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How Marykate McGoldrick Found Her Baking Groove

Baking Up a Sweet Career From Scratch

Pastry chef Marykate McGoldrick’s path
to Camino and beyond

By Samantha Nobles-Block
Photos by Cayce Clifford

One spring evening in 2010, a 37-year-old public school teacher named Marykate McGoldrick welcomed three San Francisco restaurateurs into her tiny Oakland apartment. The Lee brothers, owners of Namu Gaji and Namu Stonepot restaurants, had come for dinner.

McGoldrick had cooked all her life and was an accomplished, self-taught pastry chef, but for years now, her teaching job had kept her at a distance from any commercial kitchen. At the time of her dinner for the Lee brothers, she had just returned from a three-month sabbatical in Asia, where she had immersed herself in a study of regional dessert traditions. On her return, she found herself craving a new outlet for her culinary creativity.

Shortly after that trip, a fortuitous Eater SF article on the Lee brothers’ plans for a shaved-ice program at the soon-to-open Namu Gaji restaurant sparked her interest. Although she had never met the Lees and had no real Bay Area restaurant connections, McGoldrick decided to reach out anyway.

“I emailed them cold, out of the blue, asking if they could use help with their dessert program,” McGoldrick says. “I never thought they would hire me, or even respond, but I was excited [by] what they talked about doing with their desserts.”

Chef Dennis Lee replied to her email, first inviting McGoldrick into the restaurant and then asking her to meet the rest of the team. “So I told Dennis I would make them all dinner,” says McGoldrick. “It was insane. I had a teeny little apartment, and I was so nervous trying to figure out what to make.” A simple dinner of Jerusalem artichoke soup, salad, and crusty bread comprised the opening act, but the real star of the meal was dessert. The array of sweets included shaved ice with pear and adzuki beans; an ice cream featuring McGoldrick’s own seven-spice blend of juniper, peppercorn, fresh ginger, vanilla, coriander, star anise, and cinnamon; and a pocky, which is a Japanese sweet consisting of a cookie “stick” dipped into various flavored coatings. McGoldrick’s apartment was so small that she had to use a foldout ironing board as a pocky rolling and dipping station.

At the end of the meal, Dennis Lee commented that cooking was clearly McGoldrick’s passion and she should consider coming to design the dessert program for them at Namu Gaji. “I surprised myself,” says McGoldrick. “Could I leave teaching? Could I do this as a full-time job? And then I just decided to go for it.”

A Journey Back to the Kitchen

With big green eyes and a quiet, pixieish demeanor, McGoldrick is unassuming to a fault. She shies away from the title “pastry chef,” preferring to call herself a baker.

One of five children, McGoldrick grew up on Long Island cooking family-friendly food for her siblings. Stints in cafes and kitchens during college led her to a job as a vegetarian cook and baker at a conference center, but she credits her move to California with opening her eyes and inspiring her culinary palate. “I don’t think I had ever tasted a real avocado before,” she says, only half-jokingly. “When I went to my first farmers’ market, I was blown away by the bounty that was available. I was shocked by the range—so many different fruits I hadn’t had before. I didn’t grow up with any of that, other than the occasional not-so-good peach.”

She tried out various cooking jobs in San Francisco and Portland, but felt like she needed to figure out what to do with her life. Stepping away from the kitchen, she went into teaching, focusing on classroom inclusion for students with special needs. 

But as the years passed, McGoldrick kept hearing the siren song of the stove. “I was always cooking and baking on the side, always having elaborate dinner parties, bringing baked goods to the staff at school.”

She decided to take a leave of absence, and headed off to explore Asia. Over the course of several months, McGoldrick visited Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Japan, eating, taking cooking classes, and expanding her culinary horizons as she went. “The food was so inspiring—it’s so fresh [and] full of herbs and spices,” she says. The use of teas in culinary applications, rice in all its forms, and the integration of salty elements in desserts all influenced her palate.

It was while in Japan that McGoldrick feels she forged her culinary philosophy. “I was fascinated with Japanese culture and the use of food as another art form,” says McGoldrick. “Everything is so simple, but so careful and so thoughtful—every detail is considered.” It made her realize she wanted to begin cooking professionally again, although at the time she didn’t envision taking the leap out of teaching to do so. 

MK Gold Bakery’s Holiday Cookies menu. A version of Marykate’s Rye Ginger Cake.

Finding a Culinary Home

But leap she did, and after designing and implementing the new dessert program at Namu Gaji, McGoldrick began staging (a type of culinary apprenticeship) in kitchens around the Bay Area including San Francisco’s Bar Tartine and the pâtisserie Craftsman and Wolves. While working at the East Bay’s Bartavelle restaurant, McGoldrick heard that Camino, where she had briefly staged several years prior, was looking for a pastry chef. Chef Russ Moore remembered her, invited her for an interview, and offered her the job. “I was green in so many ways,” she says, “but I think Russ had an intuitive sense that I could fit into Camino.” 

Her culinary style was a perfect complement to the organic, unadorned aesthetic of the cuisine at Camino, and after a year of collaborating on the desserts, Moore ceded control of the dessert menus to McGoldrick. “Her desserts are timeless,” says Camino co-founder Allison Hopelain. “They don’t fall prey to pastry trends, are subtly whimsical, and not too sweet.” It’s a running joke in the Camino kitchen that McGoldrick can’t seem to make a dessert without using sesame or buckwheat, but it’s her use of alternative flours that sets her desserts apart. “It gives them a certain characteristic that feels connected to the savory food,” says Hopelain.

McGoldrick’s rustic yet refined confections leverage hefty grains like rye, spelt, and cornmeal. Incorporating salt and crunchy textures makes the desserts sing, while roasted or reduced fruits give depth to fillings and ice creams. Buttery cookies might sport a dab of vividly concentrated orange marmalade; a sorbet made from roasted rhubarb is served alongside a sesame tuile. “I want to give people that moment of surprise and delight but also keep my desserts feeling familiar—like home,” she says.

McGoldrick has always used heartier grains in her pastry creations, approaching her sweets with the eyes of a chef. “Savory cooks tend to approach food a little more experimentally, and that’s how I approach my desserts,” McGoldrick says. “I’m always trying to look at my desserts through a different lens, experimenting with spices like juniper berries that are traditionally used more on the savory side of the spectrum.” 

Marykate readies for a cake pop-up at The Kebabery in Oakland. This buckwheat poppyseed cake with vanilla bean pastry cream, roasted rhubarb, and whipped cream was for an April pop-up at Oakland Yard Wine Shop.

CAKE!

On a recent evening at The Kebabery restaurant in Oakland, a banner hangs from the wall near the entrance—its hand-printed gold letters spell the word “CAKE.” Below it is a set of boxes, each topped with a hand-written note and holding a confection covered in a snowy drift of whipped cream topped by a single fresh flower. Juicy peaches with nutty brown butter, smoky black cardamom, and an almond praline cream comprise the cake filling, a signature McGoldrick nod to the best fruits of the season enhanced with an unusual spice or flavor profile. Over the course of the evening, between 15 and 20 loyal customers drop by to pick up the cakes they’ve ordered. Under the moniker MK Gold bakery, which she started two years ago, McGoldrick holds similar cake pop-ups once or twice a month at restaurants around the East Bay, each event highlighting a different cake of her own creation. She also sells another 20 or so cakes each month through her cake subscription offerings. During the holidays she creates seasonal cookie boxes.

Down the road, McGoldrick envisions opening a little spot where people can stop by and have a cup of coffee while enjoying her cookies and cakes. Until then, customers can get up-to-the-minute info on her available creations via mkmcgold.com, or simply drop by Camino and order dessert. ♦

Samantha Nobles-Block is an East Bay writer, gardener, and cook with a penchant for growing unusual culinary herbs and collecting far too many cookbooks. You can find her on Instagram @radishandfig.

Cayce Clifford is an editorial photographer based in the Bay Area. She focuses her work in portraiture and food culture. ​To see more of her work, visit cayceclifford.com or find her on social media @cayceclifford.

MK Gold Bakery Buckwheat Madeleines

Madeleines are best eaten the day they are made, so make some tea or coffee and invite friends over to help you enjoy them. Black cardamom, smoky and floral, is lovely here (if you can find it), but green cardamom is delicious as well. Note: You’ll need to let this batter chill overnight, so plan ahead.

Makes 12–15 madeleines

½ vanilla bean (or substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
5 tablespoons butter (plus additional for greasing mold)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon honey
2½ tablespoons buckwheat flour|
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground green or black cardamom
Zest of 1 orange (use lemon in a pinch)

Optional glaze:

1½ cups powdered sugar
2–4 tablespoons blood orange juice

Scrape the seeds from the half vanilla bean into the bowl of a stand mixer. Then place scraped vanilla pod with the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Brown until butter smells nutty and is a deep golden color. Cool. Remove and compost the pod.

Add eggs, sugars, honey, and vanilla extract (if using instead of the bean) to the mixer bowl. Beat for 5 minutes until mixture is pale and thick.

Measure and sift the flours with the baking powder, salt, cardamom, and orange zest. Carefully fold half of this dry mixture into the egg and sugar mixture, then do the same with the remaining half of the dry mixture. Add the browned butter and continue to fold, making sure to scrape up from the bottom so all ingredients are evenly combined. Transfer batter to a sealed container and chill overnight.

When you are preparing to bake, preheat oven to 350° and set out a rack for when the madeleines come out of the oven. Brush madeleine pan liberally with melted butter and chill to set before filling. If using the glaze, mix the juice and the powdered sugar together until smooth, and have a pastry brush ready.

Pipe or spoon the batter into molds, filling about ¾ full. Bake for 10–15 minutes, rotating pan at halfway mark. They are done when firm and golden around edges. Quickly turn madeleines out of the mold onto the rack and glaze while they are still warm. Serve.

MK Gold Bakery Huckleberry Tart

Foragers with an eye on their secret huckleberry patch or anyone lucky enough to find farmed huckleberries at a farmers’ market will want to try this luscious tart. No huckleberries? Try it with blueberries or blackberries, which we did for this photo shot in the Edible East Bay test kitchen. And don’t be afraid to try frozen berries. Serve with crème fraîche or lightly whipped cream.

Yield: one 9-inch tart

For the tart dough:

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup and 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup spelt flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces butter
2½ tablespoons sugar

In a small bowl, mix cream, egg yolk, and vanilla together. In another small bowl stir together the two flours and salt. Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, adding egg mixture until just combined. Scrape down bowl and add the flour mixture, mixing until you have a smooth dough. Turn out onto parchment, flatten into disk, and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out dough to fit into a fluted 9-inch tart pan and fill with pie weights. Bake in the preheated oven for 10–15 minutes, then remove pie weights and bake for another 5–10 minutes or until firm and golden. Cool tart shell on a rack as you make the filling.

For the filling:

1 cup buttermilk
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup melted butter
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups huckleberries, blackberries, or blueberries

Combine filling ingredients (except berries), mixing until smooth. Spread berries over the bottom of tart shell, then pour filling over berries. Bake 40–45 minutes or until tart is golden and set. Cool completely before serving.

Quince Candy and Syrup

Photo by Marykate McGoldrick

Quince has lots of pectin, which makes this apple-like fruit a natural fit for candy making. Once you get comfortable with the recipe for these sparkly treats, get creative by adding a chopped apple or beet or any other variation that sounds appealing.

The recipe also provides an opportunity to practice food-waste minimization: The quince peels and cores left over from making the candy can be made into a delicious syrup that’s perfect for drizzling over cake or ice cream.

Quince can range widely in size, so you should weigh the puréed quince to determine how much sugar to use.

Yield: at least 4 dozen candies

4 quince
Sugar (75{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} of the weight of the puréed quince, plus additional for coating the finished candy)
Juice of 1 lemon

Candy thermometer

Rub the fuzz off the quince, then peel, core, and cut into quarters. (Reserve the cores and peels for making quince syrup.)

Place cut quince in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and cook until fork tender. Drain water (reserving for use in the syrup) and purée the cooked quince until smooth. Weigh your purée, then return it to saucepan and add ¾ of that weight in sugar (for example, 1000 grams purée to 750 grams sugar).

Stir sugar into purée and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly as mixture thickens, 45 minutes to an hour. Be careful when stirring, especially towards the end, as the mixture will sputter. Cook until small bubbles form and the mixture is very thick and deep orange, with a temperature of 225° on the candy thermometer. You can also test by checking whether a mound of the mixture dropped onto a piece of parchment holds its shape.

Stir in the lemon juice and then transfer the cooked purée to a 9 x 13 inch sheet pan lined with parchment, spreading in one even layer. Leave to cool overnight, uncovered. The next day, move to a cutting board and cut into bite-size squares using a sharp knife. Turn the squares into a bowl of sugar and toss to coat. Lay out on parchment to set, then store in a covered container.

To make quince syrup

Place quince peels and cores in a small saucepan and cover with 1 part sugar and 2 parts water. (You can use the water you saved from cooking the fruit.) Cook at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture breaks down and the syrup begins to turn orange. You may need to add more water or sugar to taste. Strain into a jar and refrigerate. Use the syrup to drizzle over cake, pancakes, waffles, or ice cream.

Hazelnut Buckwheat Crisps

Photo by Marykate McGoldrick

These thin, snappy, nutty cookies are perfect with coffee or as an after-dinner treat paired with dark chocolate. Note: For accuracy, bakers like to measure their dry ingredients in grams. A kitchen scale can help you achieve success with this and other recipes.

Yield 36 cookies

110 grams buckwheat flour
145 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
5 ½ ounces butter
130 grams sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts

For glaze:

1 egg, lightly beaten
2–3 tablespoons sugar

Sift flours, baking soda, and salt together into bowl. Using a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and orange zest. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture and nuts, mixing just long enough for the dough to come together. Shape dough into a rough rectangular 4-inch-wide block. Wrap in parchment and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

When preparing to bake, preheat oven to 325°. Brush the top of the dough rectangle with the lightly beaten egg and dust with sugar. Turn the dough over and repeat to coat all sides. Using an extra-sharp knife, cut into very thin slices and place on a Silipat-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 10–12 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway mark. The crisps are done when they are golden-brown around sides and firm in the middle. Cool on rack before serving.

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