An Interview With Tiffany MacIsaac, Pastry Chef at Birch and Barley

by moderndomestic on October 29, 2009

Birch and Barley - Cookies

There's more than just beer available at Birch and Barley.

DC pastry lovers – take note: Birch and Barley isn’t just about the beer.

No, there are equally great things happening in the kitchen under the skilled direction of Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac. A self proclaimed “cookie snob,” MacIsaac most recently worked as the pastry chef at Allen & Delancey in New York City before moving to DC to take the job at Birch and Barley, the newest restaurant from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Tiffany MacIssac

Tiffany MacIsaac - the Pastry Chef at Birch and Barley, the long-awaited beer-centric restaurant that opened last week in Logan Circle.

In case you were wondering, MacIsaac prefers her cookies freshly baked and still warm from the oven – when a cookie is in its most Platonic, enjoyable state. In fact, one of her ideas for the newly opened restaurant is to have a “late night cookie bake,” where lingering customers can purchase freshly baked cookies from their waiter.

After all, after a couple beers, who wouldn’t go for a fresh, warm cookie, straight from the oven?

It’s ideas like this – creative spins on classic comfort foods – that should make Birch and Barley patrons as excited about the desserts as they are about the beer. I sat down with MacIssac at Birch and Barley last Saturday, and she impressed me with her creativity, attention to detail, enthusiasm, and, of course, her lovely desserts.

DC’s beer lovers should be pleased that MacIsaac is no beer novice herself; she and her husband Kyle Bailey, Birch and Barley’s Executive Chef, brew their own at home. “I appreciate beer for all its details,” says MacIsaac. “I think it’s so much more interesting than wine. And for the price, you can try so much more of it – it’s a small commitment.”

Birch and Barley - Dessert Plate

From left to right: pumpkin pie ice cream, pudding pop, "Hostess" cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, passion fruit marshmallow, and chestnut honey caramels.

Her dessert menu for features classic, nostalgic desserts that are updated with thoughtful, elegant touches. Her chocolate peanut butter tart is paired with a whiskey vanilla milkshake, which she thinks will become the restaurant’s signature dessert. Her French toast is deep-fried in clarified butter and served with oatmeal ice cream. Also on the menu are caramelized bananas served with a bacon caramel sauce and a figgy toffee pudding made with black mission figs. And for the kid in you, there’s a cookie plate – complete with a gourmet “Hostess” cupcake filled with white chocolate mousse and a melt-in-your mouth oatmeal cream pie.

Some of the menu items incorporate beer, such as the honey crisp apple beignet, made with apples roasted in hard cider and battered in an oatmeal stout batter. For the table bread service, she makes a pretzel roll that uses porter, giving the bread “a rich golden color and a nice yeasty flavor.” If you need help paring a dessert or any menu item with a beer, never fear – Greg Engert, the NRG beer director, has been intensively training the wait staff on expansive beer menu, so they should be well equipped to offer food pairing suggestions.

Birch and Barley - Sorbets

From left to right: concord grape, vanilla buttermilk, apple cider, cranberry, and passion fruit yogurt sorbets.

MacIsaac also offers a rotating selection of fourteen sorbets, which is one of her favorite menu items (she even thought of opening an ice cream shop before the Birch and Barley opportunity came up). “Everyone at the table has a different favorite,” she says of the sorbet plate, which features five flavors at a time. On the day I visited, I tried concord grape, cranberry, passion fruit yogurt, vanilla buttermilk, and apple cider sorbets. “The vanilla-buttermilk sorbet gets the strongest reaction,” MacIsaac added, which was certainly true in my case. It was light and tangy and refreshing – and definitely my favorite of the bunch.

MacIsaac is committed to making everything in house at Birch and Barley, from the breads to the cookies to each component of her desserts. “I don’t see why a pastry chef should use [pre-packaged] graham cracker crumbs,” MacIsaac says. Right now, Birch and Barley’s bread program is almost entirely in house – the only thing they order out is the Ciabatta for the sandwiches at ChurchKey. And if MacIsaac has her way, soon they won’t even be doing that.


Glamour shot from ChurchKey - I want those chairs!

So yes, you can get excited about the beer – about the 50 beers on tap, and hundreds of beers in bottles. But also, get excited about the pastry – like a “Hostess” cupcake that actually tastes like chocolate, delicately flavored passion fruit marshmallows, and the possibility of a “build your own sundae” dessert (another one of MacIsaac’s ideas for the dessert menu). Get very excited.

You really should be.

Birch and Barley - Beer Organ

Okay, so you can still get excited about the beer. The "beer organ" at Birch and Barley carries the beer to the taps at Churchkey, which is upstairs.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil October 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Wow, dessert is definitely NOT an afterthought (whiskey vanilla milkshake!) and the rest of their menu looks really interesting too. The next time I’m in DC, I want to go to there!


moderndomestic October 29, 2009 at 2:44 pm

We should go! Dessert and appetizers are usually my favorite part of a meal (entrees are nice, but less imaginative), so I love it when a place really spends time on their desserts.


Alice October 29, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Now I really want to go try their apple cider sorbet. Tasty! How do they (and you) get the alcohol to not raise the freezing point of the frozen dessert? Or alternatively, how do you compensate for that?


moderndomestic October 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I’m not sure how she does it, but what I would do is make a mixture of hard apple cider and regular apple cider, and then freeze it in an ice cream maker. That’s pretty much what I did for the lambic sorbet (except it was with lambic and strawberry puree) and it worked quite well.


FrenchTwistDC November 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I think the passion fruit marshmallow and I are going to be friends.


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