Sugar on Top

WORDS Marla Cantrell
IMAGES courtesy Paul’s Bakery, Harvest Moon Artisan Bakery, Berry Sweet Bakery

Dec 1, 2023 | Featured, Food, Food + Drink, People

In the grand scheme of things, what’s the importance of a custom birthday cake? Or the relevance of one perfect Christmas cookie shaped like a poinsettia? What about a donut bought on a Saturday morning? Or a cherry pie in a white cardboard box, ready to be the finale at a family dinner? For many of us, local bakeries hold the memories of our childhoods and mark the special occasions of our family.

While we know what those bakeries mean to us, what about the people who own them? Turns out, they share a pretty sweet story.

Paul’s Bakery
Van Buren, Arkansas

Lisa Abner, who owns Paul’s Bakery with three of her siblings, has been on her feet for eight hours. Asked if she minds, she shakes her head no. “I never get tired of this,” she says. “We have people come in now whose parents were our customers. We have brides bring in pictures of the wedding cake my dad did for their parents, who want us to duplicate the design for them.”

Paul Lehnen opened the bakery in 1959. “Dad had a big, old rotating oven that was an antique. He used to ice the cupcakes by hand. On the holidays, especially, I’d be there icing cupcakes.”

There are people who’ve had every birthday cake of their lives from Paul’s. Wedding cakes, communion cakes, graduation cakes. Even today, there are those who stop by to talk about Paul, who passed away in 2012. “We’re a family here, and our employees become family. Seeing customers who’ve come to Dad for more than fifty years means a lot. It’s not just about what we serve; it’s so much more. Dad started hiring kids in high school and training them through a program at the school. There’s a man who lives in New York who was one of them. He still calls to talk about my dad and how much my dad helped him. Dad was a family man, but that didn’t just mean his immediate family. He loved people, hearing their stories.”

My own grandmother knew about Paul’s dream of owning a bakery in Van Buren, and once he’d opened the doors, she was a loyal customer. Say “birthday cake” to me, and I can only conjure up an image of a Paul’s Bakery cake, my name written in pink icing. Christmas means Paul’s Bakery cookies, and I’m passing down that tradition.

Lisa nods when I mention their Christmas cookies. They are wonders, from the blue snowflakes to the jolly Santas. Handmade, they look as good as any wrapped present. “We have people who buy them and ship them all over the place. They’ll say, ‘I don’t care if they do break, they’ll still be delicious.’”

It’s me. I’m one of those people, and it’s true. No one cares if they break. They just want to taste a Paul’s Bakery cookie.

recipe Paul’s Bakery
6 Cups leftover glazed donuts, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 Cups milk
½ Cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or 1-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add donut chunks then pour melted butter over top, mix lightly. In separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and pour mixture over the donuts. Let donuts soak up wet mixture for 5 minutes, ensure that all donuts have soaked up some of the milk mixture. Cover with foil, bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil, cook for 25 more minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. TIP: You can even freeze leftover donuts until you have enough to make this yummy treat!

Harvest Moon Artisan Bakery
Fort Smith, Arkansas

When Harvest Moon Artisan Bakery started in 2016, it was a delivery service with big plans. The Mastropaolo trio: Sarah, her brother Aaron, and Aaron’s wife Desirae worked hard making sourdough bread, Challah bread, pies, rolls, macarons. Sarah and Aaron had grown up in a big Italian household where food was love. Desirae’s mother is French, and she and Sarah visited the country, falling in love with the bakeries there. When customers in Fort Smith sampled Harvest Moon’s products, they said what they tasted was nostalgia.

On this Sunday, Sarah is scraping batter out of a mixing bowl, her red hair in braids, a kerchief on. She looks rosy and happy. A cinnamon roll, sitting in the display case, is the size of a dinner plate, and smells like Heaven. Nearby are the Halos, a combination of croissant and donut. On a tall shelf is Cranberry Pecan Bread. Soon there will be take-home cookie kits for Christmas and Turtle Tarts.

Each recipe is their own, and they’re proud of their results. Sarah is also happy with the strong relationship she has with her brother and sister-in-law. While her goal is to have a stress-free workplace, it’s not always possible. “Last week, three batches of bread failed,” Sarah says and shrugs. “It’s just bread,” she says philosophically. At a nearby table, another baker is rolling out dough. Sarah says, “We couldn’t do any of it without the great people who help us.”

They still do local deliveries, serving local residential customers every Thursday. I stop by regularly to pick up sourdough bread. Since I tried it in 2017, I haven’t used any other kind. It’s that good!

recipe Harvest Moon Bakery
1 Cup water
1 Tbsp. yeast
3 Cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ Cup sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
½ Cup pecans, chopped
½ Cup cranberries, dried

In a stand mixer combine yeast and water. Add flour, sugar, salt, vanilla, and oil, mixing with a dough hook on medium speed until dough is smooth and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Turn mixer to low, add pecans and cranberries until just incorporated. Cover and let sit until doubled in size, about an hour. Divide dough into twelve pieces and roll into balls. Place rolls into a 9 x 9 baking pan and let the dough double in size again. Bake in a 350º oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown.

Berry Sweet Bakery
Fort Smith, Arkansas

Miriam Correa, who opened Berry Sweet Bakery in October 2023, comes by her talent naturally. Her father, now retired, opened Fort Smith’s Los Canastos Bakery in 2004 (now owned by Miriam’s older sister). “Los Canastos basically translated is the baskets,” Miriam says. “My dad was a baker in his hometown in Mexico. He would deliver bread on a bike.” Miriam holds her hands to either side of her head and says, “He’d have a basket on his head that fit like a hat, and inside would be the bread. He’d go around town yelling, ‘Bread delivery.’

“I like to say that I was born with a piece of bread in my hand,” Miriam says and laughs. “All I’ve ever known is baking. I started decorating cakes at nine or ten years old. After that, I was the ‘Cake Girl.’ Every cake recipe was passed down to me. My sister taught me, and I loved it.” Miriam is grateful that she and her sister are walking in their father’s footsteps.

A customer walks in just then, in the market for one treat. She leaves with her arms full. Inside the display cases are cupcakes, cake cups (slices of cake and frosting in a takeaway cup), cheesecakes made from a family recipe, macarons, brownies. Berry Sweet’s best-sellers are the Chunky Cookies, giant, delicious cookies that can’t be eaten in one sitting. Trust me, I tried. But the Chocolate Chip Walnut Chunky Cookie won. There’s always next time!

recipe Berry Sweet Bakery
for the dough
2 ¼ tsp. yeast
1 Cup milk
½ Cup sugar
4 Cups all-purpose flour, +/- ½ cup if needed
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs

for the filling
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ Cup brown sugar, packed
½ Cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

for the icing
1 ½ Cups cream cheese
2 Cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt

Warm milk to 100° in microwave, not to exceed 105° (yeast can ruin). Combine 1 Tablespoon milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir, let sit for 5 minutes. In a stand mixer bowl, stir to combine flour, butter, salt, eggs, yeast mixture, remaining milk, and sugar. Knead dough with dough hook attachment on medium speed until dough ball forms. Dough should be completely smooth, if not, add more flour. Place dough in greased bowl, shape into a ball, cover with towel. Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

With dough on floured surface shape into a rectangle, roll out to 18 x 12, ¼-inch thick. Combine filling ingredients in small bowl, set aside. Spread butter over dough, then sprinkle filling over the top. Roll into a log, slice into 12 rolls. Preheat oven to 350°. Place rolls in greased 9 x 13-inch pan, cover with towel and let sit 30 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Bake 14-17 minutes, until golden, check them often. While rolls are baking, combine icing ingredients in small bowl, set aside. Remove rolls from oven, cool, top with cream cheese icing.

Do South Magazine

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