(Nancy Kaufman) #1

29 bake from scratch

Growing up on a small farm in the former Yugoslavia (now Vrbas, Serbia)
the diligent process of harvesting, preserving, and preparing food was an
essential skill for survival. “This is where my love for food—and homemade,
local food in particular—comes from,” Miro says. An average day included
pickling cabbage and preserving sour cherries at his grandmother’s elbow;
raising cows, pigs, goats, and chickens; and making charcuterie with his
siblings. Even though the bleak Yugoslav Wars raged from the time Miro was
7 to 17, he notes that this time at home was made precious through his family’s
indominable spirit and resourcefulness. “I had a very happy childhood. My
siblings, my family, myself—we made the most of it.”

Despite his natural affi nity for the culinary arts, Miro went to college for an
education in hospitality. “In Serbia, being a chef is considered a blue-collar
job. My family wanted more for me,” he says. Of course, fate has a way of
intervening. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, Miro
moved back home, quitting college a year shy of graduating. In the fi nal year
of his mother’s life, Miro spent time with her in the kitchen, cooking and
baking recipes she had scrawled in family cookbooks. Miro began to explore
sweet territory he’d always considered too intimidating to master. “I thought,

‘She’s here, she’s with me, and she knows everything about cakes.’ With her
guidance, I fi nally had the courage to try to make a cake,” he shares.

Of signifi cance was the fi rst cake Miro ever baked, her Greek cake. “I have
no idea why it was called the Greek cake—it has nothing at all to do with
Greece. It’s like a fi nancier cake, a lot of butter and egg whites but with ground
walnuts used in place of almonds. Its frosting was a German buttercream,
which is made with egg yolks rather than egg whites. But what made it so
special is she would fold in chopped Crunch Bars to the frosting. There was
this sudden craze for American candy bars in Serbia in the late ’90s because
once the Yugoslav Wars were over, all of these novelty American brands
started to arrive. So, I don’t know how other families would make their cake,
but this was my mother’s version,” Miro says.

Miro’s mother passed away in 2005, but that precious time spent together had
set Miro on a new path. “It was a long battle for me, but I fi nally accepted
that food was what I loved,” he says. Miro returned to the United States and
settled in Indiana, where he had previously spent a year during a high school
exchange program. He found himself at the bakery Pastry Diva, experiencing
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