Thursday, December 5, 2013
Today’s Food & Dining section includes an interview with Alison Pray, the owner of Standard Baking Co., who has just written a new cookbook with Tara Smith, the head pastry chef at the bakery, called “Standard Baking Co. Pastries” (Down East $29.95).
If you’re a big fan of Standard Baking, chances are that piece left you wanting more – just like one of the bakery’s classic morning buns! So I thought I would share more of our interview, including Pray’s explanation of how she used to eat three morning buns a day without getting fat. (Yes, three. I literally gasped when she told me.)
One more thing: Just in case you’re in a hurry, I’ll let you in on a little secret. At the bottom of this blog post is Pray’s recipe for her popular Molasses Spice Cookies. Now that there’s a chill in the air, it’s the perfect time to be pulling a hot pan full of these treats from the oven.
Q: Why did you decide not to include any breads?
A: I spent time thinking about who would want to use this book. It seems to me someone wanting to make bread is a different reader than someone wanting to make pastry. Between holidays and seasonal changes, we have quite a variety of pastries, whereas writing bread recipes is so much more like a science book. I don’t think that the typical customer from the bakery would be interested in attempting to make those breads at home.
Q: Can you recommend a recipe from the book that would be good for a beginner to start with?
A: Cookies, in my opinion, are the easiest and most accessible things for home bakers to bake. I think most people have some experience baking cookies. There are some complicated cookie recipes in the book– the sandwich cookies and things like that. And the rugulach is a more temperamental dough. But certainly the chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal raisin cookies, I think anyone could follow those recipes, even if it’s their first time baking.
Q: What’s your most popular breakfast item? Is it the croissant or the morning bun?
A: Yes, I would say those are still the most popular items, and that’s been consistent from the beginning. We didn’t start with croissants the very first year. It took us about three years before we started making croissants, and they rose in popularity between the plain croissants and the chocolate croissants and the almond. That and the morning buns. They’re one of the first things we made when we opened 18 years ago, and it’s still one of the most popular items today, even though we’ve added dozens and dozens of other pastries and breads.
Q: You used to provide morning buns, baguettes and croissants to Wild Oats (the grocery store that was located where Trader Joe’s is now). I know your bread can be found around town, but do you supply other places with pastries?
A: Some of the coffee shops – Coffee By Design and Arabica still get their scones and morning buns from us. …(Pastries) will never be something we sell in large quantities outside the bakery. They’re too fragile, and they have to be fresh out of the oven. That’s really our intention. It’s like home baked, like you were eating it at home. Fresh out of the oven, and not baked hours before and shipped out of town.
Q: How often do you put out new things, or is it better to stay with what’s popular? Are you constantly trying to develop new recipes?
A: We try to. Sometimes we’re so busy just through the summer, for example, just baking what we bake every day, that we don’t have time for R&D. Usually we try to reserve certain times of the year for research and development. You know, the slower months, January through April, we have a lot of time to develop things during that time of the year. We might develop things for holidays that are coming later in the year. We’re always thinking about what our customers might be looking for, or how to use a really interesting and available local ingredient. So we take a lot of things into account when we’re developing new recipes, and that all has to fit. It has to be something that people are going to like. We don’t want it to be so exotic that people are going to ask us “What is that?” We want it to have a wide appeal, and we want to use the freshest and most local ingredients that we have available to us.
Q: Do you eat something every day?
A: I think it’s really important, and it’s part of the job. You need to taste the results of your work, so I think that you can never entirely cut that out. When we first started the bakery, we were working 15 hours a day, and I literally would eat three morning buns a day.
I can’t imagine that now. I was much younger then. But we were working on our feet, and we never stopped. I would have one hot out of the oven, and that wouldn’t feel like enough because we were so active. You’re sweating and you’re lifting heavy objects, and so I would have a second one. I would just be able to fill up on these things every day. I’m not as active as that any more. I think it’s important that to do this work, you have to be in good physical shape. You’ve got to pay attention to your health and to your strength.
Q: And I guess if you do eat something, you don’t have to eat the whole thing.
A: No, and that’s not to say that we don’t sit down and enjoy it from time to time. That’s the excitement, that’s the wonderful thing about our work. So we still enjoy it, but you can’t sit down and eat an entire portion of everything. We all just try to focus on our health and be healthy, in general, to have the endurance to do the work.
MOLASSES SPICE COOKIES
We bake more of these than any other cookie. It’s the cookie equivalent of comfort food. Just about everyone has a childhood memory of soft, chewy cookies like these, especially if you grew up in New England like we did.As I’ve come across similar recipes in many earlier cookbooks, it’s obvious that the popularity of this cookie has stood the test of time.This recipe takes a little extra time to chill the dough. The first chilling makes it easier to work with and the second chilling will prevent excessive spreading during baking. A.P.
Makes 40 cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup sugar, plus more for topping
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger,and cloves.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the egg and the molasses on low speed. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until combined.
3. Add the melted and cooled butter and beat on low speed until it’s thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle as needed.
4. On low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds and mix until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and paddle between additions.
5. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface and place the dough in the center. Flatten the dough into a uniform thickness. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for 20 to 30 minutes.
6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Line a plate with a piece of parchment paper. Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and place the cookie balls on the plate. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
7. Position two racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
8. To garnish the cookies, place a scoopful of white sugar in a medium bowl. Remove the plate from the refrigerator and, working with six dough balls at a time, toss them in the sugar until they are evenly coated.
9. Transfer the sugared dough balls to the prepared baking sheet, evenly spaced about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough balls.
10. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom. Bake an additional 7 minutes. The cookies should be dark golden brown with lighter cracks. They will be a little puffy but will deflate slightly as they cool.
11. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.
©2012 Alison Pray, from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, reprinted with permission from Down East Books
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod