By Richard Szczepanowski, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The oven timer dings, alerting Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew Corriente to check the chocolate layer cake he is baking.
A quick test with a toothpick tells him the cake needs about five more minutes in the oven, more than enough time for him to soften the butter that will eventually become the buttercream icing that will top the confection.
The enticing aromas in the kitchen at Capuchin College in Washington, D.C., signal that Brother Andrew is busy creating another treat for the men who call the friary home.
Brother Andrew knows his way around a kitchen. In fact, he was crowned this year's baking champion on ABC's "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition." The program, which aired during the month of December and concluded Jan. 2, is an adaptation of the wildly popular "Great British Bake Off."
Brother Andrew said he wanted to participate in the program "because I love to bake, and I wanted to learn from the others" who were part of the production. "They were very good, incredible cooks," the brother said of his competition. Several of them have since become good friends of his.
Brother Andrew emerged as the victor after he and the other two finalists were charged with making three individual party desserts of their choice. He earned the crown with chocolate cookies with lime cream and blackberry jam, sponge cakes with fresh cream and fruits, and a puff pastry.
Brother Andrew was given the nod to appear on the show last June, but he applied for the program in 2017.
"In 2018, they (producers of the show) called me, but I said no because I was taking my final vows," he told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. "They called me again this year, and I did it."
He said he spent the month of July "recipe developing and recipe testing" before traveling to London in August, where the entire season was taped over the course of that month. "Filming sometimes took up to 14 hours a day," Brother Andrew said. "I had to stay focused so that I could get my prayers in, Mass in and meditation in."
Although it was very hot in the kitchen where the contestants competed, Brother Andrew chose to wear his distinctive brown Capuchin robes as he baked.
"I love my life so much, and I wanted people to see that," he said. "My ability to bake is so tied to my way of life. Everything I have is from God, and I wanted people to see how all of that is integrated."
Brother Andrew is a third-year seminarian. After studying filmmaking in college, the now-31-year-old California native "had a desk job in the entertainment industry," working for a talent agent.
"I was searching for other jobs, but never thought about religious life," he said. "A friend of mine from college became a nun; and when I went to see her profess her vows, I met a Capuchin." That spurred Brother Andrew to give the order a try. "I met the guys, and the rest is history," he said.
Brother Andrew regularly bakes for the residents of the friary and one of his specialties is "kouign amann," a French pastry made with multiple layers of buttery croissant pastry caramelized with slightly burnt sugar.
In addition to his baking, Brother Andrew uses his culinary skills to help the less fortunate and the working poor. He and a group of brothers and lay volunteers cook and serve dinner every Sunday for the day laborers who congregate at a local Home Depot looking for work.
After he is ordained to the priesthood in two years, Brother Andrew is unsure whether his priestly vocation will permit him as much time to pursue his baking avocation. "God has already zigzagged my life in so many ways that I am open to anywhere he leads me," he said.
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Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.