What started as a solo operation in Dawn Casale’s West Village apartment led to a full-fledged business — and to her meeting the love of her life.
One Girl Cookies, the Brooklyn bakeshop that prides itself on unique treats like espresso caramel squares and banana whoopee pies, is the focus of the cookbook Dawn just released with her husband and business partner, David Crofton. We spoke with the couple about their love of sweets and each other — Valentine’s Day is coming, after all!
I hear you guys have a cute “How we met” story.
Dawn: It’s a good story. It actually sometimes feels like I’ve made it up but I really haven’t — it’s a true story. I had started the business out of my apartment, and as the business began to grow I realized that I did need some help, especially somebody who had actually been trained in production baking. I started to put the feelers out to see if I knew anybody that knew anybody, and our friend
[recommended Dave]. So I called Dave and we talked a little bit about working together and we set up a time to meet. We had a little interview and hit it off so I hired him. It was going really well and the Christmas season came and we were working together for many hours and still wanting to go get a bite to eat afterwards. There was definitely some flirtation happening, but we were still keeping it professional. Then Dave actually decided that he wanted to explore the world of restaurants and so he left One Girl Cookies and opened a restaurant. So that kind of was the end of it for that time, and we still spoke but the romance sort of fizzled and then two weeks later —
Dave: But there had been no romance up at that [point].
Dawn: Well, flirting I guess. And he called me and said, “I hate my job here and I want to come back to One Girl Cookies,” so he did and then we just kind of went from there — we started dating and then moved in together into the neighborhood where we opened up our shop.
So there wasn’t one night, late in the bakeshop, when things took a romantic turn?
Dawn: Well, even before he left there was a lot of flirting. I would say, “Oh, my apron’s undone and my hands are dirty, could you tie my apron?” And we were spending lots of time together so it was pretty clear there was an attraction. When he came back, even though it was unspoken, I think it was sort of like the green light, like “OK, this can move forward both professionally and personally now.”
Dave: That’s not true at all! We did have a night — we were out playing pool with her friends, and they all left, and we were still there, and Dawn had her mojo going and I couldn’t resist.
What are the best and worst parts of working with your partner?
Dave: It’s hard to stop talking about work. It’s hard to set boundaries because we care about it so much and it’s such a part of our lives. There’s so many things that have to be discussed, inevitably it spills over into our personal time. Finding the balance is always a challenge. The advantages are I think we work really well as a team — we both have strengths in different areas.
Dawn: There it is in a nutshell. I would say that the disadvantage is that it is really hard to leave the couples dynamic at home. I think sometimes for our employees we’ll have a little quibble about something stupid and they [feel uncomfortable]. We really are still acting as a couple when we’re here, and the upside is that obviously you have somebody here who you’re working with and you’re building sometime together, something that you both care about really much, and it’s very gratifying to do that with somebody that you love.
Now that the two of you are together, why didn’t you change the name of the company?
Dawn: Customers will joke and say, “Doesn’t Dave care?” And actually I think I would say Dave really doesn’t care. He said we worked for a long time to build the business and to build the brand as One Girl Cookies, and not only is not One Girl Cookies anymore because there’s one guy, but also because we have like 25 employees. It is the roots of what the company is and was and so we decided to keep it as that. Plus, we really couldn’t come up with a better name.
Why was now the right time for a cookbook?
Dawn: It wasn’t planned this way, but I think it’s really fortuitous that it ended up being at the same time that our second location has opened.
Dave: We’d been thinking about a book for a long time. We had gotten to a point where we wanted to share some of our recipes, and we offer cooking classes at the shop and had already shared a lot of them. I think that it was just a great opportunity and we wanted to take advantage of it. It’s exciting for us to fix the recipes so that it makes sense to a home baker and challenge ourselves into really doing a big project like this. It was a lot of work but I’m so happy that we did it and we’re really happy with the way the book turned out.
Dave: It’s really decadent. It’s an approachable recipe so I think a lot of people could make it, but even someone with experience I think would still find it pretty interesting.
Dawn: It has a number of steps and so I think that is a nice recipe for two people.
RICH CHOCOLATE CAKE
with Salty Dulce de Leche & Hazelnut Brittle
MAKES ONE 10-INCH CAKE
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1⁄2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
11⁄4 cups granulated sugar
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
Hazelnut Brittle (recipe follows)
1⁄2 cup dulce de leche
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 10-inch round cake pan by greasing it with cooking spray and then lining the bottom with parchment paper.
To make the cake, pour the hot coffee into a medium bowl and stir in the cocoa powder until it dissolves. Stir in the brown sugar, followed by the yogurt and the vanilla. Stir thoroughly to ensure that all of the ingredients are incorporated.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light-yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and mix for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, mix in a third of the flour mixture and half of the coffee mixture. Scrape down the bowl. Add another third of the flour mixture and all the remaining coffee mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the pan in the oven and bake for 20 more minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto a clean plate, remove the parchment, and turn the cake back over onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely.
In a food processor, pulse the brittle pieces 3 to 4 times until the brittle is powdery.
Put the cooled cake on a serving dish. In a microwave-safe dish, heat the dulce de leche on high power for 30 seconds, or until it is just liquid. Spoon the dulce de leche over the cake, and then sprinkle the kosher salt over the dulce de leche. Sprinkle about ½ cup of the ground brittle around the outer edge of the cake as a delicious decoration.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes until browned and fragrant. Let cool.
Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in the sugar and corn syrup, and bring to a boil. Continue whisking constantly until the syrup is a rich amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the hazelnuts and then pour the contents of the pan onto the prepared baking sheet and spread it out into a thin layer. Let the brittle cool completely.
Break the brittle into 2-inch pieces. The brittle will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
For a change of pace, replace the dulce de leche with mocha butter-cream (page 87).
MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS
1⁄2 cup whole unsalted hazelnuts, skins removed
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1⁄8 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄8 teaspoon table salt