Earlier this year, Dolester Miles took home gold at the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards, where she was named the most Outstanding Pastry Chef in the country. The reigning queen of confections at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, Dolester is no stranger to extravagant holiday meals. But when it comes to her favorite take on celebrating, it’s being with her family that hits home. Read on to find out where Dolester gets her inspiration, plus get her must-have baking tips to master all of your desserts this Christmas.
Who taught you to bake? I started when I was small with my mom and my aunt. They were sisters, and they were close, so we would all get together and cook and do some baking. They started letting me crack eggs and stir the flour and stuff, and I began to really like it.
Tell us about your favorite holiday tradition.
At Thanksgiving, everybody comes to my house and we sit around the table laughing and talking. Everybody brings a dish, and I do the dessert—something like a pumpkin cheesecake, pecan tart, and maybe some cookies.
What do you love most about baking?
You can take some flour, sugar, and butter, and put them together and make all of these delicious desserts that people “ooh” and “ah” over. I think it’s fascinating that you can take those ingredients and make almost anything.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Again, from my mom and aunt. I like to take things that we used to make back then and put a new twist on them—like I started making the coconut pecan cake from a German chocolate cake that we used to do. I took the chocolate out of it, and just made it different.
People rave over your cakes, tarts, and cobblers. What’s your favorite dessert?
I love the lemon meringue tart because it’s not too sweet.
Do you have any tips for bakers?
Read the complete recipe and measure out all of your ingredients before you get started. I’ve made the mistake of not reading the complete recipe before, and I’ll get there ready to make it and the first step is something that I should’ve made the day before. And if I don’t have my ingredients all laid out, sometimes I’ll realize I’ve forgotten something. It’s just better to have everything right there and know the recipe so you don’t miss something.