Many of us have passions and hobbies we wish we could explore and develop, but, for so long, life and work seemed to be in the way. This past year was different. People were home more than ever before, some working remotely and others newly unemployed because of the pandemic. Regardless of the situation, what people finally had more than ever before was time – the time to develop that skill or craft that had been calling to them. And, lucky for anyone living in L.A., several people started making insane bread and pastries out of their home kitchens. From decadent cardamom brioche buns to perfectly chewy, naturally leavened sourdoughs, these home bakers are doing incredible things, and business is booming. I reached out to my favorites to find out how they got started, how things are going, and what customers keep coming back for again and again.
Hannah Ziskin: I started off literally the week the shutdown happened in March. The chef I was working for sent me home with a bag of flour and I had my starter (Guisseppe) on hand, so I just started baking bread and giving it to friends. People on Instagram caught wind and began placing orders, and the whole thing blossomed from there.
Before I knew if I was producing 20 loaves a day out of my home oven (exhausting!), and had a business name (House of Gluten) and a logo. I was like, did I just start a company?!
Since then things have evolved a bit. I’ve moved away from sourdough loaves and embraced cakes, which is really unexpected and something I don’t have a background in necessarily. But I missed doing restaurant-style plated desserts and found cakes to be the most analogous. I can build layers of flavor, incorporate different textures, focus on seasonality, and create beautiful color palettes. And of course, nothing sparks joy quite like a cake covered in flowers. The dark chocolate mini cream pie was the first “dessert” item I introduced when I moved away from doing only sourdough loaves and is still one of the most popular items. I grew up eating at the Apple Pan in West L.A., and their super classic chocolate cream pie was always my favorite, so I knew I had to create my version. I stuck to the basic structural principles but dialed up the flavors. I use Valrhona’s excellent 70% Guanaja and Jivara Lactee (milk chocolate) for my custard and finish the pie with salty brown sugar chantilly. Super lucky to work with Tehachapi Grain Project as well; I use their delicious Sonora Flour in my flaky, buttery pie crust. People love it because it hits those nostalgic notes but with elevated flavors.
Since then, our slab cakes have really come into their own. The flavors change weekly, which is fun for me and everyone else, but the elements and structure stay the same. Three layers of an extremely light chiffon cake, filled with whatever is inspiring me. It sells out every week in about an hour. I love all my Slabs equally, but I’d say the Olive Oil Chiffon with Passionfruit Curd & Vanilla-Bay Leaf Creme Legere has been the crowd favorite so far. Oh! or the Orange Chiffon with Huckleberry Compote and Nutmeg Custard – so delicious.
Billy Lush: I’ve been baking sourdough bread as a hobby since 2013. I’ve always wanted to open a little shop, but the start-up costs are too high, and frankly, I was too scared. Then Covid came, my industry shut down, and all my reasons for not trying something went away. California’s cottage permits make it so incredibly easy to get going and start making a profit. Growing pains were instant, and the learning curve was harsh, but I love where Billy Bread is now, and I’m coming up with new recipes in between being a fun dad and the world’s greatest husband! Sourdough and Milk Bread are the favorites, along with all the seasonal flavors we have been creating the past few months.
Hannah: We started Gemini to help raise money for restaurant worker’s relief programs. Our friends and coworkers had lost their jobs during the pandemic, and we wanted to contribute in any way we could. A few months later, Conor and I also ended up being furloughed as well.
There was still a pretty high demand for our baked goods, so we decided to pursue baking from home full time. Since then, we’ve moved our production out of the house and into a bakery in Pasadena. We now offer wholesale to several restaurants in Los Angeles and expect to open a brick and mortar location early this year. The Brunch and Bread Boxes are a big hit, as you can get a little bit of everything.
Oona O’Toole: I began selling bread at the beginning of the pandemic to friends and coworkers only, and when I was laid off I decided to jump into selling across L.A.! I focus on naturally leavened (sourdough starter) bread and baked goods. My dad always baked bread while I was growing up and even built a wood-fired pizza oven in our yard. So, it was something I saw him do while I was growing up, but I took a sourdough class in Silverlake about two years ago, and that’s when I really got the bug to bake sourdough for people. Bread and brioche buns are fan faves!