The country’s only professional baking competition, the 4th Annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest, produced winners from a whopping 37 talented finalists this year.

The country’s only professional baking competition, the 4th Annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest, produced winners from a whopping 37 talented finalists this year. And from the looks of it, the judges had their work cut out for them. The contest, which took place Oct. 14-15 at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) in Manhattan, Kan., brought in many delectable entries, including sweet raisin- and walnut-filled pretzels, raisin whole wheat croissants, curry bagels and cream cheese-filled orange raisin brioche.

More than 100 professional and student bakers submitted between one and three original formulas for the competition. Judges determined the finalists based on an initial blind test of both product formulas and photographs.

Categories included artisan, commercial and breakfast, which consisted of rolls, pastries, scones, coffeecakes and more, all containing California raisins. The student category participants were especially creative. How often have you tasted barbecue raisin bread?

“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 California Raisin Marketing Board (CRMB), Fresno, Calif., the sponsor of the contest. “The competition has grown each year, and attracts the top bakers in America. This was our largest group yet.”

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, Tribeca 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’” Blagg says.

The California Prize went to:

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

During the competition, contestants produced at least six samples of their original product at the AIB kitchens, while the judges rated technique, formulations, efficiency and professionalism.

Judges 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.

Congratulations to all of the winners and contestants-I wish you nothing but the best.

The event also made me wonder: Why is this contest the only professional baking competition in the country?