Eva Roberts reflects on 35 years of baking and making memories with Just American Desserts

click to enlarge Eva Roberts reflects on 35 years of baking and making memories with Just American Desserts
Young Kwak photo
Owner Eva Roberts started Just American Desserts in 1986.

If ever there was a time for a little something sweet, it's now, and Eva Roberts has just the thing at Just American Desserts.

Located in Spokane Valley, Just American Desserts is the result of a lifetime of persistence and a little bit of luck for Roberts, who started the business with her sister and mother in 1986.

"We came up with the name as we thought we were traditional, like grandma used to make... American-style desserts," says Roberts, who also credits her late husband's support for building the business, which in 2009 garnered a coveted Agora Award from Greater Spokane Inc.

Roberts now runs the business on her own (with the help of loyal employees, some of them dating back 20 years), dividing her time between the bakery and related ventures like teaching classes for My Fresh Basket in Kendall Yards.

In December 2020, she competed on Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship, making it to the finale in a field of 12 and finishing fourth.

"My whole goal was just to stay in the game," says Roberts, recalling how difficult it was physically and also mentally. When she blanked on a recipe for sponge cake she could otherwise make in her sleep, Roberts gritted her teeth and persevered.

It wasn't the first time in her 35-year career that Roberts has faced challenges. In the '70s, she got a job at Patsy Clark's as a part-time pastry chef, wowing the general manager with her chocolate fudge cake. A week in, however, Roberts was thrust into the head position after the chef quit and took all the recipes with them.

"Having no training, basically being a home baker, it was like drinking water from a fire hose," Roberts says.

"I believe in using real ingredients in their natural state," says Roberts, who can tell the difference in a scratch-made versus box-mix cake just by the smell.

While Roberts learned on the job, she also made the most of every mistake. Scaling up for the restaurant, for example, she once ended up with omelets instead of the batch of delicate sponge cakes she'd tried to make en masse, so she tried again. And again. And again, if that's what it took to get it right.

"Everything I did was through the school of hard knocks," Roberts says.

She became interested in baking at age 10 or 11 after discovering her mother's Betty Crocker cookbook, especially the dessert section.

"I love the way baking is exacting and not as forgiving as regular cooking," she says.

Her family's early Air Force travels also influenced her baking journey.

"I remember the pastry shops in Japan that had a very strong French influence," she says, adding that she learned the important lesson of presentation from those very elegant displays.

Another influence is her food idol, Alice Medrich, who introduced a burgeoning Berkeley, California, food scene to French truffles in the late '70s with her acclaimed Cocolat dessert shop.

"To this day, I make similar style chocolate truffles, and I cherish her hot milk sponge cake recipe, which I still use today for my yule logs," Roberts says.

Her repertoire at Just American Desserts also includes cheesecakes, pies, pastries, cookies, sheet cakes and more.

She's also making memories.

"Just American Desserts sees people mostly during their celebratory times," she says. "I will do a wedding cake, then the baby shower, all the birthdays, graduations and then the wedding cake for their children." ♦


click to enlarge Eva Roberts reflects on 35 years of baking and making memories with Just American Desserts
Young Kwak photo

RECIPE: MAPLE NUT PIE

This pie combines all the favorites: creamy custard, flaky pie crust and a crunchy topping. If making your own pie crust, be sure to bake it and let it cool first. The key to custard is moderate heat, well-stirred ingredients and not overcooking it.

CRUST
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Prepare a 9-inch pie shell (bake and cool).

NUT CRUNCH TOPPING
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans or cashews

1. Combine sugar and flour in a small bowl.
2. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
3. Stir in chopped nuts.
4. Spread on an ungreased baking sheet.
5. Bake five minutes or longer, stirring twice, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

MAPLE CUSTARD
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter

1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt, and stir to combine.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk milk and egg yolks until smooth.
3. Stir milk/egg mixture into saucepan, then stir in maple syrup. Keep stirring constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to a full boil.
4. Stir and boil for one minute, no longer.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, which will thicken the custard even more.
6. Gently pour hot mixture into baked pie shell.
7. Sprinkle with nut crunch topping.
8. Refrigerate 3 hours or longer. Garnish with whipped cream and nuts if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Eva Roberts at Just American Desserts.

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Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.