I’m crazy about Dude, Sweet Chocolate.
I mean, really: I recently came across a social media post from 2014 when I had returned to work after living in the Philippines, and what had my co-workers surprised me with when I walked in the newsroom? Dude, Sweet.
When I moved into my apartment last week, I had few pantry items: Gummy bears, popcorn kernels, fish sauce and two boxes of Dude, Sweet fudge truffles (those were Hanoi and When Pigs Fly, by the way).
After a longer bike ride, my post-workout treat is sometimes (OK, more often than it should be) half a truffle of one of the fudge options.
There’s a reason Dude, Sweet’s owner Katherine Clapner is known for her chocolate. But her foundation and expertise started in pastry, something she devoted her life to for decades.
“I’m not doing the [monthly Dude, Sweet] tea parties right now; when I’m not doing the tea parties, I don’t get to do the thing that was what I started out my career in, which was baking,” Clapner says.
I remember when she baked kolaches with meat Slow Bone threw her way — there was an incredible beef rib-greens combo that was dynamite. She talked about her cinnamon rolls, too, mentioning how the creamsicle was one of Stephan Pyles’ favorites back in the day.
“Tell me more,” I wanted to ask her. I wanted to hear more about those days, even if she were needing to get to the next customers behind me. Clapner has talent, expertise and stories: She's worked with serious champs, which made her a reputable pastry chef before she got into the chocolate that a number of us are obsessed with.
"Katherine's unlike any pastry chef I ever had," Pyles says. "She expedited, she worked the line, she could do it all ... I would travel a lot, and she would do all this research about where I was going, and I'd come back and she'd have all these ideas. No one ever did that.
"She has no fear, which means don't get in the way of her and her dreams."
And right now, that's exploring recipes to bring us something new (to us, anyway).
“A few of these recipes I’ve used, some of the main recipes, the motherland of recipes, come from a very particular part of my culinary history. ... I think it was when I worked at the Windsor Court in New Orleans, when it was in the top five in the world,” she says. “I learned more in the three years when I was with [Shayne Gorring] as his assistant than my entire career. I learned more about food from Stephan, but as far as the mechanics of pastry, it was all Shayne Gorring.”
Today, selling pastries on the weekend is keeping some things afloat.
“Doing the pastries saves my home ... It was a way to keep our name out there, it was a way to pay my mortgage,” Clapner says.
Before COVID-19 hit Dallas, Clapner was running her two Dude, Sweet shops, in the Bishop Arts District and downtown, and occasionally baking at monthly tea parties or collaborating with photographer Manny Rodriguez for pastries and cortados at his beautiful West Dallas studio. Her last round was a selection of Cubano pastries that were just surprisingly good. I’m no expert in Cuban pastry, but Azúcar Ice Cream Company’s Suzy Batlle is. Batlle, who’s from Miami, raved about them and talked about how excited she was to share them with her mother.
Nowadays, Clapner sells baked goods on weekends — a task that’s way different from the shop. She takes days to prepare the food she delivers out of “the mother ship,” as she calls Dude, Sweet’s headquarters on Inwood Road.
I recently got to try her lemon-vanilla bean scone and this ham-and-Swiss turnover with horseradish cream. If I come out fat after shelter-in-place, I’m pointing some blame your way, Clapner.
“This scone recipe goes back ages. The puff pastry is a new recipe I'm just in love with, the one I did for the guava [at the recent Cubano pastry event], that came in as a rotation. The coffee cake, same period of time. I’m going through recipes right now,” she says.
And those recipes aren’t in one Rolodex, on her laptop or in one binder.
We’re talking as many as 6,000 recipes.
“While doing these bake sales, it put me in the box of recipes, and I keep finding more and more,” she says. “I’m finding shit, and I’m like, ‘Hell, yeah.’”
She’s also finding some things from early Dude, Sweet days — things she thought at the time might have been difficult.
“Then I decided I don’t give a shit, we’re going to do them again,” she says.
Dude, Sweet is still the backbone of this operation. She won’t let you call it the Katherine Clapner Show, it’s still all going back to the chocolate. In fact (and thankfully), you can order chocolate when you order the week’s selection of baked goods.
She posts the weekend event on Facebook, which notes what’s offered. You must email her (don’t go another way, that messes with the system and you may miss out on the baked goods you’re looking for), then you show up on Inwood at the time slot — wear a mask, please — and she’ll bring it to your car, equipped with mask and gloves herself.
COVID has obviously had an impact on Dude, Sweet along with everyone else. She had to close the two stores for now, and she’s had to let staff go.
“Chocolate is a luxury — it’s not a luxury in my world; I find it to be a necessary thing, I eat it every day — but it is a luxury. [I need] any way that I can supplement into us, because I really just want to bring my guys back to work. I can run and make my mortgage with this, but … There’s five people I have to figure out how to get back to work.”
This week, in fact, bake sales are going to two people who run Clapner’s kitchen: Carlos and Gladys. So you can get a pan of kolaches and do some good while you’re at it. One pan (that’s seven kolaches — historically, they’re pretty darn big) for $21. Get two pans for $40. And why not get two? They freeze well.
Clapner says kolache flavors are plum, blackberry and blueberry with one more that’s still to be determined. Order by emailing her by Friday night if you want to get in on it. (And I assure you, you do.)