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Saint Mary’s graduate pursues baking passion

Anna Boarini | Thursday, October 13, 2011

What do the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), The Cooking Channel and Saint Mary’s College have in common? Annie the Baker.

A 1991 graduate of Saint Mary’s, Annie Baker is a pastry chef who specializes in cookies in Napa Valley, Calif. and has been featured on the show “FoodCrafters.”

“My accounting background in combination with my baking and pastry certificate at the CIA Greystone and five and a half years experience as a pastry chef helped me to start my own little cookie company,” she said. “I am exactly where I should be and loving every minute of it.”

Baker was an accounting major while at Saint Mary’s and said she, like many of her classmates, ended up in Chicago after graduation.

“All the companies would come in from Chicago, so it was just an easy place to go,” she said. “About 10 of us ended up there and I worked in some of the big banks.”

Baker worked in the finance sector and said she realized she really did not want to be like her coworkers.

“People were there as lifers and they didn’t look happy,” she said. “It’s one of those things where you graduate in accounting and it is a great position to have, but you get to the point where you are like, do I really want to do this for the rest of my life?”

Baker realized that during her free time and days off, she was turning to her passion, baking, as a way to de-stress.

“It’s kind of like my yoga,” she said.

Because she was making so many baked goods, Baker began to bring her sweet treats into the office. She said her coworkers loved them.

“They would tell me I was in the wrong business and that I should start my own bakery,” she said.

In 2009, Baker did just that. After leaving Chicago, where she had lived for 10 years, for the Napa Valley in Northern California, Baker attended the Culinary Institute of America and became a pastry chef.

After graduation, she got a job at Mustards Grill.

“When you’re in culinary school you go around to different restaurants and different wineries and you get to try all these different things,” she said. “And every time I would have a friend come into town, I would say we have to go to Mustards.”

Baker said she wanted to work at Mustards because they make the kinds of desserts she wanted to make.

“I wanted to make a dessert that was comforting and good and just something that was good for the soul and had really good flavor,” she said.

After working at Mustards Grill for about five and a half years, Baker decided to leave to try and figure out the next step in her career. It was then that she started to experiment with cookie recipes.

“I took a break and left Mustards,” she said. “Within a month I missed being in the kitchen so I started playing with this cookie. I’d always said how come the cookie doesn’t taste like the cookie dough?”

Baker wanted to make the cookie more doughy and less flat and crispy.

“Finally, I got the cookie that still tasted like the cookie dough and is baked so it’s safe for you,” she said. “And that was really how it started, I was always looking for that perfect cookie.”

After having her friends and colleagues taste the cookies, one of them encouraged her to sell her cookies at the Napa Farmer’s Market.

“One of my best friends, was the president of one farmer’s market and said you are getting a booth and you are going to sell your cookies,” she said.

Baker’s four original flavors have grown into 13. She now sells her cookies at two farmer’s markets and through the website Foodzie.com.

Due to her unique cookie that is more like cookie dough, Baker was even featured on The Food Network.

“I was on ‘FoodCrafters.’ They came out to Napa Valley and they filmed me. They spent the whole day… It was like a 10-hour day,” she said. “It was very exciting and I got a lot of online orders from it.”