Pastry Chef Laura Pyles’ Typical Day
A night and day in the pop-up life of Parchmentʼs Laura Pyles
By Chelsea Lin December 15, 2014
Pastry chef Laura Pyles was deep into planning and recipe testing for a Huxley Wallace–funded bakery venture when she was laid off in late 2013—and the project from the folks who brought us Westward and Quality Athletics was canceled. But as they say, when one door closes, another one opens.
Pyles’ new door was the corner glass entry to Ballard eatery Brimmer & Heeltap, where her former Revel coworker chef Mike Whisenhunt (“Big Mike,” as she affectionately calls him) invited her to launch her pop-up bakeshop Parchment (Facebook, “Parchment”) this past April. In exchange, she consults on B&H’s dessert menu. On Sundays twice a month, Pyles pulls an all-night bake-a-thon to supply a parade of inspired goods that draw from her past, which includes a penchant for comfort food picked up from her Southern-raised family, and the refined skills she developed as a pastry chef at Revel, Book Bindery and Bastille. Think: potato-chip brownies alongside Thai basil Basque cakes. Her parents and friends greet customers and box the goods, and she gets to continue doing what she likes best: baking behind the scenes.
The result has been a success by any measure. Though she says customers and friends alike are pushing her to open a brick-and-mortar location, Pyles—who otherwise occupies her time selling wholesale breakfast pastries to Porkchop & Co. and baking the occasional wedding cake—intends to keep Parchment going as a pop-up indefinitely. “The whole point of this was that I could do what I want without being married to my job,” she says. “I love my life, and I don’t want to miss any of it.”
On July 20, Pyles tracked her whirlwind day:
I get to B&H with a car full of fresh ingredients and unload. Give Big Mike a hug and take over the kitchen. A few straggler employees are having a drink after a busy night.
The B&H staff is gone, and I’m locked in for the night. First things first: All the proofing doughs get pulled to proof. Cover the bar in pans of croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, etc.
Change Pandora to Otis Redding radio; that’s how to get in the zone. Roll and fill apricot brioche and bake off a round of almond apricot puffs. I love how they look like fried eggs!
Trying to decide whether to make cream puffs. It might be too much, but may as well go big! Get pâte à choux [the light pastry used to make cream puffs] baking and whip up some tasty, old-fashioned glaze.
This is about the time of night that every time I catch a glimpse of the fig tree out the window, it looks like a person looking in. The wind is not helping.
Starting to think about coffee…think I’ll have my first cup!
Every time I’m here alone at night, I swear I see a cat running around randomly. All the weird hallucinations start once I’m past 24 hours awake. I think of that Steve Martin movie (The Man with Two Brains): “Get that cat out of here!”
The line of pastries that need to be baked is getting long, so I start setting up the dining room. I keep forgetting to hem this tablecloth—gotta do that sometime.
The dining room is all set up, moving on to getting Danishes in the oven.
Sun’s starting to come up. The dough parade on the bar is turning into a sea of delicious baked goods.
Realized I forgot the waffle cheese at home. Good thing Jon Paden, my friend and cashier, can stop on the way. I’m busy making bacon!
Jon’s here—it’s nice having some human contact now. We go over new items and get everything put out in the display cases. Jon’s first job is always coffee maker.
Bundt cakes get topped, snowballs get sprinkled, sticky buns baked, last few touches on sweet stuff.
Last items to finish up: waffle batter, slicing Mallorca buns and getting those stations set up. Brushing teeth and changing into my Parchment shirt and apron.
My folks show up to help. We get boxes folded and pitchers of water for customers. Biscuits are the last to go into the oven—they’re going with tayberry jam today.
Doors open. We get a few early customers; Chelsey from Slate Coffee Bar across the street is always in early to take coffee orders.
The first waffle orders are sizzling in the iron. The new plancha for Mallorcas is heating up.
On my third cup of coffee and feeling pretty solid! No energy drinks for me today!
Wow! We’re already halfway through the Mallorca buns. Popular on a dreary day. I’ve already had more than one request to start a Mallorca food truck!
My fiancé, Nolan Harris, and a friend came by for breakfast on their way to work at the Bite of Seattle. Mallorcas for both of them, the best way to kick off a long day of work.
Getting caught up on dishes. The last thing I want at the end is a huge pile of dirty dishes—gotta stay on top of it!
Wow! That was a busy one! Still a customer or two trickling in, but we’re almost out of products! Last waffle is sold, and the last Mallorca was gone an hour ago.
Breakdown! We’re all pretty good at this, so it’s pretty smooth.
The car’s all loaded up, floors are swept, I set up a plate of treats for B&H’s crew, and we’re out!
The boys (my dogs Tony and Dwayne) are ready for a snooze. They don’t sleep well during my nights out baking, so we all take a nap.
Up to rally! Shower and we’re off to a birthday party down south. It’s been another great pop-up day, but life won’t go on hold while you catch up on sleep, so I stop at the store for a bottle of bourbon and head to Columbia City.