Alessandro Caria learned much of what he knows about baking by watching the Food Network, but he recently got a chance to show off his pastry prowess on one of its shows.
Caria, 35, recently competed in the Food Network’s “Christmas in July” Holiday Baking Championship, which premiered July 8. Caria faced off against three other bakers from around the country, and he not only got to live out a dream of competing in a Food Network show but also won it and got to take home the $10,000 prize.
“I’m still almost in denial that it happened,” Caria said. “Honestly, I was terrified of seeing myself on TV … (but) on the inside, I had the biggest smile.”
Originally from the island of Sardinia in Italy, Caria grew up baking with his grandmothers and his godmother, who also is his cousin. His godmother owned a shop that sold baking supplies, and Caria spent much of his time there.
“I spent lots of my (early) days there (at the shop),” Caria said, adding that whenever his godmother would get new equipment, they would bake something with it. “Then, when I was in college, I started baking cakes. … Italy was not (as) fancy (with cakes) like here with fondant and all these crazy decorations. It was just plain whipped cream (with) color, of course, and piped different ways, but it was just whipped-cream cakes.”
Although he spent much of his childhood in a kitchen, Caria’s baking repertoire was limited to mostly cakes and some family recipes. That changed about 10 years ago, when he came to the United States. Caria began experimenting with ingredients that might be common to some bakers in the country, but they were new ingredients to him.
“When I moved here, I discovered the wonderful world of gingerbread, pies, buttercreams (and) all these things that I’ve never tasted before,” he said. “That kind of got me back into baking, and just try (baking new treats). There was lots of trial and error (and) lots of cookies that look like pancakes more than anything. I kind of learned my way by the Food Network — mostly, I watch it all day, every day — lots of blogs, Facebook pages where you share tips … and lots of talking to other people, really.”
Caria then began crafting new creations. Eventually, he was able to expand upon his recipe book, but that didn’t come without its challenges. When he started experimenting with new recipes, he had to get used to a different form of measurement.
“I learned how to bake with grams,” Caria said. “(Baking with) cups and ounces and all of that has been tricky to adapt to those. I have recipes from home that I still make, and those are in grams. But then when I make some other stuff, then I use cups. … I’m better at it (now), but in terms of like doubling a recipe, in grams, it’s a million times easier. (Using) cups and ounces is not my preferred method.”
The home baker takes pride in making all of his sweet treats from scratch. He’s been baking cakes, cookies and other goods for friends, family and coworkers for years, but he recently launched his own home-baking business: Daisy Cakes of Orlando, named after his rescue dog. Caria spends at least 12 hours a week baking for his home business. When he’s not baking, he works as a sales coordinator at Walt Disney World Resort. He’s passionate about baking overall, but his favorite part is the decorating, he said.
“I like to take my time,” Caria said. “Honestly, if I could just decorate all day, I would do that. I like the baking portion, but just spending hours on those little details — to me, that’s so much fun.”
Caria’s victory in the “Christmas in July” Holiday Baking Challenge has left him hungry for more competitions. He already is looking for more opportunities to compete in other Food Network shows, and he’s ready for another competition.
“It was a nice exposure to what it’s like to be on those competitions,” Caria said. “I got a taste of it and I liked it. … Now I’m like, ‘Can we do this again?’”