POSTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2010:
Rising to the Occasion
After rebuilding, family-owned Ann's Bakery keeps producing its legendary goods
Ann's Bakery cranks out cakes, pastries and other baked goods like no other around town. Three years ago, though, the more than 70-year-old bakery was devastated and almost destroyed by a fire.
Remaining in their original location on north Harvard, Ann's Bakery has experienced much throughout its years of operation. Now, Shannon Harris, granddaughter of original owners Ann and Ray Bay, has refused to let a fire destroy the business and so many of Tulsa's memories.
"We are so grateful for our customers," Harris said.
Harris said there's an undeniable loyalty to Ann's among Tulsans. So much so, that while they were closed for repairs, they heard that some of those faithful followers refused to purchase even a birthday cake until it reopened.
"We had a few buying two cakes for the occasion, making up for the one they missed," she said. "They are the best!"
And it's no wonder they have a faithful following. Walking into Ann's Bakery is like taking a step back in time.
The outside façade remains the same as in years' past when my parents frequented the bakery for birthday cakes; an awning displaying its name and the original brick walls give Ann's an old-time bakery look.
That theme doesn't change much when you enter Ann's, either. The counter that displays the bakery items and the bakery itself, which is somewhat visible to customers, has an old-world feel.
Looking at what's available in the display cases might seem disappointing at first because it appears the options are few. A smaller place might house fewer items, yet Ann's has the classics that compete for taste and texture among any bakery in town and has many other items in the back available for special order. (Check out their Web site, annsbakery.com, for a list of pastries, breads, rolls, cakes and more.)
I stopped into Ann's a few times recently and loaded up on a decent sampling of bakery items. Both times, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Crème Horns ($1.75) and Nutty Buddies ($2.25)--which is like a Crème Horn in all ways except crème protrudes from both sides and has been dipped in a chocolate sauce and then topped with chopped pecans.
The puff pastry dough (dough of many thin layers of butter, which has been tediously folded, rolled and flattened) is light, crispy and flaky. During the baking process, the many layers of butter create steam, which coaxes the dough to rise into a multitude of thin, crispy layers of goodness.
A fluffy crème is piped into the cooked shell, and for me, the crème is what complements the shell. Ann's filling seems to have a marshmallow cream foundation, yet it is lighter and airier. All Harris would divulge about how it's made was, "Oh, if I could only tell. It's a wonderful dream cream filling."
Moving on, I sampled a variety of items. I began with a Chocolate Éclair ($2.25). Light pastry dough is piped out in finger-like pieces, baked, then filled with vanilla custard. Chocolate icing is zigzagged over the top. These were very fresh, and each bite's texture and taste featured a soft crispiness of the baked pastry, creamy vanilla and sweet chocolate icing.
Next, I sampled a Pineapple-Cheese Stick ($1.05 for each). This is a long section of pastry dough that is filled with a thick pineapple filling and cream cheese. A thick coating of smooth sugar glaze finishes this Stick. The baked result is a light and crispy puff pastry--like dough with a fruity and creamy filling. It's a very sweet treat.
A Lemon Drop (.60) was my next stop on the baked trail. This is a round cookie, small and thick that is topped with a squeeze of rich lemony frosting. The cookie itself is more of a shortbread with a mild sweetness to it. The frosting definitely adds a jolt of sugar to this cookie.
Apple Turnovers ($1.75) were next. These turnovers are quite sturdy, firm and large, and give you a sweet fuel for the rest of your day. It's a traditional turnover with thin layers of flaky dough, filled with an apple cinnamon, pie-like filling. Thick white glazed icing topped it.
The Cannoli ($2.25) is a tube-shaped fried dough filled with cream, but in this case the cream is light and barely sweet, yet enough to be delightful. The dough is delicate and actually crumbled as I bit into it.
A Maple Long John ($1.05) is long, no less than eight inches of donut richness and topped with a maple glaze. This Long John was very fresh, with the dough very soft and substantially textured.
Ann's partially prepares pies, breads and coffee cakes for sale, so they can be baked at home and served hot. The Cherry Pie I baked at home was fabulous. The pie crust was a light, yet thick layer of pastry and the filling was thick and full of cherries.
Just looking at the bakery items, it is easy to see that great care is taken in the preparation process--each item is perfectly baked and given a finishing touch with either glaze frosting, piped frosting or powdered sugar sprinkling.
Ann's also is known for its cakes. "We bake cake everyday, so we can have the freshest cakes as possible," Harris said. "Great care goes into our wedding cakes also. We want them to be the best as they can be."
She said that they even accommodate those last minute call-in cake orders (as best they can), preparing cakes upon request. "We also make a beautiful Rose Box cake; it looks like a box of roses with the lid on and a bow, but inside is a cake with a dozen roses on it! It's great for anniversaries, Valentine's Day and other special events." And, Harris said, "Our butter cream icing is to die for."
Harris said that most of Ann's recipes have been handed down from her grandfather, but still "over the years we have experimented with new products and introduced new recipes. We have a wonderful baker who has worked for us off and on for about 20 or so years, Kevin Swatsenberg. He prepares our cakes and most of our specialty cookies." She adds that her stepfather, Mike Pollock and her son, Joe Morey, bake the pastries, breakfast items, sausage rolls and specialty pastries.
As far as formal pastry arts training, Harris said the training has basically been handed down from baker to baker.
Every place has a story, and Ann's Bakery is no different. Harris tells the history of Ann's Bakery with its opening in 1938 by her grandparents Ann and Ray. They ran the business together until her grandfather died in 1968, at which time her Uncle John came in to help her grandmother run the bakery together with her mother.
In 1993, her Uncle John died, and then Harris's mother and step-father continued to run the business. By this time, Ann was in her early 90s and retired.
Harris said she began "officially" working for the bakery in high school but was there all the time when her mom was there. As she said, "It was inevitable that I would be a part of it as I got older."
Ann died in 2006 at 100 years old. A fire partially destroyed Ann's in January 2007, but it reopened in February 2008.
"During that year, we formed wonderful friendships with some of the bakeries in town," Harris said. "Many reached out to us like we were family, and we certainly feel the same about them.
"We are in a historical location. Not many businesses can say that they have been in business for 70-plus years and in the same location for that long. Our goal is to just keep people informed to where we are and that we also have the ability to deliver if they live out south, in Broken Arrow, Owasso, Sand Springs, and beyond."
Harris said Ann's Bakery is planning to have more items in the future, including a weekly lunch special, such as turkey and Swiss on a croissant, tuna salad and more. She said to "stay tuned" to what will come in the future.
7 N. Harvard
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