The Kouign (Queen) Arrives at La Casita Bakeshop

The kouign amann at La Casita Bakeshop
The kouign amann at La Casita Bakeshop Maricsa Trejo
Maricsa Trejo stays busy these days. She got her start with pastries in the kitchen at Oak, then landed an eight-month stint in New York City with pastry chef Stephen Collucci.

Now, between baking knee-weakening pastries for her wholesale business and running her Saturday-only La Casita Bakeshop, she certainly has no time for nonsense.

Recently, Trejo posted a menu of the sweets and breads she would have at her store the following Saturday. Gleefully, I saw the two specifics words I was looking for: kouign amanns.

Being personally fascinated by these delicate pastries, we had to talk.

It’s All a Scam

We set up a time to chat and at the appointed time, I called but no answer. I envisioned her rolling out delicate layers of dough and left a message babbling about how her work is very important and call me when she has time. Soon after, I get the following text:

“I'll call you back here shortly. I'm so sorry about missing it. We were on the phone with these people saying they were going to shut our power off because our account has been flagged. Turned out to be a scammer looking for us to load Walmart cards, but it had us freaked out for 20 minutes.”

I was a little surprised, honestly. Those types of situations are usually rife with red flags from the get-go.

But, this scammer had details about their business.

“He had the exact amount of a bill that was due and our account number. Then he emailed us from a TXU account,” Trejo said.

He warned them: They had 20 minutes before the power to her bakeshop was cut.

Walk-ins, ovens, mixers, all out of commission. That’s a panic-inducing nightmare for a baker. In her mind, Trejo started to piece together spare equipment at her house.

“I was thinking about how else I could do this," she says. “Then, he told us we could pay right away at Walmart ... So, we jumped in the car and were at Walmart in minutes. They told us we had to do prepaid cards and that’s when my partner and I were finally like, wait, that’s weird. So we hung up and called TXU. They told us we actually don’t have anything due right now, and that it was a scam.”

Trejo isn’t sure how he got her bill, number and details since she has a lock for her mailbox, but honestly, who knows. There’s got to be a special place in Bad Karma Pastry Land for people who try to scam a baker.

The Less-Traveled Bakery Path

Trejo has taken an unusual path in the baking business. Most bakers (and people) dream of beautiful Pottery Barn-styled shops where customers linger over mugs of coffee and pastries. Trejo didn’t take that path. After working at Oak and in New York City, she came back and went straight to wholesale. 

“It’s not sexy, but it has definitely paid off,” Trejo says. “Business on the retail side is really hard to keep up with. Like, it’s hard just to keep up with Starbucks when you’re a coffee shop. But, the wholesale business takes care of the employees’ salary and pays for the space. Opening a retail spot after getting established through wholesale is like finding $20 in your pocket when you forgot your wallet.”

But, it didn’t come easily.

“We’ve been doing this for three years now, seven days a week,” Trejo says. “This year is the final year, hopefully, of having to work everyday. There have been nights where I’ve cried myself to sleep and told myself, ‘I’ll just start over tomorrow.’ Those scenes in The Great British Baking Show where bakers are on their knees with their hands on their heads watching a pastry rise in the oven? That’s been me.”

Learning to Have Fun

She learned from her time with Collucci to keep things in perspective. After burning an entire order of meringues one evening before the dinner service, Collucci told her to just shake it off.

“He said when things like this happen, you just have to stay calm, organize and figure out your next step,” Trejo says.

“He really taught me that you have to have fun doing this ... One night recently we were running behind and just couldn’t get caught up. And instead of panicking, we started watching Pixar movies on my phone and eating candy from Walgreens and just kept working. We made it fun.”

Meeting the Kouign

“I was actually at Dominique Ansel’s the first time I ever had a kouign amann,” Trejo says of her time in New York. “I remember I had gotten a bag of treats and took them home from his shop. I ate the whole bag. I never told my partner about that, [whom] I was living with at the time, but I did. It was just the best thing I’d ever had.”

The kouign amann is a finicky pastry, though, and a challenge to get right. There are a lot of very specific things that have to be just perfect. Trejo laminates her dough four times, rendering hundreds of layers. She’s had to learn through trial and error the exact oven temperature (375 degrees) and timing (12 minutes).

“They also don’t like being in the oven with anything else,” Trejo says. “And absolutely, you can’t open the oven door even once while cooking. Then once they’re done, they have to be popped out of the tins immediately or they’ll stick to the pans.”

Flipping a hot pan comes with its own hazards, including piping-hot caramelized sugar and butter that isn’t too kind on skin.

“I actually only started trying to make them this year,” Trejo says. “I got Ansel’s book and followed the recipe. It calls for salt and sugar on the top, but the recipe calls for way too much salt. So, I made 24 the first time and they looked beautiful. I tried one and it was so over-salted, I had to throw them all away.”

The biggest problem with the kouign amann?

“They just don’t sell great here, though. Cruffins sell much better, which isn’t something I really wanted to do, but people love them,” Trejo says. 
click to enlarge The cruffin, the more popular and way less complicated cousin of the kouign amann - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
The cruffin, the more popular and way less complicated cousin of the kouign amann
Lauren Drewes Daniels

However, Trejo thinks the tide is starting to turn.

“I made a dozen for a client not long ago, and they only sold six, so I felt really bad and told them I’d comp them for six and they said, 'Oh no, we ate them all,'” she says.

Trejo says more coffee shops she delivers to are asking for them recently, and you can also find them at La Casita Bakeshop, which opens every Saturday at 9 a.m. They keep the doors open until they sell out, which is usually around noon.

If you go and get a whole bag of treats, including a kouign amann, of course, and eat the whole bag without telling anyone, your secret is certainly safe with Trejo.

La Casita Bakeshop, 580 W. Arapaho Road, Suite 230, Richardson. 9 a.m. to sellout Saturday.
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.