Walk into Prep & Pastry on Campbell and it’s hard to not be immediately taken aback by the shelves of pastry rows lining the window separating the bar and main dining area from the kitchen and baking area.
World-class items unavailable anywhere else in town – let alone the in the state – greet guests, such as Cronut™-inspired Doissants in both chocolate and maple bacon varieties, and fresh blackberry topped pocket danishes filled with thyme and blueberry puree.
But that’s just the pastries. Many of Prep’s baked goods are only available as part of specific dishes, such as the house English muffins in the Salmon Bene and the green chile cornbread that serves as the base for Prep’s untraditional savory French toast.
And behind it all is lead pastry chef Hannah Houlden.
Houlden grew up in the restaurant industry. Her stepdad was a chef. Her mom, a general manager. And Hannah worked in many different front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house positions before finding her calling as a baker. The metaphorical bells went off while preparing the daily baked goods for Flight Grill at the Pima Air & Space Museum.
“That’s where I discovered I had a passion for baking,” said Houlden. “That’s where something was triggered inside.”
Following Flight Grill, and with a newly discovered passion, she landed a position at Beyond Bread where she led the bakery department for the Campbell location. After Beyond Bread, she managed the back-of-the-house for Fourth Avenue’s Epic Cafe, followed by her move to Prep & Pastry in early 2015.
And Prep & Pastry is where she’s been able to shine and let her baking-obsessed mind run free.
“I’m constantly brainstorming ideas,” she says. “I lose sleep over thinking about how I can take these flavors everyone loves and do something different with it.”
Take the French Toast, for example. If the traditional, egg-dipped, powdered sugar-dusted variety is your thing, well… that is available (actually, it’s close, but not exact). But, if you want to try something diffe check out what’s in Hannah’s latest variety: green chile cornbread, red chile and garlic batter, jalapeño relish, two sunny-side up eggs, a lime crema, and fresh cilantro.
“I love the tradition and history of baking,” says Houlden. “I also like trying to figure out ways to do these classics in a way people have never seen before… with some kind of twist.”
One of those items is a classic known as pull-apart bread, or monkey bread. At Prep, it’s not throw away scraps of dough making up the treat, but chopped up croissant dough. The dough is tossed in sugar and baked with a variety of different items, depending on the day. Varieties have included strawberries and cream, banana rum, chocolate chip, and cookie.
On any given day, Prep & Pastry guests are faced with a number of baked options, such as brioche, English muffins, biscuits, scones, granola, and a semi-rotating variety of pastry case items. It’s “semi-rotating” in the sense that some things are more permanent than others.
Any look at Prep’s baked goods wouldn’t be complete without discussing the croissants. The cornerstone of a number of dishes and baked items, including the monkey bread, doissants, and of course, the croissant itself, making the dough is a 24 hours process that happens over the course of two days. Beginning at 3 a.m., it’s a labor of love layering the butter into the dough, rolling, folding, chilling, and repeating the process until just right. Chances are, if you’ve only ever eaten croissants in Tucson, you haven’t tried a real, fresh baked croissant. Many places purchase dough and simply shape them and bake.
Something many Prep fans might not be aware of is the ability to order baked goods in bulk – you’ll want to call in with plenty of advanced notice, but whatever your needs are, they can most likely accommodate.
Lately, Houlden has been focused on perfecting a a vegan puff pastry. That means no eggs, butter, or dairy. It’s not ready yet, but she’s close. And you can bet, it’s keeping her up at night.
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