Baking with Grandma, as a Career

Cupboard“How about we recreate the cannoli?” Nicole Peranick, pastry artist and owner of fledgling business With Love from the Cupboard, asked herself this question after completing a self-guided tour of bakeries in Hoboken and Jersey City.

“I wanted to get a sense of what they’re selling,” she says. “In Hoboken, the two bakeries that come to mind are Carlo’s and Giovanni’s. They remind me very much of the classic Italian bakeries I grew up with and, to me, they’re all doing it the same.”

Inspired by her grandmother’s Italian recipes yet eager to express her own point of view, Peranick began developing recipes that fused tradition with her desire to cater to today’s sweet tooth. Treats like rainbow cookies, spumoni and profiteroles have been updated to include flavors like chocolate apricot, espresso mascarpone and pistachio. Says Peranick, “I try to make the recipes I grew up with more sophisticated for today.”

The Paulus Hook resident has always imagined baking for a living, but she never really believed that she could make a career out of it. Instead, she decided to follow a more conventional path: go to college, earn a degree, get an internship and climb the corporate ladder.

“While I enjoyed it, it never fulfilled me,” Peranick says. “I asked myself, why can’t I tap into my childhood passion and make a career? It really motivated me to see other woman founding small businesses.”

Peranick was especially inspired by Baked by Melissa, a New York City cupcake bakery that’s known for its bite-size cupcakes.

After working in corporate marketing and sales for more than 10 years, Peranick decided to take the risk of pursuing her childhood passion: baking with Grandma. About a year ago, she completed her training at the French Culinary Institute, and this April, Peranick officially launched With Love from the Cupboard.

“I feel as though my marketing background helped me parlay my experience into business. I love building brands, and now I use my experience in an industry I have a passion for,” Peranick says. “And I can also perpetuate my family heritage.”

Honoring a family heritage can be an enormous responsibility, but Peranick was simply trying to stay true to her memories spent with her grandma during afternoons while her parents were working.

“She isn’t able to see all this, but she’s very much a part of everything I’m doing,” Peranick says. “I would bake with her in the kitchen, and some of my fondest memories include working with dough. She would be there cutting in the dough with the fork and the butter. She didn’t have a Kitchenaid. The learning process of that was so special. It was intimate time spent with her passing along a skill set and a tradition.”

Peranick still makes her dough by hand because she believes this process yields a better result. She likes to feel that she has as much control as possible. When she first began experimenting with recipes, she started with her own favorites and let her family and friends sample the results. The feedback encouraged her; samplers enjoyed the chance to be able to taste a wide variety of flavors without suffering from a sugar high. By making petite pastries, Peranick presents everyone with a chance to experience many new flavors.

“If you serve an entire tiramisu, it can almost be overwhelming,” she says. “I spent a lot of time in Spain and had a chance to taste many flavors. The popularity of tapas, or Spanish appetizers, appealed to me.”

Peranick, inspired on a recent day by the cannoli she sampled, has great respect for the area’s more traditional bakers, one of whom has risen to celebrity status over the past few years. She believes bakers like Buddy Valastro of Hoboken’s Carlo’s Bakery have directed attention to baking as an art.

“I actually appreciate what they’ve been trying to do. Every time I go to Hoboken, there’s always a line outside of Carlo’s. I commend him for his work. He started off with a bakery and was able to parlay it into something big,” says Peranick. “I also like the shows that celebrate baking and create awareness about pastry arts. In recent years, shows like Gale Gand’s Sweet Dreams have drawn more attention to the industry and have helped it.”

With hopes of targeting the millennial generation — which she describes both as “traditionalists” and “sophisticated early adapters” — Peranick must always try to evolve by staying ahead of flavor trends and finding a way to infuse those flavors into her traditional desserts. In order to do so, she must attend trade shows and study industry publications like Gilt Taste. Unique, high-quality ingredients like gourmet chocolate, Plugrá butter and various extracts need to be tracked down from specialty food vendors.

“When you try to introduce savory ingredients into desserts, you will sometimes face challenges,” Peranick says. “I tried to do something with chili powder because chili and chocolate go quite nicely together. But I was a bit freehanded with it.

“In addition, floral extracts can be overpowering and polarizing. I did different iterations of one dessert with lavender extracts. It’s just a matter of balancing.”

With her spice rose macarons, which she created specifically to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Peranick achieves the perfect balance of floral and sweet. A classic French pastry that includes two crisp and chewy shells held together by a Swiss meringue buttercream filling, macarons are the new cupcake, which became wildly popular in 2000, when Sex in the City character Carrie bit into Magnolia Bakery’s version.

“I’ve followed the cupcake trend a little bit, and I do some petite cupcakes as part of my assortment. Some people say cupcakes are going away, but everyone I talk to is still looking for cupcakes,” Peranick says. “I think they’re still relevant because they give people the chance to have a smaller version of dessert. All food in this country is just so large.

Cupboard“They’re also very elegant and can be served at many different types of events,” she adds.

In the future, Peranick hopes to launch her own retail operation, which she describes as a “dessert inn.” Drawn to the Victorian aesthetic, which is apparent throughout her branding, Peranick admires classic charm and homey hospitality.

“I want my guests to feel like they’re in their own living rooms,” she says, “and among close family friends.”

Laryssa Wirstiuk

is a writer who teaches creative writing at Rutgers University. Born and raised in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, Laryssa moved to Jersey City because she was curious about the city where her mother was raised. Check her blog Craft Your Drafts.