Kristi Tursi of Little Red Fox Bakery knows how to please the eye just as much as the palate. Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles recently grilled her about celebrating with sweets throughout the seasons.
In just a few words, could you tell us about your bakery?
I’m the owner of Little Red Fox Bakery located in Essex, Vermont. What’s with the name, you may ask? When I was six I told my family that I was the owner of Little Red Fox Bakery, thus a dream has become a reality. The majority of my business specializes in ‘Celebration Cakes’ for weddings and ‘Elevated Events’ as the component of my bakery that focuses on all catered events. I incorporate locally sourced and ‘Made in Vermont’ ingredients in all of my bakery goods. I’m lucky enough to be able to use maple syrup that is produced down the road from where I live!
I’m also a food stylist and photographer with ongoing assignments throughout New England and the New York Metropolitan area where most of my work is based. Yes, I focus on the visual presentation, but I live by this rule: Flavor Leads Style.
You’re living in a perfect world: So many of us love to bake and everyone loves baked goods! How did you discover this passion?
I’ve been baking since I was a little girl, but the road to opening my bakery and catering business wasn’t a straight route! My mother’s side of the family is Hungarian, so I was fortunate enough to start my baking adventures with some of the world’s most classic recipes. Holidays, birthdays, and special occasions were all opportunities to learn my beloved recipes. I’m not embarrassed to say that on a recent trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Paris, I sampled pastries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
I studied psychology and art history in college and even pursued post-undergraduate work in those fields, but my love for baking and the desire to run a business ultimately led me to opening the doors to Little Red Fox Bakery. I love the exactness and precision of bakery life paired with the creative freedom and design work for wedding cakes and sweets.
And you’ve a great deal of experience as a food stylist down here in New York City?
I worked for a few luxury e-commerce sites and quickly segued into food photography and styling assignments–It’s an aspect of my business that I truly love. My work was recently published in PDN (Photo District News) for food photography and I also have ongoing collaborations with brands such as CARGO Cosmetics and Fjallraven for styling and photo work.
If you’re planning sweets for a large event, logistically speaking, what is a good direction to go in? And what types of treats might not go so smoothly?
For large scale events, I always work to appeal to everyone’s unique tastes and requirements; treats for people with nut allergies, some gluten free selections, and a show stopper type of dessert to add an element of surprise. I generally try to go with things that tease the palate, so I include a variety of textures: gooey, crunchy, smooth, and fluffy, to name a few. I also always like to include savory sweets, like rosemary or caraway biscotti. The latter goes well with wine at cocktail parties, so you can say that I cover the taste sensations that begin the meal and those that end it.
We’d love to hear more about some of the work you’ve done for weddings.
I specialize in wedding cakes, favors, and full service catering under the part of my business known as ‘Elevated Events.’ I love making wedding cakes that incorporate unique details, like calligraphed messages on wafer paper affixed to the surface.
A current trend is to have a dessert table in place of a cake. Brides (and grooms) come in for a consultation and talk about all their favorite memories of getting to know each other and the foods associated with those memories. We like to curate a menu that is truly a culinary reflection of their courtship.
Spring is just around the corner. What tastes and textures do you think are best served as people tire of heavy winter foods?
People generally want things with fruit and palettes that are reminders of the awakening of spring on the landscape. Small fruit tarts, fruit mousses in mini chocolate cups, and mini cheesecakes topped with fruit tend to be popular choices. On the more elaborate and fluffy side, we have meringues, a crowd favorite. They are feather light, perfectly sweet, and customizable to pretty much any flavor profile.
A truly elegant show stopper is a layered mocha dacquoise cake, which includes layered hazelnut meringue with mocha butter cream. A Spanish Windtorte, a Baroque looking construction of fancy meringue piping, is also excellent as it can be topped or filled with a pastry cream and seasonal fruits and berries – the perfect transition from decadent holiday treats!
What goodies do you think can keep cool in the summer heat?
I love trifles. The flavors are so versatile, and they can be made in large or small scale; it’s the ‘just right’ amount of cake to cream to fruit ratio! I also love fruits tarts and shortcakes, both of which incorporate fruit and can be made on the lighter side for those 90+ hot, humid days.
Last year, we did an event held in a non air-conditioned old barn at the edge of a river; think ninety degrees, humidity, and mosquitoes. We made a lemon three-tier cake with lemon and lavender infused pastry cream filling. It was a semi-naked cake that we adorned with frosted berries and mint leaves. On the side, I had chilled raspberry champagne-soaked watermelon mini cubes on a stick—they were almost as popular as the cake, maybe more so!
And how is chocolate best served in the summer?
Hopefully not melted! I think a ganache tart can be served in hot and humid weather quite well. My two most popular flavors in the summer incorporate orange blossom or lavender; both have a hint of flavor that is balanced by the semi sweetness of the chocolate. I love to garnish the tarts with edible flowers—always a gorgeous finishing touch for tying in the color scheme of a wedding. Time management and organization are key when baking and presenting food, especially when it’s warm. In summer weather, a cooler or two may displace diamonds as a girl’s best friend.
As fall returns, what ingredients do you like to bring forward from the back of the pantry?
Fall is one of my busier times for weddings and catered events, so I created a theme called ‘perfect pairings’ to help those planning a Fall wedding with some level of continuity among their sweet and savory choices! I tend to reach for nutmeg, cinnamon, or even smoked maple! I love mulled cider, as it pairs wonderfully with cider doughnuts and apple pies. As a Vermont-based baker, it goes without saying that I sweeten my desserts with maple syrup and maple sugar any chance I get. I think a dark maple syrup provides for the best pronounced flavors in my pumpkin pies, butter creams, and compotes!
I also love chestnuts. I include a chocolate chestnut ganache tart as a holiday selection and I make Chestnut Mignons, a Hungarian specialty with chestnut cream, chocolate, and rum shaped into a chestnut shape and enrobed in chocolate and mocha couverture.
For winter holiday entertaining, whether it’s a cozy get together following an afternoon of ice skating, or a more formal holiday affair, what could we surprise our guests with?
Who doesn’t love to fawn over a dessert table? For a small, casual gathering (after skating, say, by a roaring fire), I would have a menu that includes cinnamon hot chocolate paired with Belgian brownies and whipped cream, hot cider paired with maple churros, and piping hot mochas with chocolate éclairs filled with blood orange pastry cream.
For a formal affair, I love to present a crepes cream cake that looks like it has a thousand layers. Another favorite that I made for a Scandinavian event was the Princess cake; a green dome of pistachio marzipan adorned with delicate pink flowers covering layers of cake, pastry cream, and lots of whipped cream.
In terms of classic recipes, what do you think never goes out of style?
A classic genoise cake, which is a French-style cake that serves as the foundation for simple jelly rolls and many elaborate pastries. It is perfect ‘as is,’ but even better as the cake layers on a scrumptious wedding cake. A genoise holds up incredibly well year-round and can be made with ingredients that a home baker will have in their kitchen.
And when the ovens have cooled and you close up shop for the day, how do you like to spend your down time?
I live in Vermont for a majority of the year and love getting outside to enjoy the Green Mountains! From November through April, my skis are by the front door so I can literally step outside, don my skis, and off I go! In the summer months, I turn into a kayaker. I’m also the happy owner of a German Shepherd puppy, so hiking, trail running, and sailing on Lake Champlain are perfect departures from a chaotic day of baking and decorating (and it keeps the puppy happy)! My time in nature keeps me focused and serves as a beautiful work/life balance! When I’m in the city, I walk everywhere–I’ve been known to walk from SoHo to the UES. I love the contrast of solitude and city buzz. I think art and beauty and truth are found in that contrast.