Family and friends of Delaware resident Jennifer Butler have known for quite some time that when it comes to baking, she can compete with the best of them.
After deciding to step out of her comfort zone and put her baking skills to the test during the inaugural Fresh Start Baking Championship, Butler’s hidden talent is no longer a secret to the public after taking home the “Best Baker 2018” trophy.
“It’s so huge to actually have an award for something I have a huge passion to do,” Butler said. “It’s definitely a big deal for me, and the award is definitely going in my kitchen. I don’t think I’ve actually received a trophy for anything before.”
Butler nearly missed out on her crowning achievement as she almost talked herself out of competing in the contest, which was organized by Todd Daughenbaugh, owner of Fresh Start Café and Bakery at 24 N. Sandusky St. in downtown Delaware.
“I’ve always thought about entering some of my food into the fair, but I’ve never even done anything like that. I was definitely very hesitant to sign up for this contest,” Butler said. “I almost didn’t do it. I was extremely nervous, but I thought I would go for it.”
Go for it she did.
During the three-week competition, Butler said she spent over 20 hours in her kitchen preparing her entries as each contestant had to showcase their all-around baking skills by participating in weekly contests in the following categories: pastry and dessert; chocolate, candy, and confections; and breads and doughs.
After receiving valuable feedback from various taste testers like her husband, Russell, and her two daughters, Butler entered the following three baked goods: an almond butter cake filled with homemade strawberry jam and topped with vanilla buttercream; a homemade caramel layered on homemade marshmallow and dipped in milk chocolate, and served in a sugar-sculpted bowl; and a brioche star bread flavored with orange zest and filled with homemade raspberry jam.
“All my friends, family, and neighbors were my taste testers for each one of the weeks,” Butler said. “I would make two or three different things and have everyone over to taste and get their opinions on everything in order to help me decide.”
After tasting 30 different baked goods from 10 different contestants over the three-week competition, the judges (Leigh Daughenbaugh, director of Fresh Start Café & Bakery; Brittany Hall, head baker at Fresh Start; Nathan Hall, executive chef at 1808 American Bistro; and Maria Saniel-Banrey, assistant baker & bread specialist at Fresh Start) agreed that overall, Butler’s three items, on average, were the best based on presentation, taste/flavor, originality/creativity and technique/complexity.
While Butler surprised herself by stepping outside of her comfort level and competing in the contest, the fact she took home the title of “Best Baker 2018” didn’t happen by accident. Butler has been honing her baking skills since the age of 8, learning from her mother and grandmother.
“I’m very proud of myself,” Butler said. “I’m able to show my girls that hard work pays off.”
As for what she enjoys most about baking, Butler said, “I just love to be creative. I make my own things, and I like to put my own twists on my recipes.”
In addition to receiving the inaugural “Best Baker 2018” trophy, Butler’s prize pack also featured a KitchenAid mixer, a USA Pan bakeware set, a spot on the Fresh Start annual “Best Baker” photo wall, and free entrance into the 2019 contest to defend the crown.
Daughenbaugh said he is already looking forward to hosting next year’s Fresh Start Baking Championship.
“Overall, we were very pleased with the inaugural event,” he said. “The participants are amazingly talented, and we were all impressed with their creativity and ability. We are eager to make this an annual event.”
Finishing second and third behind Butler in this year’s baking contest were Margaret Lux and Heather Nutter, respectively.