Delectable Desserts to Celebrate Every Day.
When they opened Baked in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito didn’t realize the demand for celebration desserts went beyond the usual holiday suspects. When they started getting requests for more obscure holidays and celebrations, they leaned into the fun—why not celebrate Dolly Parton’s birthday? In their latest cookbook, Baked Occasions, they share recipes for some of their calendar-following favorites.
Baked Occasions draws directly from Matt’s and Renato’s bakery experience, and they have cherry-picked some of their favorite recipes as well as some of their customers’ favorites. With 75 recipes that follow the calendar, this cookbook shares a year full of desserts. While New York is the bakery’s home, there are plenty of Southern influences in this cookbook. Matt attended The University of Alabama as an undergraduate and was given the Easter Coconut Sheet Cake recipe by a neighbor while he was there. “It is just full of coconut,” Matt said. “I can’t help but think of the South when I think of coconut.” They even had a location of Baked in Charleston, South Carolina. That’s when Matt and Renato came to understand the differences in regional tastes. “Everyone says that the United States is so homogenous, but it’s really not,“ Matt said. “There are still pockets of uniqueness, and we want to find out what’s going on in these places.” They love to bring old and forgotten desserts back into the limelight—as a matter of fact, they consider themselves dessert archaeologists. “We like to excavate old recipes,” Matt explained. When Matt and Renato travel, they always try to find out about the places they are visiting and the desserts that originate there. Once they find something interesting, they research and decide if the dessert is worth re-creating at Baked to share with their customers.
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Situated on Van Brunt Street, among other small shops and restaurants, Baked is a warm and casual haven for regulars and visitors alike. As beautiful as they are delicious, the desserts that fill the cases at Baked are constantly revolving. But this is no stuffy, uptight bakery—Matt and Renato have a lot of fun with what they do and love to let their personalities shine. After opening in 2005, the bakery became a learning experience for Matt and Renato. Their business plan included more dreamy baking hopes than fiscal expertise, and made Baked a perfect example of a “trial by fire.” “We just assumed people would come in on the first day,” Matt said. It turned out that it was definitely a word-of-mouth business, and though it took a little while, they started building a customer base in the neighborhood. After a few months, their tasty treats rewarded Matt and Renato with a host of return customers.
A lack of direct subway access has preserved the character of the bakery’s Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn. “People actually know each other on the street—friends help out friends, neighbors give each other rides into the city,” Matt said. “That just doesn’t happen anywhere else in New York.” Matt and Renato think of Baked as many things: a neighborhood hangout, a lab for trying out new desserts, and a classic bakery that focuses on everything in the American baked-goods spectrum. And with regular customers, the Baked owners feel like they’ve gotten to know the area and have become a part of the neighborhood, as well.
At Baked, Matt, Renato, and their crew love to test out their new recipes on their “unsuspecting” (though quite willing!) customers. Now with a second location in Tribeca, Baked is expanding its influence and giving Matt and Renato the chance to conduct dessert experiments on an even larger audience. Their recipes, both new and traditional, have always sparked customer interest, and after enjoying their desserts, many customers have asked for recipes. “About six months after we opened, people began to ask for recipes,” Matt explained. The bakery recipes were not created for the home cook, but were developed to produce large quantities. “We had to explain to people that they had to first divide by 30, then subtract, etc.,” Matt said. Confusion inevitably followed, so Matt and Renato started writing cookbooks so their customers had better access to their recipes.
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Matt and Renato continue to give fans what they clamor for—delicious dessert recipes that cover all kinds of celebrations. And that is a good thing, because, as Matt says, “It turns out there’s pretty much a holiday for everything.” Many of the desserts included in Baked Occasions are not represented in other cookbooks. Sure, Matt and Renato have recipes for Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas, but they don’t forget to include treats for celebrating the Kentucky Derby, Texas Independence Day, and Blueberry Month. After a few years of sticking to a more traditional holiday baking repertoire, customers began requesting desserts to celebrate more obscure holidays like National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day and Julia Child’s birthday. “We started paying attention to every day on the calendar and what it represents,” Matt said. “We’ve actually had a lot of fun with it.” Full to the brim with delicious dessert recipes for both traditional holidays and quirky celebrations, Baked Occasions is a cookbook that will satisfy your sweet tooth every day of the year.
Find Matt and Renato’s recipe for Dolly’s Doughnut, a coconut bundt cake with dark chocolate-coconut filling that celebrates… You guessed it… Dolly Parton!, in our Southern Cakes special issue.
Photos and recipes from Baked Occasions by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, an imprint of Abrams, 2014). Photography courtesy Brian Kennedy.