TAMPA — The way Julie Curry tells it, she had never made a cupcake before she entered the Ybor Saturday Market's Cupcake Contest in 2013. She won first place with her French Toast Maple Bacon concoction.
I'm sitting in the Hall on Franklin with Curry, trying to figure out how she went from novice cook to owner of Bake'n Babes, the bakery in Tampa's first food hall.
You must be exaggerating, I say. Why would you enter a cupcake contest if you'd never baked a cupcake before?
Curry, who had a lot of time on her hands while on maternity leave from her job at a medical recruiting company, thought "How hard could it be?"
"Maybe I was delirious from a lack of sleep," she says.
She'll cop to testing the recipe over and over, taking the competition prep seriously. But she's not kidding about being inexperienced. After she won the contest, they let her sell the rest of her cupcakes at the event. When people came up to ask how much they were, she hadn't even thought of a price.
"How much would you buy one for?" she asked one customer. "$3? Okay, sure!"
Curry was invited back the next week to sell more cupcakes.
That "How hard could it be?" mentality seems to be the key to her sweet success.
As we take to the Bake'n Babes kitchen to make one of her signature treats, a chocolate torte, she tells me a story.
One day, the owners of Tampa's Anise Global Gastrobar, who hired Curry as their pastry chef a few years after she won that cupcake contest, asked if she could make a flourless chocolate torte. She did not know how to make a flourless chocolate torte.
"Yes, absolutely," she said.
Then she went into the bathroom and watched a video of Emeril making chocolate tortes.
That same recipe is the one she's teaching me today.
Another time, an employee at the Hall on Franklin suggested Curry sell "slutty brownies" — essentially a brownie, Oreo and cookie bar that Curry renamed the "sleazy brownie."
"I had no idea what they were, but figured we could give it a shot," she says. It's now one of their bestsellers.
And you need to know about the liege waffles, one of Curry's most unique menu items.
They're made from a pearl sugar-inflected dough that is yeast-based, more like a brioche, then pressed in a cast-iron waffle press. The origin of this idea? Belgium, where Curry once ate the best waffles of her life. She bought the press after that trip and diligently re-created the waffles to serve at the Hall. She even orders little Belgian flags from "an old man in Georgia" and sticks them in the finished waffle, just like the Belgians do. No big deal.
It was Curry's connection at Anise that got her into the Hall on Franklin, which opened in fall 2017 as a new concept for Tampa: a food hall with several vendors under the same roof.
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When Jamal Wilson, the developer behind the Hall, was discussing early plans with Anise owner Kevin Hurt, Hurt had a suggestion for who could crank out baked goods in the space.
Bake'n Babes, a play on the bacon-centric products Curry was making a lot of at the time, was born.
Curry, 35, is a Tampa native who graduated from the University of South Florida in 2008 and has lived in the formerly named Channelside area for almost a decade. She gushes about Tampa, and during our chat rattles off a list of local folks she has collaborated with or been buoyed by over the years: Kelly Lessem and Amy Losoya, who own Squeeze Juice Works and have been selling Curry's granola for years; Lynn Kroesen, who ran the Ybor Saturday Market and told Curry where to buy her first market table.
She did not cook for a long time. Her husband had to show her how to cut an onion after their first child was born.
But Curry took to baking because of how scientific it is. Cooking requires intuition, but baking is more precise.
"If you follow the recipe," she said, "it should theoretically come out correctly."
Maybe that logical way of looking at a slice of cheesecake has influenced Curry's work ethic. That, and the French chef who told her not to take things too seriously.
This was a couple of years ago, when Curry traveled to Paris with her husband and took classes at La Cuisine Paris cooking school.
"The instructor kept saying 'French people are lazy,' " Curry says. "He'd say, 'A macaron? It's just a cookie. Get it out of your head that you can't make something because it's too complicated.' "
She seems to have taken that to heart, and not only when it comes to recipes.
Curry does it all for Bake'n Babes: the marketing, the social media, the recipe creation, the managing of her six employees. And all in a 280-square-foot kitchen.
"There's nothing inherently difficult about it — it's making cookies and brownies," she says. "But to stand out, there's a level of work ethic and commitment that can't be taught."
I still think she's underselling some of her natural baking talents. But the hustle is real.
"You have to be ready to spend all of your time doing something like this," Curry says. "Not just eight hours, but all of your waking hours. When I'm making my kids dinner, I'm thinking about my next social media post."
She'd like to continue to grow, maybe get into a larger kitchen where she could crank out big batches of her granola for wholesale. She'd love to sell in Publix one day.
How hard could it be?
Contact Michelle Stark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mstark17.
IF YOU GO
Bake'n Babes, inside the Hall on Franklin, 1701 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 405-4008.
Strawberry Pie Recipe
For the crust:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
½ cup cold buttermilk
For the filling:
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 ½ pounds fresh strawberries, washed, cored and quartered
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
Demerara sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add cold, cubed butter and use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Create a well in the mixture and pour in the cold buttermilk. Use a pastry cutter or a fork to bring the dough together.
On a lightly floured work surface, pour out dough mixture. Divide the dough in two and gently knead into two discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Chilling the pie dough is critical to allow the gluten strands time to settle and relax, and it also prevents shrinkage during the baking process. Dough can be made a day or two in advance if needed. Keep chilled.
When ready to use, let dough soften slightly for approximately 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.
Make the filling: Mix cornstarch into the lemon juice. Any time you have to add cornstarch to thicken up a mixture, make sure to mix it into a smooth liquid first or you will have clumps of cornstarch in your mixture. In a medium bowl, mix strawberries, sugar, salt and cornstarch mixture and set aside for 10 minutes.
On a well-floured surface, roll one of your pie discs out to ⅛ inch thick; this will be your bottom crust. Transfer to a 9-inch pie dish and trim any dough overhang.
Roll out your second pie disc. You can make a lattice top by cutting it into strips and weaving them, or you can take a cookie cutter and cut out shapes. We like to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter and a state of Florida cookie cutter, one of our personal favorites. Cut out shapes and set aside.
Pour pie filling into pie crust. Place shapes of pie crust on top of your filling. Brush the pie dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Place pie on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes until pie crust is gold and bubbling.
Allow pie to cool fully before serving.
Makes 1 pie.
Source: Julie Curry
Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte
For the torte:
18 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup water
¾ cup granulated sugar
9 tablespoons butter
For the ganache:
8 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
Weigh out 18 ounces of chocolate and put in large bowl. Weigh out another 8 ounces of chocolate and put in a small bowl; set aside.
Mix water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
While the simple syrup is cooking on the stovetop, melt butter and pour melted butter into the large bowl with 18 ounces chocolate.
Once sugar has dissolved in water, pour boiling simple syrup into large bowl with melted chocolate and butter, then stir until there are no lumps of chocolate.
Beat eggs in a separate small bowl, then whisk into melted chocolate mixture.
Heavily spray a springform pan with cooking spray and pour chocolate mixture into the pan.
Put the 9-inch springform pan into a 10-inch cake pan and sit that inside a large, deep pan, at least 5 inches deep.
Fill the pan with hot water until it reaches halfway up the 10-inch pan. Cook at 325 degrees for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, check to see if torte is done by gently nudging pan. If the torte is shiny on top and still jiggling, it needs another 10 minutes or so.
Once torte is done cooking, pull out of oven and get the ganache ready.
Heat 1 cup heavy cream on stovetop and, once boiling, pour into the small bowl with 8 ounces chocolate. Stir until smooth.
Pour ganache all over the top of the torte, smoothing ganache with a rubber spatula.
Let cool for at least 30 minutes before refrigerating, to prevent condensation.
Cover with aluminum foil and place in fridge. The next day, unclasp springform pan and transfer torte to an airtight container. Place back in fridge until ready for serving.
Source: Julie Curry