Friday, July 12, 2013

Baker's Profile

Meg Ray

Meg Ray
“I eat cake every single morning, and I don’t ever want to wake up any other way!” says Meg Ray, founder of what has been dubbed the San Francisco Bay Area’s most charming pastry shop.

Today, Miette—the French word for “crumb”—has four locations around the Bay Area. In 2011 Meg published Miette, a cookbook that “brings the enchantment home,” according to the publisher’s blurb. That’s a long way from Meg’s beginnings more than 10 years ago, when she sold her classic carrot, coconut, and chocolate cakes at a single farmers’ market in Berkeley, California.

“I would bring four or five cakes to the market every week—and at least one would be a crazy-ambitious creation,” Meg says, laughing. She adds that she’d still be at that farmers' market if she hadn’t eventually needed a refrigerated case to keep up with customer demand.

In 2005 Meg was invited to open a shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, a mecca for food lovers from near and far. She began expanding her kitchen facilities beyond the space she’d been renting at the Food Mill, a health-food store in Oakland. In 2009 she moved her entire baking operation to Oakland’s Jack London Square, where she also opened a new Miette store. In the meantime, she had opened a second San Francisco store; and in 2011 her newest shop opened its pretty green doors across the bay in Marin County. She now has 40 employees.

Meg, a Palo Alto native, says she developed her love of baking as a consequence of having had poor eyesight as a child. When her mother took her to be fitted for glasses, the very first thing she saw clearly was a pastry case. Ever since, she has wanted to recreate that memorable experience.

Meg’s stores aren’t merely chock-full of beautifully packaged cookies, cakes, and candies; they are also, as her book put it, “confectionary fantasies.” Their décor was inspired by pastry-shop windows in Paris, with whimsically papered walls and jars of nougats, gumballs, salted caramels, and other irresistible treats that entice customers ... sometimes for the visual feast alone. Soon chocolates will be added to the mix: Meg plans to start making chocolate bars at the store in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood.

Meg works closely with head pastry chef Nancy Kajiyama to maintain the quality, precision, and consistency of every confection the team produces. “When we develop recipes, we don’t want our customers to feel overwhelmed,” says Nancy, whose California Culinary Academy training complements Meg’s business and baking expertise. “We look for subtlety and depth. We don’t want anyone to be stuffed or full, but just right.”

Miette’s biggest sellers, both in the stores and online, are macarons and American cakes. “Macarons are the new cupcakes,” says Meg. The shop’s meringue icing is also hugely popular, she adds: “We love using meringue on our pastries because it is incredibly versatile and economical—we use it on cakes, cupcakes, and tartlets.” One Miette specialty is infusing meringue with an eyedropper filled with flavored oil; lemon, mint, and rose geranium are among the flavors she favors.

“We like to use organic, unprocessed products as much as possible,” says Meg. She prefers C&H® Pure Cane Organic Sugar, “because when it’s heated, the crystals transform from a brown color into a glossy white with a perfect texture and shine for delicate confections.”

For more about types of meringues, see our Baking Tips article, “How to Make the Perfect Meringue.”

1 comment:

  1. I make Pavlova on a regular basis and meringues are a Passover staple in our home. I am intrigued by your directions for making the meringue for the cake. I look forward to making the lemon meringue cake!