Feature: Bakery Nirvana Delights

By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo by Michele Bacigalupo.

In New York City and neighboring Brooklyn, a plethora of food establishments exist where culinary enthusiasts can gather to try new, groundbreaking delicacies. Sometimes, it may appear as if kitchen masterpieces are emerging from every avenue, especially if you’re walking in a trendy neighborhood and utilizing the Yelp app in an efficient manner.

This is all the more true when it comes to New York’s local bakeries, where there seems to be a never-ending cascade of ideas, inventions, and sweet slices of food heaven.

To hear the inside story, BTR spoke with Lori Stern, baker at Williamsburg’s Bakeri, and Stacey Leon, co-owner of Manhattan’s Butterfly Bakeshop.

BTR: What’s the first thing you set out to do in the morning when you arrive at work?

Lori Stern (LS): When I first get here, I put in the tart shells to bake. Then I start mixing everything together. There’s a chef’s term called mise-en-place, where we put everything out before mixing it. I have three bowls–one for the yeast dough, one for the scones, and one for the biscuits.

Stacey Leon (SL): I’m not a baker, so I do administrative tasks, like checking emails and doing follow up on people who are in the process of ordering.

BTR: Do you have a specific philosophy or mantra when it comes to working at the bakery?

LS: I don’t have a personal mantra, but I can say that baking for me is a meditative process. It gives me a lot of creative freedom to experiment. If you spend enough time baking, through trial and error, you kind of know how much of an ingredient you need to add in order for something to work.

SL: Our tagline at Butterfly Bakeshop is that “everyone deserves a custom cake.” We feel that every cake is special, and that every celebration is special. Whether it’s a $3,000 cake or a $100 cake, everyone deserves a cake that reflects what they’re looking to say or celebrate.

The most expensive cake that you can get at the bakeshop is a shape cake, like an Eiffel tower, or a dog, for example.

BTR: Do you come up with the designs yourself?

Photo courtesy of Butterfly Bakeshop.

SL: Typically, our cake consultant meets with the cake artist, and they come up with something for the client. A lot of times, clients know exactly what they want. Other times, they have a more general idea. They tell us what their budget range is, and we come up with something.

BTR: What’s the latest invention that you’ve created in the kitchen?

Photo by Michele Bacigalupo.

LS: The latest thing I’ve been making is pistachio franjepan. It’s made with basic almond paste. I toast the pistachios, grind them up, and mix them with the paste, some eggs, sugar, and flour. Sometimes I bake it into a tart. Today, I baked it into the rolls with fresh strawberries.

BTR sampled the roll, which can only be described as a piece of edible nirvana. A strawberry spread was baked into the roll’s inner layers, with pistachio pieces topping the outer surface.

BTR: What are some of the more bizarre requests that you’ve received from customers?

Photo courtesy of Butterfly Bakeshop.

SL: We did one cake for a memorial service. The client wanted the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge. That was really big and grand, and sort of unusual–to request a cake for a memorial service.

LS: Here at Bakeri, the owner lets the bakers create our own thing. I can have free reign. I spend a lot of time making cakes for special occasions and experimenting with designs.

BTR: Where do you find inspiration for coming up with pastry designs and recipes?

LS: I look on Pinterest a lot, as well as Instagram. I saw a goat cheese blueberry sandwich somewhere, and I thought, “Oh, that’d be great in a biscuit, or in a scone.”

SL: We look at what’s going on in the cake world and with florists. For couples, because custom cakes are expensive, we have something called Wedding Cakes a la Carte. It’s a budget-friendly, custom style program. People can customize their cake to look the way they want.

BTR: How would you describe the environment you work in?

LS: I think the owner at Bakeri wants to create a coffee shop where people can just relax. It’s not so much a place where people set up their workplace for the day. It’s antique-y, vintage-y, European. It’s more of a laissez-faire atmosphere that revolves around the food.