The Assistant Store Manager at our retail shop, Verdant, and possibly our favorite studio visitor at Convivial Production. Why is she our favorite? First of all, Melissa is just a joy to be around. Her inviting spirit, warmth, and humor puts all of those around her at ease. Second, she insists on bribing us with beautiful, creative, and most importantly delicious treats with almost every visit. We enjoy her and her treats so much that we thought we'd share more about Melissa in an interview below with details on her go-to dessert for the holidays. At the end of the interview, Melissa has also included her Homemade Hot Chocolate recipe, just in time for the holiday weekend!
Tell us about yourself and what baking means to you.
Where to begin. I am a feeder. I come from a long line of feeders. Basically baking is my love language. Sharing my food is how I love on my people, how I celebrate life's milestones, bring comfort to a broken heart, and make even the most mundane of days a holiday. Baking is also a practice in grounding for me. No matter where I am, or what is happening in my world, baking is a constant. The kitchen is sacred and the work done there goes far beyond a delicious cake or beautiful cookies. Working in the kitchen nourishes my soul and brings joy to my heart.
My love for baking started as early as I can remember. Watching my mama bake and prepare meals, being elbows deep in dough with my gran making her famous gooey rolls, or helping my grandmother host the most fabulous of family gatherings. The women in my life were very influential in my love for baking and hosting. It's in my blood. Baking recipes that have been handed down keeps me connected to my roots and stirs many a treasured memory.
Baking is also a gift I hope to pass on to my five beautiful children. Since they were old enough to walk they have been beside me in the kitchen. Licking spoons and making messes! (You're not really baking unless you're making a mess!) Oh and kitchen dancing! Its kinda one of my rules and my secret ingredient. Kitchen's were made for dancing, so if you aren't dancing your food probably won't taste quite right! I want my kids to feel confident in the kitchen, to learn, grow and take pride in their work. So many beautiful life lessons can be learned through the process and I love experiencing together failure and triumph.
Tell us about your role at Verdant.
I recently moved to Kansas City from Colorado where I owned a small bakery for seven years. Like everyone in the world, 2020 brought some big shifts to my life, and I found myself needing to focus on my family more. As time went on the opportunity to take a position at Verdant presented itself. The move would bring me an opportunity to be close to my two sisters and I just couldn't resist! I have been given a precious gift. This little shop has welcomed me with a warm embrace. I have found so much more than a place of employment, I've found friendship, support, leadership and a wealth of knowledge. I have grown quite fond of this little neighborhood and the amazing humans who are part of the community. Walking through the door each day is a coming home and I can't think of anywhere I would rather be.
My time spent at the shop involves making new friends with everyone who walks through the door, talking (and singing) to the plants, and getting to experience the fleeting and awe inspiring beauty of the flowers. I like to say Christmas comes around every week at Verdant with new plants, flowers, and of course the beautiful pieces hand made at Convivial. Seriously! It's a dream! The team at Verdant and Convivial are also who I love to share my treats with. It's my way to let them know how appreciated and loved they are and what joy they bring to my life.
If you could create one treat to bake & serve this holiday season, what would it be and why?
My most recent (and most requested of all time) recipe that I shared with the team was my whiskey cake. Hands down one of my favorite cakes to bake and serve. I think its because it isn't your typical cake. There are a few things that make this cake unique and some unexpected flavors. And if there's one thing about me, other than baking, I love a good surprise! So incorporating unexpected ingredients is a big component when developing my recipes.
This whiskey cake is a dense cake with a base of rehydrated dates. Beyond that the cake itself is pretty straight forward. The good part is the whiskey caramel sauce that is poured over the cake as it comes hot and fresh out of the oven. My favorite way to serve this cake is warm, topped with spicy candied pecans and fresh whipped cream. This isn't always possible or practical with bringing to an event. In which case I will chill the cake after its had a chance to soak up all the caramel sauce.
For a beautiful presentation I stack multiple layers of cake with cardamom maple buttercream, top with more whiskey caramel and garnish with sugared cranberries and candied oranges. For a festive touch I added some simple gingerbread houses. This cake combines some of my most favorite ingredients, dates, cardamom, WHISKEY, and a touch of heat with the addition of cracked black pepper and cayenne.
In my humble opinion nothing goes better with a slice of whiskey cake than a hot cup of coca and handmade marshmallows!! This hot cocoa has become a staple at all of my cold weather gatherings. Every Christmas Eve I make a big pot. It sits on my stove and is warm and ready throughout the day for everyone to enjoy. It's truly a cup of cheer and warms you heart and soul.
RECIPE: HOMEMADE HOT CHOCOLATE
Using a Stove Top or Slow Cooker
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
14 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
6 Cups Whole Milk
3 Teaspoons Vanilla
1 Vanilla Bean (can use vanilla bean paste)
2 Cups Chocolate Chips
Combine all the ingredients into a large pot over medium-low heat or slow cooker.
If using a whole vanilla bean cut bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and add to the milk. You can also add the whole vanilla bean to the pot after scraping out the seeds to add more flavor. Or what I like to do is add the bean to an small jar, cover with vodka and let sit. In a few weeks you will have your very own vanilla extract!
When it comes to the chocolate I like to use a good quality chocolate and mix half semi-sweet and half milk chocolate. Feel free to use any chocolate you like! I have experimented with dark chocolate, white chocolate, and even added Andy's mints! This is your moment to play so feel free to add your own spin. Can't wait to see what delicious combinations you create!
Stir all the ingredients until the chocolate is fully melted.
Keep warm over low heat and stir occasionally so as not to scorch the milk.
My personal favorite way to enjoy this cup of cocoa is with the addition of a pine infused syrup (my favorite is sourced from Dram Apothecary located in my home state of Colorado), and a splash of whiskey. I then top it all off with a homemade marshmallow infused with all the spicy goodness of cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and clove. Wow! What a delight! A cup full of cheer that will bring comfort and joy to all you share it with. I am so honored to share a tiny piece of my love and passion you, And even more blessed to be part of such a wonderfully talented team! From my heart to yours wishing you a magical holiday season full of light and joy and many glorious gatherings with family and friends.
To explore all the wares featured in this interview, click here.
* Cake stand is not an official product, therefore not available. It's simply the stacking of a planter and bottom dish to hold and display the cake.