The Kansas Wheat Commission hosts the 2019 National Festival of Breads, and one of the highlights of the days surrounding the contest is the pre-festival tour of the wheat chain. Contestants and their families get to visit a wheat farm at harvest, tour a flour mill and learn about the research that goes into breeding wheat varieties that make their way from the field to their kitchen pantries. From left, Suzy Neal, Merry Graham, Tiffany Aaron, Lauren Katz, Shauna Havey, RaChelle Hubsmith, Brenda Watts and Kristin Hoffman. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

The color purple ruled the 2019 National Festival of Breads baking competition, June 8. Which was only appropriate, considering the festival is held in Manhattan, Kansas, every other year.

Both grand prize winners—Merry Graham of Newhall, California, and RaChelle Hubsmith of North Logan, Utah—featured the color in their winning recipes. Graham’s Blackberry Ginger Speculaas Danish Wreath with ribbons of purple blackberry jam topped the Food Blogger Division, while Hubsmiths’ Chai Ube Rosette Rolls, featuring purple sweet potatoes as a key ingredient, won the Home Baker Division.

As 2019 National Festival of Breads champions, Graham and Hubsmith each receive a $1,500 cash prize, and a trip to attend class at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. They also receive a year’s supply, or 120 envelopes, of Red Star Yeast. King Arthur Flour and Red Star Yeast are sponsors of the National Festival of Breads, along with the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Third time’s a charm

This was the first year that the festival split the competition between home bakers and food bloggers, with four finalists in each category. Graham is a three-time finalist in the National Festival of Breads, but she started her food blog “A Merry Recipe” after she began competing in cooking contests 10 years ago.

She discovered the unique flavor of the Speculaas spice blend and wanted to combine it with the fruitiness of blackberry jam, along with the brightness of crystallized ginger for a show-stopping bread wreath that would be ideal for a gathering of friends. Graham also uses 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in her dough, which she found creates a soft bread that holds up even after storage.

Graham used King Arthur Flour’s Speculaas spice blend, but at-home cooks can make their own blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, anise, ginger and cardamom.

People-pleasing purple potatoes


RaChelle Hubsmith’s Chai Ube Rosette Rolls are set aside to rise during the 2019 National Festival of Breads contest, June 8, Manhattan, Kansas. Hubsmith used pureed purple Ube yams to add color and flavor to her grand prize winning rolls in the Home Baker Division of the contest. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Hubsmith’s Chai Ube Rosette Rolls were an overwhelming hit among festival-goers who sampled the combination of Ube purple yams and chai spices at her mini-kitchen while she baked her competition rolls. Not only did she win the Home Baker Division, but she was also named the Public Choice Award winner.

As a working mom, Hubsmith said she tries to keep healthy treats on hand for her children while she’s at her appraiser’s job during the day. She found Ube purple yams at a farmers’ market and knew she wanted to try adding them to a bread recipe. Her family really enjoys the chai spice flavors of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, allspice, cloves and black pepper. After some tinkering in her home kitchen, she came up with these rolls, which she shapes into rosettes and bakes in a muffin tin.

“If you can cut out circles with a Mason jar ring, you can make these rolls,” Hubsmith told festival attendees as she demonstrated her technique. Start by rolling out the dough into a 24-inch by 18-inch rectangle at about a quarter inch thick. Then use a round cutter or Mason jar ring to cut out circles. Place 3 circles in a vertical row, slightly overlapping the edges, and then roll up into a cylinder. Cut that cylinder in half and you have two rosettes.

Learning through competition

Every recipe had to use a type of King Arthur Flour and a type of Red Star Yeast, but beyond that, the rest was up to the creativity of the bakers. The key to reaching the finals was unique flavor combinations and appealing bread shaping that home bakers can replicate, explained Cindy Falk, Kansas Wheat nutrition educator and co-chair of the festival. The festival, after all, is touted as the nation’s largest home baking competition.

The finalist recipes ran the gamut from sweet flavors like mulled spiced apple cider or amaretto, to savory flavors such as cherry, pecan and rosemary or loaded baked potato. Contestants experimented with ingredients as well, from kalamata olives to powdered peanut butter and everything in between. Breads ranged from pretzel rolls to artisanal boules, braids and even the shape of a baked potato.

The Kansas Soybean Commission created a Soy Award for recipes that also feature soy ingredients. Shauna Havey, Roy, Utah, won in the Food Blogger division for her Lucky Five-Spice Cloverleaf Rolls. Havey’s Beetroot Amaretto Rolls were named an overall finalist recipe in the Food Blogger Division. While Brenda Watts, Gaffney, South Carolina, won the Soy Award for her finalist recipe Sicilian Star Bread, in the Home Baker division.

The festival is held every other year in Manhattan, Kansas, typically during or just after wheat harvest in the state. It has become a destination for home bakers from around the U.S. and the globe to learn about bread-baking techniques, new products and to watch the eight finalists prepare their contest entries in mini-kitchens set up in the ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Not only does the festival bring gluten fans to Manhattan, but it also serves as an educational and promotional tool for Kansas wheat farmers. The finalists and their families are invited to participate in pre-contest tours of an area wheat farm, the Wheat Improvement Center in Manhattan, and the Farmer Direct Foods flour mill near New Cambria, Kansas. The tour has become popular with contestants, both new and returning, as a way for them to connect the flour in their pantries to the rest of the grain chain.

To see all eight finalists’ recipes, visit

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or


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