At Millard Pastry in Hampden, baking is art and science

Caitlin Kiehl first became fond of baking while making Oreo cheesecake in a high school cooking class at the age of 15.

“By the third week of class, I was like, ‘I’m going to own a restaurant someday,’” Kiel says with a laugh. “The cheesecake was so easy and the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten. I was like, ‘So that’s what I’m going to do.

After high school, Kiehl studied pastry at a culinary school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then trained in a chocolate shop with a pastry chef. Hiring soon followed, with stops along the way at the famous Proof Bakery in Los Angeles and, eventually, Charleston and Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.

In early March, Kiehl opened Maillard Pastries, a convenient storefront in Hampden where, after arriving at 3 a.m. (and working hard until 8 p.m.), Kiehl makes everything from morning cakes to chocolate chip cookies to scones.

“People here are interested in little bakeries and restaurants,” Kiel says. “I’m still shocked that people are coming in and buying so much.”

What inspired the name Maillard?
I love learning about how things work and why they work. I have a great book on the scientific reasons behind things. I was browsing through the book of chocolates, and they were analyzing chemical reactions and Maillard was one of them who spoke to me. [In a Maillard reaction]The sugars and amino acids react with heat to get a nice brown color, which is a big part of what makes croissants so delicious.

Why bread?
My dad is an engineer and I think I have that kind of mindset. I like to know how things work, and why they work; I want to know all things about all things. This is a big difference between bakers and chefs. Bakers do things more by feeling.

With so many bakeries here, what would you like your niche to be?
The bakery I first learned to make croissants was proof. I enjoyed working there. The vibe there was like, “If there’s something you want to try, we’ll give it a try and see if it works.” Most of them were women who worked there, and that was really supportive, cooperative and respectful – I designed my entire baking business based on that.

What should a first timer get?
If they get here early enough they should get the chocolate croissants and almond croissants – we sell out pretty fast. And get the chocolate chip cookies. They are my favorite thing. I eat at least one a day.

What is the most labor intensive product?
Croissants are especially time consuming. I make the dough at night, and it sits overnight. I forgave it the next day. It is covered, shaped and sits overnight again. Then I proof it for 2 hours and then bake it. It’s a three-day process that takes up a large portion of each day. I’ve only ever been a baker, but sometimes I forget to promote it. I’ve always been committed to this quality – it makes a difference.

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