A Sweet Holiday Potluck
The holiday season at Baked, Brooklyn's best and hippest bakery, is relentless. Owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito go through approximately two tons of sugar (and that's just the granulated kind) in a month and work crazy hours to fill orders. but on christmas day, the two business partners take a break from all that manic baking to host a potluck dinner for staffers who are too busy to go home, a meal featuring all types of savory foods in addition to the sweet kind. "Roasting pork becomes really appealing when you've been baking brownies nonstop," Poliafito says.
© Ditte Isager
That isn't to dismiss their commitment to brownies. "When we opened Baked in 2005, there were plenty of cupcake specialists," says Lewis. "We had a vision of the ultimate brownie." Indeed, in addition to its amazing layer cakes, whoopie pies and other brilliantly updated retro-American desserts, Baked sells 15 kinds of brownies and bar cookies, including one with brewer's malt, Baked's signature flavor. "I knew malt existed before I met Matt," says Poliafito. "I just didn't know you could put it in everything." The modern, streamlined look of Baked matches its food sensibility. "Lace curtains drive me bananas," says Poliafito.
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Lewis and Poliafito have been friends since they met at the advertising firm Deutsch in Manhattan in 2001. Lewis, an avid baker since his teen years, took evening confectionery classes and eventually opened one of America's first serious chocolate stores, Chocolate Bar; Poliafito designed the website. Then the two debuted Baked. An offshoot in Charleston, South Carolina, and a cookbook, Baked, followed; next fall, they'll release Baked Explorations.
© Ditte Isager
For Baked's owners, the idea of a potluck holiday dinner is fun and retro (both men revere the concept of retro). Plus, "I have a sizeable kitchen and a big table for parties, but I can't get everything done by myself," says Lewis. "You like potluck because it's less work for you," Poliafito retorts.
Lewis himself made the appetizer fondue, a melty mix of cheddar and Jack cheese spiked with whiskey. "I love booze and cheese," he says. Poliafito prepared Sicilian-accented arancini (fried risotto balls), which he flavors with pistachios and saffron and coats in crisp panko bread crumbs. Their book editor, Luisa Weiss, delivered a sweet maple-glazed pork loin and tangy cabbage braised with apples and caraway seeds. Baked's resident vegetarian, Stefania Rubicondo, brought potpies filled with winter vegetables and sage cream and topped with flaky sweet potato biscuits.
© Ditte Isager
But the meal's highlight was undoubtedly the Stump de Noël, a witty version of a bûche de Noël, the French rolled cake decorated to look like a tree log. The idea behind the cake is quintessentially Baked: Take a classic like a bûche, turn it on its side (literally, in this case) and make it delicious. To make the Stump, Lewis lavishly frosted cake layers with malted buttercream, rolled them up into a superthick cylinder and covered it with chocolate frosting.
Poliafito says he found inspiration for the cake in The Ren & Stimpy Show's ubiquitous log. "I think Christmas desserts are like Christmas music," he says. "Tradition is great, but sometimes you just have to hear something new."