Sugar, flour, buttercream. As a pastry chef, baking is part of Meghan McGarry's daily routine.
And there is one day she sets aside every year that is a true labor of love — the day she fashions cakes and cookies for the man she calls "Dad."
For McGarry, the Nashville resident and creator of the popular baking website Buttercream Blondie, this tradition of pouring her love into her craft is an out-of-body experience, almost like meditating.
And it all dates back to a memory — a turning point, if you will — that would change her life forever. McGarry will never forget her father Tony's tender response when she announced that, four years in, she was going to walk away from a degree in finance.
McGarry had always wanted to be a pastry chef, and culinary school would be the key she needed to unlock her sweetest dreams.
"A moment that forever stands out in my mind is how completely calm he remained that day," McGarry said of her dad. "He believed in me."
She went on to study at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, under the guidance of the school's dean, the eminent pastry chef Jacques Torres. The rest is history, and now tradition.
One day ago, the culinary personality shipped a carefully wrapped package of pecan cookies with a subtle hint of bourbon off to her dad, who lives in a predominantly Irish neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City.
On Father's Days spent together, McGarry prefers to make her dad his favorite dessert, which is more difficult to ship: cake. "Any time there is truly a celebration," she declared, "it calls for cake."
"Personally, my dad just loves cake. He has a sweet tooth," she continued. "So, when I'm in the Bronx on Father's Day, I never fail to bake him a cake."
And, if you were to elevate the experience of her dad's favorite cookies, you would be wise to learn the recipe for McGarry's peachy bourbon crumb cake.
The great advantage offered by a crumb cake recipe is its accessibility. It much easier to prepare than a fancy layer cake — and it is truly perfect for any time of the year.
"You can add your favorite seasonal ingredient. You bake everything in one pan," McGarry says. "And, just like that, you're done."
What makes McGarry's creation distinct is a bourbon glaze that takes only five minutes to prepare. Slowly drizzling it over a crumb cake adds a finishing touch that is earthy and elegant. It is the baking equivalent of "putting on your Sunday clothes" for church, said McGarry.
But the secret in the proverbial secret sauce is not just booze that dad will love. A hint of bourbon perfectly cuts the sweetness offered by newly ripening summer peaches.
"My dad loves cake, but he doesn't like things that are over-the-top sweet," McGarry explains. "So, I feel like bourbon's really good, because it cuts the sweetness and adds an extra depth of flavor."
Another reason why crumb cake is perfect to serve on Father's Day is because it can be served first thing in the morning at breakfast. McGarry loves sharing a slice of cake and a spirited conversation in the kitchen with her dad, an Irish immigrant. And a piping-hot cup of tea straight out of the kettle and fresh milk makes the perfect complement.
"I think of it as the cake that's acceptable to eat for breakfast," McGarry says of crumb cake. "And any time you get to eat cake for breakfast, it's a win."
Father's Day is also traditionally celebrated on a Sunday, allowing for crumb cake to prove that it is a true triple threat. It's perfect for brunch; as an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee or tea after church; or as a light and luscious finish to a young summer's eve barbecue.
It is hard for McGarry to pick one Father's Day memory that stands out as her favorite — although food is always the backdrop. The pastry chef says she finds something to celebrate every day in her dad, who was recently honored as "Mayo Man of the Year" for his accomplishments in America.
"To me, a good dad is someone who is there day after day," she declared. "Dependable, honorable and kind — that's who my dad is. That's who he's always been."
Whether it was her dad's eagerness to pick McGarry up from school each afternoon; his insistence not to miss a dance competition; or the simple fact that he never failed to ask her about her day every night over dinner, one theme holds true: he was — and is — always there.
"He didn't just teach me, or tell me what to do or how to act," she says. "He showed me by the way he lived his life."
Now, McGarry transfers that love into everything she bakes — but most especially on Father's Day.
So, what are you waiting for? Print out the ingredients for this easy-to-make dessert and place it in your family's recipe book. Then you can start baking your own Father's Day memories for years to come.
Recipe: Peachy Bourbon Crumb Cake
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- 1/3 cup of dark brown sugar
- 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoons of salt
- 3.5 ounces (or 7 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, meltedPeach Cake
- 5 ounces unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (reserve 1 tablespoon to toss with peaches)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 8 ounces of sour cream
- 1 and 1/2 cups cubed peaches (about 2 peaches)
Vanilla Bean Bourbon Glaze
- 1 cup of powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons of bourbon
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- Mix all dry ingredients together in bowl.
- Pour in melted butter and mix together with a fork, making sure everyone gets coated. You will have some larger clumps and lots of little crumbs. Set aside.Click here to follow the complete recipe on McGarry's website.