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Cheesecake: It's a beautiful thing. Always a fan favorite. And as such, the perfect dessert to kick off the 2014-15 Wildcat Bakery Showcase series at Davidson's Vail Commons.
"The bakery showcase is a way to spotlight the skill and creativity of the Commons bakery staff members, while at the same time highlighting different desserts throughout the year," Executive Chef Craig Mombert said. He came up with the idea for the monthly showcase, for which each of Commons' three bakers takes the lead in planning desserts on a rotating basis.
This month, Baker Pat Aubin chose a dessert that is relatively difficult to make, but worth it in the end, she said.
"Whenever we have cheesecake for the holidays, it's the first thing to go," Aubin said. "So it was a natural choice for the showcase."
Guests to Commons on Friday, Aug. 29 arrived to find more than 1,000 servings of homemade cheesecake in 12 different flavors, including:
Offering such a spread took a lot of time and hard work. Making good cheesecake is labor-intensive-much more challenging than some other desserts, Aubin explained. And making so many different flavors on such a large scale only added to the challenge.
There are a lot of steps that have to be carried out properly in order for the cake to turn out right, Aubin said, including the way you beat the ingredients together, the cooking time, and even the way you cool the cake (gradually, over time).
"It really takes experience to do it well," she said.
Aubin certainly has that experience. She has been cooking and baking professionally for more than 30 years, and was cooking and baking for years prior as a stay-at-home mom to seven children-including three foster children.
When her youngest entered kindergarten, she began working as a manager in the school cafeteria and for the next 14 years split her time working at the school during the school year, and working as a cook for a Saranac youth camp in upstate New York during the summers.
Then, after her youngest graduated from high school, she moved to be near her brother in North Carolina and not long after she interviewed at Vail Commons, where she was hired on the spot.
Born and raised on a farm, Aubin is well-equipped to work at Commons, which is a "scratch kitchen," meaning that most of its dishes are made in-house, with few items pre-packaged or pre-made. She spent years baking her own bread, jarring and canning her own fruits and vegetables, and cooking every meal for her large, diverse family, which has grown to include 12 grandchildren.
Now beginning her 17th year at Davidson, she still feels like she is cooking for family.
"I like baking for the students because it makes me feel like a grandmother, which is a role that I love," she said.