They came from faraway lands like Senegal and Switzerland to share their favorite breads and pastries that are typical to the region they live. Haif Hakim from Senegal made pain de mie with moringa, a nutrient-rich green powder extracted from the African Moringa tree. Deborah Ott from France crafted a colorful mandarin and raspberry feuilleté, using croissant dough. François Brandt from Netherlands presented brioche vendéenne’ with lime and raspberry filling, as well as beer bread made with a Chicago beer and oven-roasted potatoes.

The setting was Kendall College in Chicago, and the April 22-23 gathering was the inaugural event of the Intergalactic Bakers Federation (IBF), co-founded by Pierre Zimmerman, owner of La Fournette Bakery & Cafe in Chicago, and Solveig Tofte, founder and head baker at Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis.

Eight bakers from around the world participated in highly intensive product demonstrations at the event billed as the Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers. They delivered a smorgasbord of creative new ideas that bakers can bring home to their own shops. 

“It is beneficial to bring a level of complexity to your products — to excite your customers,” says Zimmerman. “In my opinion, I am very open to (nontraditional) products.”

Bakers donated time and travel to attend the event, which proved to be a highly successful exchange of ideas and product innovation.

“We are a benevolent organization seeking to bring bakers together to do good work, share knowledge, and have a little fun along the way,” the IBF founders proclaim. “Our plans for 2017 and 2018 include this assembly in Chicago, a program with After School Matters (also in Chicago), and a partnership with the American Refugee Committee to coordinate job-training trips to refugee camps in Asia and Africa.”

Representing the United States at the Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers were Jory Downer, who is the second of three generations running Bennison’s in Evanston, Illinois, and a winning member of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2005, and Nicky Giusto, a fourth-generation miller and baker at Central Milling in Petaluma, California, and a member of the 2016 Team USA at the Coupe du Monde.

Downer demonstrated a variety of techniques and skills in producing chocolate babka, rugelach, lemon florentine croissant, and hand-cut cake donuts. When frying donuts, for instance, he suggested the importance of slowly lowering the donuts into the grease and not flipping the dough pieces while in the oil. “If they turn over, the grease is too deep,” he says. In another demonstration with laminated dough, Downer shared a valuable tip when laminating dough. When incorporating the butter, “to me, it’s a greater sin to have dough with no butter than it is butter with no dough.”

Giusto presented purple piñon bread (made with purple barley, mesquite, and pine nut), in addition to whole grain cornbread, Moroccan spiced flatbread, apricot Khorasan bread, and Vollkorn Dinkelbröt.

“From this long autolyse, basically we have some development in the dough. It’s come together quite a bit, and we also have a lot of activity,” Giusto explained to the crowd during one demonstration. “At first I’m going to incorporate a small amount of yeast into the dough and then I’m going to stir in the salt in the water, just enough to dissolve the salt. I’m not mixing this a lot, and I want to make sure the salt is incorporated well.”

Ott, who won a gold medal at the IBA Cup 2009 (Bread Bakers European Cup) and a bronze medalist at the 2016 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, made a variety of pastries including a “crispy/fondant” apple-rhubarb Danish, a traditional bread with Flax Seeds, and a lemon cookie called Bredele d’Alsace.

While making “flower” macarons, she demonstrated a near flawless approach to making a white chocolate cream filling, using heavy cream, white chocolate and cornstarch. First boil the cream, and melt the white chocolate and reserve. Then mix half of the hot cream into the cornstarch, and strain back into the remaining hot cream and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the white chocolate and cook for another 2 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly. Refrigerate for 2 hours and then beat with a whip for a smooth and creamy consistency.

“What is very important in the macaron is that the first bite is the key,” Zimmerman says of the classic French dessert that is gaining widespread popularity. “The classic shell is meringue, which is very neutral. There has to be a real explosion of flavor because there are only two bites. The key is to lower the sugar in the macaron filling, so the filling is not too sweet.”

Other presenters made the following:

François Brandt, Netherlands

Founder and instructor at the Bakery Institute in Zaandam, winner of the Masters de la Boulangerie 2010, jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015, and member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale


Brioche vendéenne 

Beer bread made with a Chicago beer and Oven Roasted Potatoes

Speculos Cookies

‘Fries Suiker Brood’ (an enriched bread with sugar nibs and cinnamon)

Haif Hakim, Senegal

Owner of Patisserie aux Fins Palais in Dakar, coach for Senegal at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2012, and jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 and the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2016, and member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale

Sourdough bread with sesame seeds and artisan cheese

Savory muffin with a thyme filling

Moringa bread

Thyme crackers for appetizers

Francois Wolfisberg, Switzerland

Second generation owner of Boulangerie-Patisserie Wolfisberg in Geneva, and president of the Richemont Club Switzerland, as well as jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 and the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2016. Member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale

Saint-Gallois Bread

World-famous “Animal Breads” made of country dough

Braided Brioche

Pablo Carmona Valverde, Costa Rica

Candidate at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 who works at his family’s bakery, Villapastel in San Jose


Used several decorative doughs to build an artistic showpiece throughout the weekend.

Created an Intergalactic Bakers Federation sculpture incorporating elements from each presenter’s country and demonstrated techniques for components and assembly.