Visiting Kansas in June has become a new routine for me. This is the third year in a row I've been given the opportunity to visit the Great Plains, where much of our wheat is grown, and each time I'm astounded by the beauty Kansas offers during the harvest.
The purpose of this year's trip was the same as my first trip: to watch the National Festival of Breads' finalists in action, and to tag along as they experience Kansas. This included lunch at a nearby farm and rides on a combine, which are always a highlight.
The finalists came from all over the map – California, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, and Indiana.
The competition's first youth winner, Mardi Traskowsky, is from Kansas. She didn't have to travel far to get to Manhattan – Manhattan, Kansas, "the Little Apple," where the Festival was held this past weekend.
The National Festival of Breads is the only amateur bread-baking competition held at a national level. This is the third time the Kansas Wheat Commission has put on the biennial competition and the third time King Arthur Flour has proudly sponsored it.
The educational element of the event fits perfectly with King Arthur Flour's mission to share the joy of baking with, well, basically anyone who will listen.
Our Life Skills Bread Baking Program manager, Paula Gray, gave two "Bread 101" demonstrations for the nearly 600 event attendees.
The first was with special helper, Kara. Kara had seen Paula present at the 2011 Festival and was starry-eyed when asked if she would assist Paula onstage.
A question/answer panel comprised of Paula, King Arthur Flour Marketing Director Tom Payne, the Home Baking Association's Sharon Davis, and a representative from fellow sponsor Fleischmann's Yeast, rounded out the day that also included presentations from youth category winner Mardi, and American Institute of Baking (AIB) instructor Aaron Clanton.
As the crowd listened to and learned from the presenters, the finalists toiled away in their kitchens around the perimeter of the room. Each prepared at least three servings of their recipe – for photography, taste testing, and, most importantly, the judges.
After wrapping up and cleaning up, the event culminated with a wonderful dinner. The moment of truth came with the opening of a bread box by National Festival of Breads organizer extraordinaire Cindy Falk.
And the winner is... Onion Parmesan Cracker Bread!
Rosemary Leicht of Bethel, Ohio, created the bread in honor of her son-in-law, who adored a similar cracker bread at an Italian restaurant.
It took four months of tweaking for the recipe to reach perfection. It was clearly worth the effort. Be sure to check out the recipe: Onion Parmesan Cracker Bread. And see all the finalist recipes on the National Festival of Breads Web site.
As part of her prize, Rosemary will visit us in Vermont to take a class at our Baking Education Center. We look forward to seeing her again and hope she will bring us some of her winning bread - hint, hint.
Are you inspired to start working on your 2015 National Festival of Breads submission?
Stay tuned for details in the coming months about when and how to submit your recipe for a chance to win a trip to Kansas – to compete for the grand prize, and to enjoy all that Kansas has to offer.