MILTON — Milton’s kitchens smelled of freshly-baked breads, cakes, tarts and more this winter as community members competed in the first first-ever Great Milton Bake-Off.
The competition, hosted by Milton Recreation, was based on the hit television series, “The Great British Baking Show.”
“We had a blast offering this to the Milton community this year,” Recreation Director Jennifer Tucker stated. “It stemmed as a way to engage the community in something fun and light-hearted while going through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it formed into an amazing competition that featured extraordinarily talented bakers beyond our wildest imagination.”
The competition ran from Feb. 1 to April 30 and had nearly a dozen contestants. Richard Edwards, the chef-owner of PupCakes Bakery, and Sharon Radtke, a long-time Milton Recreation commissioner and amateur baker, served as judges.
“My favorite part of the Bake-Off were the videos developed by each entrant,” Radtke said. “So professionally done!”
Due to COVID-19, judges were not able to taste the confections. Instead, contestants' video and photo submissions were judged on appearance, accuracy and creativity of ingredients.
“The best part for me was seeing the interest for baking by the younger generation and the way the contestants really threw themselves into doing a great job,” Edwards stated. “I really enjoyed the complex flavors and looks of the items that each contestant put forth.”
Milton community members also had a hand in deciding who won each round. In total, 1,258 votes were cast.
In the end, Pia Yarnell came out on top. She was named Milton’s Star Baker and winner of the Bake-Off after three rounds and a tiebreaker.
The Independent caught up with Yarnell about her love of baking and competition experience.
Q: When did you first become interested in baking?
A: My mom is a great baker, and I used to bake growing up with her. During college I didn't have the time or energy, but in the last few years I've started baking again.
“The Great British Baking Show” really inspired my interest in branching out and trying my hand at pastries and things more complicated than just brownies and cookies and cakes.
Like the rest of America this past year through COVID, I was really inspired by the bread-baking boom. I started baking bread for the first time.
Q: What was your favorite thing to make during the Bake-Off?
A: I think my last cake turned out pretty well. It was lemon-blackberry and actually really delicious. I wish everyone could have tasted it.
The cake was definitely fun and technically-challenging. I tried my hand at candying lemon peels, which were actually one of the better parts of the cake. They were almost perfect.
I was happy to bake the cake, but also to eat it.
Q: Which assignment during the Bake-Off was most challenging?
A: I think the loaf of bread that had to be braided was the most tricky. It was the only one that I re-did.
When you add things to dough, it changes the moisture content, so some might be dryer because of the ingredients. That definitely poses a challenge for baking it — having the right texture, the right rise and since you're braiding it all together you want them to end up being kind of cohesive.
It was also challenging because the bread had to be colored, and I really wanted the colors to come from the ingredients. Selecting the right ingredients took me a long time.
Q: Where do you go to find recipes and baking tips?
A: I like reading recipes as a hobby. The King Arthur Baking website has a great collection of recipes. I follow them on Instagram too.
The New York Times has some amazing chefs working for them too who post recipes online. I usually read through those, and just kind of drool over them. Most of their stuff is way too complicated for me to ever do, but it's really inspiring to look at.
Q: What are you looking forward to baking this summer?
A: Oh gosh, so much. I really want to make a bunch of pies this summer.
I got an excellent book called “The Book on Pie,” recently from my boyfriend. I just want to start at the beginning and work my way through it. Pies are especially great in the summer, so that’s my plan.
Q: What do you do when you are not baking?
A: I was a mechanical engineer for about the last seven years, but actually just last month, I changed my career path a little bit. I work for an architecture firm now, and that’s something I really can get excited about.
I’m originally from New Hampshire, and I spent a few years living in upstate New York. I moved to Vermont about two and a half years ago.
My boyfriend and I bought a house in Milton in 2019, so we're still fairly new to the area, but we love it here. We're avid skiers and just love Vermont and living here, so it's a really good place for us.