Up Bright and Early with Betty Hung of Beaucoup Bakery
The pastry whiz celebrates the release of her new cookbook, French Baking 101, by stuffing our executive editor full of croissants….and (more importantly) sharing a recipe or two.
It’s 6 a.m. and I’m already covered in crumbs.
That’s to be expected, though, of any visit to Vancouver’s Beaucoup Bakery, no matter the hour. To bite into one of its Parisian-style croissants is to commit to making a beautiful mess: golden flakes rain down as you work your way through its buttery layers, marking you (at least until you brush your shirt) for all the world to see as someone who has made A Very Delicious Decision.
I’m here bright and early and selflessly taste-testing because I want a peek into how this little Vancouver bakery manages to churn out Parisian perfection without pretension. The kitchen is a flurry as trays pop in and out of the proofer, the industrial-size mixers whirr away and the butter, well, flies as the team produces enough French treats to prep for a busy Tuesday. Beaucoup sells anywhere from 60 to 120 croissants a day (plus a steady stream of pains au chocolate, rosemary-chocolate cookies and a bounty of other Gallic treats): impressive, given that the space only seats 16 customers and the 300ish-square-foot workspace can’t fit more than three bakers at one time. It’s why the work is divided into shifts, with some poor souls coming in as early as 3 a.m.
Co-owner Betty Hung (her brother, Jacky, is her business partner) pours me a coffee and settles in at a marble-topped table for two, her striped top (très Français) suspiciously free of pastry debris. I guess after working here long enough you develop certain skills. (How to properly score a chausson aux pommes, how to not eat like a slob—you know, the basics.) But she hasn’t always been the expert. “I was clueless,” she laughs, telling me about her first days in the kitchen, five years ago. It was on the early-early-early shift that Hung first cut her teeth—if that’s the right metaphor to use for something that involves so much softened butter—taking on an unpaid apprenticeship just to learn the ropes before eventually working her way up the ladder, all the way to running the joint (taking over for founder Jackie Kai Ellis in 2017). “I would come in every morning and work the dough. I made a brioche à tête every day,” Hung tells me. “I wasn’t good enough to do anything else.”
Hung still springs into bleary-eyed action when the staff is in a pinch, but these days she’s got other work to do: namely, acting as the West Coast’s own French connection with her new cookbook, French Baking 101. Though there’s clearly a passion in this city for Parisian-style pastry (there are already people peeping the window at this hour, scoping out the scone selection before the doors open for the day), for most of us, French baking can seem intimidating. But Hung may be the perfect person to demystify the culinary traditions. “When you understand the science, and the ‘why,’ the less intimidating it becomes,” she explains. She’s a pastry chef of the people: no fancy culinary school under her belt, just hands-on experience and trial and error.
“I think great baking comes from baking with your senses,” says Hung. “What do you smell? What do you feel? Follow the recipe, but also be present and in the moment. Once you get the hang of it, that’s the difference between mediocre and good.” That blend of science and art, of West Coast DIY and French tradition, may sound complicated or seem impossibly elegant, but whether eating it or baking it or sharing it, it’s a plain fact that it’s going to get a little messy—which just means you’re doing it right.
Holiday Recipes: Bake Like Betty
If you want to win your holiday cookie exchange, take your cues from Hung: there’s no better way to impress than to put Paris on a plate. For our December issue, Hung shared with us some very special bonus recipes—whip up some chocolate hazelnut raspberry jam financiers, floral langues de chat, gingerbread eclairs or melt-in-your-mouth sablés under her sage guidance.