A Day in the Life of a Seattle Pop-Up Baker

Pop-ups may be nothing new in town, but this year fledgling bakeries have especially embraced them as a way to gain customers before taking on the heady costs of a brick-and-mortar business. But even a pop-up isn’t easy to pull off
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  • Seattle pop-up baker
CULTURE CLUB: Mariela Camacho rolls dough overnight to make sure her Mexican-inspired baked goods, like empanadas and conchas, are ready by morning

This article appears in print in the December 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

"The concha became the image of a generation,” says Comadre Panadería’s Mariela Camacho of the sugar-crusted rolls that are a part of every Mexican-American’s breakfast nostalgia. They were ubiquitous in her Texas hometown when she was growing up, so when the pastry chef moved to Seattle four years ago, she missed that piece of her upbringing. While she put her decade of professional pastry training to use as manager of Capitol Hill’s Amandine Bakeshop for more than two years, she wanted to find a way to honor her own culture—and perhaps to do it one better. 

Camacho began her pop-up bake shop just about a year ago, and since then has continued the monthly event and taken on wholesale accounts, doing well enough to quit her day job at Amandine. Conchas have become her star pastry. She makes them by weaving Cairnspring Mills flour, from Burlington, into a brioche recipe, creating a roll that pays homage to the original, but “tastes better and uses good ingredients.” The conchas ($3.50–$4), along with treats such as her guava and cream cheese empanadas ($5), alfajores ($2) and avocado “ding dings” ($4) (just like Hostess Ding Dongs, except the filling is avocado cream and the outside is single-origin dark chocolate) sell at her monthly pop-ups at Amandine Bakeshop  on the last Sunday of the month. Her other various pastries and breads are on the menu at Resistancia Coffee, Elm Coffee Roasters, Damn the Weather, Bait Shop and Addo.

CONCHA QUEEN: Camacha sells her conchas, among other baked goods, at Resistancia Coffee

But it’s no cakewalk (forgive the pun) working as a “concha-preneur”: Camacho gets up early and works intensely hard to make each monthly pop-up a success. She gave us a peek into what 24 hours at Comadre looks like:

4 p.m.: Arrive home from delivering and decorating a wedding cake. Make dinner.

5 p.m.: Finish up organizing prep sheet and going over my to-do list. Print invoices for the next day’s deliveries.

6 p.m.: Bedtime!

12:30 a.m.: Wake up and make breakfast. Coffee. Gather up items needed and go over prep sheet again. Lots of stretching in hopes that my back will make it through the day. Aaron, my partner, gets home right before I leave, so we at least get a hug and a kiss in. He forgot the menus and labels at work. Whoops.

2 a.m.: Get to Amandine. Preheat the ovens. Decorate the tres leches. Bake the niño envuelto (jelly roll). Clear out space in the display case. Stock all to-go items.

3 a.m.: Put the first load of sourdough in the oven. Preheat the proof box. Fill and roll the niño envuelto while it’s still warm. Assemble wholesale and pop-up pastry boxes. Sourdough out of the oven.

4 a.m.: Start proofing conchas and canela rolls. Apply and cut patterns on concha tops. Cut and box up the pink cake. Dishes. Make sure the register system is up to date and has all the for-sale items in.

5 a.m.: Finish the niño by applying raspberry jam and shredded toasted coconut on the outside. Cut it and the tres leches into slices. Pull sourdough out. Mix the bolillo dough and start the first rise. More dishes. Coffee.

6 a.m.: Puerquitos in the oven to bake. Frost the canela rolls. Empanadas in to bake. Decorate the space. Shape bolillos and let proof.

7 a.m.: Lauren Rodriguez, my barista, arrives to set up the coffee side. I don’t know much about coffee, and this is her first time setting up alone, so we figure it out. Continue decorating. Box up and organize wholesale orders. Aaron arrives at 7:30 to deliver the wholesale orders and pick up the labels and menus he forgot at work. Last batch of sourdough out. No diablitos or avocado ding dings this time around because there aren’t enough hours in the day. Bake bolillos.

8 a.m.: Apply powder sugar to the alfajores. Frost canela rolls and, once cool, pull apart. Start loading items into the display case. Lauren is finishing up the final decorating. Set up cash drawer. Folks start coming in before we are ready, even though we have a sign up.

9 a.m.: Aaron arrives right at 9 from deliveries with labels and menu, so we put those up. Dishes. I organize all of the back-up pastries on sheet trays so they are easy to grab for boxing up and refilling. Make sure I have all my boxes, gloves, spatulas and anything else needed. Folks start coming in, and we get into the flow of service quickly. In between boxing, I sneak in as many “hola”s and answer as many questions as I can.

10 a.m.: They manage without me for a bit while I mix two batches of dough for a restaurant bun delivery. As soon as I’m done, I run upstairs to collect dishes. Dishes always. Boxing up orders for customers. It’s pretty overwhelming in every way, but I am so grateful. Empanadas are almost sold out. I can’t ever make enough. Lauren and Aaron are having a good time, cracking jokes, staying positive and offering amazing service. My back won’t stop tingling and my knees are so swollen. I pop four Advil, chug water and think about how hard my parents have worked their whole lives. This is nothing compared to the struggles that most immigrants face in the food industry.

11 a.m.: Bun dough is ready to shape. People thank me and tell me what they’ve enjoyed as I shape the buns. Lauren and Aaron are still doing a great job. Back on dishes and boxing. I try and start cleaning up the kitchen a bit so I don’t get too far behind. We sell out just a bit before 12!

Noon: And we are done. We season the cast irons, do dishes and scrub down all surfaces. Floors, trash and taking down all decorations.

1 p.m.: Close up the cash drawer. Pop the buns in to bake. It takes all three of us about two hours to knock out the cleaning.

2 p.m.: Do a once-over of the space. Clean the dish pit, lock up and do the bread delivery.

3 p.m.: Eat tacos and drink tequila and talk about the day. What would I do without their help? Doing Comadre has brought some amazing community into my life.

This diary entry has been edited for length.

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