Food & Drink
INTERVIEW: Brooke Siem and Leslie Feinberg of Prohibition Bakery
by Couch Sessions
At the Dipsology event a little while back there was a table that was even more crowded than the cocktail stations. The goodies everyone was clamoring for came from Prohibition Bakery. This cute little shop cranks out unique ‘cupcakes for grown ups’. And they do it well. Last week I got a chance to sit down with co owners Leslie Siem and Brooke Feinberg to discuss the pros and cons of business ownership, cupcakes as a blank canvas and recreating the elusive flavor of a Black and Tan.
CS: Cupcakes are everywhere but yours really stand out. How did you end up going in this direction?
Brooke: Well we really tried to stay true to ourselves. We’re never gonna do a—
Leslie: Red velvet or blue frosting!
Brooke: Yea or even a boozy cupcake like a Mai Tai…
Leslie: We had a Mai Tai.
CS: or a Cosmo?
Brooke: When we started out I think cosmo was one of the first ones we did. As soon as we came up with a few other recipes we got a chance to see those weren’t really our style.
Leslie: We liked a speakeasy style.
CS: Do you have a bakery background?
L: Brooke is a trained chef but she’s more savory. I have no culinary training whatsoever. I was a bartender and home baker. I mean neither one of us really ever baked cupcakes. I baked more cookies, brownies, breads. Things like that. Cupcakes were never my first thought. But they made more sense for what we were trying to do. And NY loves cupcakes…
B: A plain cupcake is basically a flavorless thing. You can add whatever you want to it. Whereas a cookie—you have butter, texture, there’s sweetness. You can’t just make a plain cookie and add things to it. But with this…we can play more with flavors. Add here, take away there and still have the texure remain correct. It’s pretty forgiving in comparison.
CS: Tell me about these flavors. They sound pretty amazing.
L: We rotate them everyday and have about 16 different ones in total. Pretzels and Beer we have almost everyday. Car Bomb and White Russian also usually have. But we try to mix it up for our sake to keep it interesting.
CS: Any ones that did not work? I’m sure people must suggest things to you all the time.
L: The one we get the most is Rum and Coke. We get a lot of suggestions. A LOT. That one just really wasn’t—
B: It was NOT GOOD.
L:It’s not really our agenda. There’s not enough to play with. The two ingredient drinks are the hardest to get right because there’s just not that much wiggle room.
B: We had a Black and one…
L: Oh My GOD! We had a Black and Tan for a while that we both thought was just the coolest thing!
B: The first one was so fantstic and we have no idea how we did it. Even now I wish we still had it. But we’ll play with it again.
CS: Ooh! What about a Dark and Stormy?
L: We’re actually releasing that one for spring. March 20th will be the start of the spring menu so there will be Dark and Stormy, Negroni and Sangria.
CS: Brooke, you have a chef background. Any savory cupcakes down the line?
B: We’ve never done a straight savory cupcake like jalapeno and chicken or anything like that. But we work with savory flavors on a daily basis. The Hot Buttered Rum has cheese in it that adds a savory earthiness and we use a lot of salty brown butter. We use a lot of ingredients in their raw states that on their own you can’t really eat. But if they’re incorporated correctly it takes on a new life.
CS: Was the Lower East Side an intentional location pick for your shop?
L: Well we kind of stumbled into this area. And we liked the idea of being downstairs tucked away almost like a real speakeasy. We also liked the idea of being in a bar district because it fits in with the concept so much. But neither of us said “it MUST be the Lower East Side” and honestly I think we both assumed we wouldn’t be able to afford anything down here. Luckily the first place we found was this one.
CS: You both seem really passionate and give the impression that you really enjoy what you are doing. Down side?
L: It’s just the two of us. So at this point we do everything. Everything.
B: Yes and when you are the size we are now there really is no semblance of your own life. If one of us takes 4-5 days to visit family the other is working 12-14 hour days and it’s really tiring at times. I can’t wait until we get someone we can trust enough to help out because we want want to do other things too. Have some sort of social life.
L: You’re never really off. You’re always working on something, trying to make connections, thinking. You’re always working period.
B: But at least it’s not for someone else. It’s our own thing. It’s our own baby. I used to hope the train would get stuck every morning because I hated what I was doing. But now I don’t do that.
L: Oh that’s good! (laughs)
You can keep up with all things cupcakes from Prohibition Bakery by following them on Twitter @ProhibitionBake. Or stop by 9 Clinton Street in Manhattan to get in on the new spring menu! Maybe you’ll luck out and get to try the limited edition flavor Scotch and Cigar.