By FRANK SABATINI JR.
It was a stroke of luck that many small-business owners could only dream about.
Out of the blue earlier this year, Dani L. Hannah of Choice Confections received a call from the casting director of “Baker’s Dozen,” a streaming television series that debuted Oct. 7 on Hulu.
“It was a complete shock,” Hannah recalls. “The casting director said I was recommended by someone, but she wouldn’t say who. I didn’t really care because I was so excited. And I still never found out who it was.”
Hannah launched Choice Confections in 2014, a baking business she runs from her La Mesa apartment. She specializes in custom-made cookies and cupcakes that are available for pickup as well as delivery to most areas of East County and metro neighborhoods of San Diego.
The goodies are all made with butter rather than oil or lard, and she takes particular pride in her decorating skills.
“Some customers come to me with photographs they want replicated. Or I can run with a theme. The sky is the limit. And I can create any color,” she said.
Hannah participated in “Baker’s Dozen” as a contestant for Episode 6. The format starts out with 13 amateur and professional bakers tasked with conjuring up confections based on certain themes. Filmed on a posh ranch in the Los Angeles area, the victor of the show’s three elimination rounds goes home with $5,000 and a golden rolling pin.
“The winner wasn’t me. But I made it to the final round when there were only three of us left,” she cheerfully noted.
Hannah proved her baking prowess throughout the entire episode nonetheless.
In the first round she decorated a giant pre-made donut with a “beautiful diva” sporting big curls, gold lips, hoop earrings, and a flower in hair. The image was meant to resemble jazz legend Billie Holiday.
For round two, the contestants were asked to produce 13 identical desserts of any kind. Now as one of only five competitors remaining, Hannah cranked out cacao cupcakes filled with bourbon-chantilly cream and topped with spiced-pecan brittle.
The final showdown called for a breakfast-theme dessert. Hannah gave it her all with a four-layer cinnamon-roll cake made with brioche and sided with chocolate-covered bacon. On top was a Thai confection known as thong yip, which looks like an egg yolk. Hannah set the delicately crafted orb into a cloud of meringue.
But a trio of judges gave the win to a “self-taught professional baker” named Nicole, who created a French toast casserole layered with peanut butter cream and raspberries.
Hannah was hardly discouraged, and she is grateful for the national publicity.
“It hasn’t trickled into massive orders yet, but it’s given my business a boost on social media so far,” she said, noting that all eight episodes of the show are available for the long run on Hulu.
In addition, she has achieved local name recognition through Grossmont College, where she teaches for its culinary arts program on Saturdays. She holds an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from Grossmont, and a Bachelor’s in theater, art and dance from California State at Los Angeles.
Her baking history dates back to when she made sweet potato pies and hot-water corn bread with her grandmother when growing up in Bakersfield, California.
“Baked goods just make me happy. It’s the smell and nostalgia of them. Something as simple as chocolate chip cookies can bring back a lot of good memories.”
That love of sweets, she recalls, is what drove her into starting Choice Confections — not to mention the urging of friends and family members who raved about her desserts along the way. So with only a small KitchenAid mixer and humble packaging supplies from Michaels Arts & Craft store, she went into business. Today she fulfills a steady stream of customized orders for weddings, birthdays, gender-reveal parties, and more.
“I now have more cupcake tins than clothes. And I have bigger Kitchen Aid mixer now.”
As for baking again on television under bright lights and time clocks, she quipped: “Ideally I’d like to someday get my own show — somewhere, somehow,”
Hanna can be reached through her web site at: www.choice-confections.com
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.