Winners were named Oct. 14-15 in the country’s only professional baking competition, the 4th Annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest.

Selecting winners from the 37 talented finalists was tough in the 4th Annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest, but the judges did it, and added a few surprises along the way.

“Our goal is to discover and reward the most creative and talented bakers in the country by challenging them to create raisin bread products in four categories: artisan, commercial, breakfast and student,” explains Larry Blagg, senior vice president of marketing for the CRMB. “The competition has grown each year, and attracts the top bakers in America. This year’s entries were impressive and innovative, and the judges had their work cut out for them. This was our largest group yet.”

Dubbed the only professional baking competition in the United States, the America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest took place Oct. 14-15 at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) in Manhattan, Kan., and is sponsored by the California Raising Marketing Board (CRMB), Fresno, Calif.

The 12 winners are as follows:

•    Grand Prize–Gary Gottenbusch, Servatii Pastry Shop, Cincinnati, for California Raisin Walnut Pretzel
•    Judge’s Prize–Jory Downer, Bennison’s Bakery, Evanston, Ill., for Sweet City Loaf
•    Idea Prize–Monica Hoffberg, Bakery Nouveau, Seattle, Wash., for Raisin Rouleaux

•    Grand Prize–Rachel Crampsey, Tribeco Oven, Carlstadt, N.J., for Currant Seeduction Bread
•    Judge’s Prize–Angela Dodd, Cargill, Lake Oswego, Ore., for Cinnamon Raisin Apple
Streusel Bread
•    Idea Prize–Nancy Sepe, Nancy’s Fancies, Providence, R.I., for Nonni’s Golden Raisin
Sweet Bread

•    Grand Prize–Phillippe Sanchez, Marriott International, Orlando, Fla., for Double California Raisin Whole Wheat Croissant
•    Judge’s Prize–Bill Hunter, Crestone Group Baking Cos., Grapevine, Texas, for
Sunrise Bagels
•    Idea Prize–Joanne Wilcox, Apple Crumbles, Utica, N.Y., for Marathon Mini Loaf

•    Artisan–Morgan Choi, the French Pastry School, Chicago, for Laminated Rosemary Raisin Epi
•    Commercial–Maddy Beck, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., for
Barbeque Raisin Bread
•    Breakfast–Nicole Barry, the French Pastry School, Chicago, for Muscat Grape-Vanilla Cream Raisin Danish

Something special
At the judges urging, due to the quality and originality of the finalists’ products, the CRMB awarded one additional honor–The California Prize–in each of three categories.

“These winners didn’t make the top three, but the quality was so good the judges convinced us to award three additional prizes to bakers who were very deserving. In one case, the judges deemed a gluten-free bread product ‘the best they’ve ever tasted,’” Blagg says.

California Prize:
•    Artisan–Daniel DiMuzio, La Brea Bakery, Inc., Greensboro, N.J., for Jumbo Raisin Fougasse with Toasted Walnuts
•    Commercial–Ron Guerrero, Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kan., for Gluten-free Raisin Bread
•    Student–Julie Thompson, Johnson & Wales University Providence, R.I., for Sunny Side Up Orange Raisin Brioche

All finalists received medals. The Grand Prize, Judge’s Prize and Idea Prize winners received plaques and an all-expenses-paid trip to California to visit Napa Valley, as well as a tour of the Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena, Calif. The California Prize winners received plaques and $500.

More than 100 professional and student bakers submitted between one and three original formulas to the competition. Finalists are determined by a blind test of product formulas and photographs conducted by a panel of six judges.

During the competition, each contestant produced at least six samples of their original product at the AIB kitchens, while the judges observed technique, formulations, efficiency and professionalism. Finalists then made a presentation to the judges about the formulas, production techniques and the retail or commercial viability of their products.

The judging panel included Ciril Hitz, department chairman for baking and pastry at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I.; Klaus Tenbergen, certified master baker and professor of culinology at California State University, Fresno, Calif.; Dominique Homo, president of Ecole du Pain, Montreal, Canada; David Guilfoyle, president of Half Baked Consultants, Inc., Abilene, Kan.; and Dan Malovany, executive editor of Baking & Snack, Kansas City, Mo. Chief judge and promoter of the contest was Theresa Cogswell, president of BakerCogs, Inc., Olathe, Kan.