A house that smells deliciously yeasty of bread baking, or intensely chocolatey from the rich cake in the oven or of cinnamon from the sticky buns baking are the scents that make us the most nostalgic for our childhood. Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist who studies such things tells us that the smells produced by baking have a particularly powerful effect on memory.
Baking is also about celebrating. Any event is made an occasion with a cake. Audrey Hebpburn was onto something when she said, “Let’s face it, a good, creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people.”
Baking is also about sharing. A four-layer cake with a filling, buttercream frosting, and elaborate decorations is not made to be be eaten solo.
Baking is also about science that seems more like magic when a sloppy cake batter rises in the oven and turns golden. It’s about the comforting rhythm of measuring, mixing and folding. It’s about taking an indulgent amount of your time to give pleasure to someone else. In the end, it’s very little about the eating.
For some like Amanda Perez of Naramata’s The White Apron Pastry Co., baking becomes an avocation for many of these reasons so much so that she delved into as second career.
How, why did you end up pursuing your career as a pastry chef?
I came into the culinary world in a roundabout way, as it seems that many chefs do. It wasn’t my first career — I actually already went to Simon Fraser, earned a degree in Communication, and worked in Public Relations/event planning for a number of years. But, I had always harboured a dream of going to pastry school, and I have always found comfort in baking. One day, I realized that although I liked my current job at the time, I wanted to feel passionate about how I spent my work day….and so, the pipe dream of going to pastry school became a reality. Many of the students in my class were career changers as well. After graduating with straight A’s from the grueling but exciting year-long foray into French Pastry, I worked at a number of high-end restaurants in Vancouver, mostly doing 5 pm – 2 am dinner service plating desserts, and then more prep, and eventually, becoming pastry chef for two restaurants in Vancouver.
Upon deciding to leave the coast and move to the Okanagan, I was offered the Pastry Chef role at Burrowing Owl in summer 2011. Instead, I accepted a Pastry Cook position at Mission Hill Family Estate, where I did the majority of the prep for the high end Terrace restaurant, as well as the large number of private functions, celebrity dinners, concert events etc. Every day I made beautiful crisp loaves of sourdough bread, which were served at lunch and dinner, as well as all of the desserts. I returned to Mission Hill in 2012, and that summer, found the little spot on Front Street in Penticton, recognizing it as a great spot for a tiny little pastry shop. The White Apron was born at that time.
What do you like most about having your business?
It feels good to create something. I worked for years in Public Relations, where my days were spent promoting other people’s products, and I felt like something was missing. It feels very satisfying to create something from start to finish. To work in a trade where there is so much creative license. To own my own business where I can have the flexibility to work around my family’s schedule (and our orchard, as well!) is a blessing to me and my family. And…..not having to do night shifts any more is pretty great. Plus, my husband has a pretty flexibly but demanding work schedule (he is a Financial Consultant with Investors Group), so having the flexibility to be able to stay home and raise our children while still working in the field I am passionate about is worth more than anything.
What are your future business plans?
After having my Front Street bakery for two years and recognizing the summers are where the business is at (and winters were too slow to even be financially worth opening), I decided that solely focussing on Farmers Markets and custom orders would be where I wanted to focus. I parted with my Front Street shop, moved our family to a property that is zoned to allow having a commercial kitchen on the premises (our previous home in the village wouldn’t allow one), and after a one year hiatus from orders while raising our Sous Chef #2, Zach, The White Apron is getting ready for business.
Currently, our garage space is being renovated into a commercial kitchen. I am at the electrical upgrade stage, and then the fun work begins. I plan to be open in May, and plan to do the Penticton Farmers Market, and quite likely, the Naramata Market as well. I am also taking wedding and special occasion orders now, and will again have a menu of holiday orders, particularly for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I look forward to possibly partnering up with B&B’s to offer my freshly baked brioche cinnamon rolls to guests and possibly even partnering with a couple wineries in the future as well!
Do you still enjoy baking?
I do! I bake as much as I can (which right now, is generally kid-friendly treats baked while the littlest one naps), and I am counting down the days to having my kitchen ready downstairs so that the real fun can begin! I should note that since selling my Front Street location, I haven’t been taking orders, because producing food that is to be sold from a home kitchen, is not permitted by Interior Health (or insurance companies).
Will you teach your kids to bake?
I already am! Clara helps me bake quite often and she is already learning a lot of valuable skills. Pretty impressive for a three-year-old. She loves scooping muffin batter with a portion scooper, cracking eggs and of course, taste testing.
What do you think is responsible for the increasing popularity of baking and cooking?
The Food Network has been instrumental in increasing the popularity for professional cooking. It is a bit of a double-edged sword though, because as great as it has been for increasing interest in the field, and in bringing attention to the effort and art that properly prepared food takes, it only shows the glamour and glitz and not the true experience and cost to those who choose it as a profession. This new popularity in baking and cooking has brought us a newfound interest in food in general, both in the preparation and consumption of it all.
Five tips for the home baker that will make a big difference to what they make?
1. Get a scale and use recipes that measure by weight rather than by volume. A cup of flour, scooped, can vary by as much as 20%, but 250g of flour will be 250g of flour no matter which way you scoop it.
2. Be confident. It’s just food. If you think a substitution or addition will work, try it. Recipes don’t have to be adhered to 100%. Have fun with it. And don’t bake when you’re rushed or in a foul mood!
3. Clean as you go. My favourite way of doing this is fill the sink with hot soapy water before you start cooking. Toss dirty dishes in the sink as you use them. Washing up is a breeze afterwards, and you’ll find you’ll bake or cook more often when you don’t dread the clean up. Also, start with a clean kitchen, with all your dishes put away.
4. Find a few websites and cookbooks that you trust, and use those when trying out new dishes. My favourites are www.food52.com, www.smittenkitchen.com and for baking/pastry, www.davidlebovitz.com
5. If you want to really go pro, scale out your ingredients in advance. At the very very least, gather all of your ingredients out on the counter before you start, and as you add each ingredient, put it away. I can admit to forgetting key ingredients by not doing this.
Five tools or pieces of equipment that you couldn’t live without?
Kitchen Aid mixer, bench scraper, my stack of glass mixing bowls, lots of rubber spatulas, and parchment paper.
Why should a home baker take a baking class?
Because it is fun! We don’t often get a chance as adults to take a class and learn something new. You’ll leave with a few new recipes, a few new techniques and an enjoyable afternoon out. Why not! I have taken a few classes myself for inspiration and just for fun, and never regret it.
Good advice. Check out the next Naramata-Blend baking class with Chef Amanda teaching us how to make fancy French pastries.