Miami-Dade school psychologist is baking her way to success on TV

Naylet LaRochelle of Miami-Dade plates her dishes during an episode of ‘Holiday Baking Championship.’
Naylet LaRochelle of Miami-Dade plates her dishes during an episode of ‘Holiday Baking Championship.’ Food Network

By day, Naylet LaRochelle is a Miami-Dade Schools psychologist. By night, the Cuban-American wife and mother of three is a rockstar amateur baker whose talents have earned her cash and prizes at competitions across the country.

LaRochelle’s latest cooking endeavor is playing out on national television: She is one of four finalists remaining in the Food Network’s new Holiday Baking Championship.

Having survived four elimination rounds, LaRochelle has impressed the judges (Duff Goldman of Aces of Cakes, Nancy Fuller of Farmhouse Rules and Lorraine Pascale of Lorraine’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food) with her orange-rosemary cookies (see recipe) and a banana cream dulce de leche pie that she said is a family favorite.

LaRochelle is the only remaining competitor who is not a professional baker. She said that doesn’t bother her; in fact, it may give her a creative advantage — on the show and at work.

“Creative baking allows me to engage in an activity that is completely different than what I do on a daily basis,” LaRochelle said. “I am a firm believer that having a healthy hobby or interest makes you better at your job and vice versa.”

LaRochelle traces her baking interest to her childhood, helping her mom make cinnamon rolls.

“Although my mom was never a baker per say, she did allow me to experiment, create and bake up a storm in our kitchen,” she said.

Her baking experimentation at an early age later led her to creating cakes and baked goods for family parties and holiday celebrations.

LaRochelle’s cooking skills have taken her to national competitions, where she’s brought home some big wins, including a $10,000 burger cook-off and a $25,000 grilling contest. One of her proudest accomplishments: having the scent of her maple sticky toffee pudding formulated into a candle for Bath & Body Works.

Still, LaRochelle’s family remains the most frequent benefactor of her baking.

“I really appreciate waking up to the smell of baked goods on weekend mornings,” said LaRochelle’s husband, Greg, a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy. “I make the coffee, and she makes the muffins, banana bread or scones.”

Holiday Baking Championship, hosted by Paula Deen’s son Bobby, is intended to get viewers in the holiday spirit, said Bob Tuschman, the Food Network’s general manager and senior vice president of programming.

The show “celebrates the delicious desserts, classic flavors and ingredients of the season,” he said. “Bakers will have their skills tested along with their ability to improvise on their family recipes to design the most scrumptious sweets and holiday treats.”

The last baker standing will win $50,000. LaRochelle said she would consider using the prize money to open a bakery in South Florida.

“If I win, I think Miami will feel the ground shaking,” she said. “That money would eventually allow me to open my own pie bakery, a dream that I have had for some time now.”

Carissa Chesanek is a Miami-based writer. Follow her on Twitter: @chesanek.

The show

Holiday Baking Championship airs 9 p.m. Sunday on the Food Network.


Guava and Blue Cheese Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cup crushed sliced almonds

8 ounces guava paste (about 3/4 cup)

2 tablespoons cream

2/3 cup good quality crumbled blue cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand-up mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until combined. Add flour; stir until combined and a soft dough is formed. Shape dough into about 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in crushed almonds. Place each about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Using thumb or index finger, make an indentation in center of each. Refrigerate 8-10 minutes. Bake 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a microwavable bowl, add guava paste and cream. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each, until melted and smooth.

Using a teaspoon, carefully press indentation in center again if needed. Fill each center with guava and sprinkle with blue cheese. Return to oven; bake 5-6 minutes longer until cookies are lightly browned. (May need to work in batches or use 2 baking sheets.) Makes about 20 cookies.

Note: You can substitute your favorite preserves or jam for guava paste.

Source: Naylet LaRochelle.


Fireside Amaretto Pumpkin Pie with Almond-Toffee Crunch


2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted


4 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1/3 cup sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup Amaretto-flavored coffee creamer

1/4 cup cream

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt


2/3 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/3 cup toffee chips

Lightly spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the crust ingredients. Mix with a fork. Press onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together mascarpone, pumpkin and sugar until combined. Add the eggs one at a time; stirring in between each addition. Stir in amaretto, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until combined. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared crust-lined pie plate. Bake 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare topping.

In a medium bowl, combine topping ingredients until well combined. Sprinkle over pie. Bake pie for 10 minutes, or until topping is lightly browned and knife inserted in center of pie comes out slightly wet. (Do not overbake pie.)

Source: Naylet LaRochelle.


Orange-Rosemary Cookies with Orange Glaze

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 small sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 orange, finely zested and juice reserved

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and rosemary in a large bowl. Cream the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (about 1 tablespoon each) and place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until just golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the confectioners sugar and reserved orange juice in a medium bowl and set aside.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then top each with about a teaspoon of the orange glaze. Makes about 24 cookies.

Source: Naylet LaRochelle.