From Acting to Amandine
BY MEGAN HILL
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF
Sara Naftaly debuts her bakeshop in Capitol Hill to applause
When she was a child, it seemed the arc of Sara Naftly’s life would propel her towards a career in theater. The pastry chef and owner of Capitol Hill’s new Amandine Bakeshop was active in professional and semi-professional theater from the age of 9 until her early 20s, in her hometown of London.
But she tired of acting and turned to cooking instead. “My intent was to go into baking,” she says. “At the time, the culinary school I went to didn’t have a very impressive baking program. It was more for bored housewives.”
So Sara enrolled in New York’s French Culinary Institute, and after completing her degree in 1993, landed a gig as the assistant to a private chef at “a household of a socialite and arts patroness in New York.”
She traveled with the family back and forth between London and New York. “Whenever the household moved, we moved. It was very odd. It was upstairs-downstairs in the worst kind of way.”
Though not the ideal long-term career, Sara was learning under a man who, she says, was considered the premier private chef in New York.
He’d also started his career as a pastry chef, and a meticulous one at that. “I basically has a three-an-a-half-year apprenticeship with someone who still did things the way they did them in the ’50s,” she says.
Sara yearned to work in restaurants and get out of the stuffy atmosphere of working in an upper-class home, yet this was the late ’90s, and New York City was “not a very hospitable place for women to go into restaurants,” she recalls.
A search led her to a gig working with celebrated female chef Susan Spicer at Spicer’s Bayona restaurant in New Orleans. Sara worked there in 1997 and 1998 before moving to Seattle. Once here, she made a name for herself, cooking alongside her husband, Bruce Naftaly, at the vaunted Le Gourmand, which he opened, in 1985, in Ballard.
Sara met Bruce only five days after moving to Seattle. He was a friend of a friend, and they were introduced with the aim of helping Sara make a connection in the local restaurant industry.
“The idea was I could meet this guy who was really nice and would maybe give me some pointers on who was good to work with. As in, who is a plate tosser, and who isn’t,” she says.
It seems the meeting was kismet. Sara discovered that she had circled Bruce’s name in a magazine and had written a note to herself saying, “You must go find this guy.”
Though Sara jokes that Bruce was only marginally helpful in helping her make connections in the industry, he did take a keen interest in befriending her. He first invited her to pick nettles, then to attend professional gatherings.
“But it did take me a really long time to get him to accept the idea of having me work in his restaurant,” she says. They were engaged to be married a full six months before he hired her, cautious that working together might upset their relationship.
Perhaps his caution paid off, because Sara and Bruce rode Le Gourmand, and its adjacent Sambar lounge, into the sunset. “It turned out to be a really good experience,” she says. “And if we hadn’t worked together, we’d never have seen each other.” They chose to end their celebrated venture, closing the restaurant in 2011, to move onto other projects.
Though it took several years to come to fruition, Sara’s Amandine Bakeshop opened in Chophouse Row at the end of 2015. Though originally conceived as a macaron shop — an ode to her time spent living in Paris as a child — Sara’s bakery has evolved.
In addition to offering around 10 rotating macaron flavors each day, she sells a wide range of sweet and savory items, including brioche, British malt loaf, English buttermilk scones, cookies, cakes, croissants, Danishes, pizzettes, and tarts, all crafted by hand in a postage stamp kitchen, wedged next to Empire Espresso’s coffee stand. Sara grinds her own nuts, hand rolls her dough, and even makes her own powdered sugar. Amandine uses local ingredients when possible and is almost exclusively organic.
But Naftaly says one of her favorite parts of the new shop is being a mentor, providing valuable assistance that was once offered to her. “I get to work with a lot of young women and teach them things,” she says. “It’s very energizing and good fun.”
And it’s a far cry from baking as a bored housewife.
Megan Hill is a freelance writer specializing in food, travel, and the outdoors. She also acts as Edible Seattle’s social media manager.
BUCKWHEAT, DATE, LIME AND BLACK SESAME MADELEINE
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 2 limes
8 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
6 Medjool dates, finely diced
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
Melted butter for brushing pan
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, cream together the eggs and sugar on high speed for 3–5 minutes. Sift together flours, baking powder, and salt. Stir into egg and sugar mixture, then add vanilla and zest. Let rest for an hour.
During this time melt the butter and honey together and allow to cool to room temperature. Pour the butter mixture into the flour/egg mixture in a steady stream, stirring. Allow batter to rest for an additional hour in the refrigerator, then incorporate the dates and black sesame seeds. Rest for at least two hours, ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using a pastry brush, brush the interiors of the madeleine pan lightly with the butter. Using a 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, scoop flattened balls of batter into the madeleine pan. Wet your fingers and slightly flatten the top of each scoop.
Place the pan on a baking sheet and place in the oven. After 6 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350°F and rotate the pans. Check again 4 minutes later. The madeleines should be browning around the edges and puffed up a little in the middle. Using your forefinger, press lightly on the center hump — when the madeleines are finished baking, they should spring back at your touch.
Remove the madeleines from the oven. Using a butter knife or an offset spatula, gently loosen the madeleines from their molds and tip the whole pan onto a cooling rack. Flip the madeleines so their puffed tops are facing up. Let cool. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze for several weeks. Makes 12 large madeleines.