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There's a reason Elise Hurley and Abby Jensen call their 3-month-old bakery “Fearless Baking.” It's because they aren't afraid to create new recipes for gluten-free goodies, vegan sweets and Paleo diet treats.
The two bakers still offer traditional bakery fare, but they have become known in Central Oregon as the specialty bakery to those following a special diet.
“We both worked at Nancy P's; that's where we first met, and we noticed a lot of customers would come in asking for gluten-free, Paleo or vegan items,” said Jensen.
“That's when we knew there would be a market for specialty baked items,” said Hurley, 26, a foodie originally out of Buffalo, N.Y.
It was Hurley, who graduated with a business degree, who convinced Jensen they could start up their own bakery.
The two business partners and friends, who coincidently live just a few houses down from each other in downtown Bend, often create some of their original recipes for Fearless Baking in their own home kitchens.
“We are always at each other's homes because both of our husbands travel a lot, so we've been cooking dinner together for a long time, either at my house or at Elise's house,” said Jensen, 29, who grew up on Vashon Island in Washington.
On a recent late summer evening, the two steamed wild salmon wrapped in foil over the grill and prepped in Jensen's original 1950s bungalow kitchen. It's a small but very efficient space for the two professional bakers.
They laughed when their arms became entwined like a game of Twister as they reached to grab something around each other.
Jensen has a silver 1950s flour, coffee and sugar bin on her small kitchen counter, along with dozens of well-used cookbooks. She also collects different retro plates, which seem fitting in this cozy home. A lot of the kitchenware came from thrift shop finds.
Though the kitchen is small, everything is where it can be easily accessed. A magnetic knife holder contains many of her special blades in perfect order. A sturdy hanging pot and pan rack keeps the cooking basics out of the way but nearby and handy.
Jensen expertly handled her favorite knife, which has a ceramic blade, to cut up some beets, which her mother brought down from her Washington garden. Jensen walked out her front door to her outdoor garden to get some fresh parsley, chives and dill for the night's salmon dinner.
“Abby is the one with the green thumb; her garden is always flourishing. My garden looks dead,” cracked Hurley.
Hurley and Jensen joke that sometimes they encounter stereotypes portrayed in the show “Portlandia.”
“Yeah, people come into our bakery and ask us where our muffins' grains were raised,” joked Hurley. “Really the range of people that come into our bakery is huge, and it's so awesome, but yes, sometimes I do feel like we're living an episode out of 'Portlandia.' Coming from Buffalo, let's put it this way, there aren't a lot of gluten-free options there.”
The bakers offer gluten-free treats but make it clear that if people have serious celiac disease, they may not even be able to come into a bakery that uses any type of flour on the premises.
“We like to say were 'gluten free-ish' because we still make other traditional items at Fearless Baking that do have flour,” said Hurley.
Another question the bakers have to often answer is, “What's a Paleo diet?”
“A Paleo diet is a cave woman or caveman's diet. Basically it's what you would have eaten if you were a cave woman, which means you would have no wheat or no refined sugar,” said Jensen. “Paleo seems to be a big hit with the cross-fit community.”
Try, try again
Being a specialty bakery means a lot of experimentation with recipes, which takes a lot of patience for these young bakers.
“We both love all foods, full fat, gluten, love fish and meat,” said Hurley.
Knowing how things should taste helped the bakers try to figure out the best tasting gluten-free, vegan and Paleo options.
“We have a great brioche breakfast sandwich, which is gluten-free,” said Jensen. “But we are always trying to make the perfect gluten-free bread, and that's difficult. I've spent whole days where I felt I was making bad gluten-free breads. They were coming out like bad bricks; those were botched days.”
But instead of throwing in the kitchen towel, the bakers say they're always welcoming requests and new recipes from their customers.
“We will change and adapt, and while we are experimenting with our recipes, we also want to be collaborative,” said Hurley. “If people are open to requests, we will always try to research it, and come up with a better product. Baking is a lot like science; you do a lot of experiments.”
Hurley and Jensen work six days a week, and often rise at 3:30 a.m. to start their workday by 4 a.m.
They've both been pleasantly surprised at how quickly their small bakery on Division Street in Bend has gotten noticed.
“I haven't spent anything on advertising. We do go to the farmers market in Northwest Crossing every Saturday, and we're on Facebook, which I think is a great tool for small businesses, but it's been crazy. Word really travels here in Bend,” said Hurley. “We're expanding our wholesale business too. We supply some of our baked goods to Bluebird Coffee, Bella Tazza in both Sunriver and Bend, and Brother Jon's.”
Aside from the specialty treats and traditional baked goods, Fearless Bakery also offers up breakfast sandwiches and lunches.
“I really love everything we make at Fearless Baking; we make a Paleo coconut bar, which is a best-selling item, but I think my favorite item at the bakery is the snickerdoodle cookie or the fireweed cookie,” said Jensen.
“Mine is still the chocolate chip cookie. I'm pretty simple that way,” said Hurley.
Though the humble chocolate chip cookies are a favorite, the bakers still take as their motto the fearless baking approach from iconic chef Julia Child, who said:
“That is my invariable advice to people: learn to cook — try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
What are the three ingredients you'll always find in your home kitchen cupboard?
Gin. Tonic. Limes.
Favorite home meals you like to prepare?
Jensen: Fish and vegetables on the grill. It's simple and it's outside.
What is your favorite home appliance in your kitchen?
Jensen: Coffee maker. Beyond your standard toaster, Kitchenaid, food processor, etc., I don't see the need for kitchen appliances. They just take up room ... which I don't have. I use my coffee maker every day. Bought it for $5 at Granny's Attic (Vashon Island staple thrift store). After fashioning a Velcro latch and wrapping the handle in tape — it works great!
What is your favorite hand tool/cooking utensil in your kitchen, other than a knife?
Do (our) hands qualify as a tool?
Is there an appliance you disdain having in the kitchen?
Hurley: A margarita maker or a bread machine ... anything that serves only one function and takes up extra space in the kitchen.
Jensen: Have you seen the size of my kitchen? I don't have space for unnecessary equipment.
What chefs do you admire?
Hurley: My first boss Kirsty, late owner of Kirsty's Red Dog Tavern and Ozzie's in the Adirondack Mountains (New York state). Kirsty was born in Scotland, raised in Texas and told it the way it was. I was just 11 years old when I asked her for a job. Kirsty taught me to chop onions, wash dishes and clean the deep fryer: wet knife, pre-rinse dishes coated with wing sauce in cold water and watch for bears and shut off the electric fence. To this day I channel her kindness and above all, fearlessness.
What restaurants do you enjoy, other than your own?
900 Wall — best happy hour in town. If we pace ourselves properly at the bakery, we can usually make it there just before 6 p.m. and place our order for (gin and tonics) and portobello mushroom sandwiches.
Taco Truck on Third — post-bakers workout fuel.
Sparrow — ocean rolls, ocean rolls, ocean rolls, rosemary walnut bread.
Zydeco and Baked.
Do you have a favorite cooking memory? Or a favorite memorable meal that you prepared?
Some of our favorite cooking memories are those spent far away from home, away from the comforts of our own kitchens, in the wilderness, on the river, in a foreign country or on the road. It's not just about the food, it's about the process of gathering the food, preparing it with friends and family, relaxing, enjoying, laughing and loving every bite you take.
Favorite room you like to eat your meals?
Guilty food pleasure?
Hurley: Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
What is your ideal/dream home kitchen?
Jensen: Middle of nowhere with an amazing view, of course. Camp kitchen with simple, satisfying food.
If you could invite three guests to dinner, who would they be? (dead or alive)
Hurley: Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, Bear Grylls.