written by: Andrea Peterson photos provided by: Les Madeleines
We all have memories of our Christmas traditions. Mine growing up, took place on Christmas Eve eating juicy ribs at Tony Roma’s Steakhouse. (I grew up in Texas, so eating red meat was like Champagne, you ate it to celebrate anyone and everything.) But for most everyone else, memories happen on Christmas Day and revolve around meats and veggies or the sweets.
Americans like to bake and they love spending time in the kitchen during the holiday season. According to a recent study commissioned by Fleischmann’s® Yeast and Karo® Syrup brands, 83 percent Americans typically bake cookies year around, but come the holidays it increases to 93 percent. But as much as they enjoy kitchen time, according to Small Business Development Center, baked good sales rise to around $40 billion—meaning there is still plenty of people letting the professionals handled the science of baking.
There is no shortage of Utah bakeries. Salt Lake magazine even showcased some new and older sweet shops around town you may not have heard of in our November/December issue. But you’d have to be living with your head in the oven to have never heard of Romina Rasmussen from Les Madeleines.
Right in the doughy center of downtown Salt Lake City, Rasmussen is baking up scrumptious pastries inspired by cross-continental flavors and made entirely from scratch. And if there is one tradition you can be sure of, Rasmussen is traditionally baking up untraditional flavors. I’ve always thought, traditions are meant to be broken, right?
Because Rasmussen has spent so much time globetrotting, we asked her what holiday international traditions she incorporates into her culinary baked goods. “You will always find global flavors at Les Madeleines, but as far as borrowing traditions, we’re really more about supporting our guest’s traditions and making their holidays as stress-free when it comes to feeding friends and family.”
For this holiday season, the team at Les Madeleines is baking three different flavors of panettone. (An Italian type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan and primarily enjoyed for Christmas and New Year). This is their sixth season making the Italian holiday favorite. As noted above, Rasmussen makes all her pastries from scratch and the panettone is not a one-day event. This is three days of baked love. They begin with lievito, a sourdough starter named Dani after the person who gifted Romina a piece. And starter is more than 40 years old, which reflects the skill, experience and love put into all of the panettone created at Les Madeleines.
Two other annual favorites are the Bûche de Noël (a French pastry made in the shape of a log that is a mix of coconut, passion fruit and Tahitian vanilla) and the Stöllen (a fruit bread containing dried fruit, nuts and often covered with powdered or icing sugar.) If the names or flavors intimidate you, Rasmussen never fails when it comes to impressing with the simple, yet yummy cookie. “I love cookies, so we have at least 20 different cookies to choose from,” she says.
Once you step inside the Les Madeleines bakery on 500 South and 200 East and taken a bite of any of the tasty delectables, you know they are neither mundane nor what you’d expect. “We try to do a variety of flavors and shapes so that there is a little something for everyone.” They have peppermint eclairs and trays of chocolate and citrus options. Even her Bûche de Noël has a warm-weather twist. This year Rasmussen decided to go tropical, “because we haven’t done that for the holidays before.” She is not against traditional flavors, she will and can make those items. The panettone, for instance, is traditionally made with candied orange and raisin, but Rasmussen is “also making a chocolate, candied orange and one with rum raisin.” Les Madeleines’ craquelin panettone will also make an appearance this year. Rasmussen says they’ve taken the filling from the craquelin, a brioche, and worked it into the panettone, “so that there are little crunchy cavities throughout where the sugar cubes once were.” Even her decorating style has the Romina flare. “I love silver and gold,” she shouts. “In general, when it comes to decorating I’m of the less is more style,” but she quickly assures us that there will be plenty of red in her designs as well.
For you who prefer more traditional flavors, Rasmussen is offering a plethora of gingerbread and spice cookies along with, for Chanukah, her rugelach. A Jewish crescent, rugelach is filled with cream and made with raspberry and chocolate-walnut. And of course, the Rasmussen’s famous (and seasonally traditional) kouign amann is available, as it is year round.
Les Madeleines offers up these holiday pastries frozen, so you can bake them fresh on Christmas morning or, perfect for gifting, get the treats delivered in a box designed by local artist, Traci O’very Covey.
With all this sweets talk, it’s no wonder “eat healthier” is added to so many New Year’s Eve resolutions. But Rasmussen doesn’t believe in guilt when it comes to good pastries. “If it’s real and made from quality ingredients, there’s nothing to be guilty about.” Still, she admits she hits the gym because “I do love panettone and will indulge in a slice here and there.” (Rasmussen is also a “warm spice girl” and you’ll often find her nibbling on a cardamon cookie.