A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
During a January 2020 morning show on Fox 5 DC (Washington, D.C.), the morning host, Steve Chenevey, had a cheerful interview with a young baker from Catholic University of America. Eager to talk about his recent participation in the fifth season of the Great American Baking Show (December 2019), Capuchin Brother Andrew Corriente said it was for amateur bakers from all over the country — “a baking competition for self-taught bakers,” he clarified.
“Several of us competed,” he said. “It was a monthlong competition, and you had to bake 24 items all together.” He added that each challenge had a format and a theme. For example, the first week was “cake” and contestants prepared a simple cake that they would at home.
That was followed by a technical challenge to see if contestants really understood baking techniques. And the third session was for contestants to bake a huge, elaborate centerpiece. “The judge would judge you on each challenge,” he said, adding that his winning entry was choux buns.
As he explained, “In the last episode, the first challenge was the choux buns. And the third challenge was a trio of desserts.” He said that the choux buns were a homage to his Filipino heritage and his American upbringing. “One bun was filled with mango-ginger Chantilly,” he said. “and the other was filled with malted milk chocolate pastry cream. My trio of desserts was elevated versions of desserts I grew up with — vanilla cake with a yogurt-white chocolate frosting and berries, black cocoa cookies sandwiching lime buttercream and blackberry jam, and rosemary apple pie topped with salted caramel.
A native of Arcadia, California, growing up in a nominally Catholic household, Brother Andrew said, “My parent were immigrants from The Philippines,” he said, “and we went to church because it was the cultural thing to do.” He went on to explain his passion for food, which began in early in his childhood. “I watched the Food Network as a child,” he said, “but I never cooked.”
He also worked at a talent agency with the task of organizing events for celebrity chefs. During his first year as a friar in West Philadelphia, it occurred to him that he ought to try and cook something. He went into the kitchen and he has not stopped baking since then. “I am most well-known for my baking,” he said, adding that over time, he had made lots of baking errors, but reads prodigiously about food, and loves what he does. “If something does not work out,” he said, “I ask myself why, and wonder if I should have added this, or used a different temperature. I take notes and just keep going on.”
Although he was raised Catholic, Brother Andrew was less focused on his faith during his youth. But his life took a dramatic turn when after attending New York University in Manhattan, he returned to California, and worked at the talent agency. He then met a friar and visited the others in formation, and fell in love with Catholicism when he went on a friars’ formation retreat that changed his life. “It was really bizarre,” he said. “It was never part of my plan, but it all felt like second nature. I should have always been doing this,” adding that his faith steps went from formation, then to his novitiate, and now studying for the priesthood.
At the campus, Brother Andrew lives in a friary with 30 other men. Not surprisingly, he ends up doing a lot of baking there, making a lot of birthday cakes and even preparing small wedding cakes. “I have a lot of baking projects to work on,” he said, “but I am a fulltime student, I pray, and have a ministry. So I do things in batches. I may make a layer in the morning, prepare the frosting in the afternoon, bake the cake in the evening, freeze it, and frost it the next day, whenever I have free time.”
With his student life and baking fame, he said his parents are astounded by it all. And as he looks to the future, when all the public accolades and interviews taper off, he intends to return to his normal life. “I am going back to studying,” he said, “because I have been called to be a priest… and to bake.”
Cinnamon Cloud Whipped Cream
Brother Andrew Corriente, OFM Cap.
This is one of my favorite go-to recipes to top off any dessert I’m whipping up or just pile it on top of fresh berries! For a silkier cream, stop beating when it reaches soft peaks (the peak slouches to the side.)
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ tsp kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or use a hand mixer. Start mixing on medium, then increase the speed to high. As soon as the mixture forms stiff peaks that stand up straight, stop beating. Serve the cream on top of pies, cakes or fresh fruits.