Ok, ok…get your head out of the gutter…not that kind of whoopie! No, this kind is much sweeter. I am talking Whoopie Pies people!
Let me start by saying, that every so often you meet a person that really just warms your spirit and strikes you as a kindred spirit. I had the pleasure of just such an occasion last night after speaking with local DC baker, Beryl Hall of B. Hall, Baker.
First and foremost, I want to help Beryl with an immediate need she is reaching out to fellow cake lovers and local Washingtonians with a plea to help her raise funds for the equipment she needs to keep her business going. This entails a new oven that she managed to find deeply discounted, but the clock soon runs out on the amazing price she has been offered. In the spirit of small businesses and entrepreneurs everywhere, I am implore you to make a donation, no matter the size, to help keep Beryl’s confectionaries flowing to the public! She needs $8,500 in total and has only 8 DAYS LEFT. She has almost reached half of her goal, so help her to make it to the finish line! I promise, it will give you self gratification and good karma to pay it forward.
But now, a little about Beryl to get you aquainted. As a native Texan, Beryl wasn’t always an aspiring chef. Her love affair with food, much like mine, stemmed from her mother’s home cooking. “We used to have guests over to the house all of the time…and they were there for no other reason than to eat my mothers food,” she recalls. “That was always something I admired about her,” she added.
But Beryl had her sights set on a lofty future in the political realm which took here here to our very own Washington, DC. Here, she worked on Capitol Hill and lived to tell the story that she made her way through eight (count ’em) eight Presidential campaigns. She has worked in the White House in the company of Bill Clinton, and served as the Chief of Staff for two different members of Congress. Makes me exhausted just writing it! Needless to say, I was dually impressed and felt privileged to have the opportunity to talk with Beryl and hear her story.
And as if those stats weren’t impressive enough, Beryl recently added a new title to her resume with the opening of her very own baking company three years ago. It is here that she has learned to specialize in the persnickety art of crafting a quintessential American dessert – the Whoopie Pie.
Much like the rest of us DC gals, Beryl has always been a woman on the go, as evidenced by her iconic career above. But her dream of realizing her very own bakery began several years back with one of her tried and true family recipes that answers to the name of ‘Sand Tart.’ For all you non-native Texans, like myself, this delicious little treat consists of an indulgent butter cookie base, mixed with plenty of pecans, vanilla and a dusting of powdered sugar. Sounds divine. I believe I ate an iteration of these cookies as a kid from Keebler called ‘Pecan Sandies,’ a cheap knock-off version of the real thing, no doubt.
As one of her go-to recipes, Beryl treated friends and family to sweet, powdery goodness by cranking out several batches of these delicacies a few years back, much to the delight of her inner circle. In fact, one of those long-time pals reached out and exclaimed that he had no doubt she was onto something special and needed to RUN, not walk to creating her own bakery to share her cookie making talents with the world. He insisted on shopping the idea out, and asked her to give it a shot. He knew she had something special there that needed pursuing. Yet, Beryl was skeptical. “I hand’t the slightest clue of how to pull together a marketing approach, or run a professional cooking company for that matter,” she blatantly admitted.
But, with the seed planted, and her intense career in the DC politico scene winding down, she began to heartily mull the concept, but struggled in the minutia”how in the heck am I really gonna make this happen?!”
She thought, tested, and retried many a cookie recipe, but as many entrepreneurs with a dream have encountered, the idea and passion were there, but nothing gelled right. There was something missing and she began to think maybe it was a pipe dream. And, in the knick of time it happened – The New York Times published an article that stopped her in her tracks. It was about an old-fashioned sweet snack making a quiet resurgence. It was all about the Whoopie Pie.
Lightbulb moment! Beryl thought, I can’t dream up so many new recipes for my cookies, but I sure can come up with a lot of different and delicious recipes for cakes! And, the kicker was that these were something novel. Something that could keep that pervading cupcake trend on its tippy toes. “Whoopie Pies are just the perfect dessert,” she exclaimed. “They are only 135 calories a piece and last about three to four bites. That is the perfect party food.”
Her preference also lies with the neatness of the perfectly packaged Whoopie, cause they are just so much more party appropriate. In her own words, “You know, nobody looks pretty eating a cupcake.” I may just have to agree with her on that out of personal experience. It is a complete disaster each time I try, but who knows…maybe that is a personal issue.
Either way, turns out…she is really on to something. The Knot, a foremost wedding publication and “it” resource for brides, honored her pies with the BEST OF WEDDINGS 2012 Award. That is major, but not surprising after hearing straight from the source the love and care that goes into creating each batch.
“It is extremely labor intensive work,” says Beryl. “But it’s so rewarding when it all comes together.”
Using only the finest of ingredients, Beryl has distinguished her own unique flavor and texture that puts her heads above the rest. She uses European butter, (think Kerrygold) which is higher in fat and contains less water, and lilly flour from a southern based company to create the light and airy texture that she calls her own. She also uses a highly pulverized, fresh dried fruit, which are french flavorings that she discovered, also referred to as “aromas.” This allows her to use the native flavor of fruits, but maintain the desired consistency in her mixture. Pretty clever! For instance, she uses dried, wild french strawberries for her Strawberries & Cream cakes, and tart, dried raspberry for her Chocolate & Raspberry cakes.
And she must be doing it right, because people are clamoring for more. “One of my favorite stories a client has told me is that he caught his sister-in-law shoving my cakes into her purse when leaving his party,” she laughs. “I just loved hearing that they were so well received.”
Beryl has come a long way, from the Hill to her commercial kitchen in Annapolis. And she enjoys every second of her knew found love. “There is nothing better than attending parties with DC intellectuals these days, with degrees from some of the most prestigious universities and answering the inevitable DC party question – What do you do?,” she says. “I love to see the look on their faces when I proudly say…I make Whoopie Pies.”
“But most of all,” she concluded, “I really just love making people smile.”