Category Archives: Bakeries

Popovers at Jordan Pond House, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Popovers hot from the oven at this historic restaurant are light, airy, fluffy, and oh so good with butter and jam.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

For weeks before going to coastal Maine, I’d been looking forward to eating warm popovers at Jordan Pond House on Mount Desert Island. You might say I’d been looking forward to it for years, ever since I first went there three decades ago and came to appreciate the restaurant’s signature item.

Popovers, for the uninitiated, are uniquely light, airy, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth rolls that, on a bread-and-pastry scale, lie somewhere between egg bread and cream puffs. The key ingredients are eggs, milk, flour and, well, air. (I’ll include a recipe in a separate post). Whatever they are, I always want more, no matter how many I eat.

Jordan Pond House is ground zero in the world of popovers, the place that sets the high mark by which all other popovers are measured.

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Morning Glory Bakery, Bar Harbor, ME

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Start your Acadia National Park day by stopping at this Bar Harbor bastion of great baked goods.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

On the first morning of a recent visit to Bar Harbor, Maine, I ate an egg sandwich at Morning Glory Bakery. Stunned, I immediately ate another.

Each involved a fresh-baked bagel with an organic egg, spicy sausage, and white cheddar layered inside plus poppy seeds and sesame seeds baked on top. They were sublime. And they did a fine job of getting me going for a long and happy day of hiking rocky trails in Acadia National Park, the beginning of a vacation that would also include kayaking offshore from Mount Desert Island and bicycling on old-fashioned “carriage roads” where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed.

So I made the egg-bagel breakfast at Morning Glory Bakery a daily ritual the whole time I was there, once substituting a bacon-scallion-cream-cheese bagel instead just for variety. I never had a bad one, and none of the other baked goods I tried failed to impress either.

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Honey Crème Donuts, New Albany, IN

Remember cream horns?  Rediscover them at Honey Crème Donuts

Remember cream horns? Rediscover them at Honey Crème Donuts

Honey Crème sits at the corner of Vincennes Street and aptly named Donut Alley

Honey Crème sits at the corner of Vincennes Street and aptly named Donut Alley

Honey Creme_Donut Alley 2_Bakery Boy Photo

Glazed apple fritters the size of your fist feature bits of real apple

Glazed apple fritters the size of your fist feature bits of real apple

Take your pick of “doublaro twists” glazed with either chocolate or maple

Take your pick of “doublaro twists” glazed with either chocolate or maple

Chopped peanuts stuck to maple or white icing entirely cover these square donuts

Chopped peanuts stuck to maple or white icing entirely cover these square donuts

A short-term sugar buzz and some lifelong memories await these three

A short-term sugar buzz and some lifelong memories await these three

Honey Creme_Donut Alley 3_Bakery Boy Photo

Alongside “Donut Alley” in this town across the Ohio River from Louisville there’s an old-fashioned donut shop where I reignited my love of cream horns.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

How could I have forgotten about cream horns? Cream horns are awesome, but you just don’t see them very often anymore. I made them by the thousands in the bakery where I grew up, but somehow I’d gone years without eating one or thinking about one, much less making any. Then I stumbled upon Honey Crème Donuts in New Albany, Indiana, and fond cream horn memories came rushing back.

Honey Crème Donuts is a classic little old-fashioned donut shop that just happens to sit at the corner of Donut Alley and Vincennes Street in downtown New Albany. Well, not “just happens to,” exactly. Four generations of loyal customers have patronized this long-operating shop, often parking in a narrow side street while running inside to grab some snacks, and people usually referred to that street as Donut Alley. Eventually, the city went ahead and made the designation official, with signs and all, since everyone called it that anyway.

Now about the cream horns at Honey Crème: Each one is a small cornucopia-shaped “horn” made from a single long strip of puff pastry dough wrapped in an overlapping spiral around a removable metal tube and baked until it’s a flaky, hollow tunnel about the size of a hot dog bun. Once cooled, the hole left by the metal tube gets filled with fluffy whipped cream, and then the top is sprinkled with powdered sugar. At Honey Crème, they dip the ends in shredded coconut that sticks to the whipped cream, providing a little extra flavor and a nice visual touch too. The result is simple and elegant, and I’d forgotten how much I liked them until I bit in.

Once I recovered from my slightly delirious reintroduction to the cream horn, I explored the rest of the showcases at Honey Crème. The glazed apple fritters caught my eye because of the obvious bits of real apple (not the mushy canned stuff) peeking out from the lumpy, brown, amorphous masses about the size of my fist. There was also an interesting variation called an apple nibbler (just 55¢) comprised of a small puff pastry square baked with more of the same apple bits on top.

I also ate a cream-cheese-and-cherry Danish. And a square-ish donut completely covered on top with chopped peanuts held in place by a smear of either maple or white icing, take your pick. And a slice of coconut cream pie, perhaps because the small amount of coconut highlighting the ends of my cream horn left me wanting more. And, for old time’s sake because they’ve long been my favorite and because I’ve learned to gauge a donut shop’s overall quality by how well they handle something so basic, a got a chocolate-covered cake donut. The verdict? Honey Crème passes, with honors.

One woman working behind the counter (who wouldn’t let me photograph her) said her boyfriend is the current donut maker. “I told him I’d go out with him but he needed to bring me one of these apple fritter every day,” she said, tapping the counter above a tray full of them. “He did, and he still does, and now I work here too.”

After she saw what all I’d ordered — I consumed about half immediately and tucked the rest away for later — she insisted I try what has become a Honey Crème signature item, the doublaro twist. A doublaro twist is two long strips of donut twisted together like a loose braid and folded back around itself, forming a roughly oblong “double twist,” which is then generously coated in either chocolate or maple glaze. It’s a sticky mess requiring a napkin or (better yet) some serious finger licking, but given the opportunity I wouldn’t pass up the chance to eat another right now.

While we were talking and while I was snacking, three small kids came tearing in, trailed by their grandmother who was keeping them for the day while the parents worked. The kids immediately got noses-close to the showcase glass, talking fast and loudly and all at once, their fingers pointing at what they wanted, which was just about everything in sight, and their eyes wide. I don’t think they blinked for at least five frenetic minutes. If they ate all the sweets their grandma bought for them, I imagine the drop-off back at home later was a wild scene. But hey, don’t a lot of us have fond memories of times like that, reveling in a trip to a donut shop?

Honey Crème is a good little donut shop in a squat, unassuming, white-brick-and-red-roof building beside an alley just off the main drag in downtown New Albany. Those three kids will probably remember it as a palace of wonder. I’ll remember my visit to “Donut Alley” for several reasons, but mostly because it reintroduced me to the simple glory of cream horns. Thanks, Honey Crème.

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Honey Crème Donuts

514 Vincennes Street

New Albany, IN 47150

812-945-2150

Hours: Sun-Thu 5 a.m. – 1 p.m., Fri-Sat 5 a.m. – 8 p.m.

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For more about the New Albany area: http://www.cityofnewalbany.com or http://sunnysideoflouisville.org

For more about the greater Louisville area: Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau www.gotolouisville.com

Blue Dog Bakery, Louisville, KY

The more I heard about Blue Dog Bakery — from a waiter, a shopkeeper, a pastry chef, a far-away friend — the more curious I became about the home of Louisville’s best breads.

Gingerbread_Man_Logostory & photos by Bakery Boy

 

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Baguettes by the basketful at Blue Dog Bakery & Café in Louisville

I’d been in Louisville for only a couple of days, and everywhere I went I heard about Blue Dog Bakery & Cafe in the Crescent Hill neighborhood.

When I ate dinner at The Blind Pig, a European-comfort-food “gastropub” in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood, and raved about my sandwich, the waiter said without hesitation that the crusty-outside, chewy inside roll holding together my Ivory Bacon Sandwich (boudin blanc sausage, bacon, muenster cheese, and aioli) is a “pug,” short for pugliese, a style of bread from Southern Italy.  He added,  it came from Blue Dog Bakery.

Blue Dog Bakery anchors the rebounding Crescent Hill neighborhood

The next morning, during my second bakery visit of the day gathering material for future Bakery Boy Blog articles, the pastry chef I was interviewing said that if I’m a bread man (and I absolutely am), then I shouldn’t miss Blue Dog Bakery in Crescent Hill.

Later I was at Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Market on Bardstown Road in Louisville’s Highlands area when an employee stocking shelves saw me inspecting the bread and volunteered that it was all good and all from Blue Dog Bakery.

Blue Dog’s levain gets its slight tang from a well-nurtured sourdough starter

Blue Dog’s levain gets its slight tang from a well-nurtured sourdough starter

Then she spoke, more to herself than to me, about needing to get back there soon for some poached free-range eggs, Serrano ham, spinach, and Parmesan on French sourdough levain, a brunch special she recited so perfectly it’s clearly a memorable favorite for her.

Intrigued by three recommendations from such different sources in such short order, a called my friend Wanda two states away in Alabama.  She is, as I am, a longtime (though now former) travel writer for Southern Living.  During the 20 good years of my writing life I spent at that magazine, Kentucky was nearly always Wanda’s “beat,” and she knows Louisville well.

With nine grains kneaded in and rolled on, this bread has got to be good for you

“Oh, yes, I remember that place,” she said, glad to reminisce about a favorite city.  “That’s the bakery facing the railroad tracks in a part of town that used to be really run down but has come back nicely.  Wood-fired oven, fresh local ingredients if they can get them, no preservatives, and I think the owners even raise their own hogs for the meat they serve.  Artisanal everything, especially the breads.  If you’re still doing your Bakery Boy Blog, you’re going to love Blue Dog Bakery.”

With now four recommendations in less than a day, I knew I was on to something.  So I headed to Crescent Hill (indeed come-back-story neighborhood strung along a rail line east of downtown), found Blue Dog Bakery, and was blown away by how good it is.

A classy sign that you’re in bread heaven

Tables outside and inside were filled with patrons visibly pleased to be there.  Everything was photogenic and, I soon learned, tasty too:  Crusty breads in wicker baskets, big cookies in neat rows, fruit tarts gleaming on chilled trays, muffins stacked on tiered platters, and on and on.

Raspberry chocolate ganache tarts at Blue Dog Bakery

Raspberry chocolate ganache tarts at Blue Dog Bakery

I ate an entire baguette immediately while taking it all in, then bought for later a plump round miche and a dark cranberry-walnut levain.  And a half-dozen flour-dusted white Italian “pug” rolls like the one I’d enjoyed at The Blind Pig the night before.  And a half-dozen densely multi-seeded “flute” rolls (see photo).

Even with all that, I nearly ran out before getting home the following day.  No, I didn’t eat all of it myself.  My two hungry teenagers, who were in town for concerts at the Forecastle music and art festival in Louisville’s Waterfront Park, ate their share during the drive home.  Yes, my car floor is perpetually crumb-covered!  In retrospect, I wish I’d also gotten a loaf each of Blue Dog’s pecan raisin, kalamata olive, and harvest nine-grain breads.  Printed on Blue Dog’s bread bags are handy instructions for freezing and defrosting any such oversupply.

From left: peanut butter, chocolate chip, and oatmeal molasses cookies

On the advice of customers who graciously let me squeeze in between them to photograph things, I ordered a chilled raspberry chocolate ganache tart and a warmed morning glory muffin for immediate consumptions, plus two each of the  peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal molasses cookies, also for on-the-road snacking.

Crusty outside/chewy inside “pug” rolls are small versions of Italian pugliese loaves

A table opened up, so I took a seat and ordered that poached free-range egg on levain item the Rainbow Blossom woman had mentioned.  It was a fine but difficult choice, considering the options included exotic sounding “octopus tartine with potato, chorizo, tapenade, and smoked paprika oil,” and “bacon, Tillamook cheddar, cheese curds, cider vinegar onions, and spicy mayo,” and “pastrami Reuben, gruyere, kraut, and thousand island,” among other temptations, each on a wide choice of breads.  Next time.

I see poppy, sesame, and fennel seeds on the “flute” rolls (there might be others too)

I am now officially a fan of Blue Dog Bakery.  My one regret is that I never met the owners, Bob Hancock (who does, indeed, pasture-raise Red Wattle hogs, hormone-free and antibiotics-free, as a sideline) and Kit Garrett.  That’s poor planning on my part for not scheduling an interview, even on short notice after hearing so much about the place.  Add in bad luck as well, for not running into either of them during three stops over the course a long weekend.  Next time.

For now, I’ll let my photos tell the rest of the story.  Enjoy the slideshow, and if you get to the Blue Dog Bakery on my recommendation, let me know what you tried.  Together, apparently with a lot of word-of-mouth help from others, we’ll spread the news.

Blue Dog Bakery is frequently teeming with satisfied customers

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A tasty “blue” island in a leafy green neighborhood

Blue Dog Bakery

2868 Frankfort Avenue

Louisville, KY 40206

502-899-9800

www.bluedogbakeryandcafe.com

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For more about Louisville: Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau  www.gotolouisville.com

For more about Kentucky: Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism www.kentuckytourism.com

 

Allergy-friendly Annie May’s Sweet Café, Louisville, KY

Allergen-free treats dominate Annie May’s menu because Annie May is on a mission.

Gingerbread_Man_Logostory & photos by Bakery Boy

 

“I’m allergic to corn gluten and about 50 other things,” says Annie May McGill, the founder, namesake, head baker, allergen-free-ingredients missionary, and generally smiling owner of Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Annie May McGill develops allergen-free baked goods at Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville.

Annie May McGill develops allergen-free baked goods at Annie May’s Sweet Cafe in Louisville.

You might think her multiple allergies got Annie May started in allergen-free baking, but the way she tells it, her motivation first grew from baking for someone else.

“I have a nephew who is allergic to nuts and eggs and wheat, three common ingredients in a lot of baked goods,” she says.  “To make him a birthday cake, I had to find things he could eat.”

So Annie May studied up on substitutes for various ingredients, eventually discovering useful things like brown rice flour, tapioca starch, rice milk, palm fruit oil that works like a soy-free shortening, and other gluten-free, allergen-free, and non-dairy items good for replacing traditional foodstuffs.  Through experimentation, she eventually converted a neighbor’s basic cake and icing recipes into allergen-free versions for her nephew’s birthday cake, no doubt earning favorite-aunt status as a welcomed side effect.

But she didn’t stop there.  Repeating that same basic process of converting recipes in order to avoid ingredients many people are allergic to, she added more and more goodies to her baking repertoire.  The hobby grew into a career track that blossomed when she opened Annie May’s Sweet Café, billed as “Louisville’s only dedicated gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free bakery,” on Frankfort Avenue east of downtown Louisville.

Annie May's Window_Bakery Boy photo“I’m a totally self-taught baker,” Annie May says.  “I like figuring out ways to make treats people with allergies can enjoy.”  Her lineup now includes a wide variety of cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, bars, cheesecakes, banana bread, pizza crust, crescent rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns, blueberry muffins, and by the time you read this most likely a few more as well.

Building on her original success with her nephew’s birthday cake, Annie May’s features about a dozen different kinds of cakes and about twice that many kinds of icing, nearly all of them featuring allergen-free and vegan ingredients.  Consider her carrot cake:  It includes brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, carrots, carrot juice, palm fruit oil, eggs, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, xanthan gum, and sea salt.  Only the eggs present a potential allergy problem, so she also developed a second version, a vegan carrot cake, by substituting flax seed for eggs.

Other cakes, some with vegan versions and some made only seasonally, include pumpkin, red velvet, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lemon, and spiced beer cake.  For the spiced beer cake, the title ingredient is gluten-free beer that contains only sorghum, buckwheat, honey, water, and yeast.  Between layers and atop these cakes, she spreads her host of icings, each one built around butter cream (using palm fruit oil for shortening), cream cheese (with rice milk), or whipped agave nectar.

Among Annie May’s assortment of allergen-free cookies, which range from chocolate chips and snicker-doodles to pumpkin spice, lemon, and oatmeal, one version has risen to become this bakery’s signature item.  Annie May calls them Allergen Free Supercookies (see photo).

Allergen Free Supercookies are a signature treat at Annie May's Sweet Cafe.

Allergen Free Supercookies are a signature treat at Annie May’s Sweet Cafe.

An Allergen Free Supercookie involves dairy-free chocolate cream cheese filling smashed between two thick chocolate chip cookies that are vegan and allergen-free, with no eggs, no gluten, and no dairy, Annie May explains.  After a Supercookie is assembled, one end is dipped in a vegan chocolate coating for accent.

As a service to her allergy-prone customers, who are intensely interested in every detail about what’s in their food, Annie May posts ingredient lists online for all of her baked goods.  Here is a breakdown of what’s in the Supercookies:

  • Cookie: brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, palm fruit oil, brown sugar, chocolate chips (evaporated cane juice, chocolate liqueur, non-dairy cocoa butter), egg replacer (potato starch, tapioca flour, calcium lactate, calcium carbonate, citric acid, cellulose gum, modified cellulose), water, vanilla, salt, xanthan gum
  • Filling: powdered sugar, palm fruit oil, agave nectar, salt
  • Coating: chocolate chips (evaporated cane juice, chocolate liqueur, non-dairy cocoa butter), palm fruit oil, agave nectar, salt

Annie May's exterior_Bakery Boy photoAnnie May McGill has followed her baking muse from that early interest in making a birthday cake for her allergic nephew to making all kinds sweet treats for all kinds of people with all kinds of allergies.  Her constant quest to develop new allergen-free items even leads to creations such as spiced beer cupcakes, which she fills with a homemade caramel that includes a dose of beer from the nearby Apocalypse Brew Works, an enterprise that must be like-minded because it offers a gluten-free beer among its craft-brewed selection.

“It’s fun coming up with new things,” Annie May says.  “All of our desserts are made fresh, from scratch.  We never use wheat, gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, or soy in our recipes.  We also segregate other allergen ingredients and use different baking areas, different utensils, and different cooking devices to avoid cross-contamination in our vegan and allergen-free items.”

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Annie May sign_Bakery Boy photoAnnie May’s Sweet Café

3110 Frankfort Avenue

Louisville, KY 40206

502-384-2667

www.anniemayssweetcafe.com

store hours: Tue-Friday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

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For more about Louisville: Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau  www.gotolouisville.com

For more about Kentucky: Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism www.kentuckytourism.com

 

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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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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Louisa’s Bakery, Montgomery, AL

Say hi to Missy (there’s no Louisa) at this bakery in Montgomery’s Old Cloverdale neighborhood.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Missy Mercer with fresh challah at Louisa's Bakery

I’ve never seen a baker use a bread thermometer as much as Missy Mercer, owner of Louisa’s Bakery in Montgomery, Alabama. And I mean that in a good way. She’s pleasantly obsessed with gauging every batch of bread she bakes. “That’s really the only way to get a consistent product,” she says, plunging the pointy end of her trusty thermometer into the center of a loaf to decide if it’s done. “Going by how brown the crust gets or by thumping the bottom just isn’t good enough. I make sure the artisan loaves reach 160° in the center. The larger bread we slice for sandwiches—some weigh two pounds—are done when they reach 180° at the center.”

Artisan Bread

Missy's thermometer

Judging by the beautiful olive bread, walnut wheat, Italian baguette with rosemary, braided challah (for which she infuses sugar with a touch of vanilla to produce a unique sweetness), focaccia rounds, and sourdough I saw, smelled, and in some cases tasted during my visit, Missy makes a good point. There wasn’t a single reject in the mix, her usual Friday lineup. (Mondays feature cranberry bread, and on Wednesdays she bakes spinach feta pagnotta, country-style bread rooted in her Italian heritage.)

Dark Chocolate Creme Pie

Cakes, pies, tarts, muffins, biscotti, and intense brownie-like creations she calls Dream Bars all passed inspection with flying colors too.

Since visiting Louisa’s, located in the city’s historic Old Cloverdale neighborhood, and watching Missy work, I find myself using an oven thermometer more than ever. I bake bread twice a week at home, and I’ve been more satisfied with how my loaves turn out now that I’ve caught the temperature-taking bug. You can teach an old baker new tricks—and I’ll take good ideas wherever I can find them!

ARE YOU LOUISA?

Missy Mercer

No, she’s not, but Missy gets that question a lot. People naturally expect the person working in plain view behind the counters and directing helpers must be the owner and namesake. An explanation: A woman named Louisa once ran an antiques store in what later became Cafe Louisa under a different owner. Missy bought both Café Louisa and the space next door, where she now has Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop. “Cafe Louisa was well established with a good reputation, so I saw no need to change the name,” she says. “When I added the bakery behind the two restaurants, I extended the name Louisa to it too.”

ENOUGH FOR US TOO

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

“Originally the bakery was just meant to supply baked goods to our two restaurants,” says Missy, whose husband, Browne Mercer, is her partner in all three operations.  “We’d make a little extra of everything, so our customers could take some home. That part of the operation grew and grew. Now the bakery has surpassed the coffee house in the amount of business it does. The pizza parlor is still our biggest operation. It’s been open since 1995 and has a great following.”

Dream Bars

Tomatinos makes pizzas, calzones, focaccia sandwiches, and breadsticks, all emphasizing organic-whole-wheat-flour dough made daily. The Margherita (basil, garlic, Roma tomatoes, mozzarella) and the Supreme (pepperoni, sausage, white onion, green pepper, mozzarella) are the most popular. The Bianca (white sauce, Canadian bacon, red onions, roasted garlic, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella) and the Summer Garden (basil pesto, squash, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, black olives, broccoli, mozzarella) have loyal followings too.

Strawberry Poppy Seed Scones

Café Louisa makes all kinds of sandwiches on whole wheat and rye bread fresh from the bakery. There’s a Grilled Portobello Reuben (roasted mushrooms, sauerkraut, Dijon mustard, Swiss cheese, and something called “goddess dressing” worth asking about). Grilled Panini sandwiches (such as a stacked-high smoked turkey version and a simple-yet-elegant Capri made with tomatoes, basil pesto, and a slab of mozzarella) and bagels (including my choice, cinnamon raisin with cream cheese and fruit preserves) also take full advantage of the onsite bakery.

Rosemary Bread

Besides supplying its sibling operations, Louisa’s Bakery produces a full gamut of baked goods. Already mentioned: crusty artisan breads. Also available:

  • Muffins ranging from blueberry to banana nut, lemon poppy, double chocolate, and a Morning Glory Muffin packed with carrots, apples, wheat bran, coconut, and pecans
  • Cakes including coconut, carrot, peanut butter, sour cream pound cake
  • Pies such as key lime, apple, pecan, lemon meringue, dark chocolate cream
  • Scones teeming with strawberries and poppy seeds, apples and cinnamon, orange and walnuts, golden raisins, or blueberries
  • Cookies sporting chocolate chips, espresso, peanut butter, oatmeal
  • Cranberry Almond Biscotti

    Biscotti loaded with cranberries and almonds, lemon and pistachios, or chocolate and hazelnuts, each drizzled with decorative chocolate sauce

  • Tarts featuring almonds, seasonal fruit, dark chocolate caramel, or caramelized onion and Alabama goat cheese plus Prosciutto ham
  • Granola laced with a tropical blend of oats, raw sugar, organic fruit juice, syrup, nuts, and dried fruit
  • Monogrammed iced sugar cookies—customized with your initials if you’d like

THE COOK & THE CONTRACTOR

Tomatinos and Cafe Louisa

Missy, from Montgomery, and Browne, from Mobile, both claim accomplished cooks and bakers for grandmothers, key sources of their inspiration.

Missy’s career path clearly pointed to a foodie life. After earning a finance degree at Auburn University, she studied at the California Culinary Academy (now part of the international Le Cordon Bleu culinary education network) in San Francisco and worked for seven years as a cook in the Bay Area. “I cooked for Wolfgang Puck and at the famous vegetarian restaurant Greens in the Fort Mason area,” she says. “My bread mentor was the baking author Peter Reinhart, who is an instructor now with Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina.” She also cooked in Telluride, Colorado, at the independent Rustico Ristorante and for dining rooms at The Peaks Resort.

Her husband, Browne, took a much different route to the culinary world. After studying at The University of Alabama, he was a construction worker and building contractor when they met through mutual friends and married. As he helped remodel locations for her various ventures, his skills transferred surprisingly well to restaurant and bakery duties. Years of spreading drywall putty on sheetrock, for example, proved to be great training for frosting cakes. He also oversees maintenance, repairs, purchasing, and pizza production.

DUELING COOKBOOKS

Browne (left) and Missy sign copies of their dueling tailgate-party cookbooks celebrating his University of Alabama and her Auburn University.

Missy and Browne recently published matching cookbooks honoring their home state’s famous college football rivalry and meant to fuel tasty tailgate parties. Missy developed 30 recipes for her Auburn University Cookbook. Browne developed the same number of recipes for his The University of Alabama Cookbook, both from Gibbs Smith Publishing. (Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about the two cookbooks, including sample recipes.)

The couple gets along fabulously in every aspect of their work and home lives, with one glaring exception. “We can’t watch the Auburn-Alabama game together,” Missy says. “We’ve tried. It just gets too stressful. We each love our team too much.”

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Louisa’s Bakery

1039 Woodley Road

Montgomery, AL 36106

334-356-1212

louisasbakery.com

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Got a bakery-related story idea for the Bakery Boy Blog? Email a note to Bakery.Boy@att.net.

Tellico Grains Bakery, Tellico Plains, TN

Why does Tellico Plains, a very small town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, have such a terrific artisan bakeshop—Tellico Grains Bakery?

story & photos by Bakery Boy

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Small town Tellico Plains harbors a big time bakery

Tellico Plains, Tennessee is one of those tiny towns (population around 900) you half expect to just blow away someday. Located 60 miles southwest of Knoxville and 75 miles northeast of Chattanooga in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounded by farms and forests, it amounts to a few homes and a couple of blocks of one- or two-story stores. A trickle of recreational travelers passes through while driving the area’s scenic highways or going biking, hiking and white-water rafting.

A wood-fired brick oven is Tellico Grains' glowing centerpiece

So how does Tellico Plains—which earns only the briefest of mentions in accounts of 1500s explorer Hernando Desoto passing through, 1700s Cherokee trading paths, 1800s Civil War skirmishes, and the heyday of logging—come to have a world-class artisan bakery? Complete with a handcrafted wood-fired brick oven and a devotion to classic Old World baking techniques? Cranking out all manner of pastries, pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, crusty breads and even pizzas?

"We love it here," say bakers Stuart and Anissa Shull

The simple answer: “Because we love it here!” says baker Stuart Shull, co-owner of Tellico Grains Bakery along with wife and fellow baker Anissa Shull.

“We looked at places all over the country and then decided to come here in 2002,” Stuart says while stirring starter for bread dough and eyeing the temperature in their prized wood-burning oven.

Simone, age 3, is growing up in her family's bakery

“The cost of living is low. We found the perfect building where we can live right upstairs from work. Our neighbors have been very receptive to all the things we’re baking,” he says.

“We both like to hike and ride bikes, two things this area is perfect for,” Anissa adds. “And it’s a great area to raise a family. We had our two daughters—Anja, who’s 6, and Simone, who’s 3—since moving here.”

LONG ROUTE

Big, crusty, aromatic loaves fill rustic shelves

Herb Flatbread bears a strong salty flavor

The couple zigzagged their way to Tellico Plains. Stuart, originally from Kansas, discovered an interest in foods during high school when he signed up for a cooking class because it sounded easy. Baking pies and breads and cooking steaks and lobsters turned out to be more fun than he expected. At Kansas State University, he studied baking sciences and restaurant management before slipping off to ski-resort-intensive Crested Butte, Colorado, to work as a line cook in a restaurant, where he met pastry chef Anissa.

Anissa folds apple turnovers

Anissa, an Iowa native, came to pastry through, of all things, artificial insemination of hogs. “I was a lab rat with a degree in animal sciences, and I worked with hogs at the University of Missouri for three years before becoming a baker,” she says with a slight smile, knowing how odd this must sound, as she rolls dough for turnovers. “I also worked in a veterinary molecular biology lab at Montana State University, making vaccines used on bison in Yellowstone National Park,” she adds, checking on the progress of a browning quiche.

Fruit-laced scones

“I discovered the comfort of baking at home while I was still in college, but I never thought I’d do this for a living,” Anissa says. “In Bozeman I worked part time at two bakeries—a coffee-and-scones place called The Daily Coffee Bar and later On the Rise, where they bake in a traditional wood-fired oven. I was fascinated by that oven.”

Honey Wheat Bread

Inspired in part by the seminal bread-baking book Bread Alone by Daniel Leader of Bread Alone Bakery in Boiceville, New York, Anissa made the jump from critters to the culinary world, heading to New York City to complete the Art of International Bread Baking course of study at the French Culinary Institute.

Stuart and Anissa relocated together from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado, to work in another ski-town restaurant. One day Anissa brought home The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens, a book by wood-fired-brick-oven-building guru Alan Scott. “That started us thinking about having our own bakery,” Stuart says. “We later met Alan Scott and took his oven-building class at Scratch Bakery [Scratch Brick Oven Food Works] in Johnson City, Tennessee.”

Croissants

MORE DETOURS

But first, more detours. “To get some accreditation beyond a lot of on-the-job training, I was going to go to culinary school in New York,” Stuart explains. “Classes were to start on September 15, 2001—four days after 9/11, which changed everything. We’d barely settled in before chaos broke out, so we packed everything into our Chevy Blazer and headed to Charleston, South Carolina, one of the best foodie towns on the East Coast.”

There, Anissa worked at Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery on Society Street downtown (it has since moved to the West Ashley area). “That’s where I learned to make croissants by the hundreds for the Charleston Place Hotel, one of Normandy Farm’s biggest customers,” she says.

The bakery occupies a former bank

They began searching for a place to  launch their own bakery. After passing up nearly a dozen possibilities, they found tiny Tellico Plains and a squat little brick building available just off the town square.

A 1908 bank vault now stores baking ingredients

HOME AT LAST

“This building began as a bank in 1908,” Stuart says, ducking into a steel vault now used to store ingredients. “Over the years it also held a doctor’s office, vinyl and carpet store, post office, VCR repair shop and other businesses. We have the building next door too. It was a movie theater, pawnshop, grocery and who knows what else.” They gutted both to make Tellico Grains downstairs and the family’s living space upstairs.

Fruit Tarts

With friends helping, they constructed a wood-burning brick oven with a 6-foot by 4-foot hearth, an arched ceiling, and a cave-like arched door. “We burn about $60 worth of wood a week, mostly 3-foot lengths of old pallet boards made of poplar, maple and red oak that all burn great,” Stuart says. “It might cost about the same as if we used gas, but we prefer baking with wood.”

“We take turns baking,” Anissa says. “I bake in the daytime and Stuart bakes at night, so we don’t get in each other’s way and one of us is always available to be with the kids.”

Simone on her bike--part of growing up in a bakery

As if on cue, Simone makes an entrance, riding a pink bike with training wheels through the bakery, dodging hot pans of scones, avoiding whirling mixers, and asking what’s for lunch? She and her sister Anja, a first-grader due home from school any minute, are growing up in a bakery, just like I did, with work, play, home, jobs, customers, friends, parents and bosses all rolled together. What an adventure they’re having!

FRESH-BAKED AROMAS

Brownies: Cheesecake, Chocolate, and Walnut

Working their separate shifts, with overlaps that let them talk while staying busy, the two bakers produce a miraculous variety. Hefty scones teem with blueberries or cranberries. Brownies feature walnuts, cheesecake and other variations. Croissants come plain, filled with chocolate, or topped with strawberries and whipped cream cheese. Muffins, cookies, cupcakes, turnovers, fruit tarts, Danish pastries and more gradually fill showcases and then quickly disappear in the hands of satisfied customers.

Anissa prepares a quiche...

I watch as Anissa fills a quiche with eggs, bacon, tomatoes and spinach, bakes it, slices it, and serves it to people who wait around after catching a whiff. The whole aromatic pie is gone in minutes.

...and within minutes it gets eaten

Meanwhile Stuart plans out his night’s bread schedule. The oven holds at most 35 loaves at once. He must time each batch of dough to be ready in tight sequence, making efficient use of the space and accounting for the gradually falling temperature inside. The results—big, brown, crusty loaves of herbed black olive, honey wheat, cranberry pecan, multi-grain, pumpernickel rye, raisin walnut, sourdough, herb flatbread smeared with a salty brine on top, and other variations—take center stage on rustic wooden display shelves. Some loaves get sliced for piled-high deli sandwiches, which fly out the door with hungry hikers, bicyclists, whitewater paddlers, motorcycle clubs and other fans.

Stuart's pride-and-joy brick oven and some of the breads that come out of it

Saturday is Pizza Day at Tellico Grains. Instead of making his usual humped, round, crusty loaves, Stuart rolls out flatbread dough and tops it with fresh local ingredients, including prosciutto and bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in nearby Madisonville, Tennessee, and portabellas from Monterey Mushrooms in Loudon, Tennessee, as well as feta, spinach, artichoke hearts, onions and more. “During the growing season around here, people bring us extra tomatoes and zucchini and other produce from their gardens just to see what we’ll do with it,” Anissa says.

EXPANDING THEIR AUDIENCE

Everyone can see the bakers work and chat with them

“To survive as a bakery in this small of a community, we cater to three different audiences,” Stuart says. “First there are the locals. Many had never tasted some of the more exotic things we bake, but they’ve been great about trying new things. Second are visitors who come to the area for the Smoky Mountains and hear about us or stumble upon us. Third are what I call the ‘foodies,’ people who really know and love great food, who seek out good food wherever they go, and who are willing to drive from Knoxville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or other cities just to try whatever we’re making at the time.”

Carrot Cake Muffins

The bakery also delivers baked goods regularly to several fresh markets: Three Rivers Market, a natural-foods cooperative at 937 North Broadway in Knoxville (moving to a bigger site at 1100 North Central Street in late August), 865-525-2069; The Market in Maryville at 606 High Street in Maryville, 865-541-5150; The Market at Union  and Gay at 504 South Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, 865-541-5150; The Public House organic restaurant at 212 West Magnolia Avenue in Knoxville’s Old City district, 865-247-4344; and the Just Ripe food co-op at 513 Union Avenue in downtown Knoxville, 865-851-9327.

To reach an even wider audience, including people who’ve been to Tellico Grains but don’t live close enough to stop by often, the bakery offers mail-order service. Gift boxes include cinnamon rolls slathered with gooey vanilla butter cream, scones loaded with cranberry and orange or raspberry and white chocolate, variety packs of brownies, or whole loaves of hearth-baked breads.

Old bakery tools form an artistic vignette

One Monday each month Stuart and Anissa drive to Knoxville for a live television spot on WBIR-10’s “Channel 10 News at Noon” show. “It’s a 4-minute segment, so we come up with recipes or techniques we can demonstrate in that short a time,” Anissa says. The TV gig helps attract more day-trippers to Tellico Plains to check out Tellico Grains.

LABOR OF LOVE

“Tellico Grains is our labor of love,” Anissa says. “Considering that I used to be a lab rat who hardly ever had people around to talk to, and now I talk to customers constantly, it’s been a complete turnaround for me. We’ve made so many friends here! I think some people come in as much to see each other and chat with us as they do for the baked goods. But they like the baked goods too, so it’s all working out fine.”

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The original store sign, now retired, sits faded and flaking on the back porch

Tellico Grains Bakery

105 Depot Street

Tellico Plains, TN 37385

423-253-6911

web: http://tellico-grains-bakery.com

email: tellicograins@hotmail.com

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Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Puff Dough from Tellico Grains Bakery


Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Stuart Shull enjoying cookies and milk at Tellico Grains Bakery
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For more about traveling in Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

For more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park: www.nps.gov/grsm

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Sweet Auburn Bread Company, Atlanta, GA

“People are always happy when they come into a bakery,” says Sonya Jones, explaining why she loves being a baker.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Sweet Auburn Bread Company owner Sonya Jones experiments with peach pies during a creative diversion from her usual focus of baking treats made from sweet potatoes.

The day I visit Atlanta’s queen of sweet potato baked goods, she’s up to her elbows not in sweet potatoes but…peaches. “I’m getting ready to do a baking demonstration focused on peaches at AmericasMart,” says Sonya Jones, owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company in downtown Atlanta. “They’re in season right now, so I’m trying out all kinds of recipes.”

Peach cobbler, peach muffins, peach bread, peach ice cream, peach jelly-cake (a confection involving peach jam spread between cake layers), and other peachy goods fill the tiny workspace, with crates of fresh peaches still waiting to be converted into showpiece treats.

Luckily for me, Sonya is in tasting mode, so I get to try a little of everything. “Nice peach muffin,” I say between bites, “but really I came to hear more about your sweet potato goodies.”

“No problem,” she replies, breaking out her signature happy grin and leading me to a mixer slowly stirring a bright orange mush. “I have plenty of those in the works too.”

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