A pastry chef’s sweet dreams

Tiny morsels of rhubarb add “a refreshing zip to balance the sweetness” of strawberry cardamom French buttercream, Katarina Glanzer said of these seasonal tarts she whipped up at Gateway Market.

Writer: Hailey Evans
Photos: Duane Tinkey

Katarina Glanzer

In 2013, Des Moines Area Community College offered a free year of culinary classes to students interested in trying out the field. Back then, Katarina Glanzer was still unsure of her path, so she thought to herself, “Why not give it a try?”

The first sign she was on the right track came about a year later, during her 19th birthday dinner at Django, the local French restaurant, where she was offered a job. Her father knew one of the chef-owners, George Formaro, and couldn’t help mentioning her success at culinary school.

Glanzer shucked oysters at the raw bar for two years while she learned the ins and outs of the Django kitchen. After she graduated from DMACC’s Iowa Culinary Institute in 2015, she started helping out with Django’s desserts. She said she “fell in love with sugar work,” like toasting the tops of crème brûlées and whipping up pots de crème. “I started to wonder what else I could do.”

Now, at 29, Glanzer is a pastry chef at Gateway Market, filling custom orders and the store’s grab-and-go display case. She likes the variety, from simple cookies to elaborate French opera cakes and tiramisu. “I want the desserts to reflect the fun, elevated style at Gateway with ingredients sourced right from the store or from Central Iowa,” she said.

Glanzer’s stint in the Django kitchen gave her some useful experience, but becoming a pastry chef required her to learn some new skills on the fly. Her trial-and-error practice involved watching a lot of YouTube tutorials from French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, among others. She appreciates her self-taught approach because she can learn from multiple teachers. Besides, “every failure is just a lesson,” she said. “That’s what I look forward to.”

Mise en place

Glanzer starts most days around 10 a.m., developing recipes and planning future desserts. Throughout the day, she fills orders for custom bakes or catering requests, and takes time to perfect her current recipes and baking techniques. “It takes time to ‘learn’ each individual oven. Each one has different hot and cold spots, places that heat faster and hotter, so you have to learn how to bake around them for consistency,” she said. “Baking is a science, for sure.”

Ingredients

Glanzer has French and German roots, so butter is almost in her DNA. She gets her middle name from her French grandmother, Jacquelyn, whose spirit she feels whenever she bakes. “It’s almost like I get to know my family more through these recipes,” Glanzer said. Her grandmother left behind a book filled with her recipes, and once, when Glanzer whipped up Jacquelyn’s divinity meringue, the taste of nostalgia brought her mom to tears. “My family is so supportive and excited about my work,” she said. “With this connection, I know I’m on the right path.”

Presentation

In the future, Glanzer envisions a dessert cafe that serves craft cocktails or multicourse “dinners” of just desserts. Sometimes, she daydreams about an “Alice in Wonderland” event, “where the courses are inspired by the playful, fantasy style of that story.”

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