The Great Temple Sinai Bake Off
Eight of the best Temple Sinai bakers will compete. Only ONE will win! Be there to sample their delicious creations and vote for “The People’s Choice” winner!
Announcing our bakers (left to right): Annie Weidman, Saul Straussman, Carolyn Schwarz, Steffi Wright, Sarah Davies, Elizabeth Collura, Annelise Hammer, and Sue Berman Kress (not pictured)! Read about the bakers below.
Patterned after The Great British Bake Off on Netflix, watch our bakers face a technical challenge, create their show stoppers, and impress the judges: WQED’s Chris Fennimore and Five Points Artisan Bakeshop’s Geof Coming! And you get to schmooze, sample their efforts, and vote for “The People’s Choice” winner! Read about our judges below.
For only $20, you’ll enjoy appetizers, dessert, two drinks, and the fun competition!
ABOUT THE BAKERS
Annie Weidman, once an assistant pastry chef in the early 80s and a private caterer when her children were young, has undertaken several creative projects for Temple Sinai. Basically self-taught, as a teen, Annie learned basic pie skills from her mother. Annie loves cooking for her family and friends and gets great pleasure in making people happy by giving them delicious and beautiful food. Her signature dish is a cake that she bakes every year for her father’s birthday, now 86. It’s a cocoa layer cake iced in marshmallow icing, made by beating a cooked sugar syrup into beaten egg whites. Then she decorates it with fresh flowers or another "father-type decoration, such as a sailboat." Her secret culinary pleasure? Scraping all the cake that sticks to the parchment paper and squirting a giant blob of icing on it!
Saul Straussman, a teacher and incoming president of the Temple Sinai board of directors, says he is mostly a self-taught cook and baker. He baked cookies with his mom and enjoyed watching his grandmother bake her special Hungarian cookies, which she called "Saul’s Special Cookies" (the real name is Pokatchel). An ex-pat New Yorker, thin crusted pizza crust is his "jam" and he loves making an awesome crust. He admits that really, at heart, he is a junk food lover and will eat just about any cookie (as long as it is nut-free). "And who doesn’t love a good muffin, which is hard to find these days," says Saul. A reader of Julia Child cookbooks and watcher of Jacques Pepin cooking shows, Saul notes, "I also credit my mom and grandmother for creating wonderful food memories, even if I will never cook the meals or way they did."
Carolyn Schwarz, a retired banking executive and long time Temple Sinai volunteer who organizes the Women of Temple Sinai (WoTS) monthly cooking classes, has been known to cook for large groups of family, up to 35 for holiday weekends. Initially she learned to bake from her mother with her first memories of cooking desserts with her. She said her mother loved sweets and together baked brownies, cookies, pudding and rum ball, just to name a few. "My mother felt that if you did not make the food yourself, it meant that you didn’t care enough for the people you were giving it to," says Carolyn. At Hanukah, they made huge chocolate chip cookies with a penny standing up in the middle to represent Hanukah gelt and brought them to Carolyn’s class for everyone. In junior high school, Carolyn really enjoyed her homemaking classes where she learned to cook. She keeps learning by reading a range of cook books, including about topics such as kitchen science, nutrition and even a series about using up leftovers. Carolyn takes cooking classes whenever she can, including a dozen or more series of classes through Carnegie Mellon Osher and even a cooking class while traveling in Israel.
Steffi Wright, a volunteer with WoTS and the Young Adult group, has a Master’s Degree in Food Studies and focuses on food safety, and how poverty and hunger impact health. Her influence and best memories about baking and cooking derive from her grandmother. "My grandma Evelyn taught me that as individuals, we can take our experiences and empower ourselves and others to bring about change through the sharing of food." Reading through her Grandma Evelyn’s antique cookbooks that are scribbled with notes, Steffi says she can still picture her near black hair and deep blue eyes, peeling potatoes in the kitchen. "My grandma taught me everything I know about cooking," says Steffi. Steffi’s guilty food pleasure isn’t chocolate or sweets but those extra large shredded wheat pieces, broken apart and covered with butter and milk, microwaved and then topped off with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, made just like her grandmother did.
Sarah Davies, an oral surgeon with two children in Temple Sinai’s Next Dor education program, learned to love cooking from spending time in the kitchen with her grandmother as a child. She reads lots of food magazines and cook books and then concocts dishes at home. She loves to eat various kinds of cuisines and at different restaurants to get ideas. She cooks different dishes all the time and notes that the one thing her husband complains about is that he doesn’t get to eat a dish that she will repeat! Her vegetable tofu curries are somewhat her signature. While she considers herself more of a cook than a baker, Sarah prides herself on her challah and says she spent years perfecting this bread. Sarah’s biggest influence is Yotam Ottelenghi, aka her "food crush." She has all of his cookbooks and loves his vegetable forward savory dishes and interesting combinations of ingredients for is desserts.
Elizabeth Collura, an attorney with Traveler’s Insurance and an active board member and volunteer at Temple Sinai, says this Bake Off has her competitive juices flowing! She learned cooking from her father and grandmother but said her baking chops are self-taught. Since she was old enough to read, she picked out recipes from kids cookbooks with biscuits and chocolate chip cookies as early favorites. Elizabeth likes to experiment, especially with cakes and cookies and enjoys trying new ideas and techniques. Recent creations included a “caticom” (cat-unicorn) cake for her daughter Rachel’s birthday and a s’mores Bundt cake, compete with a scorched marshmallow topping. Now, her kitchen companion is daughter Rachel, for whom Elizabeth says she cooks. "She's very proud of what I bake for her, such as her cake and frosted roller skate cookies for her party." And Rachel is always the taste tester "to make sure it’s not poison!" A healthy eater, Rachel will indulge in her favorite junk food of popcorn balls with M&Ms.
Annelise Hammer, our youngest contestant at age 15 and a student at The Ellis School For Girls, has been baking since she was in elementary school. She challenges herself to innovate with finding new ways to turn basic recipes into her own with yummy flavors and technical designs. Self taught, Annelise enjoys watching baking shows. Her friends and family reap the benefit from her hobby of creating amazing cakes and cupcakes for their birthdays. Her cadre of specialties include a Hanukkah chocolate vanilla cupcake with a handmade graham cracker chocolate dreidel topping, Halloween “eyeball” red velvet cupcakes, Fourth of July watermelon mini cupcakes and an avocado cupcake with dark chocolate frosting. She is the youngest baker in our Bake Off, but may be the most creative. Her favorite treats: Nutella chocolate chunk cookies!
Sue Berman Kress is a clinical psychologist and an active volunteer in various Jewish organizations including Jewish Federation and JAA. She and her husband are the 2019 honorees for Hillel JUC Campus Superstars. She learned to bake and cook Jewish foods from my mom, but then taught herself how to cook other kinds of foods and bake bread as an adult. Obviously, she is a good teacher as she volunteers with Chabad teaching women how to make challah. Sue notes, "Currently, my husband is the greatest influence on my cooking. He’s a total foodie and loves trying new dishes, so now I try to cook things at home that we’ve eaten out or learned about when we travel. If I were just cooking for myself I think my cooking would be much more boring and much less fun." Sue admits that her favorite culinary guilty pleasure is learning how to use all kinds of kitchen gadgets and machines, like a food mill, sous vide, or pasta maker. Her "go-to" for snacks is real, homemade popcorn.
ABOUT THE JUDGES
QED Cooks’ Chris Fennimore and Geof Comings, Five Points Artisan Bakeshop owner and baker will judge the three challenges of The Great Temple Sinai Bake Off.
For the past twenty-five years, Chris Fennimore has been a popular figure on Pittsburgh’s WQED public television. An Emmy and James Beard Award winner, he has produced and hosted a long-running series of cooking programs (called QED Cooks in Pittsburgh and America’s Home Cooking when episodes air around the U.S.). Unlike other cooking formats, these shows – and the resulting 100-plus public television cookbooks used in membership drives – invited the viewers to send their family treasures and share their kitchen wisdom.
The Brooklyn native had joined WQED Multimedia in 1985 as Director of Programming and was formerly a food columnist for PITTSBURGH Magazine.
Since Geof Comings opened his Five Points Artisan Bakeshop in Squirrel Hill, four and a half years ago, the lines have been out the door on many days.
He left a successful career in community development to share his love for the mysterious alchemy of flour, water, and salt.
To learn about baking, he started working at a bakery in Ohio in 2002. He would wake up at 3:30 in the morning to work five hours at a bakery called On the Rise in Cleveland before heading back to Oberlin to work his day job. Geof also appreciated the immediate results he got making bread—which balanced the typically long timelines in his community development work. “There is something very satisfying about that,” he says.
He notes that it’s his goal to make the best European style breads possible and to produce the highest quality pastries available. Geof is credited by restaurant owners who serve his bread and food writers for bringing a new level of artisan breads to Pittsburgh.