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Sugar, flour and rock 'n' roll: Two St. Louis pastry chefs return to 'Cupcake Wars' on Sunday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2012 - Let's get right to the good stuff: banana toffee cake, toffee Dulce de Leche stuffing and caramel cream cheese swirl with chocolate astronaut ice cream.

In June of last year, their space-theme cupcakes, like the above mentioned "Space Monkey," won Casey Shiller and Dana Holland the ultimate prize on the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars."

And on Sunday, the duo's chance to compete again in "Winner's Episode: Battle of the Cupcake Champions," will show how the two men handled the music-theme challenge.

The episode airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on the Food Network, and for both men, Shiller says, the goal this time was to have fun.

"Dana and I went into this challenge first of all realizing that there are no losers because we're all winners already," says Shiller, baking and pastry arts coordinator in St. Louis Community College's Hospitality Studies program.

The four teams all came from the previous three seasons, with Shiller and Holland fresh off their season three win. Holland is the executive chef at Jilly's Cupcake Bar in University City, where Shiller also works as the director of baking and pastry.

Both men have great personalities, says Lynn Venhaus, community relations at STLCC at Forest Park. But that doesn't win food competitions. "These two are bakers extraordinaire," she says.

And those skills were what Shiller wanted to show this time around, too. It's an art, a craft, he says, and definitely not a piece of cake.

"I just wanted to show the audience skills that pastry chefs need to have in this industry," he says.

That includes the quick thinking and creativity that won them the top prize last time around.

With their $10,000 winnings from season three, Jilly's was remodeled and expanded. And beginning Friday, Jan. 20, Shiller says, a new location will open in Des Peres, offering what he calls "grab and go," with a new brisket bar, as well.

The theme for the episode, this time around, was the American Music Awards. Shiller wouldn't share any hints about the cupcakes he and Holland created, or whether they drew any inspiration from the local music scene.

"We'll have to wait and see on Sunday," he says.

Customers at Jilly's may ultimately be the big winners, though. On Monday, the cupcakes featured on the show will be available for consumption.

To try out Shiller and Holland's "Space Monkey" recipe for yourself (which Venhaus says turns out great,) go to the Food Network's Web site at https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/banana-toffee-cupcakes-recipe/index.html.

Kristen Hare