Category: Archive

Frosting on the cake

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

If the airline lets her serve up the dessert after the in-flight dinner, it will be doing itself and its passengers a big favor.
Hansen is the inspiration behind a bakery business that has mouths watering all over Westchester County, N.Y. Her success in running the Riviera Bakehouse in the village of Ardsley has spawned a book with a title that makes light out of what is a hard-driving, long-hours business.
The book, entitled “The Whimsicalbakehouse,” is a treasure trove of artistic confections sandwiched between covers that look positively edible.
Luckily, it is not a work of fiction. All its contents are real and, better still, available.
Hansen, whose Irish roots are scattered about the North and West, is a self-taught baker who has turned something she loved to do for herself and her family into a flourishing business that now has to meet orders not just from around Westchester, but the entire tri-state area and even beyond.
It’s all a far cry from where the idea for Hansen’s bakery business was born.
“I used to live on a sheep farm outside Toronto,” she said one day last week as the morning coffee and pastry rush hour was easing off a bit. “I lived in a root cellar where there was a wood-burning stove. We used it for both heating and cooking, but I began to bake on it as well.”
The rustic delights of rural Ontario were to become a little overdone in time and Hansen returned to New York.
Her family is originally from the Bronx, though it migrated, like so many do, to the suburbs. In the case of Hansen’s family, all of seven girls and three boys, the move was to Nyack in Rockland County.
It was in Nyack that Hansen began thinking of opening her own catering business.
“My friend and I decided to go into the business of fixing up houses, but we knew nothing about that, so we decided to bake.”
Baking was an art that Hansen did know something about. Her mother, Dorothea, had been a prolific baker of pies and cookies, though not for profit.
It’s probably true that more people think about running their own business than act on the idea. Hansen was the type who acted and, before long, she, along with her friend, had opened a bakery in Nyack, N.Y., they called the Runcible Spoon. It was to become something of a Mecca for sweet-toothed Rockland County residents and others from adjoining areas, but after several years Hansen made a move to go out on her own.
This she did by moving across the Hudson River and buying the then Riviera Pastry Shop and Bakery in Ardsley.
In time, Hansen, now joined in the business by her husband, Peter, and later her daughter Liv, moved into a bigger premises.
“This was once the Irish Eyes bar and later the Ardsley Ale House,” Hansen said of her present base of baking operations.
Those operations begin at an ungodly hour. The first staff members arrive at 4 a.m., an hour earlier on Sunday. Kaye and Peter are usually at work by 5:15. Monday is their only full day off and bedtime on a work night is usually no later than 7:30 p.m.
And while the demand for the Riviera’s delights is pretty well insatiable, there are times of the year — Halloween for example — when orders can go through the roof.
“Halloween was amazing,” Hansen said. “We had to make 1,000 cupcakes, gingerbread coffins and a square cake with a graveyard theme.”
It’s not difficult to see why a sojourn in Ireland is now high on Hansen’s to-do list. And yet she would not trade in her lot for all the cake in Marie Antoinette’s palace.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love being my own boss,” she said.
That, however, does not mean making every decision as to how a cake will taste or look.
Kaye’s daughter Liv, a graduate in fine arts from Cornell University, now does much of the creative work on the Riviera’s cakes.
One of Liv’s most extraordinary creations is a cake simply called “New York New York.” But the cake itself, described and illustrated in “The Whimsicalbakehouse” is anything but simple. Among other features, the cake depicts the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty set against a starry night sky.
“What we do is so labor intensive that nobody else wants to do it. But Liv has a very fertile mind,” Hansen said of her daughter.
So fertile that another book featuring the combined talents of mother and daughter, who recently appeared together on NBC’s “Today” show, is now in the works.
In the case of Kaye and Liv Hansen, cooking the books is both legal and highly recommended.

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