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Restaurant Happenings - December 2003

The Knave of Hearts
84 West 200 North
Moab UT 84532
435) 259-4116

The Dame of Tarts
at the Knave of Hearts

by Annabelle Numaguchi

Imagine rising at 4:30 every morning and entering the kitchen still redolent of the previous day’s cooking. By 5:00 you‘re beginning to break a sweat as you throw yourself into your a.m. ritual of mixing, kneading and rolling out dough. Before the sun is up, you’re taking out of the fiery oven the last of the croissants and placing them to cool by the scones, muffins, bagels and Danish made the same morning. You smooth back a stray strand of hair, remove your floury apron and place yourself behind the glass counter displaying the glistening array of buttery goods your hands have just created. And you wait. You wait for everyone else’s day to start until they drift in to purchase your wares, exchange news and pleasantries and pay compliments to the tradition you uphold and the art that holds you up. You are the Dame of Tarts.

Moab’s Knave of Hearts Bakery has just such a dame, a baker true to the Old World traditions, Robin Zank. What inspires a baker to live this demanding life, following such an ascetic schedule?

The answer is creative. Literally, creativity wakes Robin up every day and beckons her to her kitchen, her sewing table, her paints, her world.

Robin loves to create. Since Robin turned sixteen, not a day has gone by when she hasn’t created something, be it in the medium of food, fabric or painting. The Knave of Hearts is a testament to her “calling in life.” Her textile art and designs adorn the walls while the pastries, breads and pastas act as the backbone of her enterprise. Although the Knave is generally identified as a bakery, it acts as a cafe, restaurant, art gallery and community center all in one.

Robin has spent more than half her life at the Knave of Hearts, founding the bakery in the mid-1970’s in Middlebury, Vermont. Similar to its current location, the Knave was housed in one of the oldest buildings in town, a charming stone structure, just down the street from Ben and Jerry (yes, of ice cream fame), who were early customers of the bakery. After a decade, the Knave of Hearts was relocated to sunny California, where it flourished for almost twenty years before it was moved to Moab in 1997.

The cornerstone of the Knave of Hearts is its fidelity to traditional European recipes, making authentic genoise cakes, tortes, Danish, pain au chocolat and other delectable patisserie. Robin uses real butter and cream and respects the “tried and true” proportions and ingredients of European baking. She does so in part because they taste better and in part because they work with her life philosophy of preserving old traditions. Robin observes that too often, “old ways are cast aside so quickly for new, modern and easier ways - this runs contrary to my personal beliefs.”

The only alterations she makes are ones to accommodate the ingredients available to her, especially seasonal fruits and vegetables. The bakery serves breakfast and lunch items, such as potato pancakes, blintzes (which are the best I’ve ever eaten), eggplant parmesan, veggie burritos and spinach pie. Her menu is fairly extensive considering everything is home-made daily. She maximizes the use of fresh produce, setting up trades with local gardeners for tomatoes, pumpkins, peaches, herbs, and such.

Robin is attuned to the cycle of the seasons and her baking and cooking reflect the time of year, particularly at Christmastime, her favorite holiday. Every year, she decorates the bakery, whose centerpiece becomes a signature Christmas tree with thousands of ornaments that she has been collecting for over thirty years. Her repertoire of baked goods expands to include Stolen, Babka and Fruit Cake made with rum-soaked organic dried fruits and she annually sets up a booth at the MARC during the Christmas Crafts Fair. What really captures the spirit of the season at the Knave is Robin’s good will and generosity. With no exaggeration, she donates hundreds of cookies and other baked goods to charitable causes and non-profits. Not just in December, but all year round.

Robin’s sense of community plays out in her desire to share her talents and time. She sits on the board of two non-profit organizations, Wabi Sabi and Friends of the Library. She describes her feeling of responsibility to give back to the community by explaining that “as an artist I feel like I owe younger artists a hand. I try to mentor them. I think it’s the same in business.”

This mixing of art and business explains how Robin is able to maintain the arduous schedule of eighteen-hour days that running a bakery and cafe demands. She claims she never feels burnt out because she is constantly approaching her baking as an art form, trying to elevate her skills every day. Robin explains, “I want to be a master at what I do” and it’s this devotion that sustains the baker through the early morning hours when the rest of the world sleeps peacefully in warm beds.

Forsaking shortcuts and cheaper methods, Robin is a true baker, creating not only pastries, but also a community harbor where members feed their stomachs while replenishing their spirits. She is the living incarnation of the central character, a woman baker, from Maxfield Parrish’s illustrated book, The Knave of Hearts, for which her bakery is named. The bakery exudes a story book quality with its charming little sandstone house, its glass-encased pastries, its whimsical and colorful decor and its inspired baker.

The Knave of Hearts is located at 84 West 200 North and can be reached at (435) 259-4116 and is open 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 1:00 p.m. Sundays (Closed Mondays). Breakfast prices range from $1.60 to 4.50 and lunch from $2.50 to $5.50 (Can’t beat the prices!). Catering is available.


Recipe of the Month

Knave of Hearts

English Toffee Squares

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
6 oz. chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Combine the butter, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in the flour. Spread dough onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 375° for 15 minutes. While still hot, top with the chocolate chips and nuts. Cut into squares.

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