Terra Nelson did not taste the sweet sensation of sugar for the first time until she was 4 years old. Making her way to her aunt Carolâ€™s house, Nelson remembers returning home to tell her parents about â€œthe best bagels she had ever tasted.â€ They were in fact donuts. Her parents â€“ old school hippies intent on enforcing a sugar embargo â€“ had not allowed her to taste any sugar before that point.
â€œI remember thinking that the taste was the most delightful thing in the world,â€ laughs Nelson. â€œThen I remember feeling very energetic.â€
Today, Nelson is a baker â€“ one of the best in the city and owner of Bourbon Line, a company that produces desserts that use one of her favorite ingredients â€“ bourbon.
But for Nelson, the journey to becoming a baker takes root not in lifelong goals, but instead via a happy accident, when cooking with care and passion was a necessity. Mired in laboratories, during her undergraduate degree in biology, Nelson decided to go backpacking before her senior year.
â€œI spent a summer in Greece, volunteering to build a road in a town leading to a church. And during that time I lived in a house with 12 other people, and cooking dinner was part of our duties at the end of the day. Being in Europe and cooking for all these amazing people, I just came back home and said, â€˜Well, Iâ€™m going to go to culinary school!â€™â€
Happily enrolled at Sullivan University, Nelson also very quickly found her niche was baking, a nod to her previous years of dissections and labs. The little things such as making the perfect pie crust became triumphs, and soon, run of the the mill skills.
â€œThe first time I made a pie dough and baked a pie without any pre-made ingredients, I was so proud of myself. But mine always turned out wonky; it was my Achillesâ€™ heel, and I could just never get it right.
But itâ€™s this drive for perfection, as with most individuals working with food, that led Nelson to conclude baking was her calling.
â€œBaking is a science so it fits in with that side of me,â€ explains Nelson. â€œItâ€™s never anything I thought I could make a career out of, but I love it. The thing about baking is that itâ€™s very precise, itâ€™s a science and takes perfectionism, but still has an artistic outlook, which fits my personality well.â€
Her next calling was Blue Dog Bakery where she spent six years honing her craft, around like-minded passionate people at one of the cityâ€™s favorite outposts for baked goods.
â€œEveryone there loves what they do, and thatâ€™s really important to making a great environment to work in, explains Nelson. â€œWhen youâ€™re around so many people who are creative, love what theyâ€™re doing and take pride in it.â€
Since leaving Blue Dog Bakery, Nelson has taken on a full-time position at Jefferson Community and Technical College teaching baking â€“ a way to pass on the passion that she found by accident in Greece a decade ago. Along the way, Nelson has followed in the footsteps of her best friend and Food Network star Damaris Phillips, by competing on the Food Networkâ€™s â€œHoliday Baking Championshipâ€ last November, where she placed fourth overall. A few weeks of shooting in television studios in Los Angeles have given Nelson the bug to branch out beyond baking, and explore the avenues of television, food styling and production.
â€œThe competition was humbling, because you realize you can always keep improving yourself, and itâ€™s why I started my business Bourbon Line,â€ adds Nelson. â€œItâ€™s bourbon-inspired, bourbon-made desserts. The goal was to make desserts without that overpowering boozieness, and instead giving you the taste and flavors that that accompanies that spirit.â€
In the end though itâ€™s just a chance for Nelson to keep doing what she loves best, baking, and giving people the chance to get a taste of home.
â€œItâ€™s just going back to your roots. Youâ€™re raised around bourbon your whole life, if you grow up in Kentucky. I love sweets and I love Kentucky, and so they seemed like a natural pairing.â€ VT
For more information visit www.bourbonline.com.Â
Old FashionedÂ Butter Cake
All purpose flour (3 cups) â€¢ Granulated sugar (1 1/2 cups)
Unsalted butter (3/4 cups) â€¢ Whole milk (1 cup)
Eggs (3 whole) â€¢ Vanilla extract (1 1/2 teaspoons)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon) â€¢ Baking soda (3 teaspoons)
- When I do a butter cake recipe, I find that if you cream the butter with the sugar first it just doesnâ€™t mix in as well at the end so I like to put the dry ingredients in first until it gets mealy, and then I add my wet ingredients.
- You should mix on a lower speed because you donâ€™t want too many air bubbles in it as it over develops the gluten and youâ€™ll get a tough cake.
- Once beaten, line two cake tins with parchment paper and lightly oil with some spray. Pour the batter in the tins, then use a cake spatula to even the batter.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350Â° for 18 minutes. To check that itâ€™s ready press the center lightly with your hand. You want it to spring back a little bit. If it leaves a divot and doesnâ€™t come back up, then it needs to go for another minute or two. Donâ€™t poke it with a toothpick, as you will lose some of the steam, and it can dry out a bit. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing it.
Bourbon Buttercream Icing:
Butter â€“ softened (2 cups) â€¢ Whole milk (1/3 cup)
Powdered sugar (4 1/2 cups)
Woodford Reserve bourbon (2-3 tablespoons)
Vanilla extract (1Â 1/2 teaspoons)
- Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
- Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with bourbon and milk, beating at low speed until blended after each addition.
- Stir in vanilla extract.