Whipping up delectable desserts isn’t just a passion for Canada’s baking duo, sisters Rachel Smith and Jean Parker; it’s basically in their DNA. They were helping their mom whip up butter tarts, cookies and a “green pie” they still rave about to this day, since before they could even stand at the counter, inherently fostering their love of all things sweet and sugary. It’s a love that launched the sisters on a pretty sweet career path, and now, an exciting new TV series The Baker Sisters, premiering October 20th at 10 E/P.
“Our mom, even from the very beginning, really tried to get us to help,” Rachel remembers. “We would make cookies on the floor. She started doing it on the floor because when I was a baby, I fell off the counter. She was like, ‘I’ll put you on the counter in one of those seats,’ and unfortunately I fell off while helping her make cookies.”
Jean jokes that Rachel has never been the same, but it’s obvious that their mother’s love of baking and their fond memories of her concoctions still resonate with their palates to this day.
“The one thing I remember asking for a lot was this cinnamon coffee cake. It was marbled, it was beautiful, it was moist,” Rachel raves, recalling how her mom was always covered with flour and that the house usually smelled like baking, attracting the neighbourhood children. “The cinnamon and butter throughout the cake was thick, so you’d get that buttery piece of cinnamon. We’d always eat it with crunchy peanut butter. Whenever she said she was going to make a coffee cake, I was like, ‘Is it that one?’”
On Rachel’s third birthday from left to right: older sister Brittany, Jean, mom Heather and Rachel.
“My mom would have her bake days and then freeze everything,” Jean chimes in. “The problem is things just taste really good in the freezer. Frozen chocolate chip cookies are up there as one of my favourite things… I remember being a kid, watching the cookies rise was like TV. Sitting in front of the oven with the light on watching the cookies rise. ”
To be fair, there was a period when these sisters thought they were over baked goods… well, for good. They refer to themselves as “broody teenagers” who had little interest in butter tarts and the butter tart business their mom ran at the time, complaining that they’d smell like their mom’s signature treat. And while they have early memories of whipping up brownies, chocolate chip muffins and snickerdoodles out of spare tart dough (they were given free reign to shape those scraps the way they wanted), they also yearned for regular kid treats like Flakies, Twinkies and Jos Louis.
Jean and Rachel shared a family photo from when their mom started her own butter tart business:
“I never wanted to eat another butter tart again. And now here we are,” Jean shrugs.
Here we are indeed. It’s memories like those that have made the sisters closer and perhaps even unified them over the years as they’ve expanded their own baking skills and launched their own butter tart empire, Maple Key Tart Co.
While some siblings in that situation would inherently bust out the rivalry when asked who was better at the craft, these sisters are nothing but complimentary, pointing out their strengths with affection. Rachel is quick to reveal that Jean is better at nailing the precise measurements and recipes needed to be a successful baker, but Jean says that when it comes to kitchen efficiency Rachel reigns supreme.
“I’m staying at her house right now and at dinner last night she was making four separate meals at one time. It’s (her) speed and (her) confidence in the kitchen,” she explains.
Today, Rachel and Jean both try to continue the baking tradition with their own kids. At Jean’s house, cookies are always a safe bet (the kids love anything with chocolate while she likes rolling peanut butter cookies in sugar), but Rachel takes a slightly different approach by sneaking extra vegetables into muffins.
“Muffins, like a carrot cake muffin, because I love jamming vegetables in it. With a carrot cake muffin, I’m grating a whole zucchini in there. Vegetables are tricky. Also, scones or biscuits. You can put broccoli in there and totally trick your kids.”
The kids may be tricked into eating veggies or baked goods for now, but if they’re anything like their moms, baking will eventually hold a strong, familial place in their hearts too.
It is, after all, in their DNA.