Baking in the taste of Christmas
Joerg Rudolf loves watching people bite into his cookies.
“Sometimes they hesitate,” said the pastry chef. “Then they get this look of joy and greed. I live for that look.”
He's seeing a lot of that joy at the pop-up stall he opened in the Washington Mall for Christmas.
Much of what he makes reflects his German heritage — spitzbuben (a jam-filled cookie), cinnamon waffles, stollen (traditional German fruit bread) and cedar bread are among his many offerings.
He was born in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 50 miles south of Munich.
“Some customers ask if the cedar bread is Bermudian,” he said. “It's not; it's German.
“It involves almond paste with lemon peel, lemon juice and a glaze on top of it.
“The glaze is almost like royal icing, but very thin. It is very moist in the middle. I don't know why it's called cedar bread. There's no cedar in it.”
He got the recipe from the German pastry shop where he apprenticed at 16. The recipe is about 80 years old.
His grandmother, Theresa Schwartz, inspired him to start cooking.
“If you came to see her you sat with her in the kitchen,” said the 54-year-old. “Because our town was just a stone's throw from the Austrian border, her cooking was Austrian with a lot of sweetness and flour.
“In the old days, you only had meat once a week so you had to supplement your diet the rest of the week with anything from dumplings to vegetables. My grandmother seems to have inspired the men in my family more than the women. I have two brothers and a sister, and both my brothers cook now. My sister doesn't.”
He became a pastry chef because he always loved making and eating sweets.
After working at several hotels in Germany, he moved to Bermuda in 1987 to work for Pompano Beach Club.
Four years ago he opened the Dockyard Pastry Shop.
“It was definitely a scary step to open a shop,” he said. “At first, my wife Esther and I weren't sure how successful it would be.
“For a year, I continued to work at Pompano during the day and the pastry shop at night.”
Success eventually came; the Rudolfs now employ five full-time staff.
His favourite thing to bake changes with the season.
“Right now I love making Christmas cookies and cakes,” he said. “If I had more time I'd like to make those gravity-defying cakes you see on the Food Network.
“But they sometimes take ten hours, and I don't have that kind of time or space to store a cake.
“At Easter I like making chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies, and in the summer I make a lot of eclairs. Those are popular all year round, really.”
He developed gluten-free versions of some of his products, such as his chocolate almond croissants, to keep pace with his customers' preferences.
“It took about three attempts to get the recipe right for the croissants,” he said. “It's easy now, but six years ago it was challenging.
“Back then, when I asked in the grocery store for gluten-free ingredients I'd get blank looks. Now there are lots of gluten-free options.”
He spends a lot of time promising not to make his customers fat. His creations are loaded with sugar, butter and chocolate.
“Everything in moderation,” he said. “You need to splurge sometimes, but you also need to exercise.
“Every morning before work I walk for about an hour to relax and clear my mind.”
For fun he likes doing mixed-media art in the shed behind his house. He also does a lot of photography.
“I haven't had a show in 20 years though,” he said. “I don't have time anymore since I have a wife and an 11-year-old son, Raphael, and a store. I just do it for fun in my free time.”
But he said at heart he is both a pastry chef and an artist.
“Doing the pastry allows me to do the art, but I don't think I could do the pastry if art was my primary career,” he said. “I know too many artists who aren't making any money.”
His stall in the Washington Mall is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am to 4pm.