Baking Their Way
Pasty Chefs Take Different Paths through the Flour, Frosting and Flubs
Whether you’re craving a homemade apple pie right out of the oven, a freshly-made doughnut or a handcrafted cupcake, you can find the object of your dessert desire somewhere in Frederick County.
From Downtown bakeries to country shops, this area is home to a wide assortment of great bakers who can accommodate almost any taste in your search for something sweet and delectable. They are also in tune with dietary desires and restrictions, even if you are a vegan or following a gluten-free lifestyle.
To learn more about the art of baking, we sat down with six of the area’s top bakers to find what makes sweet treats so wonderful: Ed O’Hara at Ed’s Country Bakery; Beth Johnson at A Better Choice Bakery; Jolynn Wright at Angelcakes; Donna Smith at Jefferson Pastry Shoppe and Carriage House Bakery; Lucie Shelton at Cakes to Die For; and Alissa Straiter at Glory Doughnuts.
When did you know you wanted to be a baker?
O’Hara: When I was a senior in high school, that’s when I knew. I grew up on a dairy farm; the bakery was located on a dairy farm. I knew I did not want to milk cows and I had to find something else to do, so I got into baking.
Johnson: I always baked when I was upset, when I was happy, when I was angry, when I was needing to think something through, and that started pretty young, helping Grandma in the kitchen.
Shelton: About sixth grade, I definitely knew that’s what I wanted to do. But I grew up having an Easy-Bake Oven, and watching my mom bake, even out of box mixes. I wanted to be as great as she was, even though it was just pouring two things in a bowl and mixing it together with a fork. I wanted to be that.
Smith: I took my first cake decorating class when my son was almost a year old, and he just turned 38. I didn’t want to go into retail baking, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was good at it and it just transpired.
Straiter: I’ve been interested in cooking and baking my whole life and knew I wanted to go into the food service industry. Baking took over when I met [my wife and Glory Doughnuts co-owner] Keirsten. Running a food business, feeding people has been my goal since I was 13. She jumped on board, and now it’s ours together.
Wright: My sister and her husband own the business. I lived in Florida, she called me up one day and said, “Do you want to start a cupcake and cake shop?” I thought about it for a while because I was doing private catering, and I said, “Sure,” and so I came.
Why your particular kind of baking (doughnuts, bread, cupcakes, etc.)?
O’Hara: The first thing I learned how to do was decorate cakes. I’ve always offered cakes and decorated cakes. I used to sell at a farmer’s market in Frederick, but I never got into breads because there wasn’t a need for that—I always stuck with cakes, pies and cookies.
Johnson: When my son was diagnosed with autism in 2002, I thought, “I have to make everything without dairy and wheat, and how am I going to do that?”
Shelton: I wanted it to be stuff that people could come in daily and get a breakfast item. Not everyone wants a piece of cake. You can’t really survive in a store that you just do one thing and it’s a really cut-off venture to do.
Smith: If you’re going to have a bakery, you need to be a real bakery. I don’t want to specialize in one specific thing. It’s hard to make money. You need to have a variety, because we don’t all like the same things, so we try to mix it up and have a combination and a flavor for every taste.
Straiter: I have always loved doughnuts; they’ve been kind of a comfort food for me. In the vegan community, doughnuts are very, very hard to find. So we kind of wanted to share our love for those and make them more accessible.
Wright: [My sister] was the one that got interested in it first, and I thought, I had been catering, and I had managed restaurants, and I thought that sounded like fun. We design all our own cakes, and do all our own sculpting—that’s why I signed on.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made?
O’Hara: The most common mistake is forgetting something in the oven and over-baking a cake.
Johnson: I had left something on the stove. … I almost burned the place down. … I had lied down [at home] and had this weird feeling, so I came back, pulled up and all these alarms were ringing.
Shelton: For our gas ovens, the first time we had them, we turned on all the ovens, got everything ready and prepped in the pans, and just never turned on the gas. So we’re ready to go, ready to bake and everything and the gas was not on.
Smith: The easiest, biggest mistake is when you’re doubling or tripling a recipe, and then at some point, you forget that that’s what you’re doing and you go back and you’re only putting in for singles.
Straiter: One morning, we went to the kitchen—we get to the kitchen at like 2 in the morning. I realized I did not get any [almond] milk. Two o’clock in the morning, you can’t really run to Giant Eagle and pick up some almond milk. We were kind of out of luck, and went home. We called [Café] Nola [where Glory Doughnuts are sold] and said, “We’re very, very sorry.”
Wright: We have the big, giant mixers, and we bake from scratch every morning. There are three speeds—you must have it on low when you put in the powdered stuff. If it’s not on low, and you turn it on … I was standing against the refrigerator and I turned [the mixer] on and it just went like this, “Whoom!” You could actually see an outline of cocoa powder [on me and the refrigerator].
Do you ever experiment with new recipes?
O’Hara: If I hear of something that sounds good, or find a new recipe I’ve never tried before, I’ll give it a try. I tend to experiment or try new recipes that sound good to me or sound like something I would eat.
Johnson: I usually start with a good base, like if I know I have a good base bread that I’ve really messed with, because I do so much vegan. … I mess with stuff, and I add things to it if the batter doesn’t look right.
Shelton: We know people want a chocolate, a vanilla and then something special. We’ll do berry flavors and try and go with the season, strawberries and raspberries. In the fall, we’ll do pumpkin things.
Smith: I’m constantly looking at trade magazines, talking to different vendors, suppliers, cookbooks, the internet, Pinterest—you’re constantly doing that. Sometimes you see something and think I can do that different, or better, or tweak it.
Straiter: We kind of have these aha moments where we get this idea and want to try it. We do a lot of taste testing. We pull in our friends and family a lot. They’re kind of our focus group.
Wright: We will think of different recipes, and we always test them for a couple of weeks and experiment with the recipes for a couple of weeks before we bring them out as a featured cupcake.
What’s your indispensable utensil?
O’Hara: We couldn’t go without our mixers. We use our mixers constantly.
Johnson: My mixer and my oven, but those are a given. I have a favorite spatula.
Shelton: A rubber spatula. I use that for everything, we have about 30 of them, and it never seems like enough. … I’ll die in my grave with that by my side.
Smith: Employees. If you don’t have good employees, that’s a killer.
Straiter: A spatula for pulling the doughnuts out of the fryer.
Wright: A piping bag.
What do you like to bake at home?
O’Hara: If anything, it would be cookies, but typically what I do is make the cookie dough at the bakery and take it home and bake it. Usually I bake cookies at home to have that smell in the house.
Johnson: I don’t bake at home, and I can’t cook for the life of me.
Shelton: I don’t really like apple pies or anything like that, but my mom loves them, so I’ll bring home a chocolate pie. It’s a nice slice of something, but it will be chocolate.
Smith: I don’t. Very, very rarely, because I do take home what’s left over, so we have fresh-baked goods all the time. I don’t need to do it when I’m home.
Straiter: Keirstin loves making pies. I swear she makes the best pies. Our apple pie doughnut is essentially her pie deconstructed.
Wright: I actually don’t bake at home. You do it here, and I’m here at five in the morning, because we bake fresh every day. I’m lucky if I go home and cook myself dinner—sometimes I just have a bowl of cereal.
What is the best tip you can give to novice bakers?
O’Hara: I’d say don’t be afraid to try new recipes and try new things, and don’t expect it to turn out right the first time. If it doesn’t turn out right the first time, try it again. And don’t wait until the last minute if you’re baking a pie or cake for an event.
Johnson: Measuring is important, and taking notes. … Some people don’t take notes when baking, but I take a lot of notes.
Shelton: Keep trying out recipes. Sometimes people stick with the same, their mom’s recipe from years and years ago. … It’s OK to combine recipes and try things.
Smith: You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to fail. I did when I was young. … Keep at it. It’s going to come out. It’s going to turn out, and you’re going to learn from it.
Straiter: Bake what you would want to eat, instead of catering to other people, because you’re your own worst critic, so when you can get to the point of impressing yourself and enjoy your own food, that’s the best part.
Wright: Don’t bake them, come here.
What’s your guilty pleasure snack?
O’Hara: I probably eat more cupcakes here than anything.
Johnson: I am a peanut butter cup aficionado. However, if I’m not going for chocolate, it is gluten-free pretzel and cheese, soft cheese.
Shelton: M&M cookies.
Smith: That changes with the day. Usually, it’s chocolate chip cookies. Today, it’s peach cobbler, because we just got it out of the oven. Who can resist peach cobbler right out of the oven?
Straiter: Fried pickles. And I think Keirsten would have to say ice cream sandwiches.
Wright: I’m on the no-carb diet, but if I was going to cheat, first I would have a cupcake; then I would have a piece of pizza.