Free spirit
Dutch almond cookies are heavenly — and gluten-free.

Free spirit

A Brattleboro baker finds a business model that matches her personality

WEST BRATTLEBORO — When you think of baking for the holidays, what comes to mind? Sugar cookies? Gingerbread houses?

What comes to my mind is Patricia Austin.

Patricia, a local Vermonter, has nurtured a passion for baking her entire life. Trained in classical French pastry techniques, she began her trade apprenticing under local icons Chuck Hornsby and Jeff Hamelman.

She then ventured out, honing her skills over many years of passionate work. She traveled the world - including visiting Paris - only to return to her first love, Brattleboro.

Patricia opened her first bakery, the Bread Tree, in Keene, with then-husband Gabriel Capy. But even Keene felt far away, and Patricia missed her roots.

“I cried every day,” she says. An exaggeration, perhaps, but still she felt bereft.

Patricia returned to her side of the Connecticut River and tried another hand at retail baking. The Diamond Cow opened in downtown Brattleboro with an ideal location. But the business model still didn't suit her: “The bakery owned me, and not vice versa,” she says.

Patricia is a free spirit; you can see that in her pastries. She needed a business model to reflect this. During her stint with the Diamond Cow, she sold baked goods at the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market (BAFM). Patricia loved the market, crediting the talented vendors and loyal customer base. The retail location was a perfect fit - outside, surrounded by nature. Inside the bakery, all week long, she pined away for Saturdays, when she would reunite with the BAFM community.

There were many signs steering her away from the Diamond Cow, including the name.

“It came from a dream,” she explains in the self-effacing way we do when holding something in esteem while gently poking fun of it. She never liked the name; it never felt like home.

Patricia's intuitive courage, head for business, and heart for baking eventually paid off when the Wild Flour Vermont Bakery morphed from the Diamond Cow.

Wild Flour did not arrive in a dream; rather, it developed over time like a well-tended garden. Patricia describes “an increasing awareness... it was not like a vision. I just went.” While honing her baking skills, she remained passionate. “If I don't bake for a few days, I miss it.”

Wild Flour began in a small room. “I lived in the bakery.”

From there, she moved into her current house, where an adjacent room serves as her bakery. While baking, she listens to “You Are Here” by the Wailin' Jennys.

Finally, Patricia has begun feeling at home in vocation and location. Indeed, she is.

* * *

Wild Flour Vermont Bakery offers French-European-style products. The focus is on sweets: cakes, tarts, tortes, cookies, and bars. She bakes foundational pastries that people have come to love: croissants, danish, shortbreads, and brownies. A loyal customer says Patricia could retire on her maple shortbread alone - it's that good.

An evolving focus of the business features gluten-free delicacies: macarons, a delicate meringue cookie made with almond flour; bouchon, fancy cork-shaped stand-up brownies; French apple cakes; and a new favorite, the Painted Mountain corn cake.

This special cake is named after Painted Mountain corn flour: Abenaki corn, ground fine and milled locally through Lost Barn Farm in East Putney. The cakes contain lemon curd with a few local blueberries tossed in.

“I have a big blueberry patch and all the eggs come from my laying hens!” says Patricia; as she describes these cakes, her whole being lights up. The cake embodies her bakery's motto: “rustic elegance.”

Patricia's love for pastry arts extends beyond the bakery. She moonlights as a recipe tester/pastry developer and is currently recipe testing for French pastry chef Pierre Herme's next book on macarons.

She is also creating a gluten-free (baking) cookbook featuring some of her favorite creations.

“A recipe is just a suggestion,” she believes. Recipes are meant to inspire creativity.

The following is one of Patricia's favorite recipes, adapted from one supplied by a dear friend.

Heavenly, gluten-free Dutch almond cookies

Abundant with almond flavor and a tender buttery crumb, these cookies are a delightful treat for the holiday season. And no one would ever guess these are gluten free!

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Line a 12 x17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine and sift into a bowl:

¶6{1/2} ounces gluten-free flour blend (your choice)

¶{1/2} teaspoon baking soda

¶{1/4} teaspoon salt

Set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream at high speed for 2 minutes:

¶7 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

¶7 ounces sugar

Continue beating at high speed and gradually add:

¶8{1/2} ounces almond paste, cut into walnut size pieces

Beat for 2 minutes. The almond paste might still appear as small bits in the dough, but this is okay.

On medium speed, add:

¶1 large egg yolk

Beat for 1 minute, scraping down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula midway through mixing.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the sifted dry ingredients, and mix for 1 minute, or until the dough is well blended.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and using a rubber spatula, scrape down the insides and bottom to ensure the dough is thoroughly blended.

Roll the dough into 36 balls and place 6 cookies onto the parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1{1/2} inches between each cookie.

Press one each onto the top of each cookie:

¶36 whole natural or blanched almonds

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden around the edges. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set to cool on a wire baking rack for 5 minutes.

Slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet and onto the cooling rack. Repeat the baking steps for the remaining cookie dough.

Store the baked cookies, wrapped in plastic for up to one week, or freeze, well wrapped in plastic, for up to one month.

* * *

You can visit Wild Flour Vermont Bakery on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (3 p.m. during December), at the Winter Farmers Market at the River Garden, Main Street, Brattleboro.

Special orders are welcome, contingent on pre-existing small batches. Patricia makes Christmas stollen and, with one or two weeks' notice for orders, will make bûche de noël, the famous holiday sponge cake intricately decorated as a yule log.

Wild Flour continues selling at the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market during the warmer seasons.

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