Stacey Kucy Hits the Sweet Spot of Baking
Swing open the door to Stacey Cakes in McCall, and a swirl of mountain air kicks up aromas of butter-soaked dough, sugar-glazed fruit and melted chocolate. It's an intoxicating scent that wasn't nearly as concentrated when Stacey Kucy first started slinging her rustic tarts, ginger snaps, muffins and scones in the open air at the McCall Farmers Market a decade ago.
"The Market demand, each year it was getting stronger and stronger to the point where I was like, 'You know what?'" said Kucy. "'We need to make this work.'" So in August of 2011, Kucy opened the Stacey Cakes storefront at 136 E. Lake St. in McCall, in a strip mall adjacent to Paul's Market. The tiny shop has a rustic vibe, with a couple of cafe tables and an open kitchen shifting freshly baked treats from the ovens into a glistening case. Kucy still has a booth at the farmers market, but she now spends most of her waking summertime hours in the shop, fussing over thick cookies and delicate, flaky pastries, while she herself is covered in a fine layer of flour.
"In the summertime, I'll be in here anytime from 3:30-4:00 a.m., and sometimes not even leave until 10-11 p.m., just depending on what I've got going on," said Kucy.
Kucy got her start 18 years ago baking wedding cakes out of her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She eventually became the assistant pastry chef at the Coyote Cafe before moving to Jackson Hole, Wyo. to work as the pastry chef at the Snake River Grill.
"When I first started I was very, very anal about, 'Everything has to be measured.' And I worked with a chef in Santa Fe that was the complete opposite. He could just throw things together and they'd turn out and I was always just like, 'Wow that's amazing,'" said Kucy. "I think it's just evolved over the years, Now I just know; I have the feel of what's right."
But while Kucy – who's married to Gary Kucy, Hotel McCall's James Beard Award-nominated chef – might have the word "cakes" in her business name, the tiered creations now take a back seat to her other sweets.
"It's kind of funny because my passion is the individual pastries," said Kucy.
Kucy crafts many of her confections utilizing fresh, seasonal fruit – which her patrons can be found hauling into the shop in exchange for baked goods.
"I have about a handful of customers that bring me in rhubarb for trade," said Kucy. "I also have a girl who brings me wild strawberries. A guy brings me huckleberries to my back door. . . I have a farmer who brings me peaches, apricots at the peak of the season. In my backyard, I have raspberry bushes, which I harvest and bring in to create whatever comes to mind."
But McCall, like any Idaho mountain town, suffers from a shortage of fresh fare in the wintertime.
"In the winter months it is more challenging to come up with creative items that are fresh and apply," said Kucy. "Although last Winter Carnival I had a farmer bring me grapefruit, lemons and oranges that he picked in Arizona and brought up."
Kucy says that seasonal fluctuation can add a welcome element of surprise to the often scientific art of baking.
"Pie fillings and things like that, it's never going to be the same twice because fruit is different, but you have to kind of know the consistency that you're looking for," said Kucy.
Overall, Kucy says she's seeking that magic mixture of flavors and textures – the sweet spot, so to speak.
"I love different components – something crunchy, creamy, if it's salty, sweet – I just like something that kind of explodes in your mouth," said Kucy. "Personally I get such joy just pulling out the perfect batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven."