At Home with Pastry Chef Pamela Moxley of Miller Union

Pastry chef in her living room
Pamela Moxley and Gracie enjoy a moment in the pastry chef’s color-splashed living room.

What pastry chef is responsible for such divine goodness as Brown Sugar Hazelnut Cake with Blueberry Compote (recipe below)?

The answer lies in a little story.

I had often passed a house with a sign by the front door that reads, “Hippies Use Backdoor.” The garden always bursts in seasonal color – Asiatic lilies, dahlias, zinnias, tulips, butterfly bush, bee balm, echinacea, salvia and more.

pastry chef homeEvery time I passed the house I said to myself, “I want to know who lives there.”

In May I read a story in The New York Times about the ubiquitous Red Velvet Cake. The author wrote about pastry chef Pamela Moxley of Miller Union in Atlanta. The article said she had developed a recipe for Red Velvet that doesn’t use artificial food coloring. Instead her recipe incorporates red beets.

A light bulb went off. My friend Cynthia Roseberry had suggested that I write about Pamela Moxley and it turns out she lives in the “Hippies Use Backdoor” house.


I’m really about my food looking like real food. – Pastry Chef Pamela Moxley

Pamela, the youngest of five, was born in Washington, DC. Her family moved to New Hampshire when she was three. Her father, a Kentucky native, came from a farming family and earned a degree in agriculture. Pamela remembers a childhood that centered around huge vegetable and flower gardens.

The family grew Concord grapes and had maple trees and blueberry bushes. One of her fondest childhood memories is being sent to the cellar in the winter to fetch jars of canned tomatoes, beets and green beans that lined the shelves there. Between the garage and the house there was a storage room that maintained a cool temperature, a perfect place to store apples from the orchard.

Pastry chef in the garden
Pamela Moxley examines one of her favorite dahlias

As a vegetarian when she embarked on a career in the culinary world she opted for baking school in Seattle. At one point she thought she wanted to teach history but she had invested so much time working in kitchens during and after college. The culinary world had grabbed her.

“I tried a couple of times to get out but it just pulls you back in. It’s such a different world, you know.” Plus, “you realize you’re good at something.”

Pamela has worked for Tom Colocchio at Craft, Anne Quatrano at Floataway and is now working with Steven Satterfied at Miller Union. Food Network named her ice cream sandwich one of the 50 best ice cream treats. The sandwich is a lunch standard at the restaurant.

She calls her approach to desserts “seasonal.” A recent menu included blueberry-cream cheese parfait with graham feuilletine and roasted peaches with cashew ice cream and puff pastry. Items are updated weekly.

“I’m really about my food looking like real food,” she said, “I feel like I’m still maybe a little old school in that sense. I still draw from looking at a plate and being able to recognize what it is.”

While she realizes her food might not appear as modern as some culinary trends such as deconstruction, she tells a story about a friend who attended a cake raffle at a swanky event sponsored by one of Atlanta’s premier culinary organizations.

“She looked at the cake table and there were all these, like, crazy cakes and there’s fondant and all these layers and everything is pretty and perfect and there’s all this marzipan and then there’s this one cake that was straightforward and simple and she said, ‘I bet that’s Pam’s cake and I bet that’s the best tasting cake on the whole table’,” she recalls. “To me, flavor is the most important thing on the plate.”

Before ending our interview, I asked Pamela to name her favorite store-bought sweet indulgence.

“If I’m going to be trashy, I really like doughnuts. You can even eat a trashy doughnut and it’s still a doughnut.”

In her estimation Krispy Kreme would fall into the trashy category, although she added, cognizant she’s now a Southerner, “That might be sacrilege.” For a high quality doughnut she recommends Dutch Monkey in Cumming, Ga.

“I only get to go once or twice a year because it’s way out in the middle of nowhere,” she said with a sigh.

Miller Union was chosen one of the Ten Restaurants that Best Define Atlanta by Eater.com. It made the best new restaurant lists of Esquire, Bon Appétit, and Atlanta magazines. They serve lunch and dinner. It is closed all day Sunday and Monday at lunch. 999 Brady Ave NW, Atlanta, GA 30318, 678-733-8550.
Pastry chef Pamela Moxley's Hazelnut Cake with Blueberries
Pastry chef Pamela Moxley’s Brown Sugar Hazelnut Cake with Blueberry Compote

Brown Sugar Hazelnut Cake with Blueberry Compote

YIELDS ONE 9-INCH CAKE

FOR THE CAKE

½ Pound soft butter
½ Cup white sugar
¼ Cup dark brown sugar
3  Eggs
½ Teaspoon vanilla extract
1   Cup all-purpose flour
½ Cup + 3 tablespoons hazelnut flour (see note)
1  Teaspoon baking powder
½ Teaspoon salt

FOR THE BROWN SUGAR GLAZE

1 Cup dark brown sugar
1 Ounce butter
2 Tablespoons cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream butter in mixer with paddle attachment. Add both sugars and mix well. Slowly add eggs one at a time. Scrap the bowl well. Add vanilla extract. Separately, sift all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder and then add the hazelnut flour. Add the flour mixture in three parts to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low until nicely combined. Set aside. To make the glaze melt butter, add cream and bring to just under a boil. Remove from heat. Add brown sugar and mix well.

Spray a 9-inch cake pan with oil, well. Pour brown sugar glaze in the bottom of the pan. Let the glaze set up (you can put it the refrigerator for 10 minutes if you need to). Add cake batter to the top of the glaze and smooth out. Bake for 25-35 minutes depending on the oven. When it is ready it will be nice and golden, feel stable when you touch the top, and paring knife will come out clean.

FOR THE BLUEBERRY COMPOTE

1½ Pint blueberries
Juice and zest of half a lemon
3  Tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1  Tablespoon water
¼ Teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Cook all of the ingredients except ½ pint of the blueberries and the vinegar on medium heat for 3-4 minutes or just until a syrup develops but the blueberries hold their shape. Fold fresh blueberries into the cooked berries. Add the vinegar. Serve warm on top of the cake.

Note: Hazelnut flour can be purchased on-line and will last a long time in the freezer.

5 Responses to At Home with Pastry Chef Pamela Moxley of Miller Union

  1. Melinda July 8, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Love this Doug!

  2. Celeste Bracewell July 8, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Please keep telling these stories! The neighborhood gets more personal and diverse with each one. The recipe is also much appreciated. As one who has tried – discreetly and without success – to peel a wad of fondant from the roof of my mouth with my tongue at a dinner party, I embrace Pam’s approach to baking and food in general. Thank you.

  3. Jeri Dies July 9, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks, Doug. Yum. But my blood sugar went up just looking at the goodies. 🙂

  4. Carrie Mills February 19, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    Always wondered who lived in “the Hippies Use Back Door House” :-).

  5. John Robins February 19, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    What an insightful portrait of Pamela Moxley and her down to earth approach to her culinary art. How wonderful to have included with this piece a recipe which I will have fun attempting to replicate.
    I feel as though I do not need to visit Georgia again; all I need is to read your diverse articles upon Georgia and its fascinating citizens from my home here in Brisbane.

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