The Bakingtist, also known as local baker Heidi Kizer, is on a mission.
The former biochemist wants to micro-dose us with science with every cookie, cake, and cruffin she bakes. You can find her currently at the South Huntsville Library in the HATCH Cafe, the farmers markets on Greene Street, Bailey Cove, and The Camp. Plus, for the month of December she has contracted out to be Santa's cookie maker at The Camp.
Via the magic of Zoom, The Bakingtist and I sat down and had a wide-ranging discussion about the scientific process, improv comedy, kayaks, and The Great British Baking Show. For the sake of space (and my editor), we shall just focus on her and her penchant for pastry.
Q: You recently took up brick-and-mortar retail space for The Bakingtist at HATCH Cafe, within the South Huntsville Public Library. How did you connect with HATCH?
A: Hatch happened for me because of the farmers markets at The Camp. Chef Ruth (Mercado, who runs The Camp on University Drive at MidCity) had a hard, hard obsession with the birthday cake and she introduced herself, and told me all about HATCH. Now, the only thing I want to get out of life is for Ruth to mentor me on how to be cool.
Q: Your signature item is perhaps you fabulous 1/3 lb "Groundbreaker" cookie, which you modeled after the ever-Instagrammable cookie from New York City's Levain Bakery. These "chonky bois", which you described to me as "big, dense, and fat" are, in my mind, just the sort of calorically-dense, high-energy wonders that would be smart to be in any athlete's fanny pack.
A: Absolutely! Marathon runners eat Levain's cookies - you're doing well in life if you eat these things.
Q: How long does it take for you to perfect a recipe?
A: When I was first starting the business, and wanting to bring on a new product, there was lots of testing. My "original gangsta" chocolate chip Groundbreaker cookie took over 100 tests!
After I've properly developed a product, that's when I feel comfortable selling it. Even after I start selling it, though, it's always in development. I think it drives my new team nuts, because every week, I'm like "this time we're gonna try to push the temperature a little bit higher, and increase the bake a little bit longer so we can get the crispier crust...". They live in a constant state of "I thought we had this," sort of whiplash!
Q: Do you ever build off an existing recipe?
A: Absolutely I build off recipes! And that's the way it works in science, too. I don't believe anyone these days who says they're self-taught. These days, you're internet taught. I sometimes refer to book recipes when I can't find something good on the internet, which, when you get into pastry can be tough!
My favorite source to start with is recipes from King Arthur Flour. That's how it works in science - you're never going to start from scratch, because you're going to reinvent the wheel. The goal of science is to build. It's why there's the whole peer-review process. It's not just saying "Oh! I Invented this thing." It's, "We have this community of scientists, we're gonna see if this has already been done, or you've done this testing right."
Q: How did you end up here in Huntsville?
A: The combination of both of our careers, my husband, who is an aerospace engineer, led us here.
We were young, dumb millennials. When we finished grad school were like "let's go to LA to the beach, 'cause that's cool!", and that didn't work out, so we thought "let's go back to Austin and relive our young years," but that didn't work out. We finally decided we needed to bite the bullet and settle down somewhere.
The bakery had been going out my home for a few years, so we wanted a good little science town, but also good for aerospace. The good thing about Huntsville is that not only is it a good science town, but it also feels like the science bakery has room to actually have more of an effect.
Q: Is your science messaging resonating with your customers?
Some of my favorite customers are people who are anti-science, and I often spend the most time with them to see if I can learn where this comes from, and see if I can introduce a grain of change. They're right that a lot of science comes from funding, and that funding can often be from biased sources. If we're hearing that "butter is better for you!" then the butter folks are probably lobbying behind the scenes of that study.
But I try to encourage people to escape from what society is telling you about what science is, or what you're supposed to eat, and what you're supposed to believe. It's all really about the beautiful pursuit of discovery.
Baking is very apolitical. There's no left or right-wing cookie.
A: I love that. That's what we need this day in age. Who are some of your favorite local bakers?
I like this question because my brain immediately went to the people I've known from farmers markets. The first one is called Tammary Farms, is this lady who is so wise – I've definitely cried on her shoulder several times – and she makes THE best cheese straws. Paul and Leslie Spell (Humble Heart Farms), the goat cheese people, who are retiring, sadly. Katie from Sweet Thyme Bakery, is young like me, and we get each other - she really hustles.
So, the local people I've really enjoyed giving my money to are the nano-bakeries and cottage industries.
I want to give a shout-out to all of the farmer market volunteers - the Greene Street market must easily have 20 people that come every time. You get there, and they start unloading your van and help you get your tent up. If you're late, they're there to calm you and get your table together. They're also some of your biggest financial supporters. The market in Bailey Cove also has volunteers.