If you've attended a UA event and had the famed carrot cake or enjoyed a chocolate croissant from Bookend Cafe, you are already familiar with the work of Manja Blackwood and her team.
Those aren't ready-made treats, but baked goods prepared daily by a UA Dining Services team that has a new suite of desserts planned for the new academic year.
"Most people don't know that we are here, but there is a lot going on," said Blackwood, UA's executive pastry chef, whose staff work in a section of the commercial kitchen in the Student Union Memorial Center's basement. "And we take special requests."
The staff is active all but two hours every day preparing desserts, pastries, breads and other baked goods for Redington Catering, the UA's official catering service for conferences, meetings, athletic banquets, socials and other campus events. The staff also makes goods for 34 locations across campus – sometimes offering personalized treats, decorative cakes and specialty desserts.
It's a hefty job five full-time workers, two part-time employees and two student workers. The catering menu alone is huge, and includes: Cherry cobbler, angel food cake, yogurt parfait, blueberry scones, cinnamon rolls, tea cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries, fruit-filled empanadas, coffee rings and a range of breads, including banana nut, chocolate chip and orange nut.
Some recipes have been in the UA coffers for decades – like the signature carrot cake. "The recipe hasn't changed, and I wouldn't change it," Blackwood said. Others, like some of the products that will go on line this year, were developed exclusively by Blackwood and her team.
Ready for the new additions? They include the "cake in a cup" concept, a miniature, rich and decadent cupcake. Flavors will rotate about every month, and include hazelnut creme, lemon, peppermint, almond and lavender with dried lavender buds and even a chocolate cupcake topped with sprinkles of bacon. The idea came from the need to save sections of shaped cakes that would otherwise go to waste, Blackwood said.
The bakers also have been experimenting with chocolate shavings and have been working on new recipes for a red velvet mini cake, almond cupcakes, strudel bites, custard and mousse and also, for Valentine's Day next year, about 6,000 themed cookies.