Food & Drink

Cedar Rapids expert baker shares her homemade baking secrets

Bobbie Gruber at her home in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, May 11, 2020. Grber has had a long career in the f
Bobbie Gruber at her home in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, May 11, 2020. Grber has had a long career in the food service industry. Gruber operated the concession stand at Tuma Soccer Complex, was a manager at the Hiawatha Pizza Ranch before it closed, ran the concession stands at Veterans Memorial Stadium, and was the kitchen manager at Hunter’s Ridge Golf Course. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
/

When it’s time to enjoy homemade treats from the kitchen of Bobbie Gruber, there is no room for “day-old.”

“If you’re not standing in my kitchen when it comes out of the oven,” she said, “it’s not OK with me. I consider it day-old.”

The Cedar Rapids-area baker and retired food industry manager is most particular when it comes to the ingredients she uses and the quality of her baking.

You’ll never find margarine in her kitchen. Only real butter.

“It’s better for you to eat a little bit of the good stuff with some vitamin A in it rather than that artificial stuff,” she said.

Gruber has a long history working with food. She cooked for her family through the years, raising four children. Widowed in her early 50s, she entered the public food domain when she opened a Blimpie’s sub sandwich shop.

“One thing led to another after I sold that store,” she said, “and that’s when I bought a restored moving van that had been outfitted with all the right kitchen equipment.”

Bobbie’s Food Truck showed up at Dale Cannon auctions, Hog Wild Days in Hiawatha, even Iowa Hawkeye football games in Iowa City.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“It got crazy busy at those Hawkeye games,” she said, “and I took extra people along to help me at the games, but I ran the auction job on my own.”

“I’m short so I needed a person with me because they could handle cranking up the awning on the van and get the grill set up for me — we actually grilled at those auctions — but it got to be too physically big for me,” she said.

She also took her food truck to the Tuma Soccer Complex north of Cedar Rapids where the city eventually built a building and hired her to manage the concessions on-site for 12 years. “Tuma was a highlight for me,” she said.

She applied her kitchen management experience in positions with the Cedar Rapids Kernels concession stand and at Hunter’s Ridge Golf Course.

“It became tough physically to do all that inventory and stocking, along with setting up tables for the receptions at the golf course, and the hours were late,” she said.

“One night driving home really late, I asked myself, ‘What is this old lady doing out on the road at 2 a.m. in the morning?’” She decided it was time to finally retire.

Cooking for the kids and grandkids

But today, at 78, Gruber is still cooking and baking. That includes making kolaches using her grandmother’s original recipe.

“I let my dough rise three times.” And, she adds a streusel topping, ishka, “because you can taste the butter on there.”

Her grandson always requests cinnamon crumb coffee cake when he’s coming to visit.

“It’s a very simple one — has no shortening in it,” Gruber said. “But I drizzle melted butter over the top while it’s still warm.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

She laughs as she tells how she has to remind her grandson that he cannot go for the middle piece of the cake, which is his favorite. “That’s where the cake sinks in,” she said.

When she makes pancakes for her grandsons, she also makes homemade syrup.

“It only has three ingredients, and then they can have warm syrup,” she said. “It’s not hard to make.”

Gruber’s years of resourcefulness in the kitchen are evident as she talks of the basics of baking and cooking.

“You can make almost anything,” she said. “You can make your own brown sugar, your own self-rising flour — even your own puddings.”

Baking with yeast never scared her, not even when she was a young bride. Her late husband, Ken, came from a large family, and homemade food dominated his family’s kitchen table.

“He didn’t care so much about the kolaches, but he liked bread, so the first thing I baked for him was a loaf of bread, but I didn’t tell him I’d baked it,” she said. He took a bite and exclaimed, “This is homemade!” She confirmed it, adding, “I guess I passed.”

She even sent some of her yeast products to compete at the Iowa State Fair baking competitions when her kids were small.

“I entered several times and earned some blue ribbons,” she said. “I was tickled that I beat out some of the older ladies. That alone was a bigger trophy to me than anything else because I proved myself that way.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Gruber said that working with yeast isn’t hard, but it does take more time than most people want to invest these days.

“My kolaches will take about four hours, start to finish.”

Her advice to beginning cooks is sound, and much of it learned from the days when home economics was still taught at school.

Her favorite cookbook is an early copy of the renowned “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook,” held together these days by duct tape and rubber bands.

“If you want a good recipe, get it out of that cookbook,” she said.

Some additional pointers from this expert baker?

• Do not make your water too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast. Remember it is a living organism.

• Sunshine works just as well as a proofer for rising yeast. “If the sun is coming in from the window, I’ll sit stuff on the table with a dish towel over it.” Yeast products rise better when the barometer is rising.

• Don’t touch yeast with a metal spoon, or it won’t rise. “Wooden spoons are for baking, and metal spoons are for cooking.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.