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Inside the Kitchen: Home Baker Dana Talks Sweets

GMT is launching a new series called Inside the Kitchen! Each quarter, we are taking a peak inside resident kitchens around town.

It smells like a bakery walking into Dana Cecil’s kitchen. She just made her infamous raspberry bars several hours earlier in preparation for this interview.

“It’s really funny, because I’ve never had one,” she says.

Cecil is allergic to nuts. She bakes a number of recipes with nuts in them, including her raspberry bars, and hasn’t tried any of them. Yet, whenever she sets up a booth at the Globe-Miami Farmers’ Market, her raspberry bars sell like hot cakes. In fact, whenever Cecil sells any of her sweets at the Globe-Miami Farmers’ Market, she almost always sells out. On a typical day, she brings at least two to three batches of brownies, a big crumb cake, scones, French doughnuts, big cookies, two kinds of granola, madeleines, and at least two batches of raspberry bars.

Cecil shies away from the term culinary. She considers herself nothing more than a home baker. To her, baking is not a business; it is simply her passion. She never went to culinary school. Like everyone else in her family, she just loves to cook, and especially bake — and she’s good at it.

“The thing that I do the best, is I can usually read a recipe and know if it’s going to taste good or not, or be a good one,” she says. “I love to read a cookbook. I’ll look at a cookbook or a cooking magazine as much as I would read anything else.”

Two of Dana's signature desserts:  dark chocolate fudge brownies and raspberry bars
Two of Dana’s signature desserts: dark chocolate fudge brownies and raspberry bars. Photo by Linda Gross

Perhaps that explains how she can bake things she has never tried, and have them turn out. She is constantly scouting for new recipes online, in cooking magazines, and in cookbooks.

“Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll do a cream cheese brownie, a carmel, or a rocky road, something like that. I like to mix it up.”

One time she made almond paste from scratch. Another time she made vegan cupcakes using coconut yogurt.

Cecil has lived in Globe for the last 30 years. It wasn’t until eight years ago, though, that her daughter Paige came up with the idea of baking creations at home to sell locally. One thing led to another, and Cecil and her husband Chris converted the kitchen in their guesthouse into a health department-approved commercial kitchen. They brought in a Maytag double oven, a three-compartment sink, and a restaurant table.

“We just kind of went for it,” Cecil remembers. “I don’t think I would have done any of it if Paige hadn’t said, ‘Let’s do this!’”

Cecil and Paige started out baking scones, brownies, and turnovers for Vide E Caffe, prior to the arrival of local caterer and chef extraordinaire Jordan Baker.

Nowadays, when Cecil is not baking for the farmers’ market, she is baking up local requests for baby showers, book clubs, holidays, or even delivering a box of brownies to someone’s house.

“I’ve had someone call me and say they needed something by the afternoon,” she says.

As long as she has enough time to cool something before cutting it, it’s not a problem.

Producing this much sweetness requires a well-stocked kitchen. She continues to add to her collection of baking pans, including the springform pans she found online (which she swears by), and bundt pans. She has all of the necessities, like spatulas, knives, and mixing bowls. She always keeps parchment paper and foil around to line pans with. That way, things don’t stick, and she has less dishes to wash. She also keeps a ruler handy, so she can measure and cut her bars and brownies into the exact the same size.

Perhaps even more important than her cooking materials, however, are the ingredients she always keeps on hand.

Baking powder and salt are obviously a must. Baking is a science, Cecil explains. It requires getting the amounts just right to create a perfect chemical reaction.

She is particular about the ingredients she uses.Baking  6033

“I really try to use good quality things. I want [everything] to taste really good,” she says. “I don’t want to bake something and have it taste like a box mix. I don’t even want it to taste like something you got at the grocery store.”

As she talks, I notice a large bottle of Nielsen Massey vanilla extract out on the kitchen counter, which she got from Simply Sarah’s.

“I was happy to get that, because it really is good quality,” she says.

When possible, she will use ingredients that are in season, using fresh apples from her apple trees to make turnovers.

She also always keeps flour, sugar, bars of unsweetened chocolate, butter, and shredded coconut on hand. Of course, she always has nuts, and raspberry jam — those are what make the raspberry bars.

“What I cook is not healthy,” she says. “It’s good, but it’s not healthy. I wouldn’t tell anyone to eat a pound of brownies.”

She also has a keen eye for presentation. Muffin and cupcake wrappers, packaging, boxes, a huge ball of twine (to tie things off with), glass dishes, and bags are spread around the living room of the guest house.

“What I like best is to make everything look pretty,” she says. “It has to taste good, but if things look good, people enjoy it so much more.”

For example, she will give her carrot cupcakes a rustic look using cream cheese icing topped with toasted coconut flakes.

Her biggest draw, however, are her raspberry bars, scones, and brownies. By the time she is selling those at the farmers’ market, she has already put in 10 hours of baking in her kitchen the day before. That doesn’t include the extra three-plus hours she spends frosting, cutting, and boxing everything the morning of the farmers’ market, so that it is ready to sell by the time the market starts at 8.

Truly, it is a labor of love.

About Jenn Walker

Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.

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