News & Politics

Shoebox Oven: Sugar, Flour, and a Dash of Whimsy

Amateur baker Krishna Brown mingles sweet flavors with bold ideas.

What Krishna Brown lacks in kitchen space she makes up for in energy and invention. Her Canelés de Bordeaux—made with a not-too-sweet crepe batter and shaped like nuns’ habits—were inspired by Edie Beale’s role in Grey Gardens. A cartoon character, Samurai Jack, was the genesis for a delectable chocolate confection called Amor and the Samurai, a fusion of bittersweet Mexican chocolate and Japanese chilies. Other nibbles allude to Gulliver’s Travels and Ray Bradbury.

All this creativity and deliciousness comes from a 31-year-old Howard University alum with no formal training—and, at the moment, no permanent kitchen. For a year Brown has been preparing batters nightly after work—she’s a graphic designer at the Peace Corps—then swinging by Ray’s the Steaks on Fridays to use the oven when the staff departs. The next day she shows up at the nearby Arlington farmers market to hawk her ShoeBox Oven sweets. “I get by on two hours of sleep a night—like a crazy person,” she says.

Brown favors bold, exotic combinations that come to her, she says, “as sleep slips through my membranes.” Papa Rums—dainty white sandwich cookies—feature a tri-filling of strawberry, Champagne, and cracked black pepper. French macaroons come in eight flavors, including blood orange, salted caramel, and lychee. There’s also a pie menu. Here the North Carolina native eschews playfulness, honoring sometimes-forgotten traditions; one of her best is an heirloom pie that boasts a sweet custard capped by a thick, fluffy cloud of Italian meringue.

Even though Brown is scrimping financially—all her savings, she says, have gone into ShoeBox—she never compromises on quality. She gets Meyer lemons for her Limáo Cakes, a Brazilian butter cake soaked in limoncello with wedges of “lemon meat.” Her orange-flavored Navel Cake is perked up with a few splashes of Cointreau.

With her fan base growing, Brown is taking her portable bakery to the next level—the wholesale market. But even as she grows, she’s still hunting for kitchen space to borrow. Or that last cup of brown sugar you’re not using.

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