Meet Baker Chris Taylor, Competing in Spring Baking Championship
Eight bakers have entered the Spring Baking Championship for a chance to win the title and earn $50,000 in prize money. Each one brings a unique talent to the competition. Some are professional pastry chefs, while others are culinary arts instructors, competitive bakers or self-trained bakers. This new series gives them the opportunity to show their skills on national television.
Before tuning in for the premiere on Sunday, April 26 at 9|8c, get to know the bakers. Every day leading up to the first episode we'll be revealing a Q&A with one of the eight.
Chris Taylor (Atlanta) holds a Ph.D. in epidemiology but he's been a home baking enthusiast for more than 10 years. Since 2011 he's earned more than 200 awards from competing in baking contests at the local, regional, state and national levels.
My first memory of baking is helping my mother bake dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies for our family. It has always been a holiday tradition.
What's the first thing you learned to bake really well? Do you still make it today?
I think the first thing I learned to bake really well was a chocolate layer cake. I don't use the same recipe as my first time, but I love my chocolate layer cakes.
What would you say is your signature baked item, one that everyone knows you for?
Everyone knows me for my decorated sugar and gingerbread cookies: simple but delicious cookies with intricate designs created in royal icing.
If you could bake only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Decorated cookies. Even if I could only make one flavor of cookie, the decorating possibilities are endless.
What's your favorite ingredient or item to use in your baking?
Chocolate! All manner of chocolate baked items.
What's your favorite holiday to bake for? What do you typically make?
Halloween is a great holiday to bake for, because it is a combination of scary, spooky and fun things. All of those ideas can be reflected in baked goods. For Halloween, I like to make themed decorated cookies.
Who is (or was) your baking mentor? What's the No. 1 thing that person taught you?
I really fell in love with baking through cookbook authors. Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my absolute favorites. She taught me that the level of detail that goes into your ingredient measuring and preparation is directly related to its outcome. A cake made with precisely measured ingredients and treated in an exacting way will turn out successfully each and every time.
When it comes to baking, how would you describe your style, your mentality?
As a home baking enthusiast, I like to be fearless and try baked foods even if they aren't typically something a home baker would make. I think a lot of home bakers don't think they can make croissants or other pastries at home, but they can. The results can be delicious and satisfying because they're an accomplishment.
If you could bake a cake for anyone (alive or dead), who would it be and what would you make?
My spouse. I would make a lemon Bundt cake — a favorite of both of ours.
What's the biggest baking fail you've ever had that you're willing to admit to? Were you able to rescue it, or did you have to start from scratch?
I once baked a pan of chocolate madeleines, but after placing them in the oven, I realized that I forgot to butter the pan. Since madeleines are baked in pans with small ridges, they can stick horribly. I decided that I would immediately unmold them after they were out of the oven, before they had a chance to begin to stick as they cooled. Unfortunately, in my efforts to immediately unmold the madeleines, I forgot to check to see if they were baked through completely! When I pulled the pan from the oven, I feverishly inverted it and 12 half-baked madeleines freed completely from the pan and splattered chocolate batter all over my cooling racks, dining room table and apartment wall! A complete fail!
In your opinion, what's the No. 1 mistake that most home bakers make?
Too many substitutions! I've talked to many home bakers (and read many online recipe critiques) that describe a cake or cookie that failed because the recipe was not properly followed. Flour is substituted with flax seed and sugar is substituted with honey. Much of successful baking depends on chemistry — ingredients reacting with one another to create a proper rise or particular texture. It's always best to make a recipe exactly as written the first time you try it. If you don't have all of the ingredients, seek out the ingredients or consider another recipe.
What are five tips or words of advice you'd give to beginner bakers to improve on their baking?
1. Read the recipe completely before trying it, and make sure you understand all of the instructions and have all of the ingredients available before beginning.
2. Find a handful of recipe sources, such as cookbooks, magazines or websites, that provide recipes that you can trust. A trusted recipe provides a great foundation to begin creating new treats as you bake more.
3. Don't completely rely on baking times provided in recipes — it's important to know the signs of when a baked item is completely done. In general, cookies will be golden brown and set at the edges, a toothpick inserted into a cake's center will come out with just a few crumbs, and breads will sound hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom.
4. Don't be afraid to try something new. Pushing your limits in the kitchen by making something you wouldn't normally make, or making a baked item from a different country or culture can be a great learning experience and help you grow as a baker.
5. Don't be afraid to fail! Not every recipe you try will be a success — that's OK! See if you can find out what went wrong and try again (if you want) or find a recipe from a source that you know and trust.
Cake/cupcake: Devil's food cake with chocolate buttercream
Keep coming back to FN Dish for more on the bakers, and visit the Spring Baking Championship page for more on the new series, including behind-the-scenes galleries, episode recaps, video highlights and baking tips.