After getting hooked on The Great British Bake Off with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, I am leaving no ball of dough unturned. I’m either meticulously weighing flour and yeast on my kitchen scale, tucking in a batch of ciabatta rolls for their second rise, or sitting on my kitchen floor staring in awe into the oven as my breads bake. When I was waking up in the middle of the night to stretch and fold a batch of dough mid-rise, I knew it was time to get help. I needed to talk with kindred spirits. Lucky for me, a few of Bloomington’s baking women answered my call.
A Bloomington Bakery Tale: Roll it, and pat it, and mark it with a B
The first thing you notice about the tray of cinnamon rolls at Two Sticks Bakery is their girth. These buns are supersized. Their familiar cinnamon swirls are all but hidden under a blanket of cream cheese frosting. Your eyes travel down to the printed description beneath the tray: Orange Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls. When you look back up, you notice the flecks of orange zest speckled in the frosting.
Oh no they didn’t.
How can this be? What were they thinking, messing with an iconic roll, taunting childhood memories with cardamom and orange zest?!
But Kassie Jensen and Amanda Armstrong, owners of this little gem of a bakery, did just that.
One bite in and you get it. Your teeth sink into the yeasty dough, dense and pillowy. An explosion of cinnamon tickles your nose and coats your tongue as it mixes with the bold, creamy frosting. Your senses transport you to a time (one that may never have actually existed) of sweet and carefree youth. But it doesn’t stop there. For here is the masterstroke: As the first bite slides down your throat, you detect a note of orange accompanied by a subtle echo of cardamom. It works! Your grown-up palate rejoices and you are seduced. Two Sticks Bakery’s cinnamon rolls are nostalgic and hip, traditional and creative. The next bite beckons.
Kassie and Amanda’s sweet spot at 415 S. Washington St. opened in July. “We named it Two Sticks because every good recipe starts with — at least — two sticks of butter!” says Amanda. Raised in rural Indiana, Amanda had no formal culinary training. “My mom is a fabulous baker and taught me at a young age to bake,” she says. “We made most of our food from scratch growing up, which meant there was a lot to bake!” She went on to earn a degree in nutrition and dietetics from Marian College in Indianapolis, worked as a dietician and a personal chef, and was a stay-at-home mom. She moved with her family to Bloomington in 2010. Then, in 2016, “I put up my homeschooling apron and took up the chef’s coat at Feast.”
Kassie grew up in Lowell, Indiana, in Lake County, just outside of Chicago. She earned a degree in kinesiology from Indiana University and trained in baking and pastry at the Art Institute in Indianapolis. Her partner, Jason Mirtl, was the impetus for their move to Bloomington. Kassie started her food career at Bloomington Bagel Company and went on to establish herself as the head pastry chef at Feast Bakery Cafe, where she worked for eight years. She then sold custom cakes and goodies under the Two Sticks banner at the Smithville Farmers’ Market.
“Amanda and I decided to become partners after working together at Feast,” Kassie says. “We discovered we had similar dreams and passion for having our own business and were in similar places in life to be able to do it together.”
“We love the community,” she adds. And they love to bake. Amanda: “I love pastry and yeast dough the most! I love how cutting the butter or mixing and rolling in different ways produces completely different results. I love the precision that it requires … and the science behind baking.” For Kassie: “I love to decorate cake and bake cookies. I like variety, finding what is in season and keeping things interesting.”
Bloomington. Food. Italian grandmothers. Love.
Sue Aquila, owner of Bloomington Bagel Company (and Kassie’s former boss), came to Bloomington for graduate school. “I fell in love and I stayed,’” she smiles. She was raised in Buffalo, New York, where food was a recurring theme. “I loved the traditional bakeries in Buffalo. My mother had a subscription to Bon Appétit. She would have me cook for her dinner parties from the recipes in the magazine.” Her very Italian paternal grandmother was a fantastic cook, Sue says. “I loved to eat and I loved her.”
Sue was raised Catholic only to discover in her late 20s that her mother’s side of the family had been Polish-Russian Jews, who, perhaps in fear or anticipation of the devastation of European Jewry in World War II, converted to Catholicism. It might help to explain her identification with Jewish people. “I loved the acceptance,” she says. “I appreciated the tolerance and support.”
Maybe the lure of bagels had a genetic component to it!
Sue found a mentor in William Hays Jr., mayor of Crawfordsville.
“In 1995, the bagel industry was taking off in Buffalo. I wrote a 20-page business plan for a bagel bakery in Bloomington. I showed it to Bill and he wanted to do it.” When she was 27, Sue went back to Buffalo to learn the craft of bagel baking with the Buffalo Bagel Bakers’ Organization. She honed her skills back in Bloomington, working the night shift at The Daily Bread, a bakery that was on College Mall Road. When the Kinko’s at 113 N. Dunn St. opted not to renew their lease, Marjorie Hutchinson, the building’s owner, rented it out to Sue.
“On BBC’s third day of operation, I blew out the third year [projections] of my business plan,” recalls Sue.
And as for the bagels? “I have kept the original recipes. No filler. No preservatives. Which is why they turn into hockey pucks by the end of the night,” she says. “They are still handmade using fresh yeast, Bloomington filtered water, high-gluten flour, liquid malt, and salt.”
Twenty-two-plus years later, BBC has four locations. The original shop on North Dunn Street has been renovated and is now owned by Sue, who says, “Marjorie eventually sold me this location. But I still consider her my landlady.” Such is the sense of connection and community in this town.
The Italian grandmother connection, continued
Maria Carlassare owns Piccoli Dolci, a thriving business here in town. She grew up in Padova, Italy, near Venice. “My grandma was a great cook,” she says, “doing things from scratch and every weekend having fun with her grandchildren. She cooked fun things for us — fried, sweet, and savory stuff that our parents did not dare to cook — fresh pasta, traditional regional recipes. She is still a model for me. Her creative spirit and festive approach still inspire me, gathering around the table, making and sharing good food with family and friends.”
Maria received a master’s degree in agricultural sciences from Penn State University, then headed back to Italy to pursue a doctorate. She and her family came to Bloomington when her husband was offered a position at IU.
“Not finding a job related to what I studied,” says Maria, “I started to look for something in the food business. In Italy, I took a pastry class before we moved to the U.S., and here in Bloomington I started experimenting with traditional Italian recipes. … I selected nine cookie recipes from Italy that were either regional or heirloom or characteristic of an Italian breakfast or tea snack.”
At first, she wholesaled her products to Bloomingfoods and Goods For Cooks. Later, she branched out to coffee shops here in town. She also has a very popular stall at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market.
“Piccoli Dolci is a way to bring to Bloomington a piece of the great Italian food culture,” she notes with pride. “It’s a way to show that food made from scratch with high-quality ingredients makes a lot of sense, makes people satisfied, and it’s a way to promote a certain style of life.” Piccoli dolci translates into “little sweets.” She adds, “Enjoy your food in company. Eat less and better.”
Her nonna, no doubt, would have been very proud.
No training? No problem!
Danielle “Dani” Doyle traces her baking joy to her grandmother, too. She grew up in West Lafayette and moved to Bloomington 12 years ago to attend IU. She met her husband, Daniel, during their freshman year when they both lived in Forest dorm.
“We decided to get our wedding cake from BLU Boy [112 E. Kirkwood],” reminisces Dani, “and after meeting the owner, David [Dr. David Fletcher] for our cake consultation, I thought to myself that this would be an awesome place to work. Unfortunately, at the time, BLU wasn’t hiring. Fast forward a few months when I had to come back to the store to pay the balance for our wedding cake and, sure enough, they were hiring! I submitted my application, and a week later I was hired as front-of-house/barista.”
Some months went by and Dani expressed an interest in back-of-house production. Double majors in classics and religious studies with minors in art history and Latin were not the necessary prerequisites for the job. But this is Bloomington, after all. “I was fortunate enough to find a position with an amazing kitchen staff and owner who took it upon themselves to teach me how to bake professionally in BLU’s kitchen,” she smiles. Before she knew it, she was a pastry chef.
“I like that I can create something from nothing,” she says, “and that something will, hopefully, be an awesome treat for someone else’s day.” Her favorite thing to make at the shop are the chocolates. “I can play around with flavors, textures, ratios.” And, she admits, “Making chocolates has been the thing that has taken the longest to master, and are the most special things we produce.”
This past July, Danielle Doyle celebrated her fifth year as BLU Boy’s C.O.O.
Home, sweet, home
Samantha Eibling, co-owner of Goods For Cooks (115 N. College Avenue), is a native daughter. Born and raised in Bloomington and a graduate of IU, she met her husband, Doug, while waiting tables at Janko’s Little Zagreb. Doug’s job took them around the country. And while it was fun, Sam admits, “it was not grounding.” They were away for 13 years.
During that time, Sam recounts, “we had a daughter and I lost my father. It was time to settle and raise our daughter in a community we felt truly connected to. When we lived in North Carolina, I worked at Fresh Market. Then in Kansas City, after quitting a stressful corporate job, I began working in a privately owned kitchen store called Pryde’s Kitchen. It was then that our diets improved and we became more adventurous in the kitchen. The experience stuck with us.” Last year, when Goods was for sale, the stars all aligned. She and her brother, George Huntington, manager of Bloomingfoods for 20 years, bought the store. “It felt right. We had the right combination of retail, food, and kitchen-store experience and a desire to usher a Bloomington institution into the future.”
Sam loves everything about baking. “Although,” she confides candidly, “I consider myself an artisanal baker, which just means I tend not to follow instructions super close and things often come out looking rustic. If you like pies, cakes, bread, and cookies — I’m game. I like things that are forgiving.” Her favorite things to bake “by far,” she says, “are biscuits and scones. They mean everything to me, just ask anyone.”
Goods For Cooks stocks it all to get the job done, as well as every kitchen gadget, pot, pan, dish, and towel that you never knew you needed but suddenly do.
They came, they saw, they baked!
Take a large mixing bowl. Fill it with flour, yeast, salt, and water. Cover it and place it in a cozy spot in your kitchen and watch it bloom, rise, and grow.
Place a creative person in Bloomington, surround her with caring mentors and a supportive community, and watch her grow.
Our town draws talented people from all over the world. Some nurture our minds, some our souls, and some our taste buds and our bellies. Bloomington is where you blossom.