Like a modern-day bootlegger, Eliza Bowman hides booze in strange places, including wedding cakes and cinnamon rolls.
Last May, the 33-year-old opened Prohibition Pastries in Point Breeze. The bakery specializes in sweet and savory pies, cakes, cookies and bread made with locally sourced ingredients — most notably Pennsylvania-produced alcohol.
Although she hails from a long line of teetotalers, Bowman developed an appreciation for good beer, wine and spirits while studying theater at New York University. Harkening back to her grandmother’s kitchen know-how, she started replacing vanilla extract (which is about 35 percent alcohol by volume) with craft beers and spirits.
European bakers have been putting booze in their batter for centuries. But the practice has more to do with taste than intoxication. Alcohol is burned off during the baking process, leaving behind only flavor that both adults (even pregnant ladies) and children can enjoy.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Bowman says with a laugh. “I’m incredibly Irish and most of my great-grandma’s recipes included a half a cup of whiskey.”
Grandma’s famous pecan-topped sticky buns — known as Lovely Ludies — are on the menu at Prohibition Pastries, along with quiches, gourmet sandwiches, Roaring Twenties-era throwbacks like burnt sugar cake and breakfast staples such as hand pies made with bacon, egg and beer cheese.
Bowman has joined forces with local hooch-makers East End Brewing Company, Wigle Whiskey, Bluecoat American Dry Gin, Maggie’s Farm Rum and Glades Pike Winery to create her confections.
Before she had her brick-and-mortar store, Bowman used to sell her products at the Pittsburgh Public Market. That’s where Tim Russell, owner of Maggie’s Farm Rum in the Strip District, discovered that his distilled sugar cane was going into her desserts.
“I bought a few things and took them back to the distillery for everyone to sample, and promoted what she was doing,” he says. “I think it’s a great take on our product for people who aren’t necessarily into rum or drinking spirits in general. She deserves a lot of credit for the creative cross-promotion.”
To celebrate the release of East End’s 2018 Gratitude Barleywine, Bowman baked a bunch of goodies, including pretzels spiked with the bourbon barrel-aged ale, that folks could munch on while waiting in line for bottles of the rare beer.
Sometimes the bakery is like a mad scientist’s lab when the living — and often unpredictable — yeast strains in beer are in the mix. But Bowman and her five-member staff are ready to meet any culinary challenge.
Her 18-hour day starts around 3 a.m., when she walks a few blocks from her home to the Reynolds Street storefront, a former barber shop, and starts preparing the morning goodies. Throughout the day she’ll whip up dozens of scones, muffins and tortes and cater corporate lunches and private parties.
Thankfully, she has no plans to repeal her hectic schedule.
“We’re still in our first year of business,” Bowman says. “I don’t want to put my feet up.”