CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Patricia Haddy has given up her late-night baking habit.
She recently retired from her position as director of operations at the West Virginia Tax Department after working there for 50 years, a change that frees her to start mixing during daylight hours. An avid baker who sells her special cakes to family and friends, Haddy couldn't start baking on workdays until after dinner.
"I'd usually finish at around 12:30 a.m," she said. She won't consider the thought of baking on the weekends, and then freezing the cake until it's needed.
"You can always tell if a cake has been frozen. My cakes always take two days, and I wouldn't start them before that. They have to be fresh," she said. She bakes the cakes on the first day, then frosts and decorates on the second.
Italian cream cake is by far her most popular cake, followed by carrot cake and German chocolate. "The Italian cream cake took off like wildfire when I started making it," she said.
When a friend requested she bring the cake to a reception years ago at the Marriott, the chef tasted it and offered her a job. She turned him down, but sold her cakes to him for years as his job took him to local country clubs and restaurants.
But mostly, she bakes for friends, family and others who request her cakes after they taste them. She plans to expand her little business, called Patty Cakes, now that her days are relatively free.
"I always want to bake. It relaxes me," she said.
She bakes a lot for friends from St. George Orthodox Cathedral, where she is chairwoman of the pastry committee for the popular and well-attended annual Middle Eastern dinner. A wedding reception at the church launched her wedding cake business about 25 years ago.
Tax Department employees look forward to the birthday cakes she faithfully provides for the employees there. Her friends at work wondered what they would do for birthdays after she retired.
"I told them I had a list of their birthday dates. I'll still bake their cakes," she said. "They're my work family. You spend so much of the day together."
Today, she's baking for the children of some of her earlier clients and enjoys seeing the young families grow.
Haddy attributes her love of baking to her spot in a long line of talented cooks and bakers in her food-centered Lebanese family. Her parents owned Haddy's Food Market, a small grocery store that operated on Washington Street East from the early 1930s until 1969. Her brother had a fine meats business that eventually merged with Buzz Foods.
One of her aunts baked pound cakes for the store. Haddy has her recipe, which the aunt's daughter later used when she baked pies and cakes for the Trellis Room, a restaurant that formerly operated on Oakwood Road in Fort Hill.
Haddy began baking when she was 10 years old while her parents were working in the store. She'd get out the mixer in their East End home and bake something. Her younger sister willingly sampled her wares. "She'd eat anything, even if it was burnt," Haddy said of her sister Loretta, who dines with her most evenings.
Loretta Haddy developed an acute sense of taste and smell. Haddy still relies on her as a taster.
Haddy began working in the Tax Department fresh out of high school when she was 18 years old. She didn't attend college because she stayed home to help her mother with the store. A woman named Mabel Moses in the Tax Department was her mentor and greatly influenced her life.
"She was so precise and specific. I was that way anyway, but I mimicked her and learned more," she said. "That was helpful to me in baking."
Those personality traits serve bakers well. Without them, an unforgiving recipe will flop. Success depends on meticulous attention to detail.
The use of quality ingredients also increases the odds of turning out beautiful and tasty cakes. She'll only use the giant pecans she orders from a fundraising company for her church, pure butter and buttermilk, Domino's sugar, McCormick vanilla and almond extracts and Hudson Cream flour. She switches to Swans Down cake flour for pound cakes.
"Hudson Cream has unbelievable silkiness," she said.
She closely follows recipe in unflappable, steady style, except for Italian cream cake, which she could make in her sleep. She'll try just about any recipe, though.
"People give me recipes to make. I bake them first as a trial run before I'll sell them. Someone gave me a fresh apple cake and it was so dense and moist. I've made it again and again," she said.
The one cake she hasn't made is fruitcake. It's nothing personal; she just hasn't had the opportunity. She might try it some day from a white fruitcake recipe of her aunt's. The closest she's come were miniature fruited pound cakes that were packaged in individual boxes, a tedious and time-consuming process.
An album of photographs show cakes she's made and designed for varied occasions. She designs the cake decorations as she goes and often uses fresh flowers to enhance wedding cakes. The frosting is always buttercream. "I won't do fondant. I just don't think it tastes good."
She pulls recipes from a variety of cookbooks. Ina Garten and Paula Deen are among her favorite culinary authors, but she found the Italian cream cake she makes faithfully from a local source, "Seasons and Celebrations" by former Gazette food contributor Rosalie Gaziano.
The edges of the spattered and dog-eared page are covered with penciled calculations to make the cake in different sizes, such as for a 12-by-18 pan, which requires 1 1/4 times the original recipe. Adjusted baking times and temperatures are noted as well.
As business picks up, Haddy plans to add a stainless steel kitchen in her basement. She'll be able to work efficiently in a space dedicated to her baking. She suspects that she might fall back into her long-term habits.
"I bake better at night," she said. "It's been fun. This started as a hobby, but I enjoy coming up with a delicious product that people enjoy."
@tag:Email Patricia Haddy at PatriciaHa...@aol.com.