photography Heather Payne / words Chandara Phanachone
Perhaps it was the selection of dainty sugar tarts filled with lavender ganache topped with the plumpest blueberries that may have caught your gaze, or the chocolate cake layered with espresso icing, rich blackberries, and sun-ripened Black Mission figs that may have stopped you in your tracks. Whatever the case, it certainly would never occur to the undiscerning eye that the smorgasbord of delectable treats would be born from a vegan and gluten-free boutique bakery situated in an otherwise nondescript industrial complex of Brooklyn, New York. Since the opening of Lael Cakes in 2011, pastry chef Emily Lael Aumiller has carved a niche in the baking world with her innovative focus on natural ingredients and original design.
Lael Cakes, a mere fledging in the pastry world, is a natural culmination of Aumiller’s earliest two loves: art and food.
“I grew up in a creative family surrounded by artists and musicians. It took me a while to finally find my own personal journey [because] I really thought I wanted to be a sculptor since I loved working with clay so much,” explains Aumiller. “Coming from an Italian and German heritage, food was always the basis of our family gatherings. We’d have a huge breakfast for hours and our discussion would [eventually center on] what we would make for dinner. A lot of love went into what we made, and [these memories] have remained with me and become a part of who I am. And that…well, that’s really fantastic!”
Given Aumiller’s fine arts background in sculpture, it only took a matter of time before she packed her bags for the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont where she immersed herself in the study of pastries and discovered her passion for chocolate and sugar sculpting.
“I love creating edible sculptures. I worked in the restaurant business for a couple of years doing traditional pastry cook work, and when I moved to New York, I [began] working for a French patisserie. I’ve always been drawn to the restaurant world because of how fast paced it is; it’s a place that requires something to be [executed] perfectly within a short span of time. Being able to learn the repetition of perfecting a technique [is critical] for sugar sculpting,” recounts Aumiller. “One day I’d have to cut pears for 12 hours. These experiences early on in my career have been invaluable to what I do today. It also taught me to have a lot of patience for sugar sculpting because the process of sculpting a sugar flower is generally very time-consuming. If there’s multiple intricate parts that need to be [individually] dried overnight [before the final assembly], then that can take upwards of a week,” Aumiller explains.
“I strive to create a dessert that tastes as sensational as it looks. It’s a [pastry] chef ’s responsibility to create a product where the thought process of ingredients is equal to its appearance. A great dessert should tell a story and that’s what I always try and do.”
Luckily, Aumiller’s training under the astute eyes of the most demanding and renowned pastry chefs in the industry has only strengthened her mastery of sugar sculpting. “I apprenticed for Sylvia Weinstock – she’s the first person in the United States who really pushed cake art to what it [has become] today. Being able to sculpt for her was an incredible learning experience.” After suffering from food allergies for much of her life, including a gluten intolerance, Aumiller was surprised to learn that there were very few bakeries that catered to people like her who had special dietary restrictions. “I had [customers] with similar food allergies who visited the bakeries [I had worked at] and they would be worried that they couldn’t eat their own wedding cake. And that’s just ridiculous—you should be able to eat your own wedding cake!” Since then, Aumiller has set her passion on creating a specialty bakery that really paid attention to the unique needs of her customers with food allergies.
Aumiller’s personal struggle enables her to create the most innovative recipes in her kitchen, a huge source of pride. “I mix my own flour from scratch; a unique blend of non-gluten flours for the perfect replacement to traditional pastry flour. All of our ingredients are organic; I don’t use artificial dyes−only natural pigments [derived from fruits and vegetables]. But Aumiller’s emphasis on quality extends beyond her baking. “I really try to customize the entire experience for my clients. From the moment they contact us, I will recommend that they come in for a tasting [that includes] 3-4 f lavors of cakes and/or icing at least six months prior to their wedding date,” advises Aumiller. While it may seem intuitive for clients to bring in pictures of their cake inspirations, Aumiller is quick to point out that this isn’t necessarily the case for her creative process. “In preparation for the [tasting], I will recommend that [clients] don’t bring in pictures of cakes. Throughout the tasting, I’ll talk to them about what [elements] inspired their wedding design, and use [this information] to customize three different designs for them. I don’t repeat any of my designs over again. I like to create something different for every client.”
Of course, it’s only natural for customers who have seen her work gracing the pages of notable wedding magazines to fall in love with one, if not most, of her previous creations. After all, a modern crepe cake layered in fresh raspberryrosewater icing can entice even the most dormant taste buds out of hibernation. In these cases, Aumiller is more than happy to create something for them in a new and unique way. “I strive to create a dessert that tastes as sensational as it looks. It’s a [pastry] chef ’s responsibility to create a product where the thought process of ingredients is equal to its appearance. A great dessert should tell a story and that’s what I always try and do.” Lately, she’s been creating more naked or open-layered cakes for her customers who seem to favor more of the rustic-style designs.
Aumiller is currently working on her first cookbook, a compilation of her vegan, dairy, and gluten–free dessert recipes, how-to’s, and inspiration, which is due out in the spring of 2016. In the meantime, you can find her mixing flours and teaching aspiring pastry chefs at her neighborhood cooking school.