Dessert: The perfect ending
The perfect meal always needs a sweet ending, and one of Rensselaer’s best-kept secrets is the Bake Shop, located in the basement of the Commons Dining Hall and opening at 3:30 a.m. daily. On any given day, Debbie Brown, shop supervisor, and her staff of five may be elbow-deep in flour, sugar, organic fruits, and the many ingredients needed to bake the plethora of doughnuts, pastries, cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, breads, and more for campus dining halls, special events, food shows, and several off-campus locations. Staffers include Susan Spain, Tim Lyons, Brandi Murch, Sue Brown, and Michelle Searles.
Sample specialties that may be regular, seasonal, or themed offerings include: cheesecake, chocolate torts, pumpkin cheese danish, strawberry shortcakes, flan, a seven-layer bar using rice Chex mix, potluck muffins, and a mix of dairy, protein, and gluten free products, among others. Brown also tries to use local and organic products that may come for area vendors or her backyard, and most of the flour, fruits, and pie shells fall in this category. For example, she noted that when she decided to make a pear crisp, the pears came from a tree in her backyard.
On average, the bake shop produces a variety of nearly 3,000 muffins, 2,500 doughnuts, and 2,000 pastries each week. In addition, staffers bake anywhere from 2,300 to 2,500 brownie bars, 12,000 cookies, more than 30 sheet cakes and 130 pies, 60 cheesecakes, and roughly 1,000 rolls and/or bread.
The shop provides baked goods for several campus locations, including the Commons Dining Hall, and smaller cafés set up in the Lally School of Management and Technology, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the Folsom Library, Father’s Marketplace, Terra Café, and the off-campus eatery known as Java ++. In addition, Rensselaer’s bake shop also delivers goods to Jazzman’s a Sodexo franchise with locations in Russell Sage College and the Albany College of Pharmacy.
Brown says that she has always had an interest in baking, with much of her practice and craft perfection taking place in her home kitchen. She decided to pursue it as a career, and enrolled in the culinary program at Schenectady County Community College with a baking concentration.
“It’s hard work, but I enjoy what I do,” she said. “Often, I find that I am looking for ways to use my recipes from home and incorporate them into the recipes that we use for the campus, and sometimes, we have to be innovative. At the end of the day, my team and I are truly passionate about what we do, and take pride in knowing that students and others enjoy our baked goods.”