Nicole Uy, The Flour Girl, Recommends: Must-Have Dessert Cookbooks and Dessert Emergency Supplies
When Nicole Uy was 8 years old, she traded her Barbies and Polly Pocket play sets for a new experience: baking with her mom. On that fateful day of baking instant brownies, banana bread, and butter cake, a budding pastry chef was born.
Nicole’s mom did not just encourage her to bake, she gave her the idea of selling her baked goods. “Instead of eating them and getting fat, we went from one house to another in our neighborhood selling our goodies. Of course, our neighbors couldn’t resist kids going door to door selling food, so we were at least able to earn a bit from this summer activity.” Besides this, she also chose to watch cooking shows instead of cartoons, thinking she’d host her own show someday.
Other times, she would hang around the kitchen. “Ever since I was little I’ve always wanted to work with food. I wasn’t the type of kid who was trained to do ballet or gymnastics since I was kind of chubby and I always found myself hanging out in our kitchen watching our househelp prepare food and most of the time, I help out and critique what they make.”
Eventually, she did go to culinary school, but not before completing a degree in BS Entrepreneurship. It was a move to appease her parents’ uncertainty about her desire to train as a pastry chef and an avenue for Nicole to have some flexibility after graduation. This way, she could have the option of pursuing her own venture or help out in her family’s own fast food business.
After a “3-month pastry course in ISCAHM (International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management) just so that I get a feel of the professional kitchen,” Nicole went to New York to for a 6-month Professional Baking and Pastry Program at The French Culinary Institute (now known as International Culinary Center). After which, she interned at a chocolatier called Sweet Bliss by Ilene Shane, where “the highlight of my training with them was the Lady Gaga chocolate project that were sold in Barney’s. While training with them, I also kept myself busy working at City Cakes wherein I learned everything about running a bakery. Since it was a small business, I did all the work — from opening the store, to baking, cashiering, cake decorating and delivering.” Before returning to Manila, she also worked at the Grandaisy Bakery wherein she learned to work with Italian breads.
In Manila, Nicole wanted to work in a hotel but her training was not enough. She did find work at a new (back then) bakery. “I was able to work for a new bakery called Chez Karine, which specializes in French macarons and pastries. I worked well with the chef-owner, Karen Yang but then I wasn’t comfortable with how the team was working, I was trained to work with diverse people but then work ethics in our country is totally different from how I was trained in the States and so I left. At first, my parents weren’t that happy that I left my job without having a back-up plan except my career plan and luckily they were convinced! ”
And so, The Flour Girl was born. It was the most natural thing for Nicole. “I’ve always loved sweets; I get excited and curious whenever I see pastries, cakes, and breads. And I’d definitely go straight to dessert instead of the main dish. When I was growing up, the smell of butter and vanilla and the sight of a bread selection fascinated me whenever I passed by the local bakeries. And that was my simple dream: to set-up a small bakery.”
However, when her mom asked her what her flagship product was to be, Nicole realized that she was stumped. “After a few months of baking from the house, doing some dessert buffet caterings and taking some orders, I was surprised that my Pumpkin Carrot Cake was ranked 2nd in SPOT.PH’s Top 10 Carrot Cakes in Manila. I’ve been baking this cake since I was in highschool and nobody in our house really appreciated this cake and it was one random order that I accepted which answered my mom’s question. Up until now, it’s still my flagship cake!”
These days, Nicole is working on The Flour Girl, making new recipes and redeveloping her existing ones, as well as creating new products.
Q&A with Nicole Uy, aka The Flour Girl
What are the top three dessert cookbooks you recommend to anyone?
My top dessert cookbooks are:
- Nestle Tollhouse All-Time Favorite Cookie and Baking Recipes. It’s my very first cookbook. My baking style is more of the old-fashioned American favorites and I grew up getting baking inspirations from this cookbook. It’s very straightforward, the ingredients are very handy and the recipes are spot on.
- Momofuku Milkbar by Christina Tosi is a quirky recipe book! Her recipes are very creative, inspiring and playful. I like the way she created her recipes based on her childhood flavors wherein the component of each recipe has an interesting story to tell.
- The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball is a very good reference book for home bakers. His approach to baking techniques, ingredients, and base recipes is very easy to understand.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?
Butter. It’s beautiful to work with butter; it simply makes everything taste better. For me, butter gives texture, body, flavor and life to food.
What is your rule of thumb when pairing desserts with drinks?
There’s no specific rule when pairing desserts with drinks, be it coffee, tea, cocktail or wine. I’m not that much of an expert when it comes to dessert pairings but one rule that I consider is that wine doesn’t have to be sweet to go with dessert. Usually, it’s even better if they are contrasting, like a sweet-and-salty pairing but still complement their flavors. One example is a California Chardonnay; its oaky and has a very buttery flavor with hints of vanilla and caramel, but it can be paired with a white chocolate macadamia cookie.
I’m not really a wine expert but pairing desserts with drinks is always an experiment and it’s a continuous learning process. It’s subjective and there’s no specific rule to follow. The only thing to remember is you enjoy what you eat with what you drink.
What do you make sure you always have in your kitchen, in case of craving emergencies or surprise guests?
My top five pantry must-haves for any dessert emergency:
- Heavy cream. Just whip a cup of cream with honey and serve it with some fresh fruits and mint leaves.
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips can be turned into a silky decadent chocolate ganache to serve on its own, with fresh strawberries or as a chocolate fondue.
- Frozen fruits such as peaches or strawberries can easily be made into a refreshing sherbet.
- Microwavable popcorn for a sweet and salty treat! Just cook your sugar into a caramel then toss it with a bag of popcorn.
- Peanut butter. Just a spoonful of peanut butter could easily satisfy a sweet craving.
What local places do you enjoy, from a pastry chef’s point of view?
Places that use indigenous ingredients and combine them with unique or new culinary techniques to create a one of a kind dining experience. It’s always nice to experience something new and combine it with traditional ways. Or sometimes, it’s the other way around, wherein I go to local corner bakeries for inspiration that can help me whip up something new or perhaps, inspire me to do a modern twist to the local delicacies that we have.
Aside from this, I also enjoy weekend markets to buy local produce that I can incorporate to my products since one of the things that I learned when I got back from New York was to learn how to adjust my products to the goods that are in season, and at the same time, the flavors that my target market would potentially enjoy.