Ask any home baker the thing that gives them nightmares, the answer is generally “pastry.” Even the contestants on The Great British Baking Show are terrified of pastry week. One contestant on Season 7 said,“There’s a dark side to pastry, it’s the heavy metal of baking.” So, how did a soft-spoken woman from the Big Skies, Montana come to be a pre-eminent baker of light and airy pastries, elegant cakes, and rich chocolate brownies for the past 30 years in the desert?
As a young girl, Deborah Quinn assisted her mother, Rachel, in the kitchen. Rachel was a talented baker and therefore the chief cake maker for all of their big family’s (10 kids!) events. “In 1979, my parents went to Canada for a concert,” says Quinn. (Her dad is rockabilly hall-of-famer, Chan Romero, who wrote and recorded “Hippy Hippy Shake,” a teen anthem of the 1950s). “They left me behind to finish someone's wedding cake,” Quinn says, chuckling. “That's basically where it started.”
Quinn knew at an early age her life’s trajectory would lead to her own bakery. Although she had mad baking skills, she was also a smart cookie and knew she needed business skills. When she moved to the desert in 1989 she found a place to live, enrolled in business management at COD, and got two jobs. One was as pastry chef at the Hyatt; her second job was a side gig with a fun story.
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Louise’s Pantry was located where Kalura Trattoria is now, in downtown Palm Springs, left of La Plaza Theatre. Next to the entrance (and it’s still there) is a smallish, metal basement door that leads to a below ground kitchen and where Quinn’s second gig for Louise’s Pantry was located. It was so small, and so hard to stock, there was a chute inside the restaurant to slide giant bags of flour and sugar down to the bakers. It was called “the dungeon.” While this might seem creepy, it wasn’t according to Quinn. “In big cities, like New York, everyone's making the bagels down in the basement,” she says. “It actually felt kind of fun.”
Not quite ready to spread her wings after college, Quinn spent two years managing an Albertson’s bakery before she knew it was time to rise to the challenge of making her dream come true.
As moves go, it was big, and bold. The Fix in Palm Desert had a very tony address on El Paseo Drive in the El Paseo Shopping District. “We built a cafe in the middle, right across from the Gardens,” says Quinn. “We had it there from 1997 to 2009.” And then came the fire. It was at Frasca Jewelers, their neighbor’s store, but it shut them down for a year and a half. When all the smoke and ashes cleared, they had done the old switcheroo.
Deborah Quinn has been delivering picturesque creations like this for 30 years in the desert.
“Mephisto's Shoe Store on El Paseo wanted to downsize, and we needed more space, so we switched.” She sold Fix last January, moved her baking facility to Cathedral City, and opened Pastry Swan in the old Cello Pantry spot in Rancho Mirage. The namesake of Pastry Swan (her dad’s favorite treat) is a cream puff masquerading as a swan. Its long, slender neck and compact wings are made from the same pâte à choux as its light and crispy body, with creamy goodness that bursts in your mouth at first bite.
Pastry Swan is open year round, and their cakes are made from the finest ingredients (vegan too, if you ask). No matter the occasion, after 30 years, Quinn’s pretty much done and seen it all. “Before the internet, we must have had 30 books with cake ideas. But now, especially with brides, they already have a visual of what they like.” And if they don’t, there’s a computer onsite with tons of Pins to browse.
With the season underway, the pastry shelves are bursting with mouth-watering, sugary desserts, and the coffee and snack counter is in full swing for vegan grab-and-gos. If you’re in search of the perfect cake for that special event Quinn and her team of longtime collaborators can make your wedding dreams come true.
Cookies with a Kick
Deborah Quinn’s focus and determination has led to a successful baking career, and it’s those same ingredients she brings as a very vocal ambassador for the healing powers of cannabis. In 2017, Quinn’s mother Rachel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Quinn gathered her family and approached her mother’s diagnosis the same way she did her own career. She educated herself, put together a plan with her family, and set out to help her mother. That plan included cannabis.
“I talked to my brother and my son, and the doctor had said that she was too frail and past the point of having surgery for it,” Quinn says, “We knew that right away we needed to get some meat on her bones. We needed to get her to sleep because she had a great deal of stress and that causes a lot of other things when you can't sleep. We called it knocking her out for eight hours. Made her feel better for the entire day. Getting her appetite back up was important, too. My brother would make her little capsules with CBD oil and a little bit of THC. You might've heard that CBD, for it to really react, needs a little bit of THC in it. Not enough to be psychoactive, just enough to make it active. So within about three months she had gone back and they are like, ‘Well, I don't know what happened, but she's gained some pounds and she looks good. We're going to call a crew.’ And they actually called people from all over the world who came and watched that one operation.”
Deborah Quinn is a very vocal ambassador for the healing powers of cannabis, especially in baked goods.
So, how do you determine the amounts of THC and CBD that go into baking edibles? “Oh, that's totally over my head,” Quinn says. “My son Shannon is really good at that and so is my brother Michael and one of the girls that we hired that I had met a few years ago in the cannabis industry, Jamie. We started out just practicing making butters and sugars and oils. So we were going through a long process of making that, which we've changed since then to just purchasing distillate. You have to find out the lab results from that distillate. We learned through a bad experience. We used it and it didn't come out right. So now, no matter what, we still test it again before it gets made into large batches. So it's all in the testing.”
Black Swan has been one of Quinn’s dreams since 2015, when the proposition to legalize cannabis started crossing the desks of legislators. Their cannabis repertoire includes chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, and something they call Fruity Fade. “It's like a rice crispy treat and then in the same kind of family, there’s Canna Cocoa, which is like a chocolate rice crispy treat with chocolate instead of the fruity flavor. We'll also be doing fudge, and chocolates. Those are going to be fun.”
You can’t buy Black Swan products at the bakery, however local dispensaries in Greater Palm Springs are stocking the items. Just ask your budtender.
Black Swan has been one of Quinn’s dreams since 2015, when the proposition to legalize cannabis started crossing the desks of legislators.