May 16, 2008

Cooking Class: Rebecca Rather

This week, I finally got to take a much-anticipated cooking class with Rebecca Rather from Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg. I've long been a fan of her bakery and the larger-than-life treats she produces there.

Rebecca Rather opened the first Rather Sweet Bakery in Austin in 1999. For two sweet years, we were blessed with her creations. Then in 2001, she moved to Fredericksburg and relocated the bakery there. Austinites have been mourning that move ever since. Luckily, Fredericksburg is close enough to allow us a taste every now and then without completely threatening our waistlines. (Fredericksburg is a charming historic German town in the Texas Hill Country about an hour and a half west of Austin.)

So on every visit to Enchanted Rock, Llano, or damn near anywhere west of Austin, we always make a pit stop at Rather Sweet for lunch and some sweet treats to take on the road with us.

This year, she also opened a new restaurant in Fredericksburg, Rebecca's Table. Haven't been there yet, but I've heard good things and I'm looking forward to trying it.

In this class at Central Market's cooking school, she demonstarted recipes from her latest book The Pastry Queen Christmas. She cooked and we sampled her Chicken & Egg Checkerboard Club Sandwiches, Shrimp & Grits, Martha's Best Ever Rolls which later became Bite-Sized Sticky Buns, and Coconut Cake. Sticky Bun photo below.

I've made more of the sweet recipes from her books than the savory ones just because I'm always seduced by the baked goods first. And hers are always over-the-top, spectacularly, wow-inducing, orgasmic. Great for impressing people. I've made her peach pecan cake with dulce de leche frosting repeatedly and everyone who's tasted it has been blown away. Another favorite is her blackberry pie bars. When we visit her bakery, we also buy several of her chocolate chewy cookies. That recipe is in her new book, so I'll be making some of those soon. (And they are, shockingly, low-fat! Made with egg whites, which give them that great chewy texture.)

I've been considering trying to make a brioche dough into cinnamon rolls to get that pillowy-soft, school cafeteria yeast roll experience in a cinnamon roll. Well, I don't have to bother. Her Martha's Best Ever Rolls recipe is the roll I've been looking for. It's like a cloud. It's so soft, you just want to crawl inside it and have a cozy snooze. Will try this recipe out myself soon and report back.

Here are a few highlights, notes and news items from the class...

Baking/cooking tips:
• "Keep your hands as light as possible, just lift and turn" when kneading dough to avoid tough pastry.
• "This is not a low-fat class."
• "I had a meeting with Cooking Light magazine and she laughed for 15 minutes..."
• "I don't sift anything. Ever."
• If your cakes are dry, it's probably from overmixing. Mix and stir batters minimally and do not overbake."
• She can tell when a cake is done and how hot an oven is by feel.
• She's currently experimenting with "spent-grain" breads from brewery leftovers.
• She believes in using natural and local ingredients whenever possible. She grows many of the veggies and herbs for her restaurant and the bakery in her own garden. "You have to be careful what you eat. I say grow your own."
• She doesn't use rapid rise yeast.
• "I make my own stock on everything."

• She uses Saf instant yeast, unbleached and unbromated flours, and El Rey chocolate.
• She uses Niman Ranch bacon because they don't use antibiotics and humanely harvest their meats.
• She also buys kobe-style beef from Heart Brand in Flatonia, TX, which started their 6,000-head herd with 8 cows from Japan.
• She uses Anson Mills stone-ground white grits.
• She uses Ball's Cajun Seasoning from Lake Charles, LA.
• All of her cheeses come from CKC Farms in Blanco (run by a college student!).

• She's opening an old-fashioned candy store soon next door to her bakery.
• She's starting work on her next book, Entertaining Texas-style, due out Fall 2009.
• While working on her first book, a horse broke her nose during a photo shoot. During work on the second book, she broke her wrist. And yes, she's wondering now about the third one.
• She's selling artisan breads at Fredericksburg's new farmers' market on Thursdays, 4-7pm, in the Marketplatz.
• She does a tremendous amount of charity work. Her latest project will provide interim housing for battered women in Fredericksburg.
• She has a collection of photos that fans have sent her of their versions of her Tuxedo Cake recipe. If you make the cake, take a photo and email it to her.
• She has quite a collection of animals. "In Fredericksburg, you can have farm animals in your yard." Among them, chickens which provide her eggs and are named after first ladies, and a miniature donkey she saved from the clutches of a circus guy at auction.

Want more?
Rebecca Rather will be teaching more classes at Central Market this summer.On June 17th, she's doing "Treats from Rebecca's Table" including peach ginger upside down cake and mocha cakes. On August 5th, she's teaching an "Italian-inspired Summer Supper" including Italian rice balls, artichoke green bean salad, pine nut cookies and panna cotta. Get more info or sign up at Central Market.

Visit her bakery or restaurant:
Rather Sweet Bakery
249 East Main Street, Fredericksburg, TX
open Monday through Saturday

Rebecca's Table
342 West Main Street, Fredericksburg, TX
open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday

Check out her cookbooks (written with Alison Oresman):
The Pastry Queen
The Pastry Queen Christmas

Rebecca Rather IS the pastry queen.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to Fredericksburg on vacation next year so I can go to her bakery and hopefully meet Rebecca. I love her cookbooks...they are used quite a bit at my house. Thanks for the info about her new shop and the upcoming cookbook...ooohhhh, it's gonna be a long year till that release date.

Kay said...

I have been to Fredericksburg just to visit her restaurants and it's a 5hr drive for me. Yes, they're that good! Rebecca's Table is delicious. The Shrimp Cheesecake and Creme Brulee are wonderful. She has two cookbooks out "The Pastry Queen" and "The Pastry Queen Christmas". They have main meals included too. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories she includes. It's a good read. I noticed today she has a new book coming out later this year (2009)called 'Pastry Queen Parties'.

Lori said...

Just so you know, Rebecca's Table is now closed and she sold the bakery, so you won't see her there. I think she is opening a restaraunt in Austin soon, though.

Lauren said...

Update... After Lori's comment, I called the bakery to check on the status of things. I was told that Rebecca's Table had closed, but that Rebecca Rather still owns the bakery. The person I spoke with said she didn't know anything about an Austin store... but here's hoping!

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to attend one of Rebecca's classes at Central Market a few years back. What a wonderful afternoon!! I have since moved away from San Antonio (and Texas) but I still love every recipe in her cookbook- try the Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Cranberry-Pecan Salsa! I am sorry to hear that her restaurant has closed, but I will look for her in Austin when I get back to Texas!