"I bake how your grandma baked," Laura Koch of Picket Fence Pastries insists. “I don’t use organic flours, organic eggs, or special sugars.” Certainly, her scones or mini pies evoke something homey – the proverbial picket fence in her brand name – but Koch herself projects anything but “grandma.”
Stationed behind her pastry cart at The Simple Farm in Scottsdale or Sweet Salvage in Phoenix, she'll likely accessorize her linen apron with a mix of beaded bracelets reaching at least four inches up her tattooed forearms. She may even be wearing the new boots she bought from her favorite Instagram shop – decorated with turquoise, metal, and feathers.
Sure, she’s your grandma — if your grandma has a boho streak and a razor-sharp wit.
When asked if a pastry is fat-free, she might answer, "Yes it is. I made it on my 3-D printer.”
Pick up a cookie or a croissant at one of the shops around town that sells her baked goods – Peixoto Coffee and Kream Coffee – and you’ll probably be delighted. But meeting Laura Koch in person is a treat all its own.
Koch starts her day at 2 a.m. — she bakes, preps, runs deliveries in her Honda CR-V, works markets, and nabs new wholesale accounts, all on four hours of sleep a night or less. According to her, “I’m only allowed to have like a thimble of coffee a day or else I’ll get in trouble!” That trouble would be with her mild-mannered husband, Tom, a crane operator.
Tom’s role in Picket Fence pastries goes beyond just keeping Laura grounded. He has put just as much “sweat equity” into their central Phoenix home kitchen, where the business operates, she says. He has rescued and refurbished junked stand mixers, speed racks, and more. And he constructed the enormous butcher-block table where Laura rolls out her pastries.
“There is a lot of love in our kitchen,” Laura says. Indeed, "love" is the last ingredient listed on every label on every pastry that leaves Koch’s kitchen.
As for the rest, Koch’s pastry philosophy is for sugar to take a backseat. “You should be able to taste flavors. It shouldn’t just be sugar, where you’re putting it in your mouth and your teeth are falling out. That’s what candy is for,” she says. “I bake more European-style.”
The sort of rustic aesthetic makes them a perfect fit for pop-ups like the one Instagrammer @pariselsewhere had at Madewell where Koch showcased tiny éclairs and other French-feeling desserts on an antique flower cart.
Koch's mother is a caterer, but her background is more varied. She worked as a hairdresser and colorist for 23 years, originally in Cleveland, but also in big cities like Chicago and New York. After moving to Phoenix with her family, she worked the front desk at the Phoenician, customer service jobs for Apple and later Verizon, and briefly as a yoga instructor before she found her way into foodservice management. Later, Koch and a co-worker started Picket Fence Pastries as partners; now, with one assistant, she runs the operation herself.
“I’m a pit bull when it comes to business,” she says. She points to a word tattooed on her arm. “This is Polish. It means ‘hustle.’”
Koch even boasts that she once fired her own mother from helping her with pastries for a client’s wedding. The reason: Mom was bringing bad energy.
“You can’t just throw the cookie in the bag and slap the label on it. When you touch that, that’s part of you, part of who you are. If you’re in a bad mood, it’s going to show,” she says. Koch’s reputation as a baker is tied to the quality of her final product, which is why, even on four hours of sleep, she maintains her sunny disposition.
“Whatever is in your heart comes out in your hands — no matter what you do, whether you cook, or paint, or fold laundry,” says Koch.
Koch’s tiny operation has grown. Picket Fence pastries can now be found at Hillside, an Ahwatukee cafe. However, Koch says she anticipates always doing things at about the same scale she is now, so that she can maintain quality and consistency.
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“And here’s the number one reason why I will not open a storefront: I like my husband. A lot.” Working from home allows her to chat with Tom through her kitchen window while he tinkers in his backyard workshop. A 16- to 20-hour day in an offsite bakery just wouldn't have that perk.
It's all about the people for Laura Koch — including her customers.
“You touch somebody’s heart when they eat your food. You can tell when something was made with love and some one took the time to create it.”
Follow @picketfencepastries on Instagram to see what Laura has baking now.