The holidays bring out the baking gene in most of us, no matter how latent it may be during the rest of the year. We get out cartons of eggs, sticks of butter, boxes of sugar from light brown to dark and roll up our sleeves to start baking.
Now imagine spending all day, every day, surrounded by sugar, flour, butter, chocolate and dozens of jars of edible glitter. That’s the life of Joy Jessup and Rebecca Weil, proprietors of Sugar Spun Fun.
They met when they were working as pastry chefs at two Kevin Rathbun restaurants. Jessup was at Kevin Rathbun Steak, Weil at Rathbun’s. “When Joy came to work there it was wonderful to have someone to talk to. We’d get together for coffee in the morning and talk over ideas,” says Weil.
Their morning chats fueled the desire to start a business of their own. When asked how they decided on a name, Weil points to a cotton candy machine perched high on a shelf, purchased originally for her daughter’s birthday some years ago. They decided to name their business after the sweet spun threads of cotton candy.
“We thought we’d start with making hand pies and selling them at local farmers markets,” says Weil. But then Andre Gomez of Porch Light Latin Kitchen (who’d been chef de cuisine at Kevin Rathbun Steak) heard they were starting a business and said, “I want you to do my desserts.”
She explains that a high-end restaurant will generally have an in-house pastry chef, while others will purchase ready-made desserts since restaurant kitchen space is almost always at a premium and making space for a pastry chef and her or his supplies can be difficult. Sugar Spun Fun allows the restaurant to have custom desserts but not devote the kitchen space or staff time to making them.
For Weil and Jessup, it’s a seven-day-a week job. Jessup comes in around 7 a.m. and sets up for the day. A recent morning found her preparing 10 flans, 60 s’mores brownies and 100 mini-cheesecakes. By 11 a.m. her baking was done and the desserts were being delivered to their customers.
It can be lots busier. On Thanksgiving morning, for example, they prepared 500 desserts for their clients’ holiday menus.
In addition to Porch Light Latin Kitchen, their restaurant clients include Noble Fin in Peachtree Corners, The Lawrence in Midtown Atlanta and Decatur’s Wahoo Grill.
They don’t just cook for restaurants, but also do weddings and dessert tables for parties. Everything is made to order with 48 hours notice.
They prepare their sweets in an almost 800-square-foot kitchen in the East Ponce Industrial Arts Building in Scottdale. Among their lucky neighbors are Radio Roasters Coffee, Tapmania Dance Studio and Mei Zhong Yang Style Taijiquan, the patrons of which might find themselves on the receiving end of a tray of experiments or extras.
The space is bright and airy and organized to make their production as efficient as possible. Pastry chefs are probably the most organized chefs in any kitchen, and Jessup offered a number of tips to help you get organized for your holiday baking.
1. Dessert making is messy. Use a rimmed half sheet pan to contain your whisk, sticky measuring cups and rubber scrapers. Now your counter stays clean.
2. When you’re piping something or forming cookies on a baking sheet, anchor your parchment paper in place with a small dot of dough or icing under each corner.
3. “I prefer disposable piping bags to cloth bags, primarily because you know they’re clean, unlike a cloth piping bag you may use only once or twice a year. To cut the hole for your piping tip, slip the tip into the bag and push it as far down as it will go. Use the blade of your kitchen scissors to slice around the tip just above the end. The tip of the bag will come off and you can push the piping tip down further to secure.”
4. Cream puffs turn into eclairs if you just pipe longer strips instead of rounds.
5. When filling cream puffs, you know the pull is full of filling when a little filling begins to seep out of the puff around the piping tip.
6. “We love sparkle in our desserts. Our sparkle arsenal has an array of glitter products that includes edible glitter of all sorts and many colors of disco dust and edible glitter. I love using Valrhona Chocolate Pearls, too. They come in many flavors including Dulcey, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. You can find lots of glitter and chocolate products at Cake Art in Tucker, or online at Amazon.”
Joy Jessup and Rebecca Weil of Sugar Spun Fun offer two basic recipes with variations and enhancements that will add sparkle to any holiday table. Mix or match any of these recipes and use them to dress up other desserts. If you’re in need of hands-on instruction, in February, look for Sugar Spun Fun to offer workshops — perhaps after-school sessions for teens and Friday night classes for adults.
RELATED: Christmas dessert recipes
If you prefer, bake this cake in 2 9-inch cake pans and use one of the compotes for a filling. It can also be baked in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan for a more family-style presentation.
White Chocolate Glaze
Jessup recommends using couverture chocolate, a specialty chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa butter. You can find it at Cake Art along with a wide variety of edible glitters. Or purchase through Amazon. The recipe makes enough to glaze at least three cakes, but it stores well and when you’re ready to use the rest, warm it slowly in a double boiler. To melt the chocolate, you can follow these directions or very, very carefully melt your chocolate in the microwave.
Jessup likes Fujis in her compote, but any apple that will hold its shape when cooked will work fine. She leaves the peel on for the pretty pink tint that a red-skinned apple will add to the compote.
Eggnog Cream Puffs
Many cream-puff recipes call for all-purpose flour but Jessup likes using bread flour. This high-protein flour will create more structure for the puff, resulting in an airier pastry.
The decision to use four eggs or five is yours. If you’re using a piping bag, you need a mixture that is loose enough to be piped but not so loose that it will flatten out before baking. You could try mixing in four eggs and piping one puff, then adding another egg if needed.
Any extra cream-puff dough need not go to waste. If 24 is more puffs than you need, pipe what you needed, then add grated cheese to the remaining dough for savory puffs.
If you’re baking for gluten-free guests, this recipe works perfectly with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour.
Eggnog Pastry Cream
Again, for gluten-free diners, you can modify this recipe by eliminating the all-purpose flour and adding one more tablespoon cornstarch.
There’s more thickening in this pastry cream than you might be accustomed to in a pastry cream recipe, but that means it will hold its shape with the addition of whipped cream. A nod to your inner pastry chef: Put this together and it’s actually creme mousseline.
This is a pastry chef recipe, totally done by weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, this might be the push you need to invest in one. Swiss Meringue made with 2 large egg whites should produce 2 cups of meringue.
2 parts granulated sugar
1 part egg whites
Put a large saucepan on the cooktop and fill halfway with water. Bring water to a simmer. In a medium bowl that will fit into the saucepan but not touch the water, combine sugar and egg whites. Place bowl in larger saucepan and beat egg whites until the sugar dissolves and the egg whites hold their peaks. Remove bowl from heat and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Makes: 2 cups
Per 2 tablespoons: 80 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), 1 gram protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 13 milligrams sodium.