Friday, July 29, 2016

Amie Smith on becoming a baker on Cape Cod

HALLIE EPHRON: We’ve all dreamed about that moment of transformation when we remake ourselves. I did it when I was working in high tech and contemplated becoming a writer.

It started in my head. Seeing myself as a writer. Then becoming one gradually. Day by day. Step by step. Taking classes. Writing essays. Joining a writing group. Starting a novel. NOT quitting my day job but cutting back so I could write... until the transformation was complete.

When I worked in high tech, I worked with Amie Smith who went on to transform herself, too, but into something I consider much harder and riskier. BLAM: One day she was a corporate marketing writer and the next day she was opening Amie Bakery on Cape Cod in scenic Osterville.

Or… maybe it wasn't quite that sudden. I invited her today to JUNGLE RED to share her story.

AMIE SMITH: I think all creative people need an outlet. After completing the professional pastry program at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. I wanted to make so many things but had no place to serve them. It also became my mission to educate people about authenticity in pastry.

Mass produced, chemically processed dessert is the rule. I wanted to be the exception.

From the time I graduated in 2009 I knew I wanted a storefront. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2014 that the right space suddenly became available. I needed to gut it and start over. I jumped in with both feet. I had lots of experience with construction projects and zero experience running a food operation. It was the scariest time of my life.

My father was a baker before I was born. Ironically, he left the job after I was born due to the long hours. Every year we would make a huge batch of butter cookies using a bakery-size formula (translation—hundreds upon hundreds of cookies). One day he took me to his friend’s bakery and I was mesmerized, watching pastries being made all day long.

HALLIE: What was it like, setting up the space? And did you get help from someone who’d been there?

AMIE: Once I started renovations, every single day people were stopping by and telling me stories about previous owners or how their grandparents used to take them there. I quickly realized this place had a storied past. Coincidentally, one of the legendary owners, Peg Mullen, used to own my house! 

The space was in dire need of updating and I wanted to evoke some of the nostalgia of the former soda fountain but make it feel like you were visiting a beautiful café in Paris too.

As for planning the kitchen and the rest of the operations, I had also read a lot about how to open a bakery; I attended a course at King Arthur Flour on this topic, spoke to countless mentors and friends in the industry, and became familiar with local health department requirements.

HALLIE: Your baked goods are fabulous. What’s your best seller, and where’d the recipe come from?

AMIE: Our most popular items is a raspberry walnut shortbread bar. It’s not only one of my favorites, but also it is a sentimental favorite. Barbara Gitto was my dearest friend’s mother and she lived in Osterville—and that is how I came to know this beautiful village. She was an amazing baker and this is her recipe.

On the savory side, our quiche flies out of our cases.

HALLIE: Why are you so passionate about baking from scratch? Isn’t it more profitable to resell desserts made elsewhere?

AMIE: Food evokes emotions and memories and I realized how much I missed the baked treats  grew up with—and that few people today even know or understand what baked goods were like a long time ago, or have tasted Swiss meringue buttercream.

I like to tell people to look for the perfection of imperfection. If the crust looks like it’s precision cookie cutter and every crust is identical, it’s likely that it is mass produced.

HALLIE: My day begins at 7 at the computer. Yours begins... where, when? And when does it end?

AMIE: Well, being open seven days a week in this kind of business has meant being at work 24x7. My bakers start at either 4 or 5 a.m. depending on the time of year and if they have issues or questions, I have to address text messages at all hours.

So my day can start in bed getting a text at 4 a.m. or a bit later around 7 at the computer and goes until the shop closes.

HALLIE: Would you be willing to share one recipe with us?

AMIE: Absolutely. I just reformulated our coconut macaroon recipe and it’s one of the easiest things to make. Macaroons are often my go-to recipe when I’m at home and I need a quick dessert for dinner. It also happens to be gluten-free, which is a popular request at the shop.

14 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup melted chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Line sheet pan with parchment paper.
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Whip the egg whites and salt on high to medium-firm peaks.
Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
Use an ice cream scoop to form macaroons. Mixture is a bit loose so pack scoop and gently dispense.
Bake 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool and dip in melted chocolate if desired. Store in refrigerator or airtight container.

Yield 13 (if using a 2-3 oz ice cream scoop)

HALLIE: J'adore coconut macaroons. This is my sweet spot. What are yours, and do you have bakery like Amie's where you can indulge in the perfect imperfectios? 

Amie Bakery is right in the middle of Osterville on Cape Cod at 3 Wianno St. Her web site is full of advice on baking and the right tools and gadgets.


Joan Emerson said...

Oh, your bakery sounds wonderful, Amie. And thanks for the recipe!

Although I like most anything sweet, dark chocolate brownies are a particular favorite. The grandbabies all like chocolate chip cookies, but everyone gobbles up the cinnamon rolls and the bacon cheddar scones . . . .
We have several nice bakeries around us, but I love baking, so I tend to bake it myself.

Karen in Ohio said...

Ooh, I also love coconut macaroons! Thank you for the recipe, Amie, and for sharing your story.

Cincinnati has several European pastry shops, lucky us. Not as many as twenty years ago, I'm afraid.

Karen in Ohio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hallie Ephron said...

I live in a suburb of Boston where we have zero ZERO pastry shops. So if you're considering a branch, Amie, come to Milton!

Edith Maxwell said...

What a treat! We have two yummy pastry shops right here in Amesbury, although I rarely indulge. Good for you, Amie, for following your dream.

Grace Koshida said...

Thank you for sharing your journey, Amie, and the delicious coconut macaroons recipe.

Yes, we are lucky (or unlucky) to have several French-style bakeries within short walking distance of home in Ottawa ON. However, I rarely buy since I am an avid home baker, and make most of my dessert creations at home.

Hallie Ephron said...

Grace, what are your 'signature' desserts?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Coconut macaroons! My favorite favorite favorite. It was so great to see you in Osterville-- your story is inspirational. ( especially today! )

Amie said...

Thank you all for your kind words! I am often asked to open in various locations and I would love to expand. I just have to clone myself :) When I can figure out the formula to replicate while retaining quality you may see an AMIE Bakery in your town. If you make the macaroons, I'd love to see a photo and hear your feedback.

Joan, I'm curious if you use dark brown sugar in your brownies. I find that adds depth of flavor.

Hank, it was great to see you in Osterville as well and congratulations on your latest book. You and Hallie have both inspired me to start writing my book about opening the bakery.

bookwoman said...

And if you would like to read a book by a baker I recommend The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller - not a mystery but a lovely summer novel

Mary Sutton said...

What a great story! I think I might be in the middle of my transformation. Four more years (until The Boy graduates high school) before I can take the next step.

I like baking myself and I make a mean piecrust, but when I'm in a jam I go to Oakmont Bakery. Everything always looks perfect, but not identical. Production on a large scale, but still a handmade touch.

FChurch said...

No great little bakeries close--something I seek out when I travel. The macaroon recipe will go in my 'must-try' file, for sure!

One of my college interns (in archaeology) confessed that she was thinking of moving to Minnesota after graduation to open a bakery. My advice: 'Go for it!' And so she did.

Amie said...

@bookwoman, thank you for this recommendation! I can't wait to pick it up.

Mary, I completely understand. After I graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education, it took me five years before I could open the bakery. I like to believe the opportunity is always there for anyone who has desire and determination. I'd interested to know if you use anything acidic in your pie crust. I use white vinegar. Sounds gross but works wonders for tenderness. I also like to use add-ins in my crust like crumbled bacon for something savory and various citrus zests for sweets. I love checking out other bakeries--will put Oakmont on the list, thank you!

@FChurch, I'm so happy to hear you encouraged your intern to go for it and that she did it. I always said from the start that even if the shop did not work out, I would consider it a success because I did it.

Mary Sutton said...

Annie, nope. Got the recipe and technique from my grandmother - just flour, lard, and ice water. A pinch of salt. I'll have to try vinegar.

Oakmont is divine. Made Best Bakery in America in some magazine back in 2013. If you're ever in town, I'll give you a tour!

Joan Emerson said...

Amie, I do indeed use dark brown sugar when I make brownies.

Crumbled bacon in a quiche crust? Sounds heavenly . . . .

Hallie Ephron said...

What amazes me more than shortbread or brownies is anyone who can make a croissant. Amie, is there any hope for a home cook to make one, or is it just one of those things better left to the experts with the right oven (and the butter).

And how much difference DOES the oven make?

Michele Dorsey said...

Amie, I love your passion! Your bakery is one more reason I am happy to have moved to Cape Cod. Coconut macaroons are definitely worthy of a field trip to Osterville.

Amie said...

Mary, I love that you are using your grandmother's recipe and technique. I can "taste" how good it is! Whenever someone tells me they use a family recipe I can usually bet it's great. We use a pasta frolla recipe (it's an Italian short crust) I learned while taking a class in Umbria at my mentor's school, Cucina della Terra. The recipe also uses eggs. It's pretty versatile as it also can be used for cookies. I will surely take you up on your offer should I make it there--thank you!

Joan, it's heavenly--and I must say that idea came from a customer who loves our quiche. It's a winner! Bacon really makes everything better!

Amie said...

Hallie, there's always hope :). Croissants just require more time because of all the required "turns" to create the layers and resting time in between. Room temperature always plays a part in how dough behaves (or misbehaves lol!) so that's another consideration you have to take into account. By the way, there's a great class on homemade croissants on

Great question about the oven. I've always used the traditional bake setting on my oven at home. The convection option it allows for even distribution of the heat, but for a long time I was afraid to change what I was doing. Every oven is different so you have to experiment with your own oven as the calibration can be off (it's good to have an oven thermometer to check accuracy) and perform differently. Once you "get to know" your oven you can bake accordingly when making your recipes. You should always reduce the temperature by 25 degrees when using convection. Our ovens at the shop are all convection and very powerful. That was another learning curve I did not anticipate as many of the recipes I planned to use had to be adjusted in terms of baking time and temp.

Michele, thank you--if you make your field trip to Osterville, message me and I'll be sure to be there to say hello.

Ann in Rochester said...

Oh my! Desserts! I bake almost anything save croissants. My go to fav is the chocolate cake recipe on the back of the King Arthur cake flour box. The secret is the coffee I think. Re croissants, if you aren't in Paris, try the frozen ones from Trader Joe's. Let rise in a cold oven overnight and then bake for breakfast. I like the plain ones best but they also have almond and chocolate plus those Breton queen cakes that I can neither pronounce nor spell. It's not cheating to use TJs.

Ann said...

They are kouign-amanns. I still can't pronounce thi

Amie said...

Ann, I know that KA recipe is popular. I really like their recipes in genera and only use their flour. Coffee always enhances chocolate and I always add some when I'm making chocolate cake. Trader Joes is a great shortcut for sure--and kouign-amanns are fantastic. They are on my list to make but I can assure you I've eaten plenty! And yes, I get caught on the pronunciation too but you aced the spelling :)

Anonymous said...

Amie, I am so proud of you! I am still working in high tech and reading about both of you makes me there a way out? Grins. I love what you are doing there. I hope to come someday when I am back in MA. Lisa Scheuplein

Hallie Ephron said...

Frozen croissants from Trader Joe's! Thanks for the advice, Ann. And we had those cakes in Britanny - pure butter as I recall.

Hi, Lisa - I did it a little at a time. Really over 10 years.
And high tech is a pretty benign place to be. (Though to be absolutely honest having a husband with a steady job made it an easier risk to take.)

Amie said...

Lisa, thank you so much--always a way out lol--but it sure is not easy. There is so much I love about working in high tech too. My change came about with the 2008 downturn in the economy, which was usually my busiest time because clients would outsource work to me. When that was not happening, it was the first time I was ever out of work. I lost my purpose and I was very depressed. Hardly any calls, huge slowdown in emails, few clients to see--and lots of project proposals with no available marketing budgets. Oh, and a complete loss of income.

I was forced to make a change and it turned out to open a door to another passion (that was suppressed because I always liked to bake but I had forgotten how much I loved it). Listen to the universe and your heart and when the timing is right, you will do whatever feels right.

I think my best advice is to prepare as much as you can (I've always planned for the rainy day) and know that even with all the prep and 'what ifs' you will always have surprises and challenges. I am the queen of playing "worst case scenario" and I can't tell you how many times I never saw "x" coming after taking on the shop. However, all of the challenges have helped me learn a lot and I consider mistakes as a gift (perhaps not at the moment!)

As with absolutely anything--there are highs and lows--and the highs are on days like today when I get to be part of this wonderful blog or on days when I meet and speak with people from all over the world who love the shop. When I am having a low day, it's like what I told the lady at New England Refrigeration when I was upset about yet another piece of equipment breaking down--"Having a bakery is NOT like Meryl Streep in the movie "It's Complicated!" :)

I hope to see you at the shop one day too!

Amie said...

To reference Hallie's point and to clarify my comment about a complete loss of income, my husband also works. It is easier to take the risk if you have some backup. I had the rainy day savings and my husband was still working. One of my classmates did not have the same cushion, but she also took the risk and has now opened her third shop. I also know several bakers who start out at a farmers market and then expand. There are many possibilities to make change happen.

Joan Emerson said...

Oh, my goodness, Amie, the coconut macaroons are fabulous! [We drizzled the melted dark chocolate on the top of each cookie instead of dipping them.] Just wonderful . . . .

Grace Koshida said...

Hi Hallie.
I make different types of desserts depending on the season. In summer, either a peach or sour cherry galette. In autumn/winter, a pear tart. For X'mas, I bake several almond stollen or cognac truffles to give out as gifts. My spring dessert would probably be a lemon tart. And then I have classic chocolate brownie and cake recipes for the chocoholics all year round.

Mia P. Manansala said...

There are a bunch of decent bakeries in Chicago, but I try to visit them as rarely as possible. I can't resist a good pastry (since I almost never make pastry at home) and there's a Japanese bakery that makes chocolate-filled buns in the shape of a smiling panda face. Adorable and delicious.

I bake just about every week for my students, so I tend to favor anything that can feed a crowd and is also non-fussy. Cookies, bars, brownies, and simple cakes are my go-to. My favorite thing to bake is probably a Filipino date-and-walnut bar known as Food for the Gods. It's our version of fruitcake (but it actually tastes good) and is traditionally made around Christmastime. It's easy and delicious, so I make it year-round ^^

Kathy Reel said...

So sorry I didn't get to Jungle Reds until late tonight. Aime, I think you have one of the best jobs/career there is. You make people happy all day long. How great is that! Wish I lived near your wonderful bakery.

Amie said...

Joan, I am thrilled that you made the coconut macaroons and loved them! I’m so happy you drizzled the chocolate because it’s such a nice touch. Another consideration for macaroons or any other cookie dough is to come up with other great combinations for add-ins. You can add nuts and dried fruits to the macaroon mixture too—think of some orange zest with chopped dried cranberries, for example!

Grace, I love making desserts according to the season too—and it reminded me that I took a course with Jenny McCoy and she has a gorgeous book called “Desserts for all Seasons.” The recipes are amazing. I’m also happy you mentioned truffles. They are another easy and most impressive treat to whip up. By simply making a ganache (chocolate and cream that can be infused with an infinite number of possibilities) you can make a delicious gift or serve it as just the right bite of rich chocolate for something sweet after dinner. Do you make your own lemon curd?

Mia, I love that you bake for your students! I remember in elementary school we used to do a baking project every Friday. You are creating such beautiful memories for your students. My mother recently sent me a handmade cookbook from the 4th grade that contained a recipe from each classmate—and gasp—my recipe used a box of Duncan Hines cake mix! I’m going to check out Food for the Gods—sounds delicious!

Kathy, thank you. I am lucky to be able to pursue my passion—and to me, pastry=happiness. It is fun to make people smile all day. I always joke that no one ever gave me a hug over a brochure on data storage. I get many notes of thanks or people stopping by to let me know how much they enjoyed something from the bakery. It’s very rewarding. If you’re ever in the area, please come by!

Deb Vallone said...

Amie, congratulations for all your successes! Working at Digital with you, if there is one thing I remember, you had an entrepreneur spirit! I am not surprised you pursued your dream and made it a reality. Next time I'm on the Cape I will surely stop to see you and try your goodies. Hallie was also a favorite manager to me and I have read all her books!

storytellermary said...

Courageous to follow your dreams! My favorite little bakery recently moved from a tiny storefront with iffy neighbors to a big space on a more trafficked route. They've worked hard fixing up the space, which now has room for meeting friends for coffee and . . . so many choices. They started selling baked goods at farmers' markets, and so deserve their better space, with room to consider offering classes at some point. Have great fun! <3

Grace Koshida said...

Thanks, Amie, for the tip about Jenny McCoy's book, Desserts for all Seasons. I will look for it. And yes, I used to make customized truffles for my friends - they chose the flavour/liqueur to add to the ganache like you said. But these days, I just stick to my favourite to give out. And yes, I do make my own lemon's so easy to do. The jarred stuff is pricey.

Amie said...

Deb, thank you so much for your kind words. One of the best things that has happened to me when I've reconnected with people who have been in my life is hearing things they remember about me.

We were so lucky to have Hallie as our manager and it's a thrill to be in touch again--and reading her books!
I would love to see you next time you're on the Cape. :)

Amie said...

@storytellermary, Thank you! I love hearing about your favorite bakery--especially that they were able to take off and create another great space. Teaching is my other passion (I taught at Northeastern University part-time for 15 years) and my goal is to expand AMIE Academie. We've had many classes this year and they get posted to my website (but disappear as they are completed). This summer I had hoped to do more, but it's tough with our current production and schedule so we'll be picking up in the fall. If people ask and can get a minimum of four people I will schedule class. If any bakery is able to provide classes, it's great for business as well as the community--and classes are a lot of fun!

Grace, you're welcome. I like Jenny's style and her cookbooks are beautiful. She also recently published Modern Eclairs if choux is something you like to make. I agree, the jarred curd is pricey--i love that you make your own!