“Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.”
-Peter Clemenza, in The Godfather.
They are words to live by for Peter Schmutte, pastry chef at the Hawthorns Country Club in Fishers, who is determined to have his diners follow in the footsteps of the don’s henchman. But these days, convincing Hoosiers to order dessert isn’t as easy as Peter Clemenza’s moral manifesto.
Take one look at Schmutte’s culinary creations, however, and even the most conscientious calorie counter will become powerless to its prowess.
Thousands of Hawthorns members can attest. For more than a year, the Indianapolis native has been cranking out everything from coconut and passion fruit mousse cakes to lavender short bread in an effort to meet the demands of the 60,000-square-foot facility which houses three full-time restaurants. “I’m like a pastry Swiss Army knife. I’ll do whatever’s needed at any given time,” says the 35-year-old, his soft voice masking intense determination. Swiss Army knife indeed.
Each week Schmutte not only provides plated desserts for the clubhouse’s two sit-down restaurants, “The Overlook” and “The Player’s Lounge,” but also creates – from scratch – an array of cookies, brownies, and fresh pastries for the more casual “Arbor Grill” which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. It may sound like a tall order, but it’s one for which Schmutte has thoroughly prepared.
The Indianapolis native has worked at Chicago’s TRU and NoMI restaurants as well as Wolfgang Puck’s now defunct eatery inside the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In fact, Schmutte had almost 10 years of culinary experience before even walking through the doors of The French Bakery School in Chicago where he became well versed in the fundamental practices and techniques of creating pastries. “People have been feeding themselves for tens of thousands of years. To say you know how to do it all is pretty ostentatious.”
His baking philosophy is anything but. While he may follow techniques from esteemed French master pastry chefs like Pierre Herme and Stephanie Glacier, Schmutte manages to create his amazing recipes with only a few key ingredients. “You take flour, water, butter, and yeast and you’ve got a baguette. There are so many different things you can do with the same ingredients.”
His trick: exploring the multi-tasking potential of everything from Texas toast (as a base for his bread pudding) to Hershey’s syrup (a whimsical throwback to his family desserts of yesteryear). “There’s something so gratifying about putting those ingredients together and putting something in the oven and pulling something out that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” says Schmutte, who appears to take as much pride in ironing his impeccably-pressed chef whites, as he does in the workmanship of his product.
“If you have a good base recipe the sky’s the limit.”
The secret to good baking, he contends, is patience and trial and error.
“It’s like these macaroons,” he says, gesturing towards five multi-colored gems on a stark white plate. Their colors are bright, flaunting themselves, unashamed under the kitchen’s fluorescent lighting. “I’ve been making and eating macaroons for years. But it took me a lot of practice to get them where I wanted them. Now 12 years later, I think I finally have them how I want them,” he laughs. Any foodie knows macaroons are the aristocrats of pastry; these brightly-colored mini meringues, daintily sandwiched together with gooey filings, have become a holy grail for cookery fanatics and even have food blogs dedicated to the delicacies.
Schmutte doesn’t disappoint. His shells are crispy on the outside, smothered with soft ganache in the middle, and have a lovely little crunch when eaten. Macaroon virgins will be amazed at how much flavor is contained in such a tiny biscuit.
“(With the desserts here), I’ve tried to push it as much as I can here to get people to venture out and try something new – without scaring them off.”
That’s why when developing his menu, Schmutte didn’t stray far from his Hoosier roots. His menu reads “tradition meets innovation with a side of passion and feel-good sincerity.” “I scaled back the menu this year. I try to do things that are a little bit more comforting and a little more recognizable,” he says.
“An apple pie shouldn’t be good because it has 17 different ingredients in it. It’s about using the freshest apples possible,” a viewpoint that isn’t so radically different that it’s either ground-breaking or completely crazy.
Take, for instance, his bread pudding. For Schmutte, it’s about nostalgia – a yearning for a simpler time when dessert was made from a few common kitchen ingredients. With a few updates, his version of bread pudding remains a soul-satisfying treat with the comfort and ease of a delicious, virtuous meal in a cup.
Home cooks be not afraid. Armed with the basics (eggs, milk, sugar, and sour cream) even mere mortals, Schmutte says, can whip up this last course in no time. “You can add a little orange zest to it, throw a little ginger in it, or fresh berries dusted with a little powdered sugar and a slice of vanilla bean and make it your own.” Even if you don’t have the correct vessels (think ramekins), the bread mixture can simply be baked inside ceramic coffee mugs and served with a spoon.
The biggest mistake in baking, he says, seems like the most obvious.
“Don’t open the oven door, because every time you open the door you lose so much heat. Then you wonder why it’s not getting done. It’s because you’ve reduced the temperature by 150 degrees.”
But just when you think his days are filled with fondant, crème brulee, and crepes, think again. Schmutte’s thin crust pizza is a clubhouse favorite. Its sourdough crust took more than six weeks to perfect and uses a 150-year-old heirloom starter that has been passed down from generation to generation.
“It’s been alive for a long time.”
And given the popularity of his dishes, keeping his customers’ cravings alive won’t be difficult. As long as the last course continues to get top billing, Schmutte, it seems, should be able to keep even the likes of Don Corleone happy – one cannoli at a time.
Bread Pudding Recipe
- Granulated Sugar 1 C
- Unsalted Butter – Room Temp 1 Stick
- Eggs 5
- Vanilla Extract 1 T
- Cinnamon 1/8 t
- Heavy Cream 1 C
- Sour Cream 1 C
- Texas Toast or other soft bread (Brioche, Donuts, etc.) 6-8 Slices
Preheat oven to 235 degrees Fahrenheit. (210 for confection oven)
Cut crust off bread. Slice into 1” cubes.
Place butter in bowl of a stand mixer and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add granulated sugar and beat 2 minutes more. Turn off.
Scrape the butter off the sides of the bowl and add the eggs. Beat 1 minute. Turn off and scrape again. You are making sure all the butter is mixed with the eggs and none of it remains stuck to the sides of the bowl.
Add vanilla and cinnamon. Mix 30 seconds. Turn off mixer.
Add sour cream. Mix 30 seconds. Turn off mixer.
Add heavy cream. Mix 1 minute. Turn off mixer.
Place bread cubes into the mix and completely submerge all pieces. Mix with hands to ensure all pieces are coated. Let soak for 30 minutes.
While bread is soaking, spray 6 eight-ounce muffin ramekins with release spray. If you don’t have ramekins, you can use porcelain coffee cups in their place.
Divide the soaked bread into the prepared vessels, filling each once halfway to 2/3 from the top with the bread. Pour the remaining mix over the top to fill each cup up ½ “ from the top.
Place cups on a baking pan into the oven for about an hour. When finished the mix will have puffed up a bit over the tops of the cups and will be slightly firm and spongy to the touch. Pull from the oven.
Let set for 20 minutes.
To remove the puddings, simply invert the cup and shake or tap and the mix will come free. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
This is also great with some seasonal berries tossed with a little granulated sugar and vanilla bean.
*This base recipe can be flavored any number of ways. Add some orange zest to it, cocoa powder, coffe extract, almond extract… Come up with your own combinations.