Blondie's Baking Company comes to North Beach
Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
Most of what you need to know about the new Blondie's Baking Company is expressed through a Julia Child quotation painted above the door. It reads, "If you are afraid of butter, use cream."
You should know, however, that Owner Cindy Selby is afraid of neither — just as you should know that before the 42-year-old pastry chef rings you up at the counter and hands you the box of made-that-morning cupcakes you just ordered, she will likely advise you to wait a half hour before devouring them.
See if you can wait that long. See if you can even get as far as turning the key in the car.
The walls of North Beach's small, six-month-old destination for coffee, sandwiches, sweets, salads, and custom cakes are shades of purple. You find two tables for customers eating in and two tables covered with big glass jars containing everything from bacon wrapped around breadsticks (bacon twists) to giant granola bars and lots and lots of cookies, most of which are about $2. Among the latter, I like the Scandinavian oat flakes, thin and crunchy cookies pressed against a layer of dark chocolate (75 cents each). We also find biscotti, scones and palmier (puff pastry and sugar cookies also called elephant ears).
In 1985 Selby graduated from Northern High School and left Southern Maryland for Arizona. Although she was an accomplished dancer and initially wanted to break into sports broadcasting, she ultimately attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Selby, as it happens, had been experimenting with cooking since childhood, part of which was spent in her mother's native Denmark. Her transition to becoming a pastry chef, however, started when she took a class in California associated with Chocolatier magazine, which is no longer in print. Her chocolatiering training resume goes on to include a stop at the prestigious Valrhona Chocolate School in France. Throughout the years, Selby has interned, apprenticed and worked in fine restaurants on both the West and East coasts as well as overseas with some of the world's most revered pastry chefs, all the while working her way up through a male-dominated industry. In the kitchen, chefs commonly referred to Selby as Blondie, she said. Well, Blondie now owns her first business.
After returning to Maryland in 2005, Selby started with a farmers market stand in Annapolis while also working in retail. After talking about it for some time, she said, and with most of the equipment she would need already in storage, Selby came home to open a café-slash-pastry shop.
Washington, D.C.'s cupcake trend and shows like "Cake Boss" aside, running a pastry-centered operation (particularly one that offers custom cakes) is hard work exacting long hours. Selby, for example, recalls once being part of a team that made 26,000 cookies and 11,000 brownies in one week. But Selby has never worked longer hours than in the past six months.
Although she has a staff of four, Selby thus far has handled everything on the production end. (At the time of our phone interview, she had just hired a former co-worker, Audrey Valerio, who has been apprenticing with pastry chefs in the District, to come aboard.)
While Blondie's' cakes and baked goods are currently outselling sandwiches, the latter options are a legit selling point. The S.O.B. (Blondie's Dagwood) sub ($7.59), one of seven sandwiches on the menu and served with chips, is a stuff-your-face hoagie that tests the limits of the human jaw. Somehow well held by a fresh roll, you find all kinds of lunch meat plus bacon, cheese and its most distinctive ingredient: horseradish aioli.
If you have time before dropping in, check out Blondie's' Facebook page to find out about the daily specials and giveaways. The day of my most recent visit, the special soup was a lovely tomato Florentine, a thick stew with goat cheese and bread bites.
But let us return — at least for now — to the aforementioned illusion of sinking your teeth into, say, a "42 Karat Cupcake." (The day's selections, $2.50 each, are on display near the register.)
Carrot cake, I will tell you, is my hands-down favorite. I will also tell you, however, that the reason for this usually has more to do with icing than actual cake. What put Blondie's in a different class, on the other hand, was that, yes, the icing was both pure and layered in abundance, but the cake was a true highlight — moist, spongy and filled with carrot shavings.
With that, I'll step aside and leave it to three colleagues who tested three cupcakes: a German chocolate, a Boston Cream, and a red velvet that was apparently beyond words.
On the Boston cream: "I wasn't even hungry but I bet I could house an entire box … I think these cupcakes are even better than … in D.C."
On the German chocolate: "It's hard to come by German chocolate cupcakes in just any old store. The icing on top of these was a perfect blend of pecans and coconut and the chocolate cupcake, though a little darker than I'm used to, was delicious."
Blondie's Baking Company is at 8905 Chesapeake Ave., North Beach. Hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, closed Tuesday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Less than $10. Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE. Carryout: 443-964-8140. Go to www.blondiesbakingcompany.com
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