Tag Archives: Auburn University Cookbook

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.

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House Divided Cookbooks Turn Auburn-Alabama Rivalry Into Tasty Tailgate Parties

Dueling cookbooks by a married pair of bakers/cooks with opposing college football loyalties stir up pregame flavors for Dixie’s most fabled rivalry.

by Bakery Boy

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Louisa’s Bakery, co-owned by cookbook authors Missy & Browne Mercer

Browne and Missy Mercer, signing their dueling tailgate-party cookbooks at The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, AL. Photo by Bakery Boy

In Alabama, the term “house divided” has outlived its reference to the Civil War. For decades it referred to families splitting to side with the Union or the Confederacy. Now it more often refers to households that support opposing football teams—either The University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide or the cross-state rival Auburn University Tigers.

The latest battlefront in this House Divided saga: otherwise happily married bakers/cooks Missy and Browne Mercer. They work together at a trio of businesses they own in Montgomery, two restaurants and a bakery in adjoining buildings. They love their alma maters. And they have written cookbooks, each splashed with their school’s colors on the outside and each packed with 30 school-themed tailgate party recipes inside.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY COOKBOOK by Missy Mercer (Gibbs Smith Publishing, $14.99)

Her book gets Auburn fans charged up for games with Kick ’em in the Butt Big Blue Chili, Sis Boom Bah! Sausage Balls, Rah Rah Rah Corn and Avocado Salsa, Roasted Red Beat-The-Tide Hummus, and Roll Over The Tide Chicken Wings. Aubie’s Heart-of-Dixie Caviar—Aubie is the school’s tiger mascot—involves no fish roe but plenty of peppers, onions, corn, and black-eyed peas. Desserts include The Tiger’s Den Lemon Bars, Tiger Paw Cookies, and Old South White Chocolate Pecan Blondies (see recipe below). Wash it down with swigs of Orange-and-Blue Passion (with vodka, orange juice, ginger ale, and Blue Curaco) or Fourth Quarter Whiskey Slush (with Jack Daniel’s Black Label Whiskey, black tea, lemonade, and orange juice).

THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA COOKBOOK by Browne  Mercer (Gibbs Smith Publishing, $14.99)

His book stokes Alabama fans into game-days frenzies with Bama Bourbon-Glazed Park Tenderloin, Drown ’em Tide Brisket, Rammer Jammer Baked Beans, Rollin’ with the Tide Salsa, Capstone Coleslaw, and Give ’em Hell Alabama Deviled Eggs. He carries the theme forward with Dixie’s Football Pride Potato Salad, Crimson Flame Black-Eyed Peas (cayenne pepper packs a punch), Got Thirteen? Chili (a reference to the football team’s impressive total of 13 national titles), and Roll on to Victory Lemon Pound Cake. The Big Al’s Peanut Butter Bars (see recipe below) are named for Alabama’s raging elephant mascot and symbol.

TRUCE AT HOME?

Missy adds "War Eagle!" to the copies she autographs. Photo by Bakery Boy

So, do these two school-spirited foodies get along, despite all this football-based conflict? Yes, they say. Not only do they live together and work together—jointly running Louisa’s Bakery, Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop, and Café Louisa in Montgomery’s historic Old Cloverdale neighborhood—they even do book-signing events together when they promote their dueling cookbooks.

Browne adds "Roll Tide!" to the copies he autographs. Photo by Bakery Boy

People who show up as such signings aren’t always as cordial as the couple. I’ve seen people totally ignore one or the other, even though they’re sitting side by side at a signing table. Some fans will purposely speak only to the one who shares the same team interest while getting books autographed. This rivalry can be that way.

The one thing Missy and Browne don’t do together is to watch the Alabama-Auburn game. “We’ve tried that,” Missy says. “It just gets too stressful. We each love our team too much.”

Here’s one dessert recipe from each book. If you have a dog in this fight, as we sometimes say around here, choose one or the other accordingly. If you’re neutral in this ongoing turf war, feel free to try both.

OLD SOUTH WHITE CHOCOLATE PECAN BLONDIES from Auburn University Cookbook by Missy Mercer

Old South White Chocolate Pecan Blondies. Photo by Zac Williams from Auburn University Cookbook by Missy Mercer. Reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith.

1 cup butter

1 pound white chocolate, half chunked and half chopped

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pinch salt

2 cups flour

1⁄3 cup pecan pieces

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line an 11 x 14-inch pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl over a hot water bath, combine butter with chunks of white chocolate. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir in flour. When cooled slightly, add chopped white chocolate, pecans, and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until skewer or toothpick comes out clean when tested.

BIG AL’S PEANUT BUTTER BARS from The University of Alabama Cookbook by Browne Mercer

Big Al's Peanut Butter Bars. Photo by Zac Williams from The University of Alabama Cookbook by Browne Mercer. Reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith.

2 cups flour

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup peanut butter

1 egg

1 cup milk chocolate pieces

1 teaspoon butter

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add 1⁄4 cup butter, peanut butter, and then egg to make a thick batter. Press 2⁄3 of mixture into bottom of greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Melt chocolate with 1 teaspoon butter and milk in a small saucepan. Pour over peanut butter mixture in the baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining peanut butter mixture over chocolate mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before cutting into bars.

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Find both books in Alabama bookstores or through Gibbs Smith Publishing of Layton, Utah; 800-835-4993

For more about Missy & Browne’s bakery and two restaurants in Montgomery:

Louisa’s Bakery, 334-356-1212

Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop, 334-264-4241

Café Louisa, 334-264-4241

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Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Louisa’s Bakery

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

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