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Whether you realize it or not, you have a cooking philosophy. It might be “What can I cook in time for Friday’s potluck that looks fancy but actually requires minimal effort?” or “Should I tweak the recipe on the back of the Duncan Hines chocolate-cake box to make it more chocolatey or might that prove disastrous, as it did last year?” or “Should I stick with my signature dish for the big date, or are hot dogs baked in croissants not going to impress?” (Incidentally, fellas -- hot dogs baked in croissants, to borrow from Billy Dee Williams, “works every time.”)
Amateur pastry chef Andrea Reubin has a philosophy, too. It’s one that you’re no doubt familiar with. We’re talking about “Fair Trade” – using ingredients that, when purchased, support a living wage, safe working conditions, and so on, for the workers involved in producing the food.
We’re not gonna dwell on the Fair Trade movement here so much, although it should be noted that as far as desserts go, the child labor and other abhorrent practices that enable us Westerners to buy cheap chocolate should be addressed, and that is exactly what Reubin is doing.
What is noteworthy, for the sake of this blog, is how Reubin’s fervent dedication to Fair Trade-Certified foods yields a tastier product. Her philosophy, as so many of us foodies understand, dovetails with other movements – making food economically fair can go hand-in-hand with organic growing, for instance. Not using carcinogenic, artificial preservatives makes things taste better. Trying to be minimally invasive to the environment where food is grown means getting back to basics, which, again, means things just taste better.
Reubin’s young business, Just Sweets, specializes in cupcakes, cookies, raspberry squares, sweet buns, chocolate and cinnamon babkas (mini version at right), and other treats, all made from as many Fair Trade-Certified and organic ingredients as possible, and all worth investigating.
“I have a huge sweet tooth, but it has to be fabulous for me to eat it,” said Reubin. “If I’m gonna eat those calories, it has to be worth it.”
Her “flagship dessert” (below) is a knockoff of a certain heavily processed, cream-filled snack cake, which she calls the "Fair & Square.”
“I don’t mean to brag,” she said, describing it, “but it’s very rich chocolate cake and the filling is Italian buttercream, and it’s topped with a fudge icing. You give it to people, and when they taste it for the first time, they all say, “Oh my god!’ It’s lovely to see that kind of enjoyment.”
Her chocolate chip cookies have a “crisp and chewy texture,” she says, enhanced by crushed organic oats mixed into the dough. The chocolate babka is topped with streusel and fudge icing, and the whole-grain sweet buns, topped with vanilla icing, are actually made with honey from Reubin’s own backyard beehives. (“Do you know how much honey one honeybee produces in its six-to-eight week lifetime?” she asked. “Only a quarter of a teaspoon. Sometimes I look at a spoon when I have just a little bit of honey on it and I think about how hard that bee worked.”)
More exotic and seasonal desserts include honey-cardamom mini-cakes with honey-buttercream icing, mini Italian polenta-apple cakes, and sweet potato criss-cross squares.
Reubin does not have a storefront; she sells her Just Desserts products by mail (and in St. Louis, she delivers, too). She is trying to raise money for the Fair Trade ingredient producers by offering a subscription club, a la Harry and David’s popular Fruit-of-the-Month club.
“Whichever plan you choose,” she said, “be it a three-month, or six-month, or 12-month, you decide where the dessert is gonna go each month. One month it might come to your house hot out of the oven, and maybe you decide the next month to ship it to a friend who’s having a birthday in California.” (That oven, incidentally, is located within the same business-incubation center that’s home to local faves Wanderlust Pizza, Cha Cha Chow, Go Gyro Go, Ah!Zeefa Dips, and Dogtown Pizza.
Reubin said that a former job as a social worker led her to start Just Desserts. “I saw how a lot of workers are paid virtually nothing,” she said. “That’s why some food is so cheap.”
And for the time being, that can mean that Fair Trade and organic food, as most of us know, is not cheap.
Reubin’s chocolate chip cookies, for instance, go for $20 for a half-dozen. Add on a $12.99 shipping fee, and those cookies can run more than five bucks apiece.
“You will pay more for Fair Trade food,” Reubin admits. “That’s true for Fair Trade food just as it’s true for organic food.”
You might consider eliminating those delivery and shipping fees by picking up the goodies yourself, and, for the holiday season, trying samples of the desserts and meeting Reubin herself at the popular Fair Trade Market at Manchester United Methodist Church in Manchester, where she’ll have a featured booth (Nov. 19-20 and 25-27).
In closing, Reubin offered two bold predictions about the future:
1. “Fair Trade-Certified ingredients are all imported from developing countries,” she said, “but domestically, we haven’t done anything like that yet. We will, though, and it’s gonna be the new green. The food movement in this country is morphing into a ‘Fair Food’ movement.”
2. “I’m working on a ‘Chocolate-Mocha Sensation Cake,’” she said. “It’s a four-layer cake with three different frosting layers -- chocolate, mocha, and Italian buttercream, and the whole thing is covered in ganache.”
Here’s hoping that both predictions come true, asap.
Just Desserts items are available here or by calling 314-750-7501. At press time, the website is being updated, allowing for indulgences like the option to order a single Fair & Square. Oh, and that Chocolate Mocha Sensation Cake? It's ready for pick-up (see below).