All About Food: Serving up homemade baked goods

We have always enjoyed our interviews with home cooks because they seem to love talking about food as much as we do.

The gracious Deborah Vanley is famous in Laguna Beach for her baked goods. Making breads and desserts is her passion.

"That's the main reason I get invited to people's houses," she says with a smile.

She is a home cook but has a lot of professional training under her belt. One might say that she has a black belt in pastry.

While her children were still at home, she served a different fresh baked dessert every evening, much to the delight of her neighbors who were the recipients of the leftovers.

Deborah's family is from South Dakota and even though they moved to Southern California when she was a child, she was raised on hearty farm food prepared by her mom, who was a good cook.

After graduate school, she became a pharmacist and her husband, Christopher, a physician. The couple worked for six months and saved all their money for a six-month trip, eating their way around the world.

It was a culinary revelation.

In Tahiti, they loved the French pepper steak and the baguettes. They spent a month in New Zealand, where they had fresh milk with a layer of cream on top delivered every morning. They also bought a leg of lamb there for $2. In Australia, they were taken with the barbecues. They were dazzled by the beauty of the food in Japan — a feast for the eyes. They stopped in Singapore, Bali, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong, Turkey, Scandinavia and Ireland.

Everywhere Deborah went, it was bread that piqued her interest, from orange and anise-flecked Limpa in Sweden, soda bread in Ireland, rustic three-penny loaf in Turkey, to chapatis in India.

She and Christopher became confirmed foodies when they moved to San Francisco for his residency. Deborah enrolled in the California Culinary Academy and worked as a pharmacist on weekends.

After the first quarter, she became pregnant but from the first day she couldn't stomach the sight or smell of food and she had to leave the program. After having two kids, she began taking classes again, including a one-week pastry class. At the end of it, each one of the eight students invited five guests for a huge buffet featuring Sacher tortes, mirroire cake, layered meringues and tarts.

The Vanleys moved to Laguna in 1983, and Deborah took classes wherever they were offered, including the Royal Thai, El Torito Grill and Sur La Table.

She has also traveled farther afield to take classes. In San Francisco, she attended weekend and week-long classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, learning to make baguettes, sourdough bread, macaroons and breakfast pastries. She even studied in Paris for two weeks. Of course, her husband was happy to join her for one of those weeks.

In her charming Craftsman-style home, she showed off her Gaggenau state-of-the-art oven, but she longs for a real bread oven as well, which, she explained, is quite different.

They get very hot, so she would like to put one in the garage. These ovens make steam, which causes the dough to "pop" (triple in size) before the outside begins to harden. Home ovens crust over too soon, so you end up with a much denser loaf.

She also loves to cook and has an extensive garden of vegetables, fruit and herbs. Her favorite restaurant in Laguna is Nirvana Grill for its excellent vegetarian dishes.

One of her husband's favorite desserts is a free form apple galette.

Deborah makes applesauce with tart apples, drains it overnight, spreads it on pastry and then uses golden delicious for layering on top. If that sounds as good to you as it does to us, send us an email us and we'll forward the recipe.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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