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Pacific Northwest | September 5, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineSeptember 5, home
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Sweet On Macrina: A bakery lover's bane and blessing come all in one bite
Macrina owner Leslie Mackie enjoys a snack and a good time at the bakery-cafe with her daughter, Olivia.

WHEN I MOVED out of the city
I wanted to escape traffic, high rent and an unhealthy relationship: with the pastry counter at the Macrina Bakery and Cafe. I needed to put a safe distance between myself and the Rocket Muffins, Lemon-Sour Cherry Coffee Cake, steaming bread pudding and those pinwheel thingies.

Now, a grueling 1½-hour drive into the city keeps my cravings in check. And I can fit back into my jeans. Some say the move was a bit extreme, I should try a little self-discipline. True, but my strategy worked. Until lately.

Surely you've heard that little saying: "Stressed is desserts spelled backward." Well, imagine the angst that seized me when I discovered Macrina had published its own cookbook.

If Pandora's box were a book, it would be the "Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook" (Sasquatch, $29.95). Leslie Mackie, who launched the bakery-cafe and authored the book, unleashes the contents of the Macrina pastry case and then some.

The pies, cakes, gâteaux, galettes, scones, tarts and tartlets — Mackie spares us nothing. The bakery-cafe's fabulous arsenal of artisanal breads, soups and exceptional savory dishes are here, too: the Olivetta Loaf, the Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives, Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Cream and Romano Cheese. All of them sound tempting.

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But let's get real. Nobody buys Playboy for the insightful articles, and I'm not pretending to browse this cookbook for the salad recipes. How could you when confronted with Lemon Lavender Scones or Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream and Fresh Blackberries?

As I look more closely, I think it will take more than a cup of chamomile tea to calm the palpitations I feel when faced with so many tantalizing choices.

The recipes vying for my attention make me feel like a swing-voter in election season. But I know it's wise to be wary of distractions and stick to what's important. So when pushed to make a choice, I say, "It's the chocolate brownies, stupid!"

With so many highbrow options, this might seem a lowly pick. But the brownies represent what Macrina built its reputation and loyal following on.

It's all in the recipes, says Mackie. "When they are simple, they are successful, and that inspires people to bake more. That's the mission."

Mackie, an Oregon native, says pastries were her favorite as an apprentice. She went on to work as a pastry chef in established Boston restaurants, but her career took a pivotal turn after working a summer on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.

"I was introduced to more homey, great American and rustic European pastries, and found my great love."

At her desk, surrounded by glossy photos of artisan-baked breads, Mackie pulls out the predecessor to her cookbook: a red plastic binder. This unassuming binder, its shine dulled by flour, contains the evolution of many of Mackie's best recipes. Showing off a yellowing 1989 newspaper clipping from The Oregonian, Mackie retraces the origins of her Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie. "I tweaked it a bit," she says. My guess is, she's being humble.

The cookbook is a chronicle of Mackie's passion and years of recipe collecting. She adds that co-author Andrew Cleary, who worked at the bakery-cafe for nine years, helped bring all the elements of the book together.

Mackie's prowess as a pastry chef has made Macrina a local legend. This year, her reputation moved up a considerable notch nationally. The James Beard Foundation nominated Mackie as one of five chefs nationwide for the Outstanding Pastry Chef award.

From this collection of temptation, I asked Mackie which were her personal favorites. She lists the Monkey Bread and the Classic Blueberry Pie.

Her 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, has taken to baking, too, and is partial to Christmas cookies. Flipping through the cookbook to see if she overlooked any picks, Mackie laughs, "I'm so pleased to have one book to work from."

It must be a relief to have such a treasure in one place. But as for me, I fear it spells another untamed passion — this time, with a book.

Jacqueline Koch is a writer and photographer living on Whidbey Island.

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