Five sweets that take finesse
By Rona Gindin
When you want a sweet that’s an experience, not merely a snack, seek out one of these artisan Orlando creations.
NUTS FOR CAKE
If one item stands out above all the others at Sister Honey’s, it’s this: pistachio cake. Nutty, right? Yet after five years of dishing out hearty slices of strawberry cream pie, blueberry-lemon cake and American classics like tiramisu, the pistachio specialty has come to special prominence.
The cake is made with a buttermilk batter loaded with pounded pistachios plus “a couple of secret ingredients no one in their life would guess,” a vanilla custard tinged light green, and variegated green and white frosting. “I developed it to taste like pistachio ice cream,” says Evette Rahman, who owns the small storefront bake shop in the Downtown South district with her husband, Andy.
Evette is an accidental baker. Newly relocated to Orlando from upstate New York, she entered a personal recipe into the National Pie Championships in 2006 and won the apple pie category. She eventually opened the bakery—with great hesitation. “We’d never sold anything before,” she recalls. “When someone bought the first slice of cake, I was sweating, thinking, ‘Oh my God, what if they don’t like it?’” Well, “they” did, and now the petite bakery with counter seating dishes out by-the-slice treats, plus whole cakes and pies with 48 hours’ notice. When their daughter, Sarah, graduates from UCF in a couple of years with a character animation degree, they’ll add birthday and wedding cakes.
As her business grows, Rahman continues to be adviser in chief: “I’m always telling people, ‘Just get it home,’” she says. “Our frostings are made with all butter or whipped cream. Just touch the buttercream and it will come off on your finger. If you leave it in the car to run errands, it will melt.” If you get it home intact, it will melt your heart. sisterhoneys.com
HEART OF GOLD
We’d like to introduce you to the chocolate bouchon. It’s shaped like a plug, or cork, which is the name’s meaning in French. This just-sweet sweet has become a signature item at the 3-year-old Pane D’Or, a bread and dessert bakery in an elusive Winter Garden strip mall. The bouchon (boo-SHONE), about 3 inches high, seems brownie-like in texture, yet it’s far less cloying, far more special. It resembles the single-serve lava cakes so popular in chain restaurants, and in fact a little 10-second ride in the microwave melts the chocolate chunks laced throughout. Yet, again, this simple, oddly shaped confection offers a singular experience.
Pane D’Or owner Kurtis Baguley discovered bouchon back when he was working as a pastry chef in the Napa Valley area near Thomas Keller’s renowned Bouchon Bakery. The former Waldorf Bonnet Creek pastry chef eventually made a version to fit his own tastes. “It’s actually a very, very simple mixture,” he shares. “It’s really about the chocolate and the butter.” His batter includes the European-style Plugra butter, super-dark brute cocoa powder and chunks of Belgian 60 percent dark couverture chocolate.
The bouchon brings a steady stream of grateful locals into Pane D’Or (pronounced panna DOOR, and meaning “bread gold”), but it has competition for their attention. The almond-topped chocolate Florentine has its own die-hard devotees, as does the buttery Kouignamann bread pudding. And then there’s the bread itself, a variety of crusty loaves with a natural sourdough leavening. Golden, indeed. panedor.com
It begins in the wee hours of the morning, Buttermilk Bakery’s croissant process. A baker shows up on an Orange Avenue that’s massively black except for streetlights. Then the work begins: making a starter for dough from yeast, flour, milk and a high-butterfat French butter, and letting it ferment a bit. Rolling that dough through a sheeter to make it thinner, folding the sheets and running them through again, and again, and again. Letting the dough relax in the cooler. Rolling it one final time, this time cutting out triangle shapes to form croissants, square ones for chocolate croissants. Proofing the shapes for two or three hours until the dough puffs up “soft and beautiful,” as co-owner Lana Rebroff describes it. And then, popping the plain and filled dough into the oven, where it rises a bit more as it cooks. “When it’s done, the dough has a nice crunchy flaky bite that shatters in your mouth,” says Rebroff’s son and business partner, Chef Phillip Rebroff. Daughter Taissa and son Alex are owners and worker bees, too.
This bakery and café, owned by a Brazilian family that fully embraces American- style bread and pastry arts, makes breads, pies, cookies, brioche doughnuts and other specialties—including “double-baked” croissants filled with almond or hazelnut cream. It also serves breakfast and lunch six days a week. But those “labor-intensive” croissants take the so-called cake. “It takes two days,” Lana says. “We start a day’s dough the day before.”
It’s a good thing Cassandra Plas spent the first part of her career as a project manager. The Canada native with Dutch roots was expert at turning an idea into a full-fledged roll-out. She’d done it for fashion companies and major banks. Then, for herself, she took on cookies.
Under the brand name Gezellig Cookies, Plas and her husband, James Baier, make stroopwafel, a thin Dutch waffle cookie filled with caramel—plus creative variations and a couple of other Dutch cookie types. When she set out to turn this into an enterprise in 2013, she had two starter items: a recipe, and the special waffle iron necessary, which she’d purchased by accident thinking it was a different type for a different Dutch cookie.
After much testing with friends over the years, Plas came up with her version of this type of sweet. The Dutch word means “syrup waffle,” and that’s because the cookie was invented to use up leftover crumbs, she explains. “They mixed the crumbs with syrup.” In an Orlando commercial kitchen, Plas makes the cookie from wheat flour and with yeast “like a bread dough,” cuts it into a circle, splits it in half and fills it with her own caramel.
After learning about elements from packaging to shelf life and moisture content, the self-propelled project manager was ready to bring the creation to the Winter Park Farmers Market in May 2015. Today the foodpreneur sells her cookies, including vegan and gluten-free versions, online and at stores around town from East End Market to The Cookery in Winter Garden’s Plant Street Market.
Her ongoing project is teaching customers how best to enjoy her cookies, whose brand name is pronounced huh-ZELL-ick. “The name means cozy, that warm feeling when you sit down to chat with a friend over a warm drink and a snack,” Plas says. “You’re supposed to take the cookie out of the package and place it on top of your tea or coffee cup for 90 seconds so the steam melts the caramel. That’s a game-changer.” gezelligcookies.com
P Is for Pie Bake Shop
It’s kind of hard to pin down Ed Tomljenovich about what makes his pie crust so special, but he’s not being flakey. It’s just that P Is for Pie, which Tomljenovich owns with his wife, Stacey, makes three types of crust.
All the Audubon Park Garden District shop’s crusts are buttery. “We feel that our crust is perfect because we use 100 percent butter as opposed to shortening or a mix,” Tomljenovich says.
For traditional double-crust and lattice- top pies, available by special order, the proportion of butter is super high, with only a little bit each of sugar and salt. “Everything needs to be cold—the butter, even the flour, before we start to make the dough,” he says.
For hand pies—the shop’s specialty—the couple makes a pâte brisée dough with “a little bit more sugar, a little bit more water. It’s sweeter.” Why? “I don’t know. That’s the way the original owner developed it and we like the way it tastes.” As they expand their line of savory hand pies like Buffalo chicken and baked mac ’n’ cheese, the pâte brisée works just fine.
For pies with no topping at all, or a crumb topping, the base is sugar dough. “The sweeter texture works with pumpkin, apple crumb, pies like that,” Tomljenovich says.
Living the good life is no pie in the sky for these folks. They purchased the bakery, which has a few seats, when they had an empty nest and “I got to the point where I was tired of the everyday pressures of working for someone else.” Stacey still works part-time in healthcare.
It seems P is also for prosperity, the version also called The Good Life. crazyforpies.com