When it comes to San Francisco sweets, there are few things more local—and more delectable—than the cozy confections from Native Baking Company. Founded in 2013, their scrumptious assortment of brownies and cookie bars can be found in cafés and farmers’ markets around SF—and now on the Munchery dessert menu. I caught up with pastry chef and founder Jennifer Kenny Nguyen to find out how she continues to bring hand-made, crave-able treats to her favorite city in the world.
As a fifth generation San Franciscan, I’m guessing Native Baking is an allusion to your SF roots—from that home-grown perspective, where do you see Native Baking fitting into the Bay Area’s culinary landscape.
Working in restaurants in San Francisco, everyone asks where you are from. I would say “here!” and nobody would believe me. The Bay Area is so famous for food, and so many people move here in order to cook that it’s actually hard to find a San Franciscan in a restaurant in town. Native Baking is really about being proud and celebrating being from “here”.
How do you think you’ve evolved since you started Native Baking Co. in 2013?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was really craving brownies. Like really craving them. I did my research. I went to every place in the city I could find. I wasn’t really satisfied with what I found—nobody was specializing in brownies. So when I started Native Baking, I wanted to do just brownies. I figured if we did one thing really well, that would give us our best chance to succeed. Unfortunately, I love a lot of different things.
People started coming in and saying “These brownies are killer! Do you make scones too?” I would think to myself “I know how to make scones”, and so we started to grow like that. People would reach out with suggestions, and I’d see if it made sense to add to our repertoire. I used to live in Pittsburgh where whoopie pies are very popular, so when someone requested them, I dug out my old recipe and gave them a try.
Brownies are still our core offering, but they’ve definitely opened the door to other treats that we offer.
I remember reading that you continued to feel drawn to simpler sweets while you were working as a restaurant pastry chef—what do you think high-end desserts are missing? Or what do our favorite, easy-to-make treats give us that they don’t?
When I used to work at Spruce, there was a cafe out front that sold chocolate chip cookies, and they were super popular! I definitely miss making high-end desserts, but people aren’t always looking for adventure when they are indulging. If you’re taking your lunch break and you want to have something sweet, are you going to gamble on a habanero daikon brownie? No. You are looking for comfort you can count on. If you’re going to fit an indulgence into your diet, you want something you know you love, something approachable.
Can you take me through your creative process—how do you decide upon new recipes and how they take shape?
I love to eat, and when I see good flavors and good combinations, I ask myself “What we can do to make that happen—how can we make that into a bar?” This involves thinking about what we already have and what we can tweak. Sometimes it means starting from scratch. The “Hella Rich Bar”, for example, was modeled after one of my favorite candies—100 Grand. A brownie didn’t seem quite right for it, but a rice krispie involved using commercially-produced marshmallow (if you try to make it out of your own marshmallow it will make the krispies soggy) so I just had to mess around with it until it reminded me of what I wanted.
One day at the market somebody was selling some nice aromatic basil, so I thought about how I could incorporate that and ended up using it for a basil lemon bar. Basically if I have a new idea, I’ll make a batch, and if I like it, I’ll take it to the Mission Bay Farmers’ Market. If Mission Bay likes it, then it will show up in other places.
Do you have any hacks for enjoying your baked goods? We deliver them chilled, so is there anything people should do to get maximum flavor from them?
I prefer them at room temperature, especially the krisperoo which can be a little hard if it’s cold. With the brownie, I’d say pick your favorite texture and heat accordingly (cold is chewy and warm is gooey).
Do you have any favorite meal/drink pairings with your desserts?
A lot of the people at the farmers’ market like a salad and a brownie for a bit of balance, but the general consensus is that they could really go with anything. There’s one customer who insists that pork chops are best for the Krisperoo and that tacos complement the Dulce de Leche Brownie—I guess you could say that your favorite treats usually go well with your favorite foods!
They both go great with milk, of course, but if it’s the evening, try some bourbon with your brownie—my favorite right now is Elijah Craig.
Do you foresee yourself having a brick and mortar in the future?
I have 3 children—2 daughters and a bakery. Fortunately, the best part about living where you are from is having a huge support group. I definitely dream of having a brick and mortar, and I think I’ll have one in the future, but we’ll see. I want to move to a new kitchen first, spend a while there learning and growing, and then we’ll see.
It’s safe to say that I’ll be in line when Native Baking first storefront opens its doors. Until then, their sweet treats are coming directly to your door—we’re proud to be partnering with Native Baking Co. to offer three scrumptious desserts—dulce de leche brownies, krisperoos, and whoopie pies—on our SF menu.