From left: Donna Bell\'s Bake Shop chief baker Matthew Sandusky,
NCIS\' Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto) and bakery manager Darren Greenblatt.
Let’s start with some truth-telling. On the cover of
Donna Bell’s Bake Shop: Recipes and Stories of Family, Friends and Food
, Pauley Perrette stands between her two best friends and co-authors, Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky. She’s holding a gorgeous strawberry shortcake, one of 50 recipes featured in the book from the tiny New York bakery the three own. Two things might surprise you about that photo. One, Perrette didn’t bake that cake. Two, she’s never even tasted it.
Cracking this case did not require the skills of Abby Sciuto, the
forensic scientist Perrette has played for more than a dozen years. Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, where she has just coaxed her beloved rescue mutts out to the backyard to do their business, Perrette freely ’fesses up about what she calls the “two giant ironies” of her bakery career: The first is that after giving up sugar for Lent six years ago, she decided to make the change permanent. And, in a twist quirky enough to serve as an
“I don’t own an oven,” she says. “I had it removed from my home.” She can’t quite explain why her heart pounds and she breaks out in a cold sweat at the sight of an oven, but she does. “Phobias,” she says, “are irrational. So while I fancy myself an excellent cook and baker, I don’t actually do either.”
Perrette with best friend and business partner Greenblatt in New York, circa 1990.
An oven, of course, is an essential piece of equipment in turning out the hundreds of Southern pastries like buttermilk biscuits, banana scones, apple sausage muffins, pumpkin pie bars and zucchini walnut bread that sell out every day at the 400-square-foot Donna Bell’s Bake Shop. But the real warmth of the bakery has always been the memory of Perrette’s late mother, the Alabama-born Donna Bell, who died of breast cancer in 2002.
Perrette, along with bakery manager Greenblatt and chief baker Sandusky, opened Donna Bell’s in April 2011 to bring a taste of Bell’s Alabama hospitality to Hell’s Kitchen, where the three met more than 20 years ago. As Sandusky developed the recipes for the bakery, and later for the book, he was guided by one principle. “Did it look like something that would come out of Donna Bell’s kitchen?” he says. “We wanted everything to be rustic and humble, not intimidating or fancy.”
is also part memoir, with Perrette sharing stories about her early days in New York, when she worked as a bartender, rocked a platinum Mohawk and got around the city on roller skates; hanging out with drag queens in Hollywood; and the last heartbreaking days of her mother’s life. “A big part of the book is the tale of a friendship, our journey and the story of my mom,” Perrette says. “I go into a lot of autobiographical detail about myself, and I hope my fans enjoy that.”
There will likely be more chapters to come. “Our dream is to open up a sit-down restaurant called Donna Bell’s Kitchen just a few doors down from the bakery,” says Greenblatt. “Donna Bell’s Bake Shop would supply the desserts and every Thursday night we’d serve Thanksgiving dinner.” He also sees a second cookbook:
For now, assuming you don’t have a fear of ovens, you can try your hand at hummingbird bread pudding, butter-pecan cake, coconut custard pie, chocolate-chip cookies and dozens of other recipes.
If you’re expecting Anthony DiNozzo to stop by, Perrette suggests having cheddar cornbread or
pimento, cheddar and chive drop biscuits on hand. (“DiNozzo eats a lot of cheese,” she says.) For Dr. Donald Mallard, she’d recommend the lemon bar. (“Ducky likes things that are a little fancy.”) And if Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs should turn up at your front door, don’t fret about sweets. “Just offer him a pot of coffee, extra strong,” she says. As for Abby Sciuto’s alter ego, when Perrette stops in at Donna Bell’s Bake Shop during her visits to New York, Sandusky always has a special treat waiting: a sugar-free whole-wheat muffin.
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