By Victoria Watson, Contributing Writer
This article is not for the waistline conscious just as the dessert line in Asbury University’s cafeteria is not for the faint in self-control. Carolyn Robinson, affectionately called Ms. Carolyn, is the baker behind all of Asbury’s cookies, cakes and cobblers. Her dedication and passion for providing sweets for students makes her desserts even more tempting.
Ms. Carolyn is also responsible for bakery items for the cafeteria, the bistro and Pioneer College Caterers’ events. Born in Kentucky but raised in Texas, she learned to bake as a teenager when she married her husband of 32 years, Danny Robinson. She honed her skills by baking for her three children.
Eleven years ago, Ms. Carolyn began in Asbury’s kitchen as a floater, gaining experience as a prep cook; however, she had an affinity for the baker’s corner. “I love sweets … everybody loves sweets,” Ms. Carolyn, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, said. Three years ago, Ms. Carolyn became Asbury’s full-time baker. Tina Miller, the food service director, said that although Ms. Carolyn is not a baker by trade, she “does a much better job mainly because she cares.”
Ms. Carolyn says she finds satisfaction and joy from knowing that what she does brings joy to someone. Her favorite desserts to bake are a toss up between anything chocolate and a seasonal goodie: autumn calls for pumpkin and spring for lemon.
Tucked behind the monstrous metal dishwasher and steaming boiler pots in Asbury’s cafeteria kitchen, the baker’s corner serves as Ms. Carolyn’s workstation. Green racks are lined with caramel and raspberry sauces, M&Ms and Butterfinger toppings and chocolate and rainbow sprinkles. Across from the shelves, the wooden countertop is dusted with powdered sugar and, more often than not, adorned by an apple cinnamon bread pudding or a glossy iced chocolate cake. Two five-rack ovens sit at the end of the isle, her 4-foot-11-inch frame unable to see the top one even on tiptoes. The usual smells of a cafeteria kitchen are banished in her corner by the doughy, buttery whiffs of snickerdoodles or dinner rolls.
Executive Chef Robert Miller prepares a month of dessert menus from Pioneer’s cookbook and gives Ms. Carolyn the freedom to change things up. She ensures variety and avoids staleness through self-reflection: “If I’m tired of making it, they’re tired of seeing it.”
Ms. Carolyn experiments with recipes by making substitutions. Watching her bake is like watching an artist paint. Her steady hand smooths thick chocolate icing across a warm yellow cake. Her clear blue eyes peer through brown frames to sprinkle on chocolate chips. Ms. Carolyn reaches for the powdered sugar, generously taps the shaker … then taps some more. According to Ms. Carolyn, presentation is everything, since “we eat with our eyes.” Finally, she waits for it to cool, carefully cuts it and meticulously arranges the cake beside the rest of her treats on the dessert counter.
Mass production of baked goods means many desserts come from premade mixes or frozen dough, which Miller said also provides stability and consistency. But Ms. Carolyn said she takes pride even in her box mixes, because she knows they are good quality and ensures they are baked well.
When she’s not baking for Asbury, Ms. Carolyn can be found baking for her three grandchildren, reading non-fiction, walking outdoors or watching scary movies. She loves student feedback via comment cards in the cafeteria so that she can continue to keep “spreading a little joy and sunshine” through her baking.
Photos by Betsy Oda