Half-baked! A new generation of pros are actually amateurs

The Brooklyn Paper
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In Brooklyn, D.I.Y. is increasingly becoming L.L.C.

Thanks to a growing appreciation for local, handcrafted edibles — and a desire to know where one’s food comes from — more and more Brooklyn bakers have turned their delectable hobbies into something profitable.

Call them the “professional amateurs.”

“I’m not a pastry chef, and I’m not a confection­er,” said Jennifer Taylor-Miller, who works in children’s media by day and dabbles in the science of cookies by night — under the name Fatty Cakes. “I don’t have any professional experience. It’s just really fun figuring out what’s going to explode in the oven and what’s not.”

Taylor first realized there might be a market for her goodies when co-workers started gobbling up her outlandish Movie Theatre cookies — filled with chocolate chips, buttered popcorn and Swedish Fish — at work.

“People were like, ‘You should sell these.’ So I thought, why not?” said Taylor-Miller. So she started selling on and doing occasional corporate catering. These days, you’ll find her at the Red Hook Mercado.

Like Taylor-Miller, many aspiring culinary craftsmen have found it possible to take a detour from their day jobs and try their luck in the kitchen, working either out of rent-a-kitchens or friends’ commercial kitchens.

Alison Kave, the pie crust vixen behind the increasingly popular First Prize Pies, first realized her pies were something special when her ginger bourbon pecan took first prize at a bake-off last fall. She still works a day job in art, though probably not for long. Her confections are already on the menu at Fatty ’Cue (where her brother is executive chef) and the Hester Street Market in Manhattan.

“Five years ago, if I would have tried to do this, I don’t think it would have taken off,” said Kave. “There’s really an increased awareness and increased interest in buying local, high-quality food. If you’re going to do it, right now is the time.”

More than a few have managed to roll their toothsome hobbies into full-fledged careers — in the past few months alone amateur success has spawned cupcakery Cupcakeland in Williamsburg, newbie bakery Margo in Williamsburg and the wildly successful Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus, which started off merely as a custom pie operation run out of sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen’s apartment in Crown Heights.

Then again, not everyone has designs to turn pro.

“I have a full-time job that I love, so I’m not trying to be at every event in Brooklyn,” said Roopa Kalyanaraman, the cupcake mastermind behind Raspberry Bakeshop. “But it occurred to me, that if I’m making a cake for a friend of a friend’s birthday party, why shouldn’t I get paid for it?”

Kalyanaraman’s cupcakes are a hit for their unique flavors — combinations like cardamom, pistachio and rosewater are ones you don’t typically find in American dessert.

“I’m just having fun,” said Kalyanaraman, “but who knows where this will go?”

Look out Brooklyn bakers — the amateurs are on the rise.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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