On the Line: Rachel Klemek Of Blackmarket Bakery, Part One

Dessert duchess
Dessert duchess
Photo by Dustin Ames

The Downtown Santa Ana space for Blackmarket's newest spot is pending final inspection. I took this opportunity to converse with one of the coolest, most hardworking people I've met: Dessert duchess Rachel Klemek.

Favorite meal growing up. Vinegar-y BBQ pork sandwiches and crispy hush puppies from Kepley's in High Point, North Carolina, [while] visiting my grandparents.

Let's discuss the sandwich selections at Blackmarket Bakery. The Bandera eggywich is killer, by the way. Thanks! Eggywiches are available from open til 11 a.m., all anchored by either our brioche bun or our buttermilk biscuit. People seem to really enjoy them! Then, after 11 a.m., we make grilled and fresh sandwiches on our daily breads. Mostly savory, like the BLAT with fried egg on a toasted croissant; but a few sweet sammies in there, too. Like the uber PBJ with freshly ground peanut butter. Something for everyone!

Tell us about your culinary experience. Where to begin? I grew up as a picky eater. Married into a family that cooked lots and teased me for not trying things. Studied anthropology at UCI, then dropped out of a PhD Anthropology program at UNC. Moved back to California. Had four kids in eight years, while helping my husband with his business.

Started trying to make sourdough bread while taking care of my children in Central California. Attended CIA (Napa) in baking and pastry at age 31. Graduated at the top of my class, and then worked as assistant pastry chef at Melisse in Santa Monica, then as night baker at Zov's in Tustin. Started Blackmarket Bakery in 2004 in an industrial space in Irvine. Stayed in business doing farmers markets, baking for caterers, teaching baking classes and making custom cakes. Opened first retail location of Blackmarket Bakery at the Camp (Costa Mesa) in January 2013, and opening Blackmarket on Broadway in Santa Ana at the end of 2015 any day now. We are in the permitting stage of a third Blackmarket Bakery in the North Park neighborhood in San Diego [Editor's Note: You heard it here first!].

Most undervalued ingredient. Buttermilk. It adds tang to cakes, custards, scones and biscuits. Desserts need to be sweet, but the buttermilk gives another note to enhance and play counterpoint to the sugar and add depth of flavor.

We first discovered Blackmarket Bakery at the UCI farmers market. Are you still found at farmers markets? We sold baked goods at multiple OC farmers markets for eight years, but stopped a few years ago, once the location in Costa Mesa opened. Love the markets and the interaction with customers, but didn't love having to put all of our products in containers or bags to display.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): Many years ago, a customer requested a gigantic cake in the shape of the football stadium in Arizona for a Super Bowl party. We made and delivered it, and lived to tell the tale.

Your earliest food memory: Making pancakes with my dad from Bisquick box mix. Plus, I remember eating peanut butter sandwiches on white bread and getting it stuck to the roof of my mouth.

You're making breakfast; what are you having? Typically a farmhouse eggywich, sourdough toast or a filled croissant. Some Sunday mornings we make homemade banana caramel crepes or corned beef and hash. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

How did the name of your bakery come about? We developed the concept in the midst of the Atkins diet craze. [It] seemed like the culture had decided that anything containing sugar or flour was outlawed, so the concept of Blackmarket was you could find the real stuff, the good stuff that the "man" didn't want you to have. Plus it plays to our love of the underdog, the monster movie, the non-traditional approach, the independent thinker. . . .

Best culinary tip for the home baker. Measure all of your ingredients by weight if the recipe gives weights as an option. Give yourself time to try a new recipe, and try again if it doesn't come out the way you want. You will learn as you go if you give yourself the chance. And have fun with it, because it will come through in your baked goods if you enjoy the process.

What are the most popular baked goods on the menu, and what are your personal favorites? Our line of cookies, especially the classic two-tone (dark and milk chocolate chips) and our breakfast pastries and tarts. My favorites are the peanut butter sandwich cookie, homemade "Pop Tarts", the classic Basque tart and the fruit & nut sourdough bread.

One food you can't live without. Bread. Flour, water, yeast and salt can be so simple, yet so good.

What happened to the original location off Sky Park? That is our commissary kitchen and main office now. The wholesale production, most doughs and packaged items (like brittle, toffee and marshmallows) are made there and delivered to our locations daily.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Diversity. Excellent options from every culture, every type of food.

Favorite places to eat. We cook most nights at home because we often have an erratic schedule and still ahve a few kids at the house. But we enjoy going to East Borough (our neighbor at The Camp), Crow Burger, Wahoo's and Capital Seafood for dim sum. Crazy deep dish pizza from Tony's in Placentia is a special treat.

What did you learn at Greystone that you might not have learned as quickly without culinary school? Technique foundations, like the basics of working with yeasted doughs, making sponge cakes and folding butter into croissant dough. At school, we focused on understanding how the processes and ingredients interacted instead of being tied to individual recipes.

Are there stereotypes that people have about bakers? Bakers and pastry chefs are seen as being a bit structured, uptight about measuring and less willing to improvise. That is somewhat true, because we must balance the ingredients to create the proper texture and flavor. But we still experiment. We just use the recipe as our safety net.

The Santa Ana location of Blackmarket Bakery will be at 211 N Broadway, (714) 571-0801; www.blackmarketbakery.com.

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