Crave Dessert Company baker Heather Roseborough talks Gluten, Cupcakes and Banoffee Pie

By Richard Foss

Heather Roseborough specializes in cakes, brownies,  wwtea cakes and gluten-free recipes Photo by Richard Foss

Heather Roseborough specializes in cakes, brownies,
wwtea cakes and gluten-free recipes
Photo by Richard Foss

If you rated kitchen tasks for their intimidation level, baking would be at the top of the list. Boiling is a cinch, anybody can turn something out with a frypan, and if Neanderthals could manage basic barbecuing you can too. Baking breads and cakes has an almost mystic aspect: art and science merged into something done by feel as much as recipe.

Crave Dessert Company baker Heather Roseborough came to baking from an interesting perspective — she was an art director in the film industry before deciding to change careers. Roseborough became pastry chef at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, and when that restaurant closed she and a partner opened the tiny storefront bakery on Washington Boulevard.

Why did you decide to focus on cake desserts instead of also making flaky pastry items and breads?

I don’t do laminated doughs or breads. … It’s very different from making cake batters. I baked breads for years at Ford’s — I can do it, but it isn’t my thing. People who love doing bread really put their hearts in it, but I’m more creative with batter flavors than doughs.

What’s the difference between buying a cake from you and getting one from a grocery store?

Major stores have a very high volume and make things in huge batches, and they can’t pay attention to what’s happening with every item. The cakes don’t necessarily get packaged immediately — they may not cool properly and can start going stale because someone can’t wrap everything at once. I make things in very small batches, and I can spend time making sure everything is perfect. For instance, when it comes to gluten-free items, they’re just opening a bag of flour. I blend my own flours so I can get the exact texture that I want for each item. They also use preservatives. My buttercream frosting has only butter in it, while stores put oils or gelatin in it so it will be more stable.

What is the shelf life of a cake? How do you keep one of your desserts in peak condition if it isn’t immediately eaten?

Refrigerators dry everything out and shorten shelf life. It’s better to put them in the freezer than the refrigerator — my brown butter pumpkin cake actually develops flavor when it’s frozen and thawed. There’s a controversy about chocolate, but I always freeze my brownies before I sell them.

There is a movement to reconnect with traditional skills like baking, and most people start out with a prepackaged mix. Is that cheating, and can they get a good result?

If someone is making something at home and taking pride in it, that’s great because at least they’re baking. If they enjoy it they might start trying recipes from a book and actually learn what they’re doing. Maybe they’ll adjust the sugar level or something else to their tastes, which is what a real baker does. They will start to get the feel for working with batter and frosting, and they will be able to serve something fresh.

It can take time to learn about your clientele. Have you had any surprise hits, any items you expected to be big that didn’t sell well?

I expected my matcha green tea cake to sell because it has a wonderful flavor, but it hasn’t really caught on. The surprise hit was a German chocolate cake — I did one for special order, and I had batter left over so I made teacakes and put them in the display case. They sold, and people started calling to order more.

Someone called for a Banofee Pie — an English dessert with bananas, vanilla custard, whipped cream and toffee. I had heard of this because the chef at Ford’s was British, and he had bugged me about making it. I tried it with dulce de leche, caramelized bananas and salted caramel pastry cream, and the customer told everybody about it. When anyone calls to order one, I can tell who they’ve been talking to.

Are any of your gluten-free products better than the regular version?

Gluten is necessary in things like angel food cake or anything that requires a very light, dry, airy result. Fruit- and vegetable-based cakes have a lot of moisture, and the gluten-free flour based on brown rice pairs well with it — it’s perfect for my pumpkin and zucchini cakes. I have a great chocolate cake that is gluten-free too. I’m gluten-intolerant, as is one of my kids, and I’m always looking for ways to improve gluten-free options. I have a lot of test subjects, and I often make things and ask them if they taste gluten-free.  If they can’t tell, I’ve done my job.

We hear all the time that Americans eat too much sugar, too many desserts. Can they be part of a healthy diet?     

Not all desserts have a lot of sugar. I don’t make cupcakes because the flavor is all frosting, and it’s too sweet. I serve tea cakes, and it’s two bites with a really good balance of sweetness and flavor. If you are going to splurge, you should do so on something that has an amazing flavor. It’s more satisfying to eat something better, so you’ll probably eat less and enjoy it more.