King cake, pie and 1 baker’s homage to mother’s love

March 2, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — She drizzles cupcakes with gleaming praline candy topping and stuffs king cakes with luscious sweet potato pie filling.

But no matter what Ariane Veal makes under the name A Baker’s Dozen + 1, something close to her heart is baked in from the start.

Veal works from her 9th Ward home, or sometimes at her in-laws’ kitchen in Westwego. Like countless others striving to establish themselves in the booming, ever-churning business of New Orleans food, she’s drawing on a mix of local traditions and personal determination to build a brand.

But between baking and boxing and trying to sell her pies and cakes, Veal is propelled by a sense of purpose beyond the hustle.

A Baker’s Dozen + 1 is an homage to Veal’s mother and also a form of healing for her own broken heart.

“After my mother died, I was devastated. I was depressed,” Veal said. “It was hard to get out of bed. It was hard to do anything.”

She credits the love of her husband, Royal, as the catalyst to rise from her darker moments. She started baking, and he urged her to build a business around it.

“It gave me something I was missing because I could do this for my mother,” she said. “She was so loving, so caring, so nurturing, and she loved to cook. I decided to cook to honor her legacy.”

Veal’s mother, Sandra Williams Landry, cooked for her family and for many others at Tot’s Daycare and Preschool, the business she co-founded in the 9th Ward.

Landry died after a long battle with cancer in 2016 at 62. Veal, now 32, spent half her life watching her mother fight for her own.

She also saw how she never stopped caring for others, even through her illness, even after Hurricane Katrina took away her business, even when her own New Orleans family was spread to other cities in the years that followed.

Landry wrote constantly. She filled composition books by the crate and wrote on whatever card or scrap of paper was handy. She wanted to write a book, and she already knew the title: “A Baker’s Dozen + 1.”

The title referred to the 14 children she and her husband, Clarence Landry, had together.

“She wanted to write her life. There were so many things she couldn’t tell us, that she wanted us to know,” said Veal.

“My sisters and I, we’ll get together, go away with all her writings,” she said. “We’ll read, we’ll cry, remember, rejoice, be thankful and grateful, and then we’ll finish that book for my mom.”

But first, Veal will bake. Along the way, she’s giving a fresh example of the way that family love and New Orleans food culture can entwine.

Veal’s goal is to eventually open a bakery and give A Baker’s Dozen + 1 a home of its own. For now though, she is focused on building a following, while keeping up with a full plate of other responsibilities.

In addition to Royal’s 20-year-old daughter, Royneshia, and Veal’s own 12-year-old son, Durrell, the couple have a 16-month-old boy, Royal III.

Veal recently earned her first college degree in information technology from Delgado, and she’s now studying for a second from Tulane.

She has a job with a hotel chain, working customer service from home on a split shift. She logs half her hours in the afternoon; the others stretch to 2 a.m.

After that, she starts baking to fill the morning’s orders.

She bakes by herself through the night, while the entire family pitches in during the day with prep — peeling fresh sweet potatoes, chopping pecans and measuring brown sugar for the praline sauce.

When rush hour is gearing up, she and Royal meet customers at scheduled pick-up locations, stacking white bakery boxes next to the child seat in their sedan.

Royal also has developed his own delivery circuit of sorts.

He works on the Mississippi River as a boat captain, and since A Baker’s Dozen + 1 started up, his deckhands have become avid customers. On his work days, he arrives at the dock before sunrise laden with aromatic baked goods.

“I show up with my backpack, my lunch in a bag and then armfuls of these boxes of cakes and cookies for the crew,” he said. “They were some of her first taste testers, and that’s a hard audience because food on the boat is very, very important to these guys.”

Veal’s friends started passing around flyers for her baked goods at their own jobs. While she has an open, engaging personality, Veal describes herself as private. That’s why she initially resisted social media, a common avenue for home-based businesses to grow.

When she started posting on Instagram last year, however, her beautiful creations swiftly drew attention.

Crack open the sandy-tan crust on the sweet potato hand pies, and the filling might be made with ube, the purple sweet potato. It tastes familiar but gives a regal look, right in step with Carnival time. Through the seasons, her praline sauce has draped bundt cakes and capped full-pan sweet potato pies for the holidays.

Her king cakes are glorious, and they’re a little different from the local standard. She layers her dough with butter, giving a moist, pastry-like texture between the cake’s crisp edges.

She doesn’t put a baby doll inside her cakes. But with the praline sauce dribbling over the top like tawny-colored honey, the crunch of pecans encased within feels like a treat with each bite. The sweet potato filling makes it taste wholesome, if not technically healthy.

These are boutique-quality desserts with bake sale prices. The king cakes, about the size of a dinner plate, are $10.

Veal is always on the go, and time to sleep is often elusive. But she doesn’t feel like she’s running on empty when the work is this fulfilling.

“My mom didn’t live to see me graduate college; she didn’t see me get married, all these goals she had for me,” Veal said. “I’m doing this in her name, under the name of the book she never got to write. It connects me to her. I want to live up to her legacy.”

Advance orders for cakes, pies, pralines and cookies and custom requests are accepted by calling or texting 832-566-1870 or by email at abakersdozenplus1@gmail.com.


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com