Meet the Baker Behind Some Of Phoenix's Best Pastries | Phoenix New Times
Navigation

Pastry Chef Amanda Hepler’s Desserts are Rooted in Nostalgia

Amanda Hepler bakes desserts and pastries for Gallo Blanco, Otro Cafe, and Otro Cafecito.
Amanda Hepler poses in front of the pink wall outside Otro Cafecito.
Amanda Hepler poses in front of the pink wall outside Otro Cafecito. Allison Young

Local News is Vital to Our Community

When you support our community-rooted newsroom, you enable all of us to be better informed, connected, and empowered during this important election year. Give now and help us raise $5,000 by June 7.

Support local journalism

$0
$5,000
$500
Share this:
Amanda Hepler grew up eating Little Debbie snacks, the kind of cream-filled favorites that come cellophane-wrapped in a box. Think Swiss Rolls, Oatmeal Creme Pies, and Chocolate Cupcakes.

“I ate a lot of that as a kid in my lunch my mom would pack for me,” Hepler recalls of her childhood in southern Arizona. That and doughnuts.

When her mom worked part-time at BoSa Donuts in Tucson, Hepler and her two sisters would wake up to find a little pink bakery box on the table.

“She’d bring each of us our favorite donut,” Hepler says. Hers was a chocolate cake donut with chocolate frosting and round, crunchy rainbow sprinkles.

click to enlarge
Orange espresso morning buns stand out at Otro Cafecito.
Allison Young
Hepler is now the pastry chef at Gallo Blanco, Otro Cafe, and the newly-opened Otro Cafecito, Doug Robson’s expansion of the cafe that specializes in Mexican coffee drinks, fresh juices, and pastries.

Not only is she the mastermind behind the pastry case, a neatly-stocked lineup of seashell-like conchas, glistening guava and cream cheese danishes, delicately flaky orejas, and sugar-shellacked morning buns spiked with orange and espresso, but she also creates the weekly dessert specials at Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe.

“It’s my dream job in that I get the creative freedom I want, and I get to work with people who also appreciate creativity,” Hepler says.

One week, she might create a flavor-packed version of a classic cream pie with silky chocolate custard topped with chai tea-infused mascarpone cream, and the next an upside-down cake with caramel-roasted cranberries atop a spiced orange cake.

“Nostalgia and how it relates to food has always been a big thing for me,” Hepler says. “Recreating snack foods I loved as a kid, or making something that somebody says reminds them of how their grandma used to make it, there’s nothing better."

click to enlarge
Otro Cafecito staff includes partner Carlos Diaz, pastry chef Amanda Hepler, chef and owner Doug Robson, and director of operations Ashli Galbreath.
Geri Koeppel
Despite her upbringing, pastry wasn’t the inevitable path for Hepler.

“The first thing I baked successfully on my own was some sort of cinnamon soufflé dish in eighth grade and it came out about 60 percent good,” Hepler says.

She did, however, grow up watching Food Network stars Ina Garten and Alton Brown.

“I loved Barefoot Contessa, and how approachable and beautiful Ina’s recipes were, and Alton Brown for how he could explain the science behind food," she says. "It definitely showed me that cooking and baking could be a path to somewhere fun and interesting.”

Instead of pastry school, Hepler studied art and graduated with a degree from the University of Arizona. But instead of making a living selling art, she quickly realized she’d always enjoyed baking more.

“I briefly considered going to some sort of pastry school, but decided to just dive in and try working in the industry instead,” Hepler says. Passionate and persistent, she worked her way through Tucson, toasting nuts, making pies, layering cakes, and learning on the job at various restaurants and bakeries before moving to Phoenix in 2011.

Sugar-dusted banana bread made by Amanda Hepler.
Amanda Hepler
For the next 10 years, she perfected her pastry skills in some of the Valley’s most up-and-coming bakeries, including Urban Cookies, Short Leash Hotdogs where her Spicy Thai Coconut doughnut caught Food Network's eye, and most recently at Echo Coffee where she baked everything from scratch, five days a week for six years, including their famous homemade bagels.

“I made them fresh every weekend morning and they’d often sell out within an hour,” Hepler says.

In between, Hepler released two eBooks, the first a roundup of her top five recipes (yes, her jalapeño-cheddar bagel recipe is there), the second a five-recipe collection of customer favorites which includes her famous Funfetti cake.

“I think it would be really amazing to put out a hardcopy cookbook at some point,” Hepler says, explaining that she's obsessive about writing down each step and quantity when she creates new recipes.

For now, she has her hands full overseeing the baking production for Robson’s three restaurants. Mutual followers on Instagram, Robson saw Hepler's post about leaving Echo. In March, she became a member of the Gallo team.

click to enlarge
The picture-perfect pastry display at Otra Cafecito.
Allison Young
So far, her biggest challenge was not being well-versed in Mexican pastry. She’d made tres leches cake before, but pan dulce was another story. But as with everything else baking-related, Hepler wasn’t intimidated: “I just dove in and practiced them until I was satisfied,” she says.

It helps knowing she has an experienced team and the creative freedom to try new things, she says.

“What excites me most is working directly with other people who have been in the industry for a long time and can offer new perspectives and ideas to constantly evolve into something better,” Hepler says. “No dream seems too big here, which is not something I’ve encountered before on the job.”

So what’s next for Hepler, the self-taught pastry chef who’s been slinging sweets for 15-plus years?

“A lot of people ask me when I’m going to open my own shop, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s something I want,” Hepler says. “Trying new things and doing the R&D to come up with fun new items and specials is my favorite thing, so as long as I can stretch myself creatively, I'll always be happy.”

Otro Cafecito

6035 North Seventh Street
602-266-0831
BEFORE YOU GO...
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.