Caroline Schiff has changed my life, without her knowing it. On a balmy summer evening, I visited the recently reopened Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn, a 125-year-old restaurant of which Schiff is the pastry chef. While everything is delicious, it was her signature coconut lime cake, in tandem with a salted caramel chocolate cake, that left me speechless.
âI feed everyone through food and baking – this is how I take care of my friends and family, like a language of love,â she explains. âI love my community and the strangers at Gage & Tollner, I love my friends, I love my family. If I go to dinner with them, I always bring something. This is how I connect with people.
So when the pandemic first hit New York City, once again delaying the grand reopening of Gage & Tollner, Schiff was unsure of what to do. There were tears, lots of sleep, phone calls to his mother, and a catastrophic scroll. It wasn’t until Schiff realized that she found calm while cooking, as her hands were covered in flour, that she devoted herself to crafts at home. That, and she wanted to keep Gage & Tollner’s sourdough starter alive whenever the world picked up.
Schiff went full steam ahead with the leaven. She made loaf after loaf of bread, sharing the entrance with those who inquired and also sought the pleasure of cooking. In her own words, that’s when she âoverdosed on breadâ and began to turn to new recipes.
âOne of the things I love about being a chef is just creativity [in] the R&D process, âexplains Schiff. âThe stakes are relatively low. As the worst that can happen is that it’s not delicious – and then you just don’t make it again or you learn from it. “
The recipes that make up his next cookbook, The sweet side of sourdough, began to come together, despite Schiff not intentionally trying to write a cookbook. Instead, she baked sweet buns with sourdough, cakes, split buns, cookies – anything she could imagine that still used the living ingredient but wasn’t another loaf of bread. . And like a mystical baking fairy from her Greenpoint brownstone, she was handing out her treats to the neighbors.
To many, the idea of ââsourdough in candy may seem unappealing, but Schiff is a flavor magician, finding the perfect balance between taste and sugar. “I will always have a salty element or a salty element [in my desserts] because I think it makes things a little more compelling and sort of enticing – it makes you want to go back for more, âsays Schiff. “[Sourdough] offers that kind of tangy or flavorful undertone that pairs really well with salt, caramel and chocolate. It has an earthy quality that pairs so well with lots of fruit.
Even her chocolate cake – the same one I obsessively consumed during my night out at Gage & Tollner – contains sourdough. âIt’s not on the menu but it’s just my little secret,â smiles Schiff.
But one of the more special recipes that Schiff has developed for his cookbook is honey-glazed split bread. After testing and retesting the recipe, she received the seal of approval from her friend’s three-year-old daughter, who peeled layer after layer of the butter-enriched dough, methodically working her way through the bread. The sticky honey frosting that seeps through the crevices livens up the bread more, balancing the sourdough.
âWith the pull-apart, you cut these squares of dough and then line them up like a deck of cards. And they cook and they stick together and then [you pour] the frosting right on top while it’s still hot, it sort of drains between the layers, âsays Schiff. “It’s so much fun peeling one off and stuffing it in your mouth or smearing jam on it.”
The bread is beautiful to look at – perfect for a potluck centerpiece – but also easy to share.
âIt’s super shareable. And I think we were all hungry to share stuff for so long, âsays Schiff. âNow it’s like I just want to share everything. “