Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Robert St. John: A Lifetime Love Affair

My love of bakeries goes back as far as my episodic memory will allow. The earliest bakery recollection I can drum up comes from the Blue Ribbon Bakery in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In a kid’s eyes a bakery is a wonderland of shapes, sizes, colors, and all things sweet. In 1968 if you had given six-year-old Robert a choice between all the playthings he could snatch on the toy aisle at the Ben Franklin or all the sweets he could grab behind the counter at the Blue Ribbon Bakery, it would have been a tough choice, but the cookies and cupcakes would likely have won out (and that’s coming from a boy who loved toys).


My first memory of the Blue Ribbon was going in with my mom to pick up my Batman birthday cake. It wasn’t as elaborate and colorful as today’s kid’s cakes with computer-processed images and edible ink. It was nothing more than my favorite cake of all time— yellow cake with chocolate icing— with “Happy Birthday Robert!” written in yellow script. The perfect finishing touches were the Batman and Robin figures on top. 


I was a huge Batman and Robin fan and never missed the Adam West-Burt Ward television show. The Batman birthday party was notable for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was the first birthday after my dad died and I think my mom went all out to try and make it special. 


Maybe that’s why bakeries hold such a special place in my heart. It was the first step in a return to normalcy and a six-year-old’s realization that life will go on— and can be fun— after a tragedy.


Bakeries were mostly a repository for sweets and cakes during my teens and early twenties. But once I moved into restaurant ownership, they took on a new meaning and purpose. We used bakeries to supplement and supply on occasion. I’ve found that the relationship between restaurants and bakeries is a much healthier and less competitive than the relationship between most restaurants.


But, like restaurant people, bakery people are a different breed. Restaurant people are party-froward. Overall, they stay out late, live hard, enjoy life, and congregate with like types. Bakery people aren’t as party minded, mainly because their workday starts around the time restaurant people are getting their 2:00 a.m. second wind. Bakery people prefer quieter moments, a more structured working environment and less peaks and valleys during a shift.


Restaurant chefs often work by the seat of their pants using improvisation, touch, and feel. Baking is precise. It is chemistry. Both are creative.


My true love and appreciation for bakeries came from my early trips to Europe. By this time in my life, I had grown into a hardcore and devout breakfast fanatic. I woke up every morning in search of breakfast, but Europeans do breakfast much differently than we do, and those practices differ from country to country. What is universal across the continent is that bakeries that can be found in every city. In Europe bakeries became a sure thing for breakfast options.


There are three specific businesses that have molded and influenced my world view on bakeries.


1.) Bagnoli Pasticceria— I spend three months a year working overseas. A major portion of that time is working in the heart of Tuscany. In the small town of Tavarnelle there is a bakery that is one of my favorites on the planet. Bagnoli is everything I love in a bakery. It has a great morning vibe, wonderful people, and excellent pastries. I’m typing this column as I sit at my usual table by the window with my go-to pastry and hot tea.


2.) C’est la Vie Bakery— Sixteen years ago, a very talented French pastry chef moved to Hattiesburg and opened a bakery directly across the street from my office. His croissants were as good as any I had eaten in Paris. A group of regulars and I met most mornings and ate pastries while discussing world events and local gossip over expertly prepared baked goods.


3.) La Boulangerie Bakery— I also spend a healthy portion of the year in New Orleans. Almost every morning I am in the Crescent City I drive seven miles through rush hour traffic to eat a couple of croissants at the La Boulangerie on Magazine Street in Uptown.


Unfortunately, my French friend died of cancer and his bakery across from my office closed. Hattiesburg lost its only true French-inspired bakery. Six years ago, the bakery bug bit me hard and I resigned myself that Midtown Hattiesburg would have another full-service French-inspired bakery. 


I am not a baker. Not by a long shot. I can make a pretty good Italian Cream Cake, but a bakery that sells only one item is born to fail. There were only two people on the planet that I was interested in working with to open a bakery. The problem was that Martha Foose and Donald Bender lived 200 miles away in Greenwood and both gotten out of the bakery game.


That didn’t stop me from launching a six-year campaign of pitching, pleading, and begging. After five years I either finally begged the correct way, or Foose and Bender grew tired of the constant beseeching. Either way, the brilliantly artistic, uber-talented, and dynamic duo moved to Hattiesburg several months ago and we are a matter of weeks away from opening the bakery of our dreams. 


The married couple have a long and storied history in the bakery biz with an impressive list of awards, recognition, cookbooks, skills, and knowledge. The only thing I bring to the table is a healthy appetite and a unique love and appreciation for what bakeries have meant to me through the years.


The Batman and Robin figures from my sixth birthday cake hung around my mom’s house in a junk drawer for years. But after a few moves and a couple of house sales they got lost to that entity that secretly steals little pieces of your past that seemed so important at one point, then inconsequential, before realizing they were some of the things that mattered more than you ever expected at a time when they were truly needed.


It's my hope that this new bakery we are about to open will also bring joy to a kid in need of a smile. Afterall, how often do we have an opportunity to be in a business that brings joy? I believe bakeries have that potential. What an honor it must be to be a component in weddings, anniversaries, celebrations, and— most of all— little kid’s birthdays. Life does go on. I can hardly wait.

Italian Cream Cake

1 cup               Butter, softened
2 cups              Sugar
5 large                         Eggs, separated
2  1 /2 cups      All-purpose flour
1 tsp                Baking soda
1 cup               Buttermilk
2 /3 cup           pecans, finely chopped
1 tsp                Vanilla extract
1 can               Flaked coconut (3 1 /2 oz.)
1 /2 tsp            Cream of Tartar
3 Tbl               Grand Marnier
1 recipe           Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease and flour three nine-inch round cake pans.  Line pans with wax paper;
grease paper, and set aside.  


Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Combine flour and baking soda.  Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut.  


Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy.  Add cream of tartar; beat until
stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.  


Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks.  Brush each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 oz.) pkg    Cream cheese, softened
1 (3 oz.) pkg    Cream cheese, softened
3 /4 cup           Butter, softened
1  1 /2              Powdered sugar, sifted
1 1 /2 cups       Pecans, chopped
1 Tbl               Vanilla extract

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth.
Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans
and vanilla.




Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS