cookie

NEW YORK — Levain Bakery, a New York-based chain known for its oversized cookies, has created a plant-based, gluten-free version of its signature chocolate chip walnut cookie.

With a few ingredient swaps, the newest addition to the lineup features chunks of walnut and semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips and delivers the same thickness and flavor the brand is known for.

The new cookie is available at Levain’s brick-and-mortar bakeries and through the bakery’s online store in 4-, 8- or 12-count packs.

Late night snack takes on a whole new meaning

BOSTON — Back Door Donuts is bringing its “Donuts After Dark” tradition to a pop-up location in Boston’s Fenway section. The popular tradition is thought to date back to the early ’70s.

Customers can pick up fresh-baked donuts, apple fritters and other baked goods from the side door of Loretta’s Last Call at 1 Landsdowne St. from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. beginning March 15. The pop-up takes both online and walk-up window orders.

The Donuts After Dark menu includes apple fritters and mini fritters, and donuts flavors such as Boston Cream, Buttercrunch, Buttermilk Glazed, Chocolate Coconut, Chocolate Frosted, Chocolate Glazed, Cinnamon Sugar, Coconut Donut, Double Chocolate, Honey Dipped, Lemon Jelly, Maple Bacon, Old Fashioned, Party Donut, and Raspberry Jelly.