Women are rising in pastry, says Erika Chan, pastry chef for The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, and Anker in Chicago. “Truly there are just so many talents in the pastry game right now, and we’re seeing more female rising stars than ever,” Chan says.
But these women are not just using their pastry powers to make money for restaurant business, they’re baking sweets for a cause. In December, pastry chefs from throughout the U.S. worked together on an “cookie swap” that allowed patrons in Chicago to purchase cookies from bakers in Detroit, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and more. A portion of the proceeds was donated to Deborah’s Place, a Chicago nonprofit that supports women’s housing.
The idea was born on International Women’s Day in 2018 when then-pastry chef at The Publican Dana Cree set up a cookie swap at Publican Quality Meats.
“While we don’t need a single day to recognize the impact of women in the world, we can’t pass up the opportunity to highlight the love and labor poured into our culinary industry by women around the city,” Cree told the Chicago Tribune.
Cree left in April to open her own company, Pretty Cool Ice Cream, but Chan is carrying the cookie swap torch.
“We thought it would be great to bring back the swap,” Chan says. “We, too, wanted to bring together female pastry chefs, but decided to reach out farther across the country.”
The swap included recipes from Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Café in Boston, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl in Los Angeles, Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie in Detroit, and Nicole Guini of Blackbird from hometown Chicago. The spread was peppered with Scandinavian ginger snaps, chocolate snickerdoodles, and sandwich cookies.
“Cookies have a way of bringing people together,” Chan says. “There’s a communal spirit around the cookie jar, it’s designed for sharing so it just makes sense for collaboration. The holidays are all about family, and it means so much to pass along the tradition of cookie baking. I think now more than ever I’ve realized the impact we can have by working together; what’s great alone is even better together.”
Chan made a frosted almond cookie, a recipe that has meaning for her.
“I chose a cookie that I grew up making every year with my mom for our cookie plate to give friends,” Chan says. “It’s my aunt’s recipe and I’ve never seen another cookie like it. I also love almond paste.”