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Made With LoveFor the average consumer like myself, raisin bread is raisin bread. Sometimes it contains cinnamon, sometimes it’s covered in glaze, and most of the time, it tastes good. Whatever the case, it’s just raisin bread.
Or so I thought.
After attending the second-annual California Raisin Bread Contest, which took place on October 10 at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan., I quickly learned that raisin bread is sometimes more than just a good-tasting product.
Sometimes it’s a premium quality product filled with unique inclusions and a whole lot of love.
For example, the grand prize winner for the commercial category, Ronald Guerrero from Caravan Ingredients, incorporated purple wheat flour, which gave his raisin bread a royal hue. He also included Fridge Soft, which is a Caravan ingredient that allows the end-user to put bread in the refrigerator without staling.
Aside from his bread’s purple coloring and functional ingredients, it was his passion that separated his winning bread apart from the crowd.
“I’m just really excited and happy to be here,” he says. “I’m in awe, I’m honored, and I’m already working on next year’s [formula] to make it better. I love this type of environment.”
For the artisan category, the grand prize winner’s Sicilian raisin bread product stood out in large part due to its unique football shape, which was slit down the middle to allow one side of the bread to rise above the other. In fact, I could grip the bread just by placing my fingers underneath the raised side.
The winner, Larry Lobe of Dawn Food Products, also added that ingredient called passion.
“I’m really excited to be back,” he says. “I wanted to come back and win this year, I really did. I worked hard on it, and it all came together. I was happy with my formula. The only doubt that I had was seeing the level of competition. There were a lot of good bakers and a lot of good formulas and of course, you weren’t sure where you were going to end up.”
Unlike some of last year’s formulas, which were simply versions of a typical raisin swirl bread with cinnamon, this year’s competitors took the contest to a whole new level, says Larry Blagg, senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board, the host of the contest.
“This year, we had California Raisin breads with cardamom, fennel seeds, ginger, rosemary, habañero peppers, bleu cheese, ricotta cheese and even the purple whole grain flour,” Blagg says.
Meanwhile, the bakery was filled with 24 bakers and six culinary students mixing ingredients, folding, moulding and scoring their dough pieces and adding glazes or other toppings while continuously cleaning their workstations.
Later, each contestant gave an oral presentation on their product in front of three judges, or experts, for their respected category. These presentations included an explanation about the ingredients used, the theme behind the product, the suggested retail price and more.
While each participant walked away from the contest with new ideas on how to better their product, I learned that some raisin breads aren’t just ordinary products, especially when they’re filled with fruit bits, chocolate chips and a whole lot of love.
Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com to read the uncut version of this article in Marina’s online-only column. And go to www.loveyourraisins.com to learn more about next year’s California Raisin Bread Contest.