Anytime is a good time to be in the Texas Hill Country. For me, it’s most perfect in the fall, so my excitement level was high when I was invited several years ago to participate in one of its best fall festivities—the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest, now in its 25th year.

I was asked to share my baking skills at the festival’s Grape Expectations Cooking School on the heels of winning an Austin Chronicle Best of Austin award for cakes I sold at a local restaurant.

What an opportunity! But, admittedly, after accepting, the apprehension set in. I had never tried to cook with 200 people watching my every move, much less stood by to watch while they decided if they liked it or not.

I hear that comedians are pretty vulnerable on stage as they offer up their best material and hope the crowd gets it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t too far from that. Food creations can be highly personal. But here’s the thing: The audiences at the fest are eager and friendly. My nerves settle the minute I find myself in a room full of people who feel like friends, and each year, it’s the same. We joke and laugh together as I lead the creation train. Volunteers are always willing to help, and the questions and shared ideas make for a rewarding exchange.

Here are a few recipes to try out.

My goal is to show how simple it can be to make beautiful, delicious, and potentially versatile desserts. I really want the attendees to take the recipe home and try to make it. Year after year, I love hearing the success stories from those who have done just that.

I call my baking process “Arts and Crafts in the Kitchen” and encourage attendees to be creative in their kitchens and add their own touches to the base recipes I offer. That’s what makes baking personal.

By the end of the cooking session, I am among friends, and we’re enjoying a sweet treat paired with an amazing Texas wine. If that’s not Hill Country happiness, I don’t know what is.

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