The signs on the pavement, like a trail of breadcrumbs leading into the Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan, read messages such as “BEST THING since SLICED BREAD,” “#BreadFest” and “You Deserve Butter.”
Inside, the smell of butter, along with yeast and baking bread, filled the entire hotel venue. I was at the 2019 National Festival of Breads, a one-of-a-kind, biennial event celebrating yeast bread-making, and a day packed with live bread-making demonstrations, baking experts, workshops, recipes and a contest, where bakers from all over the country competed with their original bread recipes.
I’m one to love a good food festival (I once thought I’d arrived in heaven at the build-your-own-strawberry-shortcake tent at the California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard), but was extra happy to land for the first time at this longtime bread and baking festival so close to home.
The festival featured demos on everything from soybean flour muffins to baguettes to bear claws and Swedish tea rings. On display were art sculptures of everything from shocks of wheat, ears of corn and sunflowers to honeybees, pigs, sheep and Halloween witches — all fashioned entirely out of bread dough. Informative “Ask the Baker” sessions throughout the day included such topics as food safety and using the right baking pans.
On hand for the event for presentations were bread and baking experts Brian Hart Hoffman, president and chief creative officer of Hoffman Media, LLC, and editor-in-chief of Bake from Scratch; “Chef Tess” Stephanie Petersen, TV chef, radio personality, cookbook author, and culinary instructor; and Charlene Patton, Kansas Soybean spokesperson, who shared the stage with her daughter and grandson, who helped her to demonstrate making a muffin recipe using soy flour.
Baker finalists for the national contest — whose recipes needed to include King Arthur Flour and Red Star Yeast, two of the sponsors for the event — shared samples of their winning entries. Their inventive creations included Loaded Baked Potato Bread, Sicilian Star Bread, Spiced Apple Cider Crisp Loaves, Beetroot Amaretto Rolls, Peanut Butter Pretzel Rolls and Cherry, Pecan, and Rosemary Boule. At the culmination of the event, the top two winners were crowned — in the Home Baker Division, RaChelle Hubsmith of Utah for her Chai Ube Rosette Rolls, softly spiced and purple yam-tinted rose-shaped buns; and in the Food Blogger Division, Merry Graham of California for her Blackberry Ginger Speculaas Danish Wreath, a ring of heart-shaped spirals layered with a flavorful blackberry filling (I made Graham’s winning entry and share her recipe on Page 25).
The festival originated in 1990 as the Kansas Festival of Breads, and was sponsored by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Wheathearts, a women’s auxiliary group of the wheat growers. The event was “designed to celebrate the art of baking, encourage the use of Kansas products and recognize the Kansas wheat and milling industries. The biennial contest encouraged Kansans to ‘get back to their roots and in their kitchens’ and bake special recipes,” according to information on the event’s website. The festival’s early contest winners included two sisters who won three categories in 1996. The Kansas Festival of Breads had its final event in 2006, but relaunched as the National Festival of Breads in 2009 to be held every other year since. The original 1990 festival included 250 bread recipe entrants; by 2009, that number had expanded to more than 500.
This year’s festival on June 9 will still feature a national contest (with both youth and adult finalists), as well as bread-making demonstrations, speakers and workshops, but, understandably, due to the pandemic, it will go virtual for the first time, with sessions and activities taking place online.
To find out more about the National Festival of Breads and how to attend its online festival this month, visit their website at www.nationalfestivalofbreads.com. In addition to information about the festival this year, the website is full of recipes (including past festival winners), baking tips and more.
And if you attend the festival online, conveniently near your own kitchen, and the need to knead (or smell buttery baking bread) inspires you, you can get right in there and bake!
Rebecca Howard grew up in Kansas and has written for the Los Angeles Daily
News, the Los Angeles Times and LA Parent Magazine, and currently writes the food blog, “A Woman Sconed.”
Blackberry Ginger Speculaas Danish Wreath Recipe