Margaret Palca is an open book when it comes to baking.
“I wholeheartedly believe that nothing is a secret,” says the Brooklynite behind her eponymous bakery.
Still, she argued with her mother on how much to divulge in “The Margaret Palca Bakes Cookbook” ($24.99), out this month.
“You have to tell them how to do it correctly, or it won’t come out right,” Palca told her. “I’ve done it every single possible which way you could do it.”
Palca, 63, has more than 30 years of baking expertise to share. Since cutting her teeth at Le Pavillon, Fraser Morris Fine Foods and with Chelsea Baking Company pastry chef Russell Carr, the New York native opened Margaret Palca Bakes in Brooklyn in 1985. Since 1997, the bakery has been at 191 Columbia St.
Her creations — which are available at her bakery, stores such as Garden of Eden and coffee shops such as The Bean — have been influenced by her own sweet tooth (“I’ll always eat a chocolate chip cookie”) and her customers’. That’s meant staples like rugelach and carrot cake, and requests for biscotti, red velvet cupcakes and rice cereal bars that have become staples.
“I have to remember that I’m not only pleasing myself,” Palca says. “I never thought I would make Rice Krispies Treats, but there you go. Everyone wants Rice Krispies Treats.”
Her growing menu also has a variety of gluten-free items, like her baked oatmeal bars; Palca’s literary agent tracked her down after having one at Irving Farm Coffee Roasters and helped her land a book deal.
The resulting cookbook follows Palca’s culinary journey, from baking with her grandmother to getting inspired by the likes of Jacques Torres, Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and pastry chef Maida Heatter (“She is the final word on baking as far as I am concerned,” Palca writes).
Today, she finds inspiration on Instagram, following the likes of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery and cookbook authors Dorie Greenspan and Sara Moulton.
“I’m an Instagram junkie like the rest of the world,” Palca says. “You can follow so many wonderful bakers. It’s inspiration galore.”
Palca has her eyes set on retirement in the distant figure. But for now, she still loves baking and stirring every day. She just hopes her secondhand Hobart mixers from the 1940s last.
“They’re such quality machines, but I don’t know if they have much more life in them,” she says. “I hope they make it as long as I do.”
Palca’s gluten-free baked oatmeal bars
These baked oatmeal bars helped land Palca a literary agent. She shares the recipe:
Makes 6 (3-in.) squares
2 cups ambrosia*
6 cups quick oats
2 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
4 extra-large eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 6x9x3-in. baking pan. Coarsely chop ambrosia and place it in the bowl of an electric mixer. Then add all the other ingredients and mix on low speed until everything is combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned and bars are firm to the touch. Allow to cool and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container. Bars will keep for up to 4 days.
* The mix of dried fruits and nuts I use is available at Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. It is a combination of almonds, cashews, walnuts, papaya, dried pineapple, apricots and raisins.
IF YOU GO
Margaret Palca will have a book signing at her bakery on May 1 at 6 p.m. (191 Columbia St., Columbia Street Waterfront District, 718-802-9771) and at the Park Slope Coop on May 20 from 1-3 p.m. (782 Union St., Park Slope, 718-622-0560)