I returned to my stack of unrolled pâte brisée feeling positively jubilicious. It was just a matter of time however, for my buoyant mood to deflate. Not long after Megan and James departed with their half-eaten pie, a woman approached the counter with a question. Just back from a two year stint in Philly, my pal Quinn is moonlighting for a few weeks before he leaves us for his hip Soho barista gig. Quinn listens, looks thoughtful, then makes his way to where I am easing pie dough into aluminum tins.
“What??” I responded, my rising blood pressure pulsing faster than a package of Fleischmann’s rapid rise yeast dissolved in warm water. “You’re kidding, right? Someone wants to know how much sugar is in the banana bread? We already took the gluten out. Now we’re supposed to remove the sugar?” Poor Quinn. I was in the throes of a mid-afternoon caffeine needy downward spiral. “For God’s sake, this is a bakery! Maybe she’d like a nice glass of water…”
With more annoyance than interest, I thumbed through the butter smudged red binder that houses the recipes. My baker’s math aptitude needed an espresso jump-start. “I don’t know! This yields 30-something loaves! There’s sugar and oil and bananas, and if she needs to know what’s in the gluten free blend, it’s written on a chalk board up front.”
Quinn saw the look in my eyes and stepped back. “Wait a minute!” I hissed. “Is this a question based on a health issue?” Even I can be sympathetic when a dietary question is based on a bona fide medical condition. It also helps if the consumer brings both a doctor’s note and a second opinion.
“No, no,” Quinn assured me. “Nothing like that. It’s not a health question, it’s a Millennial question.” Squinting and scanning the crowd at the counter, I grilled Quinn. “Which one is she?” Quinn indicated a woman seating herself at one of the outside tables. She was armed with an iced coffee; no doubt, unsweetened.
Several days and many pies later, a customer had a baking question and I dared cross the linoleum, moving from kitchen to front lines. I carried my rolling pin in case things got ugly. The short of it was a local congregation was hosting an event and wanted to purchase Russian pastries. Specifically, upside down cakes and miniature pastries filled with sweetened cheese. “You mean like the filling one might put in blintzes?” I asked. The woman nodded enthusiastically and I shook my head “No.” It had been several hours since I had entered the bakery, but I was fairly certain that we were still operating as Team Butter, not The Russian Tea Room.
On Thursday, a customer interaction involved a woman of slender build debating whether or not to purchase a flourless chocolate cake. Would it be possible to prepare a different cake, a birthday cake, using half the amount of sugar and still have it taste good? Could I do that? Would I do that? I was thinking a nice unsweetened cheese filled blintz might be what she had in mind.
Good grief. I paused without blurting out, “This is a BAKERY. BAKED GOODS. Sugar makes things taste good. Unless you don’t want sugar in your baked goods and in that case, there are bakeries that specifically bake with sweeteners other than sugar. We are not that bakery.” Instead, I contained myself and replied in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice, “Yes, it’s possible to bake a cake with less sugar.” Slim began to interrupt me saying “Half. Half the amount of sugar. I like sugar, I just want half as much.”
I continued. “It’s not really about the sugar, it’s more about the science. If you remove the sugar, odds are you will need to replace it with something else. Sugar does more than simply sweeten; it affects the structure, the texture. Might I suggest,” I pointed to the cake nestled in her slender hands, “The flourless chocolate cake. Pick up some fresh fruit and serve it on the side. You won’t be burdened with too much sugar. The chocolate will be just sweet enough, but not too sweet. Is that what you had in mind?” Bingo.
It’s ghastly hot outside and our in-bakery weather forecaster Sharon has shown us on her phone that a threat of severe weather is inching its way in our direction. As I scrape down the bench, there is a clap of thunder and the skies open. Through the front window you can see the rain pouring both vertically and horizontally. Sharon has her finger on the weather pulse. She is also a big proponent of pie for dinner. I like the way she thinks. Thirty minutes later, the rains veer north and I make a break for it. It is just as sticky and ghastly as it was before the deluge.
It’s too hot for anything but maybe ice cream. Glancing at the crowd in the local ice cream parlor, I’m not the only one with this idea. If Megan and James believe that pie makes a fine lunch, it surely follows that pie and ice cream are perfectly acceptable for dinner. Megan and James should meet Sharon. I'll bring the ice cream and we won't worry about the sugar.