Meet Our Third Annual 2018 Baker’s Dozen

Illustration by Larissa Tomlin

The Pastry Powerhouse
Umber Ahmad
Owner of Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery | New York, New York

Formerly a banker on Wall Street, Umber Ahmad combines business savvy, cosmopolitan flair, and world-class pastry skills in her Manhattan-based bakery, Mah-Ze-Dahr—a name that recalls her Pakistani heritage and roughly translates from Urdu to “unexpected magic.” “I don’t think food should be monochromatic; there should always be multiple layers and an underlying tension —sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy,” Umber says. Here are the three signature bites that best showcase her vision:

The Devil in Ganache Cake:
It’s a devil’s food cake that we make with buttermilk, coffee, and cocoa and then finish off with a ganache frosting. The frosting settles into and softens the cake layers. It’s the perfect uncomplicated chocolate experience.

Pistachio Raspberry Rose Tart:
This brings a lot of different flavors and textures together: a buttery, flaky crust; a creamy pistachio pastry cream; and soft, fresh raspberries. We incorporate a little rose water, very prevalent in Pakistani cuisine. I love introducing that unexpected flavor profile into something more traditional.

Vanilla Soft-Serve Ice Cream:
We make it completely from scratch in-house with all-natural ingredients. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came from a restaurant critic who took a bite and said, “This is the best Dairy Queen I’ve ever had.” It took him back to his childhood, and we elevated that memory into the adult version.

Illustration by Larissa Tomlin

The Baking Tutor
Zoë François
Cookbook Author and Baking Instructor | Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Looking to sharpen your skills, but don’t have time to attend a baking class? Fret not. Visit Zoë François’s Instagram profile to find dozens of highlighted Instagram stories on everything from a demonstration on how to properly pipe profiteroles to a lesson in making matzo. Utilizing the Instagram story feature, Zoë has spearheaded a smart, relevant way to break down baking for the masses.

Photo courtesy Zoë François

MEET THE TEACHER:
The former pastry chef and author of the best-selling The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day series has been teaching baking since 1997. From her blog to her video classes on Craftsy and now with her Instagram stories, Zoë has adapted her teaching approach to remain effective with a modern audience. With over 44,000 Instagram followers, this teacher has more than enough pets.

UNDERSTAND HER METHOD:
Using her iPhone and a tripod, Zoë films herself making recipes for all skill levels—from start to finish—and shares them as stories daily. With everything from contemporary pop and ’90s R & B to indie rock and Motown playing in the background, Zoë’s videos feature amazing soundtracks, which she’s usually dancing to (because who doesn’t like to bust a move or two when they’re baking?). She highlights each story so it remains in her profile for followers to reference anytime they may need it. The Instagram story feature breaks down each recipe step into 15-second clips, so the entire process is more easily digestible.

Illustration by Larissa Tomlin

The Icon
Rose Levy Beranbaum
Cookbook Author | Hope, New Jersey

For every generation of home cook, there is a great culinary teacher. Julia Child. James Beard. Jacques Pépin. And for baking, there has been one premier guru: Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose penned her master’s thesis in food education about sifting cake flour in 1975; eight years later, she baked James Beard’s 80th birthday cake; five years after that, she published her seminal cookbook The Cake Bible. Three more bibles were to follow—Pie and Pastry, Bread, and Baking—and her baking philosophy has always remained the same: the devil or, more apt, the genius is in the details.

The educational seeds she’s planted throughout her career have borne particularly sweet fruit. “I’ve always been about empowering the home baker. It used to be that the only good pastry you could get was in bakeries in Europe. Now, I truly believe that home baking has eclipsed all other forms because people finally have the information to become great bakers,” Rose says.

Photo by Matthew Septimus

Rose has had an equally important hand in revolutionizing the baker’s tools. Her 1988 classic The Cake Bible helped bring kitchen scales into the mainstream. What Rose couldn’t find in the marketplace to accommodate her baking needs, she invented. “The thermometers that were available when I started out baking were really toys, so I made my own,” she recalls. More recently, Rose turned out her Perfect Pie Plate, a ceramic dish with a deep fluted rim that makes crimping edges a cinch. This isn’t to say that Rose wants more precision tools and equipment that eliminate any thought process. “People are losing the ability to cook and bake by touch or intuition because everything is so automated,” she laments. Her upcoming cookbook, Rose’s Baking Basics, is all about a return to this simple yet essential scratch baking.

Photo by Matthew Septimus

It’s a culmination of all of her baking wisdom, featuring 100 base recipes and over 600 step-by-step photos. After 40-plus years working on the scientific side of baking, Rose still has plenty to teach and a new generation of bakers who are hungry to learn.

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