WildFlour Pastry, Charleston, SC

“Sticky Bun Sunday” has such a nice ring to it. Join the happy crowd smacking sticky fingers at this neighborhood treasure in historic Charleston.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

The main attraction on Sticky Bun Sundays at WildFlour Pastry in Charleston, SC

Friends meet up at WildFlour Pastry

The Sunday morning line at WildFlour Pastry stretches out the door and down Spring Street, but nobody standing in it seems to mind waiting. In chatty groups or as cuddly pairs or alone, people laugh and talk or read newspapers or thumb iPhone keypads in the shade of breeze-ruffled palmetto trees as they anticipate the treat ahead.

It’s Sticky Bun Sunday at WildFlour Pastry, a weekly tradition just three years old, like the bakery itself, but about as established as any upstart tradition can be in city as steeped in them as is historic old Charleston, South Carolina.

Sticky Buns arrive at one of WildFlour Pastry’s window tables

The line gradually moves forward each time someone emerges sporting a satisfied smile or toting a to-go box, disappearing on foot or by bicycle or in a car that has been idling nearby or circling the block.

Once inside the close quarters of this narrow storefront operation, I find a tiny seating area including a pair of tables wedged into twin alcoves with broad windows facing the street. There’s a somewhat roomier courtyard just out a side door with more tables tucked among garden greenery. Finally reaching the service counter at the front of the line, I trade $3 for a red plate bearing a fine specimen of Sticky Bun Sunday’s glorious signature pastry: a WildFlour Sticky Bun.

Courtyard dining at WildFlour Pastry

It’s a delightfully gooey (because it’s loaded with butter) sweet roll coated with cinnamon-sugar and topped with about as many pecans as can fit. It’s served warm and with an optional thick blob of creamy white icing on top.

Looking around as I eat, I spy a few neatniks approaching this delicacy with a fork and knife, performing a sort of culinary surgery and carving off small bites like they’re savoring fine steaks. Others, like me, just pick it up and let the sweet ooze drip, happy to lick sticky fingers later. I even see a few quick tongues tidying up sticky plates, messy chins be damned.

All Hail Pastry Chef Lauren Mitterer

Behind the counter leading her small team of fellow bakers (currently WildFlour has four employees) is owner and sticky-bun queen Lauren Mitterer.

The WildFlour crew, hard as work

A Chicago native and former Seattle-area resident, Lauren went to the University of Virginia on a rowing scholarship (earning a seat on the U.S. Rowing Junior National Team), took a degree in studio arts, and went on to develop her creative bent in the food world, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2004. She has worked as a pasty chef at Tavern on the Green in New York City, Larkspur Restaurant in Vail, Colorado, and Red Drum Gastropub in Mount Pleasant across the Cooper River from Charleston. She’s been nominated twice for awards in the pastry chef category from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, once while working at Red Drum and once at her own WildFlour Pastry.

Lauren struck out on her own by opening WildFlour Pastry in September 2009, leasing a 700-square-foot space on the first floor of a petite two-story cottage in Charleston’s Cannonborough/Elliotborough area, a delightful old neighborhood tucked between the city’s bustling King Street commercial district, the Medical University of South Carolina, and The Citadel — The Military College of South Carolina.

Come on in, the pastry’s fine

She introduced Sticky Bun Sundays soon after opening, and at last count was making around 200 of the hefty sweet rolls for the occasion each week, frequently running out of them before the 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. serving hours end. (Hint: go early!)

The walk-in retail side took off quickly enough, but to bolster the operation Lauren also set up a catering business, creating wedding cakes and setting up dessert bars at special events. Through WildFlour Pastry she also supplies baked good to such noteworthy Charleston restaurants as The Macintosh nearby on King Street, Next Door in Mount Pleasant, and her former employer Red Drum, also in Mount Pleasant.

But Wait, There’s More

Like most of the Sunday morning crowd, I was at WildFlour for the always-satisfying Stick Buns. But many other choices crowd the showcases. Such as:

Double Chocolate Brownies at WildFlour Pastry

• Apples caramelized in brown butter and spiced sugar, nestled into phyllo pouches, baked, garnished with caramel sauce, and topped with aged cheddar

• Double chocolate cookies made with cocoa powder and dark bittersweet chocolate

• Double chocolate brownies, likewise combining cocoa power and dark chocolate and cut into large squares

• Scones, both sweet and savory varieties, in a constantly changing lineup that recently including strawberry jam, blueberry lemon curd, ham and cheddar, pesto and mozzarella, goat cheese and roasted red pepper

• Plus a host of biscuits, cookies, cupcakes, custards, turnovers, tarts, cakes, sweet breads, croissants, and more

Last Word

A glimpse into the WildFlour sense of humor

What does Lauren love most about running her bakery? “Everything!” she says. “It’s been such a challenging and rewarding endeavor. The people I encounter on a daily basis are probably what I appreciate the most, and also the freedom to create menu items and just play around with pastry ideas at my leisure.”

Sticky Bun Sundays

Don’t miss Sticky Bun Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every week at WildFlour Pastry. Bring friends to hang with or something to read in case the wait gets long, but don’t let the prospect of a delay deter you from a popular, worthwhile, tasty experience.

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WildFlour Pastry

73 Spring Street

Charleston, SC 29403

843-327-2621

www.wildflourpastrycharleston.com

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MoonPie Drop, Mobile, AL

Here’s an inventive use for a staple snack: Drop a giant MoonPie from a tall building to mark the New Year.

by Bakery Boy

Everyone knows about the giant crystal ball that descends in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but have you heard of the giant MoonPie Over Mobile that serves a similar purpose down South?

A stylized MoonPie 12 feet across and suspended 34 stories above Mobile will "drop" on New Year's Eve at midnight. Photo courtesy of the City of Mobile

As midnight approaches on December 31 in downtown Mobile, Alabama, a huge, shining, plastic, electrified likeness of a MoonPie — measuring 12 feet across, weighing 350 pounds, and brightly illuminated from within — drops from the top of the 34-story RSA BankTrust building. It plummets 317 feet in 60 seconds and stops at the 6th floor, directly above a crowd of street-party revelers on St. Joseph Street and St. Francis Street, just as the countdown ends and both January 1 and fireworks begin.

There it goes, a giant MoonPie plunging downward along a corner of Mobile's second-tallest building. Photo courtesy of the City of Mobile

The free event, which drew an estimated 40,000 people last year, begins with a 7:30 p.m. parade, continues through a series of live concerts and a laser lights show, peaks with the midnight MoonPie Drop, and concludes with wee-hours restaurant and bar hopping. This year’s featured band is Three Dog Night, which will undoubtedly play suited-to-the-occasion hits “Joy to the World” and “Celebrate” and, who knows, might even play “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” and “An Old Fashioned Love Song” too.

WHY MOONPIE?

You might be asking: What does MoonPie have to do with Mobile?

Try to follow this reasoning: 1) Mobile hosted the America’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1703, before nearby New Orleans began its famous version, and takes great pride in the long-running annual tradition. 2) MoonPie is a favorite treat for Mardi Gras parade-float riders to throw to people who line Mobile streets and watch. 3) Mobilians typically consume more than four million MoonPies annually, and many consider the cellophane-wrapped goodie to be an unofficial emblem of the city. 4) If MoonPies are good enough for Mardi Gras, they’re good enough for New Year’s too. 5) Hey, does anyone really need a reason to do silly things like this on New Year’s Eve?

Mobile's pie-in-the-sky electric MoonPie, all aglow on New Year's Eve. Photo by Tad Denson

MoonPie aficionados (they are legion) will point out that the MoonPie is more closely related to Chattanooga, Tennessee. That’s where the iconic chocolate-covered-graham-cracker-and-marshmallow sandwich cookie originated in 1917 and where Chattanooga Bakery Inc. continues to produce them at the rate of about a million a day. The bakery teamed with Mobile to create the giant electric MoonPie for dropping during the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

With that cleared up, one  key question remains. Will you wash down your celebratory New Year’s Eve MoonPie with RC Cola or champagne? Either drink goes well with it. Happy 2012!

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More about MoonPie Over Mobile: www.mobilenewyear.com

More about Mobile: www.mobile.org

More about MoonPie: www.moonpie.com

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Happy Holidays from the Bakery Boy Blog

Here’s to another great year of baking and bakeries. Thanks for joining me on the journey.                                 — Bakery Boy


Springerle Cookie Molds

Artfully embossed Springerle cookies evoke a sweet nostalgia. 

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Think of them as sweet little woodcarvings that you can eat. Springerle cookies — thick, cake-like, anise-flavored cutouts topped with intricate three-dimensional figures — date from medieval times in southern Germany. Yet you can make these “picture cookies” fresh right now wherever you are. All you need are a handful of molds and a few helpful tips from Connie Meisinger.

Connie Meisinger makes embossed-topped Springerle cookies and sells molds in more than 500 designs.

Connie Meisinger is the queen of Springerle (pronounced SHPRENG-er-luh) and an enthusiastic expert on the subject. Based in Elmhurst, Illinois, just west of Chicago, she owns House on the Hill, Inc., which sells more than 500 different Springerle mold designs. Pressed firmly into rolled-out cookie dough, the molds create embossed images such as birds, flowers, pine cones, fruit, harps, angels, snowmen, stars, baskets, houses, trees, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and more. Rolling pin versions create a variety of images with a single pass over flattened dough.

Springerle pine cone mold and cookies pressed with it.

I met Connie when she taught a Springerle making class at Susan Green’s Birmingham Bake & Cook Company near my home. Connie travels extensively to tell her story, share her recipes, demonstrate her techniques, and promote her line of Springerle molds (for a schedule of appearances visit houseonthehill.net/news-and-events.) She has been on TV shows including NBC Chicago on WMAQ Channel 5, ABC News Saturday Morning on WLS Channel 7, and The Martha Stewart Show on the Hallmark Channel. During presentations she tells her story while rolling dough, dusting molds with flour, pressing shapes into dough, cutting and transferring cookies to baking sheets, baking them and eventually letting everyone try samples.

The molds press intricate images into cookie dough.

House on the Hill offers many nostalgic designs.

Connie became an avid Springerle baker when her aging grandmother was no longer able to make the old-fashioned treats that were eagerly anticipated by her family during the holidays. She scrounged up harder-to-find key ingredients including anise oil and hartshorn (ammonia carbonate today but formerly a preparation made from ground-up deer horns) to go with the more readily available flour, sugar, eggs and butter in grandma Nini’s recipe. She found a few factory-machined molds that didn’t quite satisfy but that eventually led to her current career as a mold designer and distributor. Her extended family, glad to the see the tradition continue, rejoiced at the tasty results and gobbled every cookie she made.

On a lark in 1993 Connie submitted her recipe to the Chicago Tribune’s annual cookie contest. She was named one of several winners and got mentioned in the newspaper. Caroline Kallas, the owner of a little homegrown Springerle mold business called House on the Hill in nearby Lombard, read the article and contacted Connie to invite her to check out the merchandise. “I did, and I was hooked,” Connie says. “I became a frequent customer, collecting as many molds as I could afford. Caroline died in 1999, and three years later my husband and I bought House on the Hill from her husband. We’ve been running it ever since.”

The Showstopper Rolling Pin (top center) presses 25 different images. Photo courtesy of House on the Hill

The molds look like they’re hand carved from solid wood just as they were centuries ago. Modern versions, though still handcrafted, are made from resin and wood composite. Most are replicas of antique carvings, giving them a historic and traditional appearance. “Bakers in guilds back then had to be excellent woodcarvers too, so they could create their own molds,” Connie says. “When a lot of German families immigrated to America in the late 1800s, they couldn’t always bring big things like furniture, but they brought cherished cookie molds made of clay or wood or metal. Many of those heirlooms are in museums and private collections now. Sometimes we’ll borrow an antique mold from a museum and replicate the historic design to add to our selection. We also have a woodcarver create new designs.”

...then lifts the cutout to a baking sheet.

Connie cuts around a pressed angel image...

During her classes Connie offers interesting tidbits and helpful hints. Traditional Springerle cookies are flavored with anise, she notes, but she also uses orange, lemon and almond and is experimenting with a cherry-almond combination. It’s best to make them after the first freeze, she says, when humidity is low and the dough stays dry so it doesn’t stick in the molds. She says symbols play a big part in Springerle designs, ranging from pomegranates (once given as wedding gifts because their many seeds represented fertility) to depictions of great cathedrals (created as souvenirs for travelers who visited renowned religious sites).

The molds look like carved wood but are made of resin and wood composite.

By the time her class ended and I was nibbling a one of the pretty little white works of edible art, I could hardly wait to get home and try a batch of my own. If you’re interesting in making Springerle cookies and need some molds to get started, order some from the House on the Hill website, which has pictures of each design.

I recently learned that in German the word Springerle means “jumper” as in a jumping horse. I wonder if the unique style of cookie got that name because jumping horses were once depicted on them. Or because pulverized deer horn (deer jump too, right?) was once a key ingredient. Or because the dough “springs” out of the deeply carved molds or “springs” up as it bakes. I also read an account of how medieval Yule festivals among pagan Germanic tribes involved animal sacrifices in hopes of appeasing the gods into sending a mild winter, and that poor people who couldn’t afford to kill their livestock instead created token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads or cookies.

I don’t know the definitive answer, if there is one, but I plan to ask Connie about it the next time she comes to town to teach her Springerle baking class. Meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy some cookies and hope you do too.

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House on the Hill, Inc.

650 West Grand Avenue, Unit 110, Elmhurst, IL 60126

630-279-4455 or toll free (in the U.S.) 877-279-4455

email support@houseonthehill.net

See a catalog of Springerle molds and order online at houseonthehill.net

Find out where Connie Meisinger will be demonstrating Springerle techniques by visiting houseonthehill.net/news-and-events

Pristine white Springerle cookies might look too pretty to eat, but go ahead!

Santa Bread

Put a little Dough! Dough! Dough! in your Ho! Ho! Ho!

by Bakery Boy

This Santa Bread photo came to me from Joan, a loyal subscriber to the Bakery Boy Blog and a friend and neighbor of my sister in Virginia. Joan works at a physical rehabilitation center and says a thoughtful patient presented this homemade flaxseed Santa Bread to the staff as a token of her appreciation.

I’m glad Joan took a minute to snap this picture before she and her coworkers tore into their holiday treat. Seeing it reminded me of various shapes my father made out of bread at the Dutchess Bakery where I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. He’d make Santa heads, reindeer, Christmas trees sleighs and more, all out of creatively shaped bread dough.

For some reason I’ve never figured out — since we didn’t live in alligator country — my Pop made alligator bread complete with scissor-sniped spikes running along the backs and tails and with mouths propped wide open through a clever arrangement of folded cardboard during proofing and baking. Maybe he just made them because he could and because it was fun, which would be reasons enough. I made some recently just to see if I could remember how. They turned out well and kindled a fond memory, just like Joan’s Santa Bread photo did.

For a couple of years while I worked as a baker at Le Panier Very French Bakery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I made elaborate holiday stars out of braided bread. Some were nearly a yard a wide, great for dangling in the shop’s windows as bakery-themed decorations. Others were about the size of a regular loaf, used as table centerpieces for parties. The smallest would fit in the palm of your hand and served as Christmas tree ornaments.

Good times. I’ve also seen bread shape like a cable car and a sea lion in San Francisco, bread shaped like a cactus and a fish and a donkey-pulled cart in Albuquerque, and bread shaped like a lobster in Maine. Someday I should write an article all about bread shaped to look like something other than bread.

There’s no recipe or how-to lesson with today’s post. You can find plenty of those just by entering Santa Bread into any search engine. TasteOfHome.com has a nice version and so does MarthaStewart.com, to name just two.

Or you could just take your favorite bread dough recipe and wing it, using your imagination and maybe a little well-placed food coloring to devise your own version of Santa Bread. Maybe it’ll turn out great or maybe it’ll be an absurd mess, but either way you’ll have a little fun and create a new holiday memory.

Whatever interestingly shaped bread you make please snap a picture and send me a copy (find my email link at bottom right). I’d like to put together a slide show of the best and the worst — as well as the funny, the odd, the what’s-that-supposed-to-be? and other gallant efforts — for a blog post to run next year at about this time.

Until then, happy holidays!

BOOK REVIEW Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Bookjacket photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

When Chef Sonya Jones told me she had a baked-goods book coming out, I knew it would belong in my kitchen library.

by Bakery Boy

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is a tiny bakeshop in downtown Atlanta. There’s barely enough room for more than a few customers at a time in front of the bakery’s showcases and less room behind for owner Sonya Jones to maneuver among her ovens, mixers, refrigerator, workbench and sink. These limitations don’t stop regulars from crowding in, and they sure don’t keep Sonya from turning out an incredible volume and variety of scrumptious baked goods.

The last time I dropped in to eat some of the Sweet Potato Cheesecake she’s best known for and to box up some Sweet Potato & Molasses Muffins to bring home (see earlier post), Sonya told me she had a cookbook in the works. “It’s been in the works for a looong time,” she said with a hopeful expression that suggested she thought it was finally going to happen.

Well it did, and it was worth the wait. Sweet Auburn Desserts (from Pelican Publishing Company, $24.95) appeared in September. As expected it’s filled with recipes I wanted to try right away, starting with the gorgeous — and surprisingly easy-to-make — Strawberry Jam Stack Cake pictured on the cover.

Subtitled “Atlanta’s Little Bakery That Could,” the book includes a generous 108 recipes grouped in chapters for pies; poundcakes; stack cakes & jelly rolls; puddings & cobblers; cheesecakes & layer cakes; cookies, muffins & quick breads; and jams, jellies, butters & sauces.

Among those I’ve already made or will soon make are her Coconut Cream Pie, Brown Sugar Poundcake, Dried Apple Stack Cake, Tart Cherry Cobbler, Naked Hummingbird Muffins (so named because they’re not wearing any cream cheese icing), Cast-iron Skillet Cornbread and a simple Whiskey Butter Sauce she recommends spreading on bread pudding and fruit cobbler.

Sonya and her publisher kindly agreed to let me reprint a few of my favorites from the book here on the Bakery Boy Blog, including the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake, the Sweet Potato Custard Pie, and the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding (click each to see separate posts).

Chef Sonya Jones with some of her sweet potato goodies at Sweet Auburn Bread Company. Photo by Bakery Boy

The 10th of 11 siblings who grew up in Atlanta but spent time on a family farm in Florida where relatives loved to cook and bake with farm-fresh ingredients, Sonya found early inspiration in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother and aunts. There was almost always cobbler on the countertop, she recalls, and the aroma of something good baking. For decades her mother, who passed away shortly before the book went to press, ran a neighborhood Soul Food café on Atlanta’s south side known as Cat’s Kitchen.

Sonya studied at the Culinary School in Atlanta and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, worked as a pastry chef at upscale restaurants in both of those cities, and taught baking classes at Atlanta Technical College. Even with such formal training, she found her best successes working with simple and unglamorous foodstuffs, particularly the lowly sweet potato. In 1997 she opened Sweet Auburn Bread Company at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in an area of Atlanta known for its African American heritage and business community, an area that figured prominently in the Civil Rights Movement and is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

Mashed sweet potatoes form the basis for some of Sonya's best-known desserts.

It was through the Curb Market that I met Sonya, not long after then-President Bill Clinton dropped by during a tour to promote economic development and urban revitalization. He ate some of her signature Sweet Potato Cheesecake and declared it “really good,” an endorsement that made business boom. I was a writer and editor for Georgia Living, a regular section within Southern Living magazine, and I’m proud to say that an excerpt from the article I helped put together about Sonya and her bakery landed on the back cover of her book.

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is now located one street over from the Curb Market, with a narrow storefront facing Auburn Avenue in the slowly reviving Sweet Auburn business and historical district. “This was sort of the unofficial center of the African American community back when I was a little girl,” Sonya says, “and I want my bakery to be part of its comeback. I want to share my good fortune, and with my book I want to share my recipes too.”

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) and drop the price to $19.96.

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is located at 234 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30303; 404-221-1157, www.sweetauburnbread.com.

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Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

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Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

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Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

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Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Strawberry Jam Stack Cake from Sweet Auburn Desserts

Strawberry Jam Stack Cake from the book Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

This loosely stacked yet highly photogenic dessert is refreshingly different from any regular layer cake.

by Bakery Boy

“What I love about stack cakes is that they are so commanding and grand,” says Sonya Jones in introducing this recipe, a tempting photo of which graces the cover of her newly published cookbook, Sweet Auburn Desserts from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review, or here for a profile of Sonya and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta). “Traditionally, the bigger the stack cake and the more layers it has, the more important the occasion,” she adds. So I guess technically, the sky is the limit!

For this recipe, prepare the jam filling ahead of time so it’s well cooled and ready to spread between cake layers on cake-baking day.

Bookjacket photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Strawberry Jam Stack Cake

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 ounce shortening

1 ¼ cups sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 7 (8-inch) round cake pans and line with parchment or wax paper.

In a mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time until the eggs are fully incorporated. Stir in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Spread ¾ cup of the batter into each pan. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Turn the cakes out of the pans onto a wire rack while still warm. Repeat until all 7 layers are baked. Each cake layer will be ¼- to 3/8-inch thick.

Place the first layer on a cake stand and spread ½ cup Strawberry Jam (see below) over the top. Place the second layer on top of the jam and spread another ½ cup jam over the top. Repeat this process until all 7 layers are stacked and layered with jam. Wrap the cake with plastic wrap or foil and allow it to stand for 24 hours before serving.

Jam Filling

2 pounds fresh strawberries

4 cups sugar

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick

Wash and hull the strawberries. In a saucepan, crush the strawberries and stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Add the cinnamon stick and stir over low head until the sugar is dissolved.

Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Using a large spoon, skim off any foam that forms on the surface. Continue to boil, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened and a candy thermometer reads 220 degrees F., about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Transfer the jam to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

If you wish to store the jam for a longer period of time, spoon the jam into hot, sterile jars and seal. Place the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes and transfer them to the counter to cool before storing them in a cool, dry, dark place.

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Sweet Potato Custard Pie from Sweet Auburn Desserts

If you can think of a better use for sweet potatoes than this little slice of heaven, I’d like to know.

by Bakery Boy

Click here for a profile of Chef Sonya Jones and Sweet Auburn Bread Company

Sweet Potato Custard Pie from Sweet Auburn Desserts. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

After my visits in Atlanta with chef and baker Sonya Jones, I knew I’d want to try making some of her sweet potato recipes as soon as she made them available. The owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company has built her reputation around baking the humble but tasty orange tuber into a wide variety of goodies.

The creamy Sweet Potato Cheesecake is her bakeshop’s best-selling item at $45 for an 8-inch-diameter cake or $5 for a 3-inch version, each featuring a buttermilk pound cake crust instead of the usual graham-cracker crust. She also makes Sweet Potato Pies, Sweet Potato and Molasses Muffins, Sweet Potato Poundcake with Molasses Glaze, Sweet Potato Angel Biscuits, and Sweet Potato Cobbler, and is very likely dreaming up other uses for sweet potatoes right now.

Sonya says she peels, boils, and mashes about 40 pounds of the vegetables nearly every day to make a mushy paste that becomes the basis for all kinds of treats. “The possibilities are endless for this simple, wholesome, basic Southern staple,” she says. “I’m always experimenting with different desserts I can make from it, and I’m almost always happy with the results.”

Here is Sonya’s recipe for Sweet Potato Custard Pie from her newly published Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review.)

Sweet Potato Custard Pie

1 pie shell — either your favorite version or one found elsewhere in Sonya’s book

Filling

1 pound sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

3 eggs

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 ½ cups half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, boil the sweet potatoes for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes, run them under cold water, and remove the skin. Mash the potatoes in a mixing bowl and stir until smooth, then gradually stir in the sugar and nutmeg. Add the eggs one at a time, then the belted butter and half and half. Finally, stir in the vanilla and lemon extracts.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serves 8

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding from Sweet Auburn Desserts

That humblest of desserts, meant to make stale bread palatable and nicknamed “poor man’s pudding,” becomes a gourmet treat when done right.

by Bakery Boy

Click here for a profile of Chef Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding from Sweet Auburn Desserts. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

My earliest experience with bread pudding was homegrown.

My father, being a baker with a steady supply of day-old bread — the main ingredient in bread pudding — introduced me to the basic concept. Break an old loaf into chunks in a bowl; sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon and raisins; pour on warm milk; dig in. It was a classic example of a “poor man’s pudding” as it has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, especially on cold winter days. Thanks again, Pop, for those special times we shared!

My second encounter with bread pudding was literary.

I was reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with its über-poor Cratchit family making the best of Christmas Eve while living on abundant love but scant few resources. As the Ghost of Christmas Present guides rich but stingy Ebenezer Scrooge through his enlightening nightmare, they haunt the Cratchit house and spy a simple bread pudding that smells “like a washing day” and looks “like a speckled cannon ball” and is a noticeably “small pudding for [such] a large family.” Unfazed by his own poverty, humble accountant Bob Cratchit regards the pudding as “the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchet since their marriage.” She, being a good sport, takes the, um, compliment well enough.

My third brush with bread pudding was, in a word, divine.

Commander's Palace Creole Bread Pudding Souffle with Warm Whiskey Sauce. Photo courtesy of Commander's Palace.

I ate the famous version served at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans — one of the nation’s most highly regarded restaurants — and if the delicacy hasn’t already been declared a national treasure, it ought to be. The Commander’s Palace Creole Bread Pudding Souffle with Warm Whiskey Sauce lives up to its grand title. The fluffy blend of sugar, eggs, heavy whipping cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cubed French bread gets baked into a deep cup, then topped with a meringue and baked again until golden brown. At table side, a server dramatically pokes a hole in the top of the meringue and pours in a velvety sauce of bourbon and whipping cream. Perfection! Commander’s is so exacting about how its signature dessert is prepared and served, always fresh from start to finish, that it asks dinner guests to order the bread pudding in advance at the beginning of the meal, allowing the kitchen staff to time each step just right for the final presentation.

Now a fourth chapter has been added to my personal bread pudding saga.

Chef Sonya Jones, owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta, shares her recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding in her recently published Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review.) It’s a suitably rich casserole of a pudding baked into a deep pan and using regular milk instead of heavy whipping cream and any available white bread instead of specifically French loaves. I rate it high on my personal scale of bread puddings, certainly closer to the perfection served at Commander’s Palace than to the “washing day cannon ball” at Mrs. Cratchit’s fictional home.

For sheer fond memories’ sake, though, I’ll have to say I still hold in the highest regard my late father’s unpretentious and unsophisticated technique for re-purposing going-stale bread by just tossing stuff together in a bowl. His approach wasn’t cookbook-worthy, perhaps, but I treasure those times when we stood across the workbench from each other at our family’s bakery or sat across the dinner table from each other at home while we ate it. I miss those moments with my Pop.

Try serving Sonya’s bread pudding recipe to your family and see if it makes as strong an impression and as long-lasting a memory as my dad’s did for me.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding

1 pound white bread, sliced

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 ½ cups raisins

4 cups milk

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour half the melted butter in the bottom of a casserole dish. Line the dish with the slices of white bread. Drizzle the remaining butter over the bread and sprinkle the raisins on top.

In a large mixing bowl, stir the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until well blended. Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak for 10 minutes. Pour another 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak another 10 minutes. Repeat with the remainder of the milk mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pudding springs back when lightly touched. Cook and serve with Nutmeg Sauce (see below). Serves 12-15

Nutmeg Sauce

1 cup water

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

2  tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

In a large saucepan bring the water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg. Mix well.

Gradually stir ½ cup boiling water into the sugar mixture. Add the sugar mixture to the remaining boiling water in the saucepan. Continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter.

Store the sauce in a covered container until ready to use. Serve with Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding (above) or with fresh peach cobbler or pound cake.

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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Anyone Miss Me?

Wait. Don’t answer that. If my absence went unnoticed, I might not want to know. But I do want you to know that there’s a good reason I’ve been out of Bakery Boy Blog action for the past three months.

As a freelance writer, I cover many other topics besides baking. Recently I had the opportunity to coauthor a book-length report about deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama (where I live) last spring and to develop recommendations for how the state could better prepare for and recover from future natural catastrophes. Researching the subject for the Tornado Recovery Action Council, which was appointed by Alabama’s governor, has been time-consuming but extremely rewarding.

Now that the project is wrapping up (just in time for holidays where foods, especially desserts, take center stage), I’m ready to get back to visiting bakeries and baking breads, pies, cookies and trying out any worthy recipes that come my way. As always, I’ll be sharing my finds with you.

Thanks again for following the Bakery Boy Blog, please pay attention to tornado warnings and seek shelter, and by all means fill me in on any new favorite bakeries you’ve discovered lately.

— Bakery Boy

Tornado Drawing by Katy Rada