Toni Bugay makes pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting
Is baking a hobby or obsession
Some people might call it an obsession. Toni Bugay protests that baking is just a hobby, but we'll let you be the judge.
Exhibit one: Three shelves in her pantry are dedicated to baking; the folks at Wilton would be jealous of her stock.
She's got chocolate in a variety of shapes and strengths, coconut, marshmallows, colored sugars, sprinkles, food pastes and gels, pudding mixes, instant espresso, and more.
She buys photo boxes from Michael's to store cupcake liners and treat bags in all sizes and holiday patterns.
"I have a cabinet in the laundry room for the overflow," says Toni.
Exhibit two: The equipment, including a mini-pumpkin mold pan and a bite-size silicone mold pan for teeny-tiny treats like brownies or cakes.
"Between the baking pans and the cookbooks, I have to sneak stuff into the house," laughs Toni. "I don't think my husband and son saw the last two I bought."
For the record, Toni owns professional wedding cake pans, giant muffin pans, mini muffin pans, a spring form for cheesecake and half a dozen jelly roll pans. She even bought a pastry bag for filling cupcakes.
"It looked cool, so I bought it - let's play!" says Toni, a special education instructional assistant at Eisenhower Junior High in Hoffman Estates. "For a while there, the school got a bunch of cupcakes," some with cream filling, some with jelly, others with chocolate frosting inside.
Toni finds baking relaxing and experimenting stimulating.
"I don't just make plain brownies, I put in Heath bits or marshmallows," she says.
Toni tinkered around with some prepared chocolate chip cookie dough and voila - Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars, a blend of convenience and from-scratch ingredients.
Under oath she admits to baking a least once a week, but starting next month she picks up the pace, inspired by the chilly days of fall and winter. She'll stock 25-pound bags of sugar and flour and buy 90 eggs at a time. She'll add breads and rolls to her standard menu of baked goods. "If I'm bored with the same old thing I pull out a cookbook," says Toni. Her favorites: Paula Dean cookbooks and magazine, Food Network and Kraft Foods magazines and Nestle e-newsletters.
"Food Network is on now, on mute," she chuckles, as we talk by phone.
Nine years ago Toni and her husband, Peter, expanded the kitchen and dining room to create her dream kitchen at their Hoffman Estates home. She installed double Thermidor convection ovens ("I can put six cookie trays in one oven"), a five-burner stove ("sometimes I'm cooking on all five"), a food dehydrator ("parsley took four to five hours") and for the first time, a microwave and dishwasher.
So what's the verdict: hobby or obsession?
Let's deliberate while we try Toni's recipes.