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posted: 1/1/2013 4:00 AM

Twentysomething an old pro in the kitchen

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  • Danae Chatel loves her oven, yet prefers it for baking decadent sweets rather than savory dinners. See her recipe for Vanilla Sugar Cookies at

       Danae Chatel loves her oven, yet prefers it for baking decadent sweets rather than savory dinners. See her recipe for Vanilla Sugar Cookies at
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Danae Chatel enjoys decorating cookies as much as her father enjoys eating them.

       Cook of the Week Danae Chatel enjoys decorating cookies as much as her father enjoys eating them.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

By Sally Eyre

Danae Chatel doesn't know how it happened.

"I just got bit by the baking bug! Now that I'm old, I put on an apron and things went crazy! I got all domestic and I'm running with it!" she says with a chuckle. (The Hoffman Estates woman just turned 25.)

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Did she grow up enjoying being in the kitchen?

"Honestly? No. I'd go in there to bake pies with my nana and mom and sister because it was the girl thing to do, but I preferred sitting on the couch with my dad and grandpa watching the game!"

Still, those who know Danae may not be too surprised that the precision required for baking appeals to this former ballet dancer with a perfectionist streak and a fondness for sweets.

Danae started her baking foray with cupcakes.

"Then, I tried making doughnuts ... that didn't go well. My poor dad forced himself to eat them. Now I'm on to cookies." Danae especially enjoys decorating her treats.

"I've always enjoyed art and drawing. Now I can use my artistic ability to make something wonderful. I like the end result to be pretty." Danae loves to photograph her creations and will often share them on Facebook or Pinterest.

"Then, I take what I've baked over to people, and I see the reactions to how they taste -- it's super rewarding."

Danae recently surprised her mother with a batch of pointe shoe shaped cookies in celebration of her mother's performance as Mrs. Stahlbaum in The Nutcracker in Schaumburg.

"My mom doesn't usually enjoy sweets, but she really appreciated it, even if my dad did eat most of them."

Besides being a taste-tester, Danae's dad also serves as an information resource.

"Technically, my dad is a food engineer, so he's always explaining the chemistry behind baking to me. I'll ask him what will happen if I add something and he'll tell me if it will work or not."

Other lucky recipients of Danae's creations are co-workers and friends.

"They want me to open a bakery, but I'd have to go back to school," says Danae who recently graduated with a degree in elementary education, but is working a corporate job while looking for a teaching post.

Danae's devotion to the kitchen doesn't really extend to the preparation of regular meals.

"I make a few good things, but regular food is not as pretty. I usually just hurry up and eat dinner so I can bake."

Danae gets a lot of inspiration from her sister who sends her books and recipes. She also enjoys looking online for ideas, especially the Pinterest site.

"I love Pinterest -- it's a whole pinning world out there -- it's addicting."

And Danae finds that with ideas comes special equipment.

"Hobby Lobby is my new best friend" Danae declares. "I've got a whole shelf in my kitchen devoted to baking. There are muffin pans, food coloring and all kinds of sprinkles. I've been buying this meringue stuff I use in bulk! It's embarrassing, but so much fun. I go through a lot of powdered sugar."

Just as Danae leans toward perfectionism, she admits she may be a bit compulsive when it comes to keeping the kitchen tidy.

"If the mixer gets out of control, it's cleaned up in seconds. I use a lot of paper towels. I'm not helping the environment whatsoever when I bake. And after I'm done baking, I always do a clean sweep of the kitchen. I can't go to bed without the dishes being done. I may have a problem," she laughs.

When she bakes, Danae likes to light some candles, crank up the music and put on her comfy pjs. The only thing better she adds would be a TV in the kitchen.

"Then I could watch the Bears and bake."

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