Jessica Vu loves watching other folks taste her baked treats for the very first time.
“A person can go from having a fair day to a completely great day in just one bite,” says the Bellbrook woman who’s turned her passion for baking into a home-based business. “I love watching the transformation in their faces.”
You may have sampled Vu’s creations: her full line of biscotti can be found in jars atop the pastry cases at Dorothy Lane Markets and her biscotti is featured on the dessert menu at The Wine Gallery in downtown Dayton. At Cavu Coffee in West Chester, you can sample her pumpkin chocolate dream bread, crumb coffee cake, biscotti and scones.
On a summer Friday, you may have encountered Vu in person at the Sugarcreek Farmer’s Market.
“There I get to see customers first hand,” she says. “Many of them have their own lasting memories around a special dessert — you just have to ask!”
Vu loves those kinds of memories and has named her company “Bites of Nostalgia.”
“Everything that comes from my kitchen has a story that conjures up a lasting memory with each taste,” she says.
We asked Vu about her love of baking and solicited her tips for others who love to bake.
Q: What early memories do you have of cooking and baking?
A: Mom was a cottage baker even before the term was created and was well-known in our county for making the best confections. She never pushed me into baking. Never attempted to make me her protege, but growing up in a kitchen with her made it easy to love baking. I learned by watching, eventually asking if I could help, then, turned out my own creations out of my own grown-up kitchen.
Q: How did you decide to turn your love of baking into a business?
A: The field managers at the construction company where I worked talked about my pumpkin chocolate dream bread like it was its own food group. I would bring them loaves every now and then, and sometimes they would jokingly bribe me for a batch or two. They were sad the day I was laid off along with many others during the housing market decline. I made sure they received one last loaf — although I was not sad to be leaving, as I had my own ‘bun in the oven’ and looked forward to a healthy pregnancy.
I became a stay-at-home Mom, two of them now, and many days are spent baking for my own enjoyment. I soon added biscotti to my repertoire because having kids can lead to coffee consumption. Every holiday season I make goodies for all our neighbors and my husband’s co-workers. Last year I added biscotti to my normal gift-giving. Early last year I was encouraged by a recipient of that biscotti to approach Dorothy Lane Market to see if they would be interested in selling it. They were.
Q: How did you choose the name for your business?
A: In my mid twenties, Mom finally came through with that family cookbook she had been promising. The coveted book was finally in my hot little hands. A one-and-a-half inch binder with an obnoxious purple leopard print cover, it was full of answers to my culinary questions and the magic gateway to turning my kitchen into a version of hers. Without wasting a minute I sat down to flip through the contents.
Initially I turned the pages rapidly looking for my favorites. Junk Meat, the go-to roast she made almost weekly. Decorator’s Icing, the secret to the hundreds of cakes she sold out of our little farmhouse kitchen. However, it was not long before I slowed down and lingered on each page as every recipe suddenly brought a flood of memories with it.
Bites of Nostalgia is the name of my company because everything that comes from my kitchen has a story that conjures up a lasting memory with each taste.
Q: What are you best known for?
A: Biscotti — especially unique flavors, like chocolate caramel pretzel. The pumpkin chocolate dream bread also has a large following.
Q: What are your favorite ingredients?
A: Too sweet treats turn me off so I like combining sweet and salty, like the chocolate caramel pretzel biscotti and the cranberry pistachio biscotti.
Q: What mistakes do new bakers make and how can they be avoided?
A: First thing, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand in the quantities you need them. There is nothing worse than getting half-way through a recipe and ending up an egg short. Second, I like to measure by weight, not with measuring cups. It is much more accurate, especially when dealing with flour or farm fresh eggs that may be different sizes.
Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook that you’d recommend.
A: The King Arthur Baker’s Companion taught me a lot about different flours, and has everything from simple pancakes to from-scratch puff-pastry.
Q: What advice would you have for someone who has never baked but would like to start?
A: Start small and just for yourself. Baking for guests should wait until you have the knack for it. Find something you really like and buy frequently and give it a try — you might surprise yourself!
To reach Jessica Vu: www.bitesofnostalgia.com
Jessica Vu’s Almond Anise Biscotti
• 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for work surface)
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
• 4 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons aniseed, ground
• 1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped
• 1 large egg white
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking 2 sheets with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 4 eggs, vanilla extract and ground aniseed in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.
Divide dough in half. Using floured hands and work surface, shape each dough half into 13 1/2-inch-long, 5 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheets. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log.
Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes, turning and rotating trays ½ way through. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
Transfer logs to cutting surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. (Can be prepared one week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)
In our weekly feature, OUR GOOD COOKS, Meredith Moss profiles folks in our region who love to cook — whether professionally or for family and friends. If you have someone you’d like to suggest, contact Meredith at MMoss@coxohio.com Please leave a daytime phone number.