Chef Kaley Laird’s local and sustainable pastry creations
By Bakers Journal
Kaley Laird, the executive pastry chef of Rhubarb knows how sustainability is affecting the baking industry. It’s an extra challenge when working almost exclusively with local grain and produce.
The young pastry chef will not compromise on flavour, despite customer demand for her more popular cakes. If it’s not in season, Chef Laird explains, fruit looses much of its sweetness, and sometimes, its texture.
It may seem counter-intuitive for chefs to refuse a guest. Considering that a chef’s reputation is built on the quality of their creations, creating something that is less than excellent is not an option for Laird. As any chef knows, good food starts with good ingredients, and Laird will not compromise the quality of her work with sub-par fruit or fillings.
“I’ll have a wedding cake requests in the winter, and they want strawberry filing in their cake. I’ll have to say, ‘I’m sorry we don’t do that,’ and explain to the guests why, even though it’s their wedding and you should be able to have whatever you want. But we don’t do that here,” emphasizes Laird. “I don’t want to that, either, because I don’t want to give you terrible, oversized, flavourless strawberries in the middle of winter just because you’re adamant about putting that in your wedding cake.”
Laird handles special requests and wedding cakes with grace. ““I have a cake tasting that I have to do this weekend, but the wedding isn’t until next fall, actually, and they’re adamant about tasting a cake that has apple butter in it. It’s filled with apple butter and caramel, and very fall-flavoured. They want to taste it now and I had to told them many times, ‘no,’ because we don’t have any apples right now. If we could, they would be mealy and not have a good flavour, and I wouldn’t do that.”
Laird understands how the customer-is-always-right mentality paired with unrealistic expectations can create a gap between chefs and clients. However, she’s adamant that knowledge is the key to bridging that gap. That is where Laird takes the time to explain the quality of her art “That’s a really difficult part, having to say no, then explaining why. It’s something I want to do for them, and trying to educate them, that’s a big part of what we do: Education.”
Education plays a big part of with the staff at Rhubarb. The chefs even take turns to teach amateur chefs how to put the “art” into artisanal breads at the local bread festival. However, the more challenging aspect of working with seasonal ingredients is the unpredictability of certain harvests. Having less or too much of a certain fruit affects menu decisions and can test the creativity of any chef.
“We find what we can work with and we find ways to try to preserve it, then we try to work with it year ‘round,” Laird says. “But sometimes, you have to start thinking outside of the box, because the yield was not what you had expected, or you had run out early. We can’t control when we run out of berries: We use them and use them and use them until we get told, ‘no, we don’t have any more for you to order.’ We go through a lot of product: We actually have some farmers that only sell to us because we use everything that they have. The hardest part is also saying ‘no’ to guests.”
Laird has the opportunity to say, “yes” to clients who can’t usually enjoy cake. Her naturally gluten-reduced and sustainable creation, the rhubarb and rye cake pairs a grain normally associated with bread, and turns it into a unexpected dessert.“It’s one of the signature cakes that we make here, and it’s one of the most requested items on our menu quite often…it is my own recipe.”
The rye flour comes from the local miller, Carolina Grounds. The miller creates her own varieties, among them a rye-based pastry flour called Crema Rye.
“It’s still one of those flours that people are still learning about, and are timid about using,” admits Laird. “So, I started putting it in cakes to bring out the flavours and do something a little different. The cake itself is made with Crema Rye and I make a rhubarb jam, for the filling and do layers of cake with the rhubarb jam with a pink peppercorn buttercream.”
The inspiration was derived from the abundance of rhubarb that came in to season.
“Once they’re here we have so much, we have to figure out how to use it through.” The solution was found in preserving the fruit in a jam, and Laird looked forward to working with Carolina Ground flours. “I was looking for innovative ways to use her ingredients.”
Aside from the challenge of working with either too much or too little produce, Laid has the additional task of trying to work within the limitations of gluten-free flour.
“Rye flour doesn’t have the same amount of gluten that bread flour, or AP flour has. You have to keep in mind the crumb structure is going to be completely different just like making bread, if you’re using rye flour in it, you’re not going to have the type of gluten strands that’s not going to be built the same way,” advises Laird. “So, you have to keep in mind that it’s not one of those items you can go 100 per cent on and expect the same mouthfeel and crumb structure. I recommend doing a mix, it can be done 100 per cent but that’s one of the struggles where, if it’s 100 per cent wheat-free… it’s a crumbly little mess, and really dry. Same thing, it absorbs moisture a little differently than regular AP flour. You may need to add a little more moisture, depending on the coarseness of the flour.”
Sustainable, local ingredients are still on menu the throughout winter, and pastry is not forgotten.
“For winter, I switch to a lot of sweet potato-based items. I do the same thing – same style of cake. I do a sweet potato cake then, we turn to donuts. We do a sweet potato brioche, and we use it a couple of different ways. One, as an actual loaf of brioche for sandwiches, and toad-in-a-hole, which is the bread you cut a hole out of and cook your egg in it. We also use it to make doughnuts. It’s a little savoury-sweet, because of the sweet potato brioche, and then it gives us the opportunity to switch up the glaze on it.”
“We do have to push the limit, sometimes. Like in fall and winter. Apples linger around more than they should, but it’s what’s available. If I couldn’t use apples, we would have no fruit in the winter,” explains Laird. “Items like that, sometimes we we still get them from local farms, but it’s not necessarily peak season, because you can’t always operate that way.”
Quality is never compromised with Chef Laird. It’s local, sustainable, but above all, always delicious.