Macarons vs Mayhem: Chatting with a Pro Baker

Being that it’s arguably the greatest baking holiday of the year, it’s time to get serious about your craft. Instead of taking a page from my book of wine drinking, while strewing the kitchen with flour, sugar, and other messy delights, I thought it was time you’d heard from a pro.

So, without further ado, let’s chat with a trained professional and daydream about quitting our day jobs in the name of crusty baguettes and iced cookies.

Chef Jaime has an associates degree in Pastry Arts from The Chef’s Academy in Indianapolis. She’s worked at Amelia’s Bakery, baking bread, and spent time in the connected Bluebeard restaurant baking desserts as well.  These days, she counts two sous chefs ages three and one on the payroll of her busy kitchen. Oh, and she happens to be my sis-in-law, who has maybe just balked at my haphazard parchment shapes just once or twice. 😉

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Photo courtesy of : Chef Jaime’s kitchen
M&M: What’s your favorite thing to bake?
Chef J:  Cookies, brownies, muffins, and anything that’s not too fussy. I like to bake comfort foods that offer people some nostalgia and taste great without being too showy or indulgent. I also love making ice cream.

M&M:  Cakes! Let’s see how complicated we can build and decorate some cake.

M&M: What’s the worst thing to bake?
Chef J:  Cakes. Wedding cakes in particular. I would buckle under the pressure of trying to make a perfect cake for someone’s big day and decorating is not my speciality.

M&M:  Bread. Way too precise.

M&M:  What has been your greatest baking challenge?
Chef J: Preparing several desserts for my best friend’s baby shower and transporting them all safely to the party two hours away. I made French macarons (hell yeah!), cheesecake, iced sugar cookies, mini chocolate cupcakes, and a layered ice cream dessert. Everything made it to the party intact and was deemed delicious. Challenge completed!

M&M: Dayummmm. My battle is keeing my kitchen clean from flour explosions.

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Photo courtesy of Chef Jaime’s kitchen

M&M: What’s your greatest baking success?

Chef J: At Amelia’s we baked hearth-baked sourdough bread using levain, baker’s percentages, a long fermentation process, and many other specifics to get a great finished product. Basically every detail in the process had to be just right or things would go wrong. I started working at the bakery before opening day and got to experience the exact science behind making a perfect loaf of artisan bread. My biggest success was getting to the point where I could complete every task in the process and feel confident about the final result – and being promoted to bakery supervisor along the way.

M&M: Having a recipe turn out really well and hearing groans of delight, or better yet watching, second helpings unfold.

M&M:  What are your favorite kitchen gadgets for baking?

Chef J:  I could not live without my KitchenAid  mixer. My other must haves are a set of stainless steel bowls and a heat-resistant one-piece spatula for easy clean up. I also use a kitchen scale for measuring ingredients when possible because it gives you more accurate measurements.

M&M: I completely agree with the Kitchen Aid mixer as a necessity, and there are so many gorgeous colors now! I am obsessed with a Tovolo “spoontula”,  Silpat , and my silicone French rolling pin. Hmm, no theme here….

M&M:  What is your general advice for a good bake?
Chef J:  Don’t over mix when making cookies, quick breads, and cakes. And don’t over bake – no one likes a dry, crunchy cookie! Unless it’s biscotti and in that case also have a grande latte handy for dipping.

M&M: Always 1.5 or double the vanilla in sweet recipes. Use kosher salt in everything. And yes, by all means, slightly underbake. 

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Photo courtesy of Chef Jaime’s kitchen

M&M:  What’s something that looks impressive, but is actually quite easy to bake?
Chef J: I have a recipe for a chocolate burnt cake with ganache icing that I love. It looks quite fancy, but it’s so easy to whip up and you don’t even need a mixer. I stole the recipe from Pinterest, so technically it’s already public knowledge…

M&M: I haven’t tried it! Perhaps you must share it with us soon.. for me, I would say Gougeres sound AND look fancy, but are really just a simple pate a choux dough with stuff mixed in.

Hope that you enjoyed hearing from a professional. Chef J will be back soon to get you ready for Santa’s sweet-tooth demands! 

Thoughts?

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