Rachael Coyle can trace her dream bakery space to the Surrogate Hostess, a bygone restaurant at 19th and Aloha that she loved as a child. It has since become a Tully’s Coffee, and though she admits the details of that restaurant are foggy to her now, the 31-year-old pastry chef vividly remembers its “buzz on the weekends and a kind-of side bakery.” It’s that memory that guides her in the quest for a permanent home where she can share her warm, sweet, and sinful creations every day of the week.
Illustrations by Joshua Boulet
Until then, Coyle spends one morning a month surrounded by beautiful cookbooks in an independent bookstore, selling some of the city’s best baked goods.
Coyle, perhaps best known for her former posts as pastry chef at Le Pichet, Café Presse, and The Herbfarm, bakes her own sweet and savory confections the first Saturday of every month and serves them via a pop-up store at Book Larder in Fremont, where lines flow out the door and she sells out by 10:30 a.m. at the latest. “At the first pop-up, I made 12 scones,” she notes. The third? 72. That someone with Coyle’s pastry pedigree is working out of a kitchen and selling in a shop not her own (a bookstore at that) is, according to her, a “pretty standard” part of any chef’s search for the perfect space. But it might also speak to Seattle’s growing pains as the demand for culinary excellence exceeds the city’s culinary capacity.
Coyle planned to open her own brick-and-mortar bakery in Montlake last year—in a “cozy space in a quiet neighborhood” that suited her vision—but that ultimately fell through because of zoning problems. An office space, it could not be rezoned for “change of use” as a restaurant. But Coyle doesn’t want to dwell on the “neighborhood kerfuffle,” and chooses to focus on the positive. “The pop-up is great because it can let me experiment, and confirm, or un-confirm, assumptions I’ve made.”
It also buys her time to hire staff and refine her menu as she continues to search for her own place, while staying on the radar in the process. “I really would like to be in Fremont, in walking distance to the bookstore,” she declares. Book Larder owner Lara Hamilton seconds that desire. They’ve become friends, and their businesses are symbiotic. The bookstore has found new customers via Coyle’s fans (always a good thing in the waning world of the indie bookstore), and vice-versa.
What’s particularly wonderful about Coyle (aside from her food, of course) is her commitment to Seattle. Though she got her pastry-arts degree at New York City’s French Culinary Institute, she returned to her hometown in 2005 because she felt that New York didn’t have the local and seasonal angle—“or even the access that we have here.” When she got the coveted position of pastry chef at The Herbfarm, she found herself completely immersed in that world. “Being able to go through a year of seasons there . . . using the maple blossoms in the spring and the huckleberries in August . . . ” she reminisces. It’s clear that was a pivotal time for her. However, she admits that what she chose to cook for her interview there, a clafoutis tart with sour cherry and rosemary infused in custard and served with raspberry coulis, was “appropriate to The Herbfarm, but not my style.”
What is her style? Well, she’s still trying to come up with that pithy single sentence to describe it, she jokes, before speaking of her affection for iconic French desserts like tarte Tatin and Paris-Brest, delicacies she believes are still catching on stateside. She has also adopted a newer love of English baked goods, like her millionaire’s shortbread—a shortbread cookie topped with layers of dulce de leche, caramel, and crisp chocolate. Though a British classic, Coyle’s version adds a little more salt to the caramel and uses tapioca powder to “make it really tender” (and “incredibly difficult to cut,” to her helpers’ dismay).
“I’m eclectic, and in that sense very American,” she says—though not classic-American as in pies and layer cakes, which aren’t her thing. In fact, the most vivid memory she has of cooking as a young girl is making baklava at age 10 or 11, adding that “A tray of baklava is my idea of heaven.” She recalls that after she made it with some help from her family, “Everyone’s reaction was ‘That was so hard, we’ll never do that again.’ I was like, what are they talking about? I’d make it again tomorrow.”