A baker’s life

Jen Bush rises to the occasion at Boulder’s quintessential neighborhood bakery


By the dawn’s early light Jennifer Bush has already been at work awhile. Scratch-made muffins, quiche, cupcakes, fruit galettes and seriously caramelized dark chocolate chunk cookies need to be ready for the regulars when Lucky’s Bakehouse opens at 7 a.m.

“I like the quiet in the morning and being one of the first ones up,” says Bush who co-owns the 3-year-old bakery, which is related to the Boulder-born Lucky’s Market supermarket chain, but is an independent business.

“I get to the bakery by 4:30 or 5 in the morning so I go to sleep early. The girls tuck me in at night,” she says with a grin. Bush lives near the bakery in North Boulder with her daughters. Chloe, 16, attends Fairview High School, and Charlotte, 13, is at Casey Middle School and heading to Boulder High in the fall.

The Bakehouse is the kind of quintessential neighborhood bakery so commonplace a generation ago but now largely replaced by supermarket bakeries. Between the wedding cakes, baby cakes, birthday cakes and cakes for memorial services, Bush’s Bakehouse is stitched into the lives of the families it serves. That includes baking vegan lemon poppyseed cake, paleo walnut coconut coffee cake and gluten-free black tea cake sweetened with hibiscus-infused syrup and frosted with uber-creamy vanilla panna cotta.

detail-of-breadsMore than 500 pounds of butter arrive weekly and a lot of it ends up in the most popular item: plain, chocolate and almond croissants.

“It takes two days to make them. You laminate butter between sheets of dough until it develops the layers and flakes,” Bush says.

Bush grew up in the mountain foothills in Jamestown. She got an early taste for the baker’s life when her mother supplied desserts to the Flagstaff House Restaurant. After falling in love with jewel-like Parisian pastries, she moved to San Francisco, attended culinary school and went to work at a French restaurant in the Napa Valley.

“They immediately sent women down to the pastry room. It was 12-hour shifts every day. I didn’t see the light of day for a year. It was horrible, but I learned how to work hard,” she says.
When Bush returned to Boulder she became the head pastry chef for Dave Query’s Big Red F Restaurants (including Zolo Grill and Jax Fish House) and later launched Icebox Bakery, a producer of natural cookie dough.

Susan France

Now she helms a successful bakery in Boulder, a place where fitness is highly valued and white sugar and solid fat are the great Satan. Not bad for someone who never worked in a bakery and never went to pastry school, she says.

Bush chose Alpine Modern Café in Boulder as the place to meet and chat for this Out of the Kitchen Q&A.

BW: First thing you ever baked?
Bush: “It was after school. I would take Pillsbury biscuit dough — from the tube, roll it out and sprinkle on brown sugar, and bake it. I also dipped graham crackers in frosting. It was so good.”

Do you bake cakes for family birthdays?
“As a birthday present every year I let each of my daughters design their own cakes. They give me a sketch with colors and tell me what flavor cake, filling and frosting the want. I take it very seriously. On my birthday my mom bakes my favorite: angel food cake from a box with strawberries.”

Anything new in cakes?
“Wedding cakes have gotten smaller. Brides will have a small cake to cut and a big dessert spread. We’ve been doing more ‘baby reveal’ cakes. Women have an ultrasound done but they don’t look at it. They find out the gender by the color of the filling we put in the middle, blue or pink.”

Best thing about working at a bakery?
“In restaurants you were always tucked away in the back of the kitchen. Here we have an open kitchen so I get to see everyone. I love to see people’s eyes light up when they walk in. You get to see them taste what you made.”

Worst thing about bakery life?
“It’s the sugar and flour. It hangs in the air and gets on everything including your contacts.”

Any secret junk food passions?
“Sometimes you just want to go home and rip open a bag of peanut M&Ms.”

Susan France

Time to bake a cake
“I have made this recipe for many years. It’s just a lovely and simple cake made with almond paste, which keeps it unbelievably moist.”

Jen Bush’s Gluten-Free Black Onyx Cake
6 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup granulated cane sugar
1 cup almond paste
½ cup Black Onyx cocoa powder (see note)
4 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon instant coffee
8 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
Slivered almonds

Cream the almond paste in a stand mixer until all the clumps are broken up.  Stream in the sugar and continue mixing for one minute, until the mixture is sand textured. Add butter little by little, then add eggs one by one until mixture is smooth. Sift cocoa to remove lumps and add to mixture. Mix until combined, and remember to scrape sides of bowl. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper or use nonstick spray. Scrape mixture into pan and bake at 325 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, until cake is firm to the touch. Let cake cool completely before unmolding and inverting on a plate.

To make the glaze, gently heat cream, coffee and honey. Pour over chocolate and whisk until combined. Pour warm glaze over cake; decorate with slivered almonds.  Makes one 9-inch cake
Note: Black Onyx cocoa powder is available at Boulder’s Savory Spice Shop. Any high-quality (unsweetened) cocoa powder can substitute.

Nibbles Flashback: Men in aprons
“Guys do like to bake with their children because it allows them to sound like experts. My son Hans is only 9 months old, but we’re already baking and bonding and making a mess together. The other day we made footprint cookies for his grandmother. I pressed his feet into sugar cookie dough and baked them. The cookies, that is.” – From a 1994 Nibbles column in the Daily Camera.

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 FM, kgnu.org). Send your comments to: Nibbles@boulderweekly.com.

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