A pastry chef’s sweet plans for the new year
BAKING OFTEN GETS labeled as more science than art, but take a page from pastry chef Natasha Gaskill’s (cook)book and you’ll find plenty of space for creative experimentation. From her backyard shed headquarters of A Squad Bake Shop, Gaskill rose to the city’s finest dining establishments Husk and The Grey before deciding to get out of the heat of restaurant kitchens — admittedly without much of a backup plan. But thanks to a collaboration with chef Matthew Palmerlee, Gaskill got down with pop-ups, most recently slinging ice cream at Big Bon Bodega and Finches Sandwiches, where she served up flavors like Spanish nutty buddy (coffee and manchego swirl topped with green olives, dried apricots and marcona almonds) and tahini and lenoir grape jelly with a tiny brioche, a grown-up take on PB&J.
Those hankering to find Gaskill’s sweet treats on the regular are in luck: In 2022, Palmerlee and Gaskill, known as Matt and Nat, plan to open a market and lunch counter, location pending. “I want to make people’s birthday cakes and have folks swing by on Fridays to grab challah,” Gaskill says. “I want to be a part of a neighborhood in a real way.” Those who have sampled her Thanksgiving pies and holiday cookie boxes will certainly be back for seconds.
A BRICK-AND-MORTAR SHOP IS IN THE WORKS, BUT WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT POP-UPS?
After 2020, I realized how much time I had wasted on goals that didn’t align with what nourished me. I rarely saw my husband and kids, spent little to no time outdoors, couldn’t show up for friends — not to mention the burnout that really snuffs creativity. I love the freedom of pop-ups. I have a dream business partner, who is also an incredible chef, Matthew Palmerlee. Lucky for us, our names can rhyme. We don’t have to fall in line, so we can do what we want. We’re not trying to build a brand, so we can come up with flavors and combinations that are exciting and interesting to us.
YOU’RE KNOWN FOR EXPERIMENTING WITH FRESH, LOCAL INGREDIENTS. WHAT FLAVORS DO YOU FIND YOURSELF TURNING TO THIS SEASON?
Citrus! We have so many trees here. People landscape with them everywhere. They are all popping off Thanksgiving through the New Year. I use the leaves, as well — you can scent sugar with them, steep creams or decorate a cake.
“ I am really loving on grain right now. Like a ton of folks, I leaned heavily on breadmaking as a form of therapy last year.” — Natasha Gaskill
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU LATELY?
I am really loving on grain right now. Just like a ton of folks, I leaned heavily on breadmaking as a form of therapy last year. I rabbitholed hard on different grains, their historical importance and their economic impact, which turned into a portal of application of grains from the South.
WHAT SORT OF MEMORIES OF BAKING AROUND THE HOLIDAYS DO YOU HAVE?
My family did a lot of candy making: fudge, peanut brittle and divinity. My mother is from Calcutta and London, so she was always hefting fruitcake on us. The darker and stickier the better, and lots of talk about fruitcake, too. “How long has it been curing? How much rum did you use? How dark was the rum? How often did you brush it?” Literally every year, it’s the same conversation.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TIP FOR HOME BAKERS LOOKING TO CREATE SOMETHING SPECIAL?
Batch prep cookie dough, portion it and keep it in your freezer. Make logs for slice-and-bake cookies and flattened disks ready for rolling out and punching with cookie cutters. Fancy or scented sugars, sprinkles, candied fruits, cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, crushed potato chips, chocolate chunks— whatever can be tossed on top, before or after baking, depending on the topping of choice. Or, frost them and decorate them!
SPICED RYE COOKIES // These toothsome cookies combine Gaskill’s fondness for grains with her love of freezable dough.
2/3 c rye flour
2 c all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp black pepper
½ c ground almonds
2 sticks butter
1 c dark brown sugar
½ c granulated sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp orange zest
1. Combine dry ingredients together.
2. Cream butter, zests and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg until incorporated.
3. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl well before each addition. Do not overmix.
4. Roll dough into log for slice-and-bake cookies or flatten into a disk to roll out for cut cookies. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze, or chill for at least an hour if pressed for time.
5. When ready, bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden.