I’ll be honest. I have never been to Buzz Bakery in Alexandria. It’s not that I don’t want to – I do. Buzz, which is a Neighborhood Restaurant Group establishment, has been on my “to visit” list ever since I read about them in the Washington Post Cupcake Wars. But let’s just say that when you live in Adams Morgan and don’t have a car, getting down to Alexandria requires a certain amount of personal will that I rarely have.
Still, Josh Short, the Executive Pastry Chef at Buzz Bakery found the time to talk with me a couple weeks ago about, among other things, the pastries at Buzz, the dessert menu at Talulla (another NRG joint), gluten-free baking, and cupcakes (you knew that was coming).
Short has an impressive resume, training at New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and getting his start in the Vegas restaurant scene. In the DC area, he’s served as the Executive Pastry Chef for the Star Restaurant Group, and was a 2005 and 2008 nominee for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s “Best Pastry Chef of the Year” award. In his current position, Short oversees all the baking operation at Buzz Bakery – cookies, cupcakes, pastries, and all. Short also collaborates with the chefs of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group restaurants (Rustico, Tallula, EatBar, Vermilion and Evening Star Café), to create and implement their dessert menus.
Does that sound exhausting? I’m exhausted just typing that last paragraph. Needless to say, I’m glad Short found some time in his busy schedule to dish about baking with ModernDomestic.
MD: Is there anything really good on the fall dessert menu at Tallula?
JS: Right now, we’re making a toffee chocolate brownie cake. It’s a layer of double chocolate brownie, and on top of that we put a layer of our own, homemade, English toffee, then a layer of chocolate mousse, and then pistachio ice cream. It’s great.
MD: How do you come up with desserts for Tallula and the other Neighborhood Restaurant Groups restaurants? What’s the process like?
JS: I’ll go over there and sit down with a chef. He’ll come up with ideas, and I’ll talk about what’s new and trendy.
MD: Are there any trends you see for this fall?
JS: Apples are a trend this fall because they’re getting ready to be in season – apple tart tatins, caramel apples, that kind of thing. I’d like it to be figs, but I have a hard time finding them – I want to make fig jam really badly.
MD: When you’re planning a desert menu, do you have to have a variety?
JS: Yes, you’ve got to hit everybody’s palate. And there are a lot of diet restrictions with our customers – like gluten free – that you have to think about.
MD: I always think that gluten free baking is so much harder to do.
JS: At first I thought that, but now I’m really into it. Have you heard of this place called Babycakes, in New York? Most of their stuff is vegan, and some is gluten free. I’m made these raspberry scones out of their book and they’re so good. I’ve made them three times this week.
MD: I always shy away from ordering gluten free desserts.
JS: I was the same way – I thought “this is not going to be very good.” Here’s the thing – you have to use good ingredients. I use rice flour and almond flour [in gluten-free baking], which is full of fat and flavor, and adds a whole other dimension to the dessert. We sell a gluten-free brownie at Buzz that uses rice and almond flour, and it’s really good.
MD: Buzz is known in the cupcake blogosphere for your signature cupcakes. Like the bacon cupcake you sold in August [devils food cake topped with a bacon peanut butter frosting].
JS: The bacon cupcake – that was fun. We got the idea for that because Vosges came out with that chocolate bacon candy bar, and we were skeptical. But once we tried it, we realized it was really good, and we thought, “how could we make this better?” The peanut butter adds a whole other dimension. And it helps that we use really good, applewood smoked bacon. I think people are skeptical of the bacon cupcake, until they try it.
MD: Do you do signature cupcakes every month?
JS: Yes. Right now it’s a s’mores cupcake. October will be a Guinness cupcakes for Oktoberfest, caramel apple cupcakes, and pumpkin cupcakes. I just got this new Halloween book, and I’m really excited – I want to do ghosts and other Halloween cupcakes, probably using marshmallows.
MD: Do you think the cupcake craze is just a craze?
JS: I don’t think there’s room for anymore out there – the fittest are the one that are going to stay open. But I don’t think it’s a fad – I don’t think it’s going to die out.
MD: Is there something that you love to bake that you never do – because it’s not profitable?
JS: Not really – everything can be profitable. If you put a lot of expensive ingredients in an item – like nuts and chocolate – your customers will pay for that. So I don’t think there’s anything out of our price range. But there are some things that you can’t eat all the time. Like cupcakes we make for the 9:30 club are so good – chocolate cupcake filled with a vanilla butter cream, topped with a mousse, and glazed with chocolate. But you can’t eat one of those every day.
When I first came here, we did a lot of fancy french desserts, but people didn’t want that. Simple, down-home cooking is more my thing now – straight forward desserts. It’s the flavors, but it’s also the memories that are tied to the flavors. That’s more my thing now.
MD: Any other events happening this fall?
The Neighborhood Restaurant Group is putting together an event for Octoberfest on Saturday, October 10. Rustico will have a band and different special beers, and we’ll have the Guinness cupcakes. It’s a benefit to help raise money for DC Central Kitchen. You should grab some friends and come down.
MD: I will try!
And I will – it’s an excuse to get down to Alexandria, drink some good beer, and finally check out Buzz. Who else is with me?