Tastemakers: 'Baked in Vermont's Gesine Prado on Lending Her Voice to 'Haunted Gingerbread Showdown'

Emily Aslanian
Q&A Food Network

Vermont-based Pastry chef Gesine Prado wasn't always a confectionary professional. But the lawyer and former production company president (she headed up sister Sandra Bullock's Fortis Films) found herself "baking in all of my free time and thinking about baking in my non-free time."

So in 2004, she followed her dream and relocated from Los Angeles to the Northeast. Since then, Prado has penned five cookbooks and led Food Network's Baked in Vermont — where she showed off her skills from her baking school, Sugar Glider Kitchen, set in a converted 18th-century farmhouse — and is currently a judge on Haunted Gingerbread Showdown. Here, Prado reveals how she got her sweet tooth. 

When did your love of baking begin?

Gesine Prado: I'm convinced it started in utero. The second I could reach the counter, I was trying to mush together butter and sugar. I grew up vegan — not willingly. So I found opportunities in neighbors' and sometimes strangers' houses. If I could break in and get baking materials, I would do it! [Laughs].

So you didn't bake with your parents or your sister?

No. I had a German mother and she was a very good baker, but she would break it out [only] during the holidays, the times that she ascribed OK-ness to sugar and butter, because otherwise they were not on the menu. She would do laminated doughs and things like that because she loved a challenge. I saw how much joy she derived from it, but in true Germanic fashion, she was like, "Get out of my space." But I did watch. She taught me what baking could be in my life.

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What's an important lesson you try to impart to the students in your baking classes?

Patience is the No. 1 priority. Baking is a waiting game. If you're not a regular baker and you jump into it because you have a craving, that is totally antithetical to how baking should be done.

What ingredient do you always have in your fridge?

Unsalted butter. Every manufacturer that puts salt in uses a different amount. Salt is such an important ingredient in baking that you want to be able to measure it out exactly. 

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Why do you love apple cider donuts for fall (see recipe)?

When you make these donuts, they will bring all those lovely fall smells, sights and sounds into your home. Plus, it's a donut, so of course it's comforting, but it's also got that wonderful zingy tang from the cider, which I love.

What's the best part about judging Haunted Gingerbread Showdown?

These people are artists and artisans. I get so much joy watching [contestants] who have this ability to create really architectural pieces, but also bring creativity to [the process]. They have to have scientific skills but will also be a little crazy. And that’s the perfect kind of person to make something "haunted." The contestants are all a bunch of sweet Frankensteins.

Haunted Gingerbread ShowdownSundays, 10/9c Food Network 

Apple Cider Baked Donuts

Close up of donuts, as seen on Baked in Vermont, Season 1.

Makes 12 donuts

Ingredients

Nonstick baking spray

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour  

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder  

1 tsp. salt  

1 tsp. cinnamon  

1/4 tsp. nutmeg  

Zest of 1 lemon  

1/3 cup apple cider concentrate or apple cider  

1/4 cup buttermilk  

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter (room
   temperature)  

1/2 cup brown sugar  

1/2 cup granulated sugar  

2 large eggs (room temperature)

For dipping

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted 

1 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp.
   cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray four 6-cavity donut pans with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest. Whisk 30 seconds. In a liquid-measure cup, combine cider, buttermilk and vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Mix on high until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down bottom and sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well as you add. Scrape down bottom, sides. With mixer on low, add a third of flour mixture, then half of cider mixture. Continue alternating until batter is just combined. Remove bowl from mixer and, with a large rubber spatula, fold batter a few times. Transfer to a piping bag or large zip-close bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe into two of the pans. Top each with a second, inverted pan, and use clips to hold them in place. Bake until cake springs back when gently touched, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn donuts out onto a cooling rack; brush with melted butter, then dip in cinnamon sugar.