The Great S&S BakeoffHow has the S&S Staff team been passing the time while social distancing? With an excessive amount of baking.
As we enter week (what are we on now?) 6, maybe 7 of isolation, many of us have turned to old (or new) hobbies to help pass the time spent social distancing. Jigsaw puzzles have flown off the shelves, inappropriately aged generations of people have joined TikTok, and for the past six weeks, the S&S staff team has been competing for the coveted title of “S&S Star Baker”.
The idea started when William Krenzer (a former pastry chef, turned Ph.D.) decided that he wanted to use this time to dust off his apron and get back into baking. Naturally, as a competitive person, Krenzer decided that the baking would be more fun if he had people to compete against. And thus, the idea for the Great S&S Bakeoff was born. He assembled a committee of teammates and set the first challenge into motion.
As the publication specialist for S&S, I had access to everyone’s headshots, and just enough skill with photoshop to be dangerous. The moment that I transposed William and Meredith’s heads onto Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry’s bodies, I knew that we had something special going for us. We gauged that there was immediate interest when this picture was sent to our new #BakingChannel on Slack, and the
trash talk “friendly banter” commenced.
The first challenge was a challenge indeed: a recipe created by Mary Berry herself, and chosen by Krenzer, a traditional Victoria Sandwich Cake. All measurements were given in their metric formats, and that’s when I knew I was in trouble (**cue me spending an unwise amount of money for baking supplies via Amazon). The competitors donned their aprons and took to their kitchens to create their masterpieces.
The Competition Heats Up
One particularly formidable competitor in our midst is Andrew Pericak, frequent winner of the S&S Holiday Cookie Bakeoff. Krenzer knew from the start that Andrew would be his biggest competition. “He has a real knack for flavor combinations and knows what he is doing in the kitchen. He has been my competition in all things related to baking since I arrived at S&S, and I believe that my own mental competition with him makes me a better baker,” Krenzer reflected. It came as a surprise to no one when Andrew won our first challenge.
“One of my favorite ways of building community is through sharing food, so I was delighted when my Science & Society colleagues suggested a weekly baking competition,” Pericak reflected. “While we can’t taste each other’s creations as we remain at home, there is this wonderful sense of togetherness in knowing that many of us are all making the same bake each week. I had never made a Victoria sandwich cake before, but decided to give it my all — even buying a piping bag so I could faithfully pipe the middle layer of filling! So it was very rewarding and gratifying when my colleagues named me the first Star Baker. Plus, I then got to have cake for dessert all week!”
Pericak’s cat, Mezcal, also approved, though he is not the only pet who has joined in on the action. My own dog, Rosie (who is half Irish setter), got very excited about my soda bread (which featured Irish butter, a staple from her homeland).
Since Week One, our team has tackled soda bread, biscotti, pizza dough, traditional french couronne, focaccia and biscuits. Each week is a unique challenge that pushes us to practice new skills in the kitchen. “I feel that the competition is going very well and has given everyone the chance to get into the kitchen to bake things that maybe they haven’t baked before (or haven’t baked in a long time)!” Krenzer noted. “I think what has made the competition extra special is bringing in our MA students for anonymous voting. Unlike our staff/faculty, our students have no idea who made what, so they are truly reenacting Paul, Marry, and Prue when they vote for the bake they believe is the best (looking)!”
Next week, the team will be taking on our final challenge, and we cannot wait to see what people come up with. While these weeks have seemed monotonous and difficult, our baking has brought us together as a team and been a bright spot in the midst of a dark season. One thing’s for sure: no matter how long we continue to social distance, our sense of community (and competitiveness) will only grow stronger while we bake from afar.
About the Author: Sarah Cromer
Sarah Cromer is the Publication Specialist for Science & Society. She was recently crowned as the Biscotti Week Star Baker, but has yet to successfully defend that title. She is a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.