Monthly Archives: February 2011

Crème Patisserie and Confectionery, Asheville, NC

White Chocolate Key Lime Tartlets

Two friends with a shared passion for pastries, cakes, and artisan breads—all handmade in small batches—join forces at this excellent bakeshop.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

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Jitra Neal (left) and Jennifer Jacobs own and operate Crème Patisserie & Confectionery.

Just two flour-dusted people, that’s all. When I realize this, I’m even more amazed by the wide variety of baked goods displayed at Crème Patisserie & Confectionery and the superb quality of every item I see or taste.

Blackberry Streusel Tart

Multi-talented and multi-tasking owners Jennifer Jacobs and Jitra Neal run a tight ship. They’ve worked out a system where even though both stay busy in a production room visible from the retail area, only one at a time is involved in a baking process that can’t be interrupted, such as shaping bread dough when it’s ready or pulling something hot from the oven before it over-bakes. That leaves the other able to assist customers, pausing from less-pressing matters by setting down a pastry bag or frosting spatula.

Caramel Nut Tartlets

After four years in business, two years now in Merrimon Square, a strip mall in Asheville, North Carolina, these dedicated bakers still do literally everything themselves in small batches, by hand, with self-imposed high standards and no hired helpers.

Apple Pies

PARADE OF PASTRIES

Even before introducing myself to Jennifer and Jitra, I am already salivating over Crème Patisserie’s overflowing showcases.

Vegan Blueberry Streusel Muffins

Competing on surprisingly equal terms to become my breakfast are Vegan Blueberry Streusel Muffins ($2.25), Vegan Cinnamon Rolls ($2.75), Caramel Nut Tartlets ($3.25), Cream Cheese Danish ($2.75), and Lavender Scones ($2.25). Silently convincing me that I should pack them to take along for afternoon snacks are Chocolate Éclairs ($2.75), Orange Blossom Brulee ($4.25), Salted Caramel Cakes ($3 a slice), Chocolate Banana Nut Bread ($4 per mini-loaf), and hazelnut-currant sandwich cookies ($10 a half-dozen).

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Marscarpone Filling

Across the room, larger delights look fully prepared to double as dinner-table centerpieces before volunteering themselves as desserts. Just to name a few: 10-inch Blackberry Streusel Tarts ($25), 4-inch Apple Pies ($10), 4-inch Chocolate Hazelnut Cakes with mascarpone filling (Crème Patisserie’s best-selling creations at $12), and a selection of 4- to 10-inch layer cakes ($18-$38) including Carrot Cakes with walnuts and dried figs, Apple Cakes with caramel filling a brown sugar butter-cream, Coconut Cream Cakes, Lemon Ginger Polka Dot Cakes, and Pinstripe Cakes.

It’s enough to make even a lifelong Bakery Boy’s head spin.

BREADS TOO

...and braiding challah

Jennifer scoring baguettes...

When I get to the back room, I realize Jennifer and Jitra have a whole line of artisan breads underway as well (most priced in the $3.25 to $4.50 range). I see Italian-style baguettes, shiny with olive oil; cheese rolls oozy with a blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and provolone; and multigrain dinner rolls crusty with oats and cornmeal.

Multigrain rolls

They’re also making soft pretzels ($2 each) from dough rich with butter and milk, using the traditional and painstaking method of basting the still-rising dough in a fizzing water-and-baking-soda solution before baking them. It happens to be a Friday, but I learn that other days I would see crusty semolina baguettes, country white loaves, marbled rye, flat discs of focaccia, and many more artisan-bread selections.

Challah

I watch as Jennifer carefully braids challah, brushes each bulging loaf with egg wash, and sprinkles them with poppy seeds. The North Asheville neighborhood, she explains, includes a considerable Jewish population that appreciates what Crème Patisserie is doing and has made challah the bakery’s most popular bread. Before long I realize I have in my camera the makings of a good slide show on the topic of braiding dough.  (Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post featuring images of Jennifer braiding bread.)

CONFECTIONERY COHORTS

Jitra decorating tartlets...

Standing at an adjacent table, where she can watch for customers entering the shop, Jitra meticulously decorates a tray full of White & Chocolate Key Lime Tartlets. The two women never stop working as we talk about bakery life.

“We met in 2005 in a pastry program at A-B Tech [Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College],” says Jitra, who grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia. “I graduated from the culinary program right before the school started a full-scale pastry program, but I stayed and took some of those classes too.” Jennifer, a North Carolinian with roots in Cullowhee and Asheville, completed the pastry program.

...and slicing cheesecake

“We each worked at other places for a few years,” Jitra continues. “I was at the Richmond Hill Inn, which later burned down, and at Carmel’s in downtown Asheville.”

“I worked downtown at Café on the Square, also now gone, and at Rezaz, the Mediterranean restaurant in Biltmore Village,” Jennifer says. “Eventually we wanted to follow our own ideas and have our own place.”

“So we decided to go into business together,” Jitra says. “For two years we worked out of my house. Then we got this storefront in Merrimon Square. We make all kinds of artisan breads, petit desserts, whole cakes and pies, cheesecakes and tortes, dipped chocolate truffles, and other confections.”

“I describe our style as a combination of French, because of our formal training, and Southern, because we were raised on pies and other comfort food here in the South,” Jennifer says.

FOCUS ON INGREDIENTS

Part of Crème Patisserie’s success, the two women insist, is a focus on making everything from scratch and using only the best ingredients available, especially anything they can find locally from sources devoted to organic practices.

“We use no artificial ingredients,” Jennifer says. “We get eggs and fresh fruit from Farside Farm Market right up the road in Woodfin, honey from Haw Creek Honey in Asheville, apples from several apple orchards in Hendersonville, and milk from local organic sources. We get rye flour, whole-wheat flour, and cornmeal freshly milled at Lindley Mills in Graham, North Carolina. The only bread flour we use comes from King Arthur Flour because it is never bleached or bromated, because our breads always come out better, and because King Arthur is an employee-owned company like us and we appreciate that.

“We also make all of our own icings and even the graham crackers that go into our graham cracker pie crusts,” she says. “The coffee we grind fresh to serve here comes from Tribal Grounds Coffee on the Qualla Boundary [the Cherokee reservation west of Asheville]. We like the fact that Tribal Grounds’ beans are sourced from indigenous growers all over the world who are paid a living wage for their efforts.

“We care about things like that,” she concludes. “It’s part of what made us want to go out on our own, work for ourselves, and do things our way.”

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Crème Patisserie & Confectionery

640 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 201

Asheville, NC 28804

828-350-9839 or cremeasheville@gmail.com

Look for Crème Patisserie upstairs in the two-story Merrimon Square shopping center, which also holds Circle in the Square Pizza, Urban Burrito, Rise ‘n Shine Café, The Hop (ice cream cafe), Zen Sushi (Japanese restaurant), Asheville Realty, Cartridge World, and other businesses.

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

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For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

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Braiding Challah at Crème Patisserie, Asheville, NC

SLIDESHOW: See Asheville baker Jennifer Jacobs braid beautiful loaves of challah. Story & photos by Bakery Boy

Braiding bread can be fun once you get the hang of it. T he gorgeous results never fail to attract compliments. When I dropped in on Crème Patisserie & Confectionery recently in Asheville, North Carolina, (click here to see a separate article about Crème Patisserie) the bread dough was already mixed and rising. During the course of an interview, I watched baker and co-owner Jennifer Jacobs braid traditional Jewish challah loaves. Take a look at the slide show, be inspired, and try this yourself sometime with any yeast-risen dough you prefer. Getting beautiful bread like this takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

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Crème Patisserie & Confectionery

640 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 201

Asheville, NC 28804

828-350-9839 or cremeasheville@gmail.com

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Cupcake Cuties, Pasadena, CA

In cupcake couture, looks count. Theresa Deliberto finds winning looks with Cupcake Cuties, her themed kits for dressing up any cupcakes.

by Bakery Boy

There’s a cupcake under all that.

It started with turned heads, double takes, and comments like “Oh, how cute” and “They’re almost too pretty to eat.” As anyone who brings treats to share at parties will tell you, those are welcome reactions. Theresa Deliberto saw those kinds of positive responses to the cupcakes a friend dressed up with festive paper wrappers—to make them look like, say, red-striped movie popcorn boxes sprouting tiny marshmallows as faux popcorn—and was inspired to launch Cupcake Cuties.

Theresa Deliberto in her home kitchen.

The Pasadena, California, resident—herself a veteran of many cupcake-making sessions with her two children—oversees a growing line of Cupcake Cuties decorating kits (32 designs and counting). The business, at just over a year old, has expanded from her home to a nearby warehouse, introduced the kits at retail shops, and created buzz at trade shows in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago. All while garnering appreciative oohs and aahs for the attention-getting products.

OH, HOW CUTE

Each Cupcake Cuties kit comes with 24 self-adhesive paper sleeves to wrap around cupcakes, plus toppings appropriate to a chosen theme. Actual cupcakes and frosting are not included. Whether you bake your own, pick some up at a supermarket, or ask a cooperative neighborhood bakery to put cupcakes and a kit together for you, the end result is a visual treat. Either way, you don’t have to be an accomplished pastry chef to pull it off.

“The quirkier themes sell best,” Theresa says. “Cupcakes made to look like fireworks with a flag and streamers on top (great for the Fourth of July) or hamburgers (when you’re cooking out) or little boxes of movie popcorn (for movie-themed parties) are popular.”

Holiday themes sell well seasonally: Santa heads for Christmas, champagne bottles for New Year’s, hearts for Valentine’s, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter baskets for Easter, jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, and more. Others suit special interests such as baseball, football, and basketball, or evergreen subjects like weddings (topped by matching rings), birthdays (confetti and candles), baby showers (tiny strollers), a jungle theme (toy lions and gorillas), and sushi (I’m fairly sure those are gummy candies standing in for seafood and coconut flakes simulating rice).

“Part of the fun is finding materials to fit each theme,” Theresa says. “That’s shoe-string licorice for edible hair on the baby-face cupcakes. The ‘olives’ in the martini-glass theme are disguised chocolate-covered almonds.”

The kits sell for $16.95, $19.95, or $23.99 each, depending on how involved the decorations. A Cupcake Cutie of the Month Club promises regular deliveries.

SIMPLE & EASY

So far nobody has accidentally baked the decorative wrappers and toppings. “The instructions are very clear,” Theresa says. “You bake or buy the cupcakes first, then use these kits to decorate. Some people measure and tape the wrappers first and then plop a cupcake down into each. Others wrap the paper around the cupcakes and apply the tape. Either way works. Not much can go wrong.”

Cupcake Cuties isn’t Theresa’s first commercial venture. She was in the printing business for many years and helped launch and run a senior care services company known as Just Like Family Care. “In those businesses, I learned to surround myself with a good team and incredible friends,” she says. “That philosophy has worked well for Cupcake Cuties too.”

Inspiration for this enterprise is rooted in motherhood. “Making these with my son and daughter was a fun family project we could do together,” she says. “They’re teenagers now and help with every aspect—creating new designs, setting up photo shoots, helping with packaging and marketing, and doing whatever else needs to be done.”

Turns out plenty of busy people appreciate quick-and-easy Cupcake Cuties. “I’ve always been a working mom. With this I just connected the dots and found a niche to fill. These kits simplify the process and get a good reaction.”

CUTIES FOR THE CURE

Theresa supports the breast cancer fighting organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure by partnering with its Komen Los Angeles County affiliate for all kinds of events, including an annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. “Five percent of proceeds from the sale of Cuties for the Cure, a design we make plenty of, goes to the organization,” she says. “My mom is a breast cancer survivor, I lost a good friend to the disease, and I know at least 30 people battling it, so it was the first organization I thought to support with this new business.”

WHERE TO FIND

Cupcake Cuties are available via mail order from www.cupcakecuties.com. Early ventures into retail stores include:

A Store for Cooks, Laguna Niguel, CA (near Los Angeles), www.astoreforcooks.com

B. Candy, Costa Mesa, CA (near Los Angeles), www.bcandy.com

Carmody & Company, Pasadena, CA (near Los Angeles), www.carmodynco.com

Cookin Stuff, Torrance, CA (near Los Angeles), www.cookinstsuff.com

The Copper Pig, Dunwoody, GA (near Atlanta), www.thecopperpig.com

Gabby’s Gifts, Galena, IL (near Dubuque, Iowa), www.gotitatgabbys.com

Lets Get Cookin, Westlake Village, CA (near Los Angeles), www.letsgetcookin.com

Lulu’s on Main, Morton, IL (near Peoria), www.gottalovelulus.com

M2 Boutique, Chicago, IL, www.mboutiquechicago.com

My Sister Kate, Hinsdale, IL (near Chicago), www.mysisterkate.com

Pink Ribbon Shop, Porter, TX (near Houston), www.pinkribbonshop.com

Theresa recently showcased her creations at the Chicago Merchandise Mart (sharing display space with Patti White & Co.); the Dallas Market Center (sharing space with J. Brandes, Inc.); and the L.A. Mart Gift & Home Market in Los Angeles (sharing space with Kitchen Concepts. “We made a lot of new connections at those big shows and expect a lot more stores will be wanting to stock these kits soon,” Theresa says.

STILL FUN?

“People ask me all the time if I have fun doing this,” Theresa says. “Like any business, it’s hard work and sometimes you get overwhelmed by day-to-day details, but yes, I’m having a great time.”

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CUPCAKE CUTIES

North Hollywood, CA 91605

www.cupcakecuties.com / info@cupcakecuties.com

877-622-8843 or 626-793-6997 Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-5 p.m. PST

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Click here to see a video of Theresa Deliberto demonstrating her Cupcake Cuties on Good Day LA, the morning show on KTTV Fox 11

Baking 1800s Style at the Chuckwagon Cookoff in Pigeon Forge, TN

Using cast-iron pots over campfires beside his vintage chuck wagon, Lexie Dean bakes old-fashioned fruit pies, cornbread, and biscuits.

by Bakery Boy

Lexie Dean prepares to serve cowboy vittles from Dutch ovens at his Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon. Photos by Bakery Boy

Lexie Dean bakes like it’s the 1860s. He bakes like he’s the camp cook on a cattle-drive, stirring up hearty grub for hungry cowboys on the dusty trail. He bakes like, at the latest, it’s the 1880s, just before railroads replaced cattle-drives and rendered chuck wagons obsolete.

Obsolete maybe but still appealing to hobbyists such as Lexie—who calls his rig the Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon—and others who keep chuck wagon traditions alive. They set up at festivals, rodeos, scout camps, church picnics, vacation bible schools, and anywhere else they’re invited to re-create authentic cowboy cuisine.

As he bakes biscuits, cornbread, and lattice-topped fruit pies to go with the chicken-fried steaks, beans, potatoes, and sawmill gravy that round out his menu, Lexie uses ingredients, tools, and techniques true to the period. He does this because he’s a stickler for authenticity, because people gather to watch how things were done back in those days, because he’s a fan of cast-iron cooking, and because he’s being judged.

Chuck wagon cooking, it seems, has become a competitive pastime as well as a nostalgic hobby.

CHUCKWAGON COOKOFF

Impressive sight: Lexie and Katy Dean cooking and baking with more than a dozen heavy cast-iron pots.

Look for Lexie wearing his trademark stovepipe hat, muttonchop whiskers, cowboy boots, and bandanna at the fourth annual Chuckwagon Cookoff in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in late February. He and Katy, his wife and trusty sidekick, will be busy among more than a dozen big, heavy, scalding-hot, cast-iron pots and a string of campfires. Their Ramblin’ Rose will be among six chuck wagon teams—with names such as Grumpy’s Grub, Cow Camp, Fairplay Cattle Co., Double X Ranch, and Wish Bone—competing for prizes, honors, and bragging rights. It’s a highlight of the 11th annual Saddle Up!, a four-day celebration (February 24-27) of the old American West that also includes Western music and dancing, cowboy poetry readings, mechanical bull riding, storytelling, and a cowboy church service.

As he geared up for this year’s Chuckwagon Cookoff from his home in Greenville, North Carolina, Lexie was glad to talk to the Bakery Boy Blog about 1800s-style campfire baking.

Lexie cuts strips of pie dough for a lattice top crust.

“First of all, everything I cook or bake is done in cast-iron pots,” he says. “For contests I take 12 of the big 16-inch-diameter Dutch ovens with the flat lids so I can pile hot coals on top [to get more even temperatures inside]. Each one weighs more than 30 pounds empty and costs about $120 to $160. I also take two 26-inch skillets, two 18-inch skillets, and two 10-gallon bean pots. Mine are mostly from Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and from Cabella’s, the big outdoor equipment company from Nebraska.

“Proper care of the pots is a big part of being successful at this,” he says. “You have to use them a lot to break them in and clean them well after every use. I wipe them with olive oil for storage. Other vegetable oils or any sprays will turn to a glue-like paste and ruin the pots. The acid in tomatoes will take off the finish. But if you treat these pots right, they’re great for camp cooking.”

While steaks, potatoes, beans, and gravy simmer, Lexie focuses on baking: yeast-style biscuits featuring a sourdough starter, thick cake-like cornbread suited to sopping up sauces from the main course, and his specialty—fruit pies.

PIE TIME

How Lexie designs his woven pie crust top.

“A lot of chuck wagon cooks make cobbler, but I like pie,” he says. “The difference is the crust. I put a layer of pie dough on the bottom and make a basket weave pattern for the top [see diagram].”

The main ingredient in the filling depends on what the contest organizers supply. “At these events you never know exactly what you’re going to work with. They might give you apples or peaches or dried apricots or blueberries. You have to be prepared for anything, just like camp cooks on cattle drives, where sometimes they had to cook whatever they could scrounge up.”

Flour for the Chuckwagon Cookoff comes from The Old Mill, an historic water-powered mill in Pigeon Forge.

Using rough measurements such as “handfuls” of sugar, a “dusting” of cinnamon, “just enough” fruit depending on what kind and how juicy it is, and “lots of” butter, Lexie mixed his pie filling more by feel and experience than by a strict recipe. Same with the crust, made from flour supplied by The Old Mill, an historic water-powered mill in Pigeon Forge, lard or vegetable shortening, a pinch of salt, and cold water.

Pies, rolls, and cornbread go into aluminum pans that go into cast-iron Dutch ovens perched over beds of hot embers and covered with more glowing coals. “I use hickory wood because it burns hot,” he says. “It’s hard to judge the temperature of charcoal and other types of fuel, but with hickory I have a pretty good idea. I put a third of a cord on my fire the morning of the contest, let it burn down into a humongous coal pit, and then get all the food cooking so it’s ready at noon, when it’s time to eat.”

COME ’N’ GET IT

Piping hot and ready to eat, one of the scrumptious glories of campfire baking. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

Held at Clabough’s Campground in Wears Valley, the cook-off attracts chuck wagon teams from as far away as Georgia and Texas. Hundreds of people wander through camp to inspect wagons and watch cooks at work. Tempted by wafting aromas, many buy $10 meal tickets and line up for platefuls of grub at lunchtime. Judges gather under a tent for an official tasting before awarding prizes in several categories.

The Ramblin’ Rose wagon dates to 1868. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

Last year Lexie’s Ramblin’ Rose won 1st place in wagon authenticity, bread, and potatoes categories, tied for 1st place in cornbread, took 3rd place for meat, and landed 1st in the coveted overall category. Not a bad day for a cowboy camp cook.

“On Friday it’s all about authentic wagons,” he says. “You don’t want anything showing that wouldn’t be found in the 1860 to 1880s. No cell phones or plastic coolers or aluminum foil that judges will see. On Saturday it’s all about the food and there’s a different set of rules. Cleanliness comes first, so it’s okay to have plastic wrap and coolers to keep the food safe.”

WHY DO THIS?

“We work hard to make every detail of our chuck wagon authentic,” Lexie says. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

“I’ve been a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America for a long time and starting cooking outdoors 25 years ago,” Lexie explains. “I saw a chuck wagon with a guy cooking the old ways at a charity event, and I was hooked. I started looking for a chuck box to outfit an old farm wagon that has been in my family for generations. It’s a 10-footer with a 12-foot tongue to harness four mules to pull it, built by the Fish Brothers Wagon Company of Racine, Wisconsin in 1868.

“Since I got the wagon from my grandfather, the Ramblin’ Rose has crossed the Mississippi River 34 times going to events and coming home,” he says. “Between contests and scout trips and church functions, I cook about 15 chuck wagon meals every month.”

Lexie works as a mechanical test engineer for NACCO Materials Handling Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heavy-duty lift trucks. “You know those crash test dummies you see in car commercials? What I do is something like. I try my best to tear up the lift trucks we make in order to see how we can improve our designs.”

Ramblin’ Rose includes harnesses for four mules to pull it. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

He’s much more cautious with his antique chuck wagon, carefully transporting it on a 35-foot flatbed trailer. “People see it going down the highway and wave me over so they can ask about it,” he says. “Anytime I stop for gas, someone wants to know what it is and where it’s going.”

For years, Lexie’s wife Katy has been his constant companion on this adventure. “If she ever gets tired of doing this, I guess I’ll go on by myself. Most teams have four or five people, but we do fine with just us two. If I had to, I think I could be a one-man show.”

He keeps going because of reactions from spectators. “I let kids climb on the chuck wagon for fun when I’m not cooking. At events people will look at it and say, ‘It’s beautiful!’ or taste my cooking and say, “It’s really good!’ or shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you!’ That makes it all worthwhile.”

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Email Lexie Dean about his Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon at agldean@nmhg.com

Learn more about chuck wagon culture from the American Chuck Wagon Association

For more about the Chuckwagon Cookoff and Saddle Up! (February 24-27, 2011) in Pigeon Forge, TN: www.mypigeonforge.com/saddleup

For more about Pigeon Forge: www.mypigeonforge.com

For more about Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

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