Over the last few years I’ve managed to stretch my love of cooking into a career that has lead me to become a food photographer, gardener, marketing director for Orlando’s largest caterer, and now a baker.
Thanks to our Executive Pastry Chef, Karen Williams, I have successfully baked four bread recipes in my own home. More than just being able to make bread that is soft and delicious, which was not the case for loaf one, two and three, Chef Karen helped me reconnect to the little girl who grew up making pies by the dozen on an apple orchid, minutes from the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario.
At age 11, the decision to move away from the farm, to live in the city was difficult to accept and I found myself also moving away from many of the creative outlets that brought me joy, including baking. Fast forward through high school, college, boyfriends, being a grown up, and I realize I have spent decades avoiding bread (and carbs in general) for all the wrong reasons.
PNS Catering House Made Breads • Photo Credit Rosena Usmani
Recently, I was lured back to baking by the delicate aroma of fresh bread that wafts from the bakery inside the Puff n’ Stuff Catering kitchen. At first it was a bite to taste, then a slice and eventually an entire loaf of brioche, in lieu of cake on my birthday. But great tasting bread is just one of Chef Karen’s many talents; she is an inspiring teacher who welcomes everyone to her bakery, consummate professional and one of the most genuine people I have ever encountered.
Baking along side, or rather watching in awe of Chef Karen, I learned that her love of food started with her grandmother at a very young age. After taking culinary classes in high school, she was hooked and has been cooking ever since. As she recounts her experiences working on both the savory and sweet side of the kitchen, she patiently repeats the suspiciously simple steps to mixing dough and explains why gluten is the bestie we all want to know.
Instantly, I am 11 again and smiling with delight, as she shares her technique for shaping dough, that I admit takes several attempts to "get a feel for".
After a lifetime in the kitchen, Chef Karen still works hard at fine-tuning her craft. “I constantly seek out new recipes to try and I’m always testing”. Although you will not see Chef Karen on site at our events, her handwork is omnipresent and with a quick glance it's easy to notice the difference between house made and store bought.
Sweet Treats Platter • Photo Credit Rosena Usmani
Although baking is a science, Chef Karen brings a high level of artistry to every recipe. She encourages me to, “get a feel for the dough” and imparts the knowledge that baking is 1/3 recipe, 1/3 experience and 1/3 instinct. Like a magician, she effortlessly combines technique, ingredient and her own brand of bakery-magic to create pastries and breads that are the perfect balance of flavor and sweet.
Our Sweet Treats Platter, making it’s debute on our new Premium Platter menu is proof positive of her extraordinary passion and extreme attention to detail. Take for example the mascarpone mousse in chocolate cups topped with gooseberries. I mean, who does that? Even recipes that I’ve eaten a hundred times, such as chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cheesecake are marvelously prepared so that every bite transports me back to the happiest childhood memories.
Mascarpone Mousse in Chocolate Cups • Photo Credit Rosena Usmani
So, as I sit at my table enjoying the baked French toast I whipped up (with the fresh bread I made last night), I’m content knowing that bread and baking has once again found its rightful place in my life. It is nothing short of magic and it is all thanks to Chef Karen.