Food tasting and book signing
Thurs. Feb. 19, 6-8 p.m.
Baked, 160 East Bay St.
Forget about Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, and Channing Tatum sightings. There's a new celebrity in town, and stalking them is as easy as heading down to East Bay Street.
Superstar bakery Baked opened in 2005 in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. Owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito worked hard to create a unique bakery featuring decadent, retro desserts, and within six months of opening, they got the call that may or may not have sealed their fate: Oprah Winfrey was a huge fan.
Now, whether or not they would have become such a dessert destination if the most powerful woman in the world hadn't named their brownies one of her favorite things, with a full page in O Magazine to boot, well, that's debatable. But it couldn't have hurt.
From there, things only picked up speed. They've been featured in glossy mags like Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Elle. They've made appearances on the Today show and Martha Stewart. They've won prestigious awards for their creations. And back in February, Lady O featured them again in her magazine — this time with a 10-page spread.
And when they started to outgrow their Brooklyn digs, they decided Charleston would be the perfect place for a second location.
"I have family in Charleston, I love the dining scene, and I love the people in Charleston," Lewis says. "I thought, I don't want to open a bakery anywhere I don't want to visit, and I love to visit Charleston, so this would be a great place.
"There weren't a lot of bakeries doing what we wanted to do, and if there were, they were further away than where we were located on East Bay Street."
What Baked does is break away from the cutesy shtick of so many bakeries out there today.
"We really wanted to get away from all that grandma's-in-the-kitchen-whippin'-up-pies-and-cakes nostalgia-type bakery," Lewis says. "If you come into New York, or even when we did the book tour, I was kind of shocked, like every bakery looks the same. They all had antique baking equipment on the wall, and they all had the greenish wall. I hate that. I think every bakery should be really unique to the person that owns it."
With its orange tile, dark brown accents, a dark library-like lounge, and a logo featuring deer antlers, they've certainly accomplished a unique look.
"We really love the whole outdoors," Lewis explains. "We live in New York, so we try to bring the outdoors in. We love some of the really masculine hunting motifs, so we had to make it part of the logo."
The look of the place is certainly a departure from many bakeries, but more importantly, they work to make the food unique as well.
"I'm not sure how it is down there so much, but a lot of the metropolitan areas became cupcake obsessed and were completely forgetting all of the other American baked goods that are out there, like cakes and cookies and brownies," Lewis says. "We decided to go full-force into American baking but kind of elevate it and treat it like it was the epitome of dining, as opposed to something just cute and fun. We want to be cute and playful too, but our brownies are the bomb, and I think a brownie made well is just as good as a cute little cupcake — in fact I think they're better."
Using high-quality ingredients like Valrhona cocoa, Callebaut chocolate, and pure vanilla, as well as more unique stuff like whiskey, chipotle powder, and Ovaltine, they create a plethora of goodies that are as beautiful as they are tasty. Their award-winning Sweet & Salty cake is made with caramel chocolate ganache and topped with fleur de sel. The Grasshopper is a chocolate cake with a mint ganache filling, layered and topped with a creme de menthe buttercream and mini chocolate and mint sandwich cookies. The Green Tea is a light white cake with almonds and a green tea buttercream, topped with fortune cookies. Drooling yet? And that's just the cakes.
There are the famous brownies of course, as well as morning goods (croissants, granola, scones), cookies and biscotti, whoopie pies, marshmallows, tarts, and bars like the PB Krispy Bar, made with rich chocolate and peanut butter on a bed of caramelized crisped rice cereal.
Lewis — the main pastry chef — gained his appreciation for made-from-scratch baking as a child, from his Italian grandmother.
"She made, of course, everything from scratch. She was horrified when she saw people using cake mixes," Lewis says. "We did a lot of cheesecakes together, we did a lot of chocolate cakes together, and she got me really interested in it. We use the best products ... Nothing funky, nothing out of a box, no tubes of wet muffin mix. We do everything by hand."
Open since November 2008, Baked is adjusting to the pace of life in the Holy City. Pastry chef Patrick Panella, who started working in the Brooklyn store in early 2008, is manning the kitchen. Panella worked at a bakery in Boulder, Colo. to help pay for college, then later opened a wine bar in San Francisco. He eventually moved to New York, where he began working under the tutelage of Maury Reubin, a master of tarts and croissants at City Bakery. When it was time to move on, he got the job at Baked in Brooklyn, and when they decided to expand to Charleston, he was ready to go.
"I was just burned out on New York. It's just a really intense place," Panella says.
Panella's wife Fanny manages the front of the house, and Lewis' father Larry also checks in regularly. After opening up shop during the slowest part of the year, things are picking up at the Charleston location as passing sugar-lovers discover their goods and keep coming back for more.
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito will be visiting Charleston periodically, and the next time you can catch them is on Thurs. Feb. 19. They'll be offering tastings of their most popular goodies and signing copies of their best-selling cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.
Yield: 1 (8-inch) cake
For the Red Hot Velvet Cake layers:
• ¼ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 tablespoons red gel food coloring
• ¼ cup boiling water
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
• 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
• 1 ²/³ cups sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 ½ cups cake flour
• 1 teaspoon fine salt
• 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ cups milk
• ¼ cup heavy cream
• 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
For cake assembly:
• Red Hots (cinnamon imperials) candies for decoration
The cake layers
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, food coloring, and boiling water. Set aside to cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir the buttermilk and vanilla into the cooled cocoa mixture. Sift the flour and salt together into another medium bowl. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, to the egg mixture in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until incorporated. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda and stir until the baking soda dissolves; the mixture will fizz. Add to the batter and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.
The cinnamon frosting
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; beat until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.
Place one cooled cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread about 1¼ cups of the frosting on top. Top with the next layer, trim and frost the top, then add the third layer. Crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with the Red Hots and refrigerate again for 15 minutes.
Note: Resist the urge to add extra food coloring to this recipe to achieve a redder cake. Subtlety is a virtue here. The purpose is not to turn the cake or the tongues of the cake eaters a radioactive color. The red in this recipe should be sly, smoky, bricklike, and restrained.