Westchester is home to exquisite bakeries and patisseries, but sometimes the occasion (and the craving) calls for a truly homemade treat. That’s where the county’s home-based bakers come in. Most of them are self-taught, having acquired tips, tricks, and recipes while tugging at the aprons of Mom and Grandma during the formative years; others graduated from top culinary schools. But one thing they have in common is an easy commute — straight to the counters and ovens of their own, private (NYS-certified) kitchens, where they whip up the freshest, most unique cookies, cake, bread, jam, and more for area farmers’ markets, restaurants, specialty shops, and for local sweet tooths via special order.
“I’m a hundred percent Italian, and there was always cooking and baking in my house,” says Debbie Amicucci Naccarato, who was let go from the corporate world a couple of years ago and figured it was a no-brainer to fall back on baking. “I’ve just always baked.” Personalized, logoed, decorative cookies for special-order celebrations of all kinds are her hot ticket, but she also provides traditional almond or walnut Italian biscotti, aka cantuccini, to BXVL Coffeehouse in Bronxville and Valhalla’s Twisted Branch. “They are really hard and must be dunked to be enjoyed,” she notes. Here’s a secret: Sample a sundae at BXVL for a bite of Deb’s luscious homemade brownies.
As a kid in Mamaroneck, Abigail Friedman says she was always interested in what was going on in the kitchen. But when she launched a baking blog in middle school, called Aunt Lore’s Cakes (after her great-great aunt, a baker in “the Catskills’ heyday”), and raced home from class every day to stick her fingers in flour, she began to realize her passion for baking was more like an obsession. So much so that she traded NYU for ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). Today, she’s a regular at the Down to Earth farmers’ markets in Larchmont and Mamaroneck, with her multiflavored biscotti and secret-sauce babka. “Babka can be a little dry, so I add a cream-cheese mixture to my recipes,” she says. Sweet babkas come in cinnamon or brownie, while savory iterations include Gruyère and caramelized onion or the one called Everything Bagel, which Friedman describes as “a punch in the mouth of flavor.”
When the pandemic canceled Michael Knox’s football and lacrosse seasons, the eighth grader (you read that right) hit the kitchen, full of entrepreneurial zeal and the burning desire to create the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The result? A flourishing online and word-of-mouth business involving numerous local deliveries, nationwide shipping, and a cookie aptly called The Whoop Ass Chunker. Stuffed with chocolate chunks, coconut flakes, pretzels, Reese’s Pieces, and white chocolate chips, the Whoop Ass is a step beyond Knox’s signature, ooey-gooey Chocolate Chunker, but in either case, Knox’s tagline applies: “These cookies are the bomb!”
South Salem; email@example.com
A longtime teacher’s aide in the Katonah-Lewisboro schools, Anna Oneto always loved to cook, but when her pastry-chef daughter — responsible for a dessert at nearby The Horse and Hound — made a career change, Oneto had no choice but to step in and fill her culinary-schooled shoes. Fast-forward five years, and Oneto is still baking the restaurant’s signature candy bar pie (peanut-butter cheesecake in a chocolate cookie crust topped with chocolate ganache and Reese’s Pieces and PB cups) and stocking a mini-version of it at The Farmer’s Grind coffee shop. There, she also sells banana bread and knock-your-socks-off, Best of Westchester crumb cake. “It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe, and it only comes out right in her old 9-by-13 baking pan.” Oneto also specializes in gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, macaroons, brownies, and cake. “I’m gluten-free, and I want to enjoy what I make.” Word of mouth keeps her in business, and that award-winning pan has her busy round-the-clock.
One day, back in ninth grade, Stephanie Broderick woke up and announced, “I want to be a pastry chef.” It was ambitious and somewhat surprising, considering neither her mother nor her grandmother, for that matter, cooked or baked. But young Broderick wasn’t kidding and is today an accomplished, ICE-schooled pastry chef (who worked in catering for Danny Meyer back in the day). “I love to cook, but cookies are my specialty,” she says. Special, indeed, with customized crunchers boasting brilliantly colorful images and messages that escort uplifting, happy vibes to parties and celebratory gatherings while decorating the shelves at Longford’s ice cream shops and Chocolations in Mamaroneck.
When Lisa Hill-Ries was in college, her roommates were the lucky ones and the envy of the dorm. “We always had chocolate mousse and fresh pies in our fridge,” she laughs, remembering how her itch to bake began back then. It was a by-product of working alongside her Italian grandmother as a kid in Boston. “She had so much patience with me and taught me how to maneuver in the kitchen and to be good to the food that you’re cooking.” Hill-Ries ran a home-based baking business in Brooklyn before her move to Pelham in 2013 and the arrival of twins put everything on hold. “Then the pandemic hit, and I got the itch again,” she says. Since then, she’s been baking her signature brownies with bourbon caramel and Maldon salt, raspberry shortbread bars, and Southern-style hummingbird cake (“like banana bread meets carrot cake, but without the carrots”) and selling them at Pelham’s Farmers Market, Café Ammi, also in Pelham, and to customers online.
White Plains; cathysbiscotti.com
Known as the family baker since she was 9 (yes, 9!), Cathy Schauber never received any formal culinary training — unless you count a childhood in the shadow and under the tutelage of an Italian mother and grandmother who “magically transformed flour, sugar, and butter into pure bliss,” as she recalls. Although she considers herself a pie-and-tart girl, Schauber began baking biscotti (and selling it wholesale) 15 years ago in celebration of her proud Italian heritage, earning her a pair of Best of Westchester awards and a spot on the shelves of Wegmans in addition to about 30 coffee shops and stores in the 914. For the past two years, she’s been baking in her home, offering anything on request, including cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes, and hard-to-resist apple crisp.
West Nyack; birdiesbatch.com
The mother-daughter duo of Vinnie and Sara Cann do all of their baking across the old Tap but are an unmissable, lively presence at the TaSH Farmers Market in Tarrytown. Vinnie grew up in an Italian household and fondly recalls her days “around the kitchen table, with the women of the family, cutting vegetables, shelling beans, and going to the fishmongers, butchers, and vegetable stands” instead of to the supermarket. Sara graduated the French Culinary Institute as valedictorian. Together, they are a force, matched only by their old-fashioned, homespun baked goods, like rugelach (regular and gluten-free), chocolate chip cookies, and their signature jams, fruit butters, and marmalades born in small batches from seasonal, locally sourced, handpicked fruit. Standout jam flavors include strawberry, peach, blueberry, and sugar plum, but in the fall, it’s apple butters and jellies, and a jelly made from the neighbor’s quince tree. No matter the fruit, each jar contains generous chunks of it.
Yorktown Heights; mustardtreellc.wordpress.com
Operating under the theory that baking is science at its finest, Jennifer and Henrik Loos are a pair of physicists who traded the lab for the kitchen. “My mother ran a baking business out of the home, selling mainly wedding cakes,” says Jennifer, while Henrik was captivated by the local bakery, the breads, the smells as a kid growing up near Frankfurt, Germany. As a team, they are a baking machine, churning out thoughtfully conceived, artisan challah breads, sourdough baguettes, pies, and more, fashioned from all-organic ingredients (save the nuts and EVOO) and locally sourced whenever possible. Their baked goods can be found at farm stands and eateries across Northern Westchester, including Hilltop Hanover Farm, Peter Pratt’s Inn, and Trailside Café. Committed to customized baking, the Looses are happy to make their seriously sinful cinnamon rolls in the shape of a heart, if desired, and consider their biscottini (biscotti requiring just two bites) their best invention to date.
No stranger to the stove, Rebecca Turnbull has names like Eataly, Bien Cuit, and SoCo Creamery on her résumé, but the accomplishment that brings her the most pride and joy is her 3-year-old sous chef. This stay-at-home pastry chef says she always loved working in the kitchen and forever dreamed of running her own business. Enter the pandemic, a move to Westchester from Brooklyn, and endless renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” day and night. “My goal is to have a shop, a real family business,” she says. In the meantime, her kitchen is a veritable hotbed of what she calls deceptively simple pastries, like tea cakes and almond tarts, featuring seasonal fruit (strawberry rhubarb, peaches, plums, apricots, pears) sourced locally at farm stands and farmers’ markets. She rolls puff pastry by hand for traditional elephant ear cookies, creates light and airy croissants (plain or chocolate), and sells her goodies at the Down to Earth Farmers Market in Ossining and online.
Pound Ridge; mrslarkins.com
When you grow up in a big, Italian family, it’s unlikely you’ll be dubbed The Scone Lady later in life. However, “I love carbs, and I got fixated on scones,” explains self-taught baker Liz Larkin. “My parents thought I was crazy.” Crazy like a fox, perhaps, as this Best of Westchester winner has been turning out superior scones for the past decade, selling them at farmers’ markets, Northern Westchester shops, and by special order, in tantalizing blueberry, chocolate chip (that was our BOW pick), cranberry orange, seasonal pumpkin, and the “cinnful” one, which conceals cinnamon streusel in the center. “I fell in love with scones at high teas in New York City,” says Larkin. “It’s such a refined moment of getting away in the afternoon.” Larkin’s chocolate chip “chubby” cookies are pretty transcendent, too, along with the ones flavored with molasses and clove.
When the school bell rang in her Croatian village, Vesna Rudelic would drop her bag, race into the garden to gather everything her grandmother needed for the day’s cooking and baking, and then, finally, “it was time to play,” she remembers. “My grandmother grew poppy seeds; she had walnut and fig trees; her garden was our only store.” Rudelic began cooking for her family at age 14, when her mother became ill; she learned some English in school but mostly from listening to Motown. She grew up to be a nurse, but upon arrival in America in 2003, she stood out for her ability to bake for church gatherings of 200 or more. The Down to Earth Farmers Markets of Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Rye, and Ossining were a natural progression and the perfect spot to showcase traditional hazelnut-filled thumbprint cookies, poppy-seed swirl bread, strudels, and authentic, raspberry-filled Croatian peach cookies, called breskvice, made with farm-stand ingredients and available by special order.
New Rochelle; gaellesfrenchpastries.com
Growing up outside of Paris, Gaelle Lopez imagined she’d be a marine biologist someday, but when she came to the U.S. in 2012 as an au pair and tasted her first slice of birthday cake, her dreams and destiny took a detour. “It was too sweet — and I love sweets!” She discovered that the French pastries this side of the Seine were no different. This doesn’t work; this is not home, she thought. Lopez realized that to satisfy her sweet tooth, she’d have to make her own treats. She enrolled in correspondence pastry school, went home to France to take the final exam, and voilà! The rest is history. Today, she’s a constant at the farmers’ markets in New Rochelle and Rye, with authentic crêpes and macarons, traditional tarts, and multi-fruit pies with smooth vanilla pastry cream, also for sale on her website.