Sugar fix

Pastry chef Annie Paul whips up tasty treats.
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Annie Paul
Annie Paul. Photo by David Sparks

Annie Paul, pastry chef at Beacon Hill at Eastgate, lusciously makes you forget about keto, carbs and intermittent fasting as she presents a glorious parade of candied prune and almond tarts, frothy chocolate pies, miniature peanut butter ganache tarts, gooey raspberry brownie cheesecake bars, butterscotch caramel cookies and her family’s banana bread. Are you drooling yet?

“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t bake,” said Paul, who looks like she might not be old enough to handle sharp knives, digital candy thermometers, a creme brûlée torch and really the whole pastry power tool lineup.

“Baking from scratch is kind of my obsession right now,” said Paul, who bakes everything fresh for Beacon Hill’s four distinctive restaurants, including the white tablecloth dining room, pub, bistro and farm-to-table Garden Café, which is open to the public and feels almost like a secret with public access through the Community House.

By 9 a.m. at Beacon Hill, Paul has assembled a sugared, jeweled box of meringue-y Michigan blueberry scones, cream cheese danishes, chocolate chunk brown butter cookies with sea salt, lemon-lavender bars and impossibly floury loaves of rustic bread for toast, sandwiches and dunking into soups. She makes everything seem so deliciously simple as she preps for babka bread, “A traditional braided bread that might be considered a cousin to the cinnamon roll,” she explained. “It’s sweet, so I’ll serve it for dessert tonight.”

Next, she’s designing a two-tier celebration cake for a 55th wedding anniversary, featuring chocolate and vanilla marble, chocolate buttercream and white frosting with a cascade of fresh flowers.

“I fell in love with baking when I was like 7,” said, Paul, 28, who was homeschooled by her parents in Grand Rapids. “I wanted an Easy Bake Oven so badly. My parents said, ‘We can’t afford that, but you can learn to bake on a real oven.’ So, at 7, I was baking up a storm. It was all that I wanted to do. I wanted to master chocolate chip cookies, then cinnamon rolls.”

By age 15, Paul delighted in her first job at Van’s Pastry Shoppe, where she dipped doughnuts and learned to turn the humblest ingredients into bread. Next came Marge’s Donut Den in Wyoming, working third shift as the cake and doughnut decorator. “That was kind of the lightbulb moment for me, for sure. I knew then that there was nothing better than baking,” said Paul, who then became the morning-shift baker at Trailhead Cafe and next executive pastry chef at Hall and Wealthy Street bakeries.

Then the legendary Tim England, the award-winning executive chef at Beacon Hill at the time, called on Paul.

When baking, she ups the ante in all ways big and small. She slow roasts sugar pie pumpkins in butter, cinnamon and nutmeg for her Thanksgiving pie. She adds an egg and vinegar to her homemade pie crust for extra flakiness. She swears by pure flavor — preferring Madagascar vanilla but also finds Aldi’s pure vanilla extract an affordable option. She always mixes two varieties of apples — like Granny Smith and Braeburn — for complementary textures in her apple pie.

Paul decided to LLC her baking passion into AP Baked Goods, apbakedgoods.com, her home-based bakeshop, specializing in fragrant cookies, cakes and desserts — fluffy, perfect and seriously wonderful.

At the moment, she’s perfecting her brown butter (beurre noisette), an ingredient that adds a staggering lushness to everything. “The easiest way to melt the butter is to place 3 pounds in a 9-by-13-inch (glass) pan in a 350-degree oven,” Paul said. “Let it brown and get nutty smelling — maybe 15 minutes. Stir it every once in a while. You want the water in the butter to evaporate, leaving behind the butterfat and milk protein. Once it’s toasty brown but not burnt, transfer the butter to a heatproof bowl to chill. I love to cream it into cookies, cakes and crusts — it’s super good.”

“My best advice is to have fun!” Paul said. “I feel that people stress and worry about baking.

Absolutely enjoy.” GR

Pastry Chef Annie Paul’s Emillie’s Apfeldessert
(Apple Streusel Cake)
(Makes 12 to 16 servings)

Double crust

1 pound chilled brown butter
(*see Chef’s note below)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pie filling

5 Granny Smith apples

5 Braeburn apples

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, small dice

Glaze

2 lemons, juiced

1½ cups powdered sugar

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch pan.

To make the crust, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and cinnamon. With the stand mixer on low, add the flour mixture until combined. Take half of the dough and press into prepared 9-by-13 pan.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until very light brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool.

To make the filling, peel and core apples. Slice apples very thin and place in a bowl. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and flour; mix well. Lay evenly on crust. Add butter pieces. Crumble remaining dough on top and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Once cooled, mix your lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle on top and let lemon drizzle set before slicing.

*Chef’s note: To make brown butter, heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 2 or 3 pounds of unsalted butter in a 9-by-13-inch glass pan and place in oven. In 10 minutes, stir the butter to ensure that the milk solids are evenly being browned. The browned butter is ready when the milk solids become golden brown in color, oil slightly darkens in color and butter has a nutty aroma. Brown in the oven in total, about 15-25 minutes. Chill completely in a heatproof bowl until ready to use.

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