Alicia Prescott has given me a chef's coat and rolling pin and set me to work over a flour-dusted cutting board, pressing a mound of pastry dough that's been patiently resting for two days in a fridge. Inside a restaurant menu-like trifold, which creates "little layers of goodness" that keep the dough from drying out, the Blue Star's executive pastry chef has already spread cinnamon-sugar.
We re-flatten it all, spread another cinnamon paste thickened with butter and spiked with vanilla extract, then pinch and roll the wide rectangle into one long log. Two-finger-wide cuts into it form individual cinnamon rolls, revealing the textbook spiral strata in profile: uneven, Tim Burton-esque swirls soon baked to a glistening firmness and capped by an oozing ladle of cream cheese and buttercream icing infused with brown butter, for a nutty edge.
"I want the look of artisan," Prescott says. "I don't want perfect shapes, I don't want a commercial feel."
If your average cinnamon roll is say, your basic zoo gorilla, this version is King Kong. Not for its size differential (hers are actually smaller than some), but for its sensory roar, via a seriously cinnamon-y, deeply sweet gourmet essence. The same mighty marrow is also perfectly placed in Prescott's pecan sticky buns, which start with the same dough and end with a dousing of scotch-infused butterscotch-pecan glaze and a garnish of more toasted pecan bits. The descriptors chewy, tacky and sticky are all compliments here, and this is just a taste of what's to messy your fingers at Ivywild's Old School Bakery.
Now open daily from 7 to 7, Old School is starting small and slowly phasing in a number of special pastries, from cookies and cakes to bear paws — "They're not the size of your face, they're more manageable and delicate," says Prescott. The all-women outfit, co-powered by head baker Heather Sheridan, assistant baker Rachel Kelly and assistant pastry chef Emily Benson, will also produce an array of breads, from multigrain and sourdough to "more rustic loaves" like Italian and French. Beautiful baguettes and the like will go next door for the Meat Locker's sandwiches (see opposite page), and some of the bakery's craftwork will provide staples for owner Joseph Coleman's off-site restaurants, Nosh, La'au's Taco Shop and the Blue Star.
All of this happens in an open-ish kitchen with a finishing area just off Ivywild's central corridor that makes Old School's operation quite public.
"People will be able to see what we're doing at all times," says Prescott, "I wanted the whole open bakery so people feel like it's their bakery, too."
The 37-year-old has worked for Blue Star for seven of her 13 years as a pastry chef. She says she's always wanted to open a bakery, but never thought she'd get the opportunity.
Enter Coleman, who let her know that "if there was anything I wanted to do to further my education and make me a better person, that he'd help out." Hence a three-day intensive at King Arthur Flour's Baking Education Center in Vermont a couple years back, and a five-day intensive at the San Francisco Baking Institute. And just last month, she and Sheridan spent six days in Portland, Ore., studying baking and retail management with Pearl Bakery staff and learning about bagel production with Spielman Coffee Roasters ahead of supplying Ivywild's Principal's Office (see p. 19) with coffee-friendly carbs.
For these Old School Bakery classmates, Prescott says, Ivywild is "a new frontier."
"I need to be going in 10 different directions, because if I'm not, I get bored. And I don't like that feeling of being comfortable because, especially in this industry, if you become too comfortable, then you stop becoming innovative."
What better place than an old school to continue one's education?