Pastry chef Sarah Garner, sole proprietor of Sarah's Sweet Cakes, is passionate about baking, but she's also a great cook. I love highlighting young local entrepreneurs and encourage you to file their contact information away so that you can give them a call when special occasions arise.

Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook

Chef Sarah Garner, owner of Sarah's Sweet Cakes, is the focus of this week's Marie's Kitchen. Pictured in the background is a Valentine's cake created by Garner.

Because we keep a watch on our cholesterol numbers, I don't do much baking. But Valentine's Day comes only once a year, so I have already ordered a special cake from Sarah for my loving husband for Valentine's Day.

Sarah Sweet Cakes is just that — cakes!

“I love making and decorating cakes,” she said. “I can bake a cake for any occasion. I have cakes for bachelorette/bachelor parties (I have done some X-rated cakes that are pretty funny), wedding cakes, birthdays, anniversaries and baptisms. You name it. I can come up with a design, or I can copy something. I also do theme parties,” she added.

Sarah didn't start cooking until she was in college.

“I went to Roanoke College in Virginia,” she said, “and almost left to go to culinary school, but I finished at RC with a BA in business. I worked in the fashion industry as a buyer but decided it wasn't for me. I entered culinary school, but not for baking/pastry, and worked at Roy's of Baltimore. I was a line cook and worked all over the kitchen, including in the pastry area. I worked in other restaurants, and I always seemed to work on Sundays when no one was in the pastry department.”

Although Sarah had no experience in cake decorating at that time, customers who came in complained that their cakes weren't right or, worse yet, weren't even finished, so she stepped up and made things happen.

“I really liked it and kept traveling the pastry/cake decorating route,” she said. “I was the pastry chef at Severn Inn and Harry Browne's in Annapolis, and was the cake decorator at Caroline's Cakes.”

Sarah is married to her husband, Joe .They have two children, Jake and Molly. She loves to read, ride her bike, go to the beach and hang out with her family. Although she claims not to have a signature dish, she is famous for her French Buttercream.

“I always use French Buttercream, unless otherwise asked to make the store-type icing, also known as American Buttercream.” Of course, I have requested Sarah's French Buttercream on the cake I've ordered for my husband.

To contact Sarah, call (302) 864-0703, or email her at sgarner1818@yahoo.com.

Instead of using a box mix, give Sarah's homemade Yellow Butter Cake recipe a try.

Yellow Butter Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

6 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup half-and-half

Method for Yellow Butter Cake:

Lightly butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Put the 4 tablespoons butter, oil and sugar into a bowl and cream until smooth — 4 to 5 minutes on medium speed. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down bowl. Beat in the vanilla until combined. Scrape bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beginning and ending with dry ingredients, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in thirds, alternating with the half-and-half. Beat for 45 seconds after each addition. Scrape down bowl. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth surfaces.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cake pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn the layers out of the pans onto racks and let cool to room temperature. Yield: Two 9-inch cakes.

Strawberry Filling

Ingredients:

1 cup water

3 tablespoons corn starch

2-1/2 cups frozen strawberries

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Method for Strawberry Filling:

In a large saucepan, whisk water and corn starch together. Stir strawberries and sugar into the water. Cook strawberry mixture over medium-high heat until thick, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely. When cooled, place mixture into a blender container and blend until smooth.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 cups heavy cream

Method for Chocolate Ganache:

Place chips into a large bowl. Bring cream to a simmer and pour it over the chips. Wait for 3 minutes, then stir carefully until chocolate is smooth. Set aside and let set. Once set, it will be spreadable for icing or filling.

This recipe for Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Cream is one of Sarah's favorites.

“The recipe is from Julia Child's ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking,'” she said. “If you're planning a romantic dinner, this dish is a winner. It's very rich, but worth every calorie!”

Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Ingredients for chicken:

4 supremes (boneless, skinless chicken breasts)

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

One big pinch of white pepper

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon minced shallot or green onion

1/4 pound diced or sliced fresh mushrooms

1/8 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for the sauce:

1/4 cup white or brown stock or canned beef bouillon

1/4 cup port, Madeira, or dry white vermouth

1 cup whipping cream

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons freshly minced parsley

Method for Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Cream:

Rub the chicken breasts with drops of lemon juice and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a heavy, ovenproof casserole, about 10 inches in diameter, until it is foaming. Stir in the minced shallots or green onion and sauté a moment, without browning. Then stir in the mushrooms and sauté lightly for a minute or two, without browning. Sprinkle with salt.

Quickly roll the chicken in the butter mixture and lay a piece of buttered wax paper over them; cover casserole and place in 400-degree oven. After 6 or 7 minutes, press the top of chicken with your finger. If it is still soft, return to the oven for another 2 to 3 minutes. The meat is done when it is springy to the touch.

Remove the chicken to a warm platter (leave mushrooms in the pot) and cover while making the sauce (2 to 3 minutes).

To make the sauce, pour the stock and wine into the casserole with the butter and mushrooms. Boil down quickly over high heat until liquid is syrupy. Stir in the cream and boil down again over high heat until the cream has thickened slightly. Off the heat, taste for seasoning; then add drops of lemon juice to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.

The following recipe for Samoa Bundt Cake shouts, “I have a passion for baking!” Since I do not have that type of passion for baking, I will order this cake from Sarah for a very special occasion. “This recipe takes some time,” she said. “I made it for my husband's birthday, and it was worth every minute!”

Do not even think of tackling this cake unless you have the time to devote to it. Frankly, I have never seen a recipe that requires cooking an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk). The milk is a frosting ingredient. This is a marble cake, so two batters are needed.

Samoa Bundt Cake

Before you even think about preparing the cake, stick one unopened can of sweetened condensed milk into the container of your slow-cooker and submerge it in water by at least 3 inches. Cook on medium setting for 10 hours or on high setting for seven hours. Alternatively, you can boil the can, fully submerged at all times, on the stove for four hours. Let the can cool completely.

Ingredients for Batter 1:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Batter #2:

1/4 cup oil

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup boiling water

Ingredients for Frosting:

2-1/2 cups sweetened coconut, toasted and divided

1 can (12 ounces) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup 10X confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted

See instructions at the beginning of this recipe, above, for cooking the can of milk.

Method for Samoa Bundt Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

This is a marble cake, so prepare each batter separately. With an electric mixer, for each cake type, beat the butter (or oil) and sugar(s) on medium-high until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing well. Add in milk and vanilla (if applicable) and mix until well combined. In separate bowls, sift together the dry ingredients for each batter. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until well combined.

At this point in Batter 2 (cocoa cake), add the boiling water.

Prepare the Bundt pan by greasing and flouring well.

Layer the cake, pouring some of the brown sugar batter into the pan, then some of the cocoa batter, then brown sugar batter, until both batter bowls are empty. Tap the Bundt pan on the counter a couple times to remove bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour, or until skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (Mine finished in only 50 minutes.)

Let cool completely.

For the frosting: Toast coconut either on a cookie sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven, tossing occasionally, or in a dry skillet, constantly stirring until desired color is reached. Beat the cooled, cooked sweetened condensed milk, butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and salt for 3 minutes. Add in 1 cup of toasted coconut. Chill for one hour. Frost the cake and top with remaining toasted coconut.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave. Place in a pastry bag with a small tip or into a Ziploc bag with a corner cut out about 1/4-inch up from the corner; drizzle stripes on the cake.

I know in my heart that I will never make Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce. So, the next time you're inspired to make these pretzels, Sarah, I'd love an invitation to share the bounty of your labors! Sarah adapted Alton Brown's recipe for the pretzels and the cheese sauce is a “Smells Like Home” original recipe.

Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce

Equipment needed: Stand mixer with paddle attachment and dough hook, 2 large baking sheets, parchment paper.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees F.)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

22 ounces all-purpose flour (approximately 4-1/2 cups)

2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Pretzel or kosher salt

Method for Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed mix together the water, sugar, salt and yeast for 10 seconds. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour and butter. Mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a wide, 8-quart stock pot, or a roasting pan, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal-size pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Slice each rope into 1-inch pieces. Place a lightly dampened towel over the pretzel pieces to prevent them from drying out while you roll and cut the other pieces.

Using a slotted spoon, lower a handful of the pretzel pieces into the boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds, flipping them around in the water with the spoon a couple of times. Remove the pretzel pieces from the water using the spoon, drain as best you can, and place the pieces on baking sheets. Brush the top of each pretzel with the melted butter and sprinkle with the pretzel/kosher salt. Bake at 425 degrees until dark golden brown in color, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Brush with remaining melted butter before serving. Serve warm.

Ingredients for Cheese Sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

8 ounces extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (Do not use pre-shredded cheese; there is a real difference.)

Method for Cheese Sauce:

In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.

Slowly whisk in the milk until no lumps of flour remain. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted. Add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve warm. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave on medium power at 30-second intervals.

(Editor's note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)