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Tony's 82-year-old pastry chef Helen Fletcher spills her baking secrets

Helen Fletcher ran Truffes Inc. for 23 years. She now works as the pastry chef at Tony's.
Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
Helen Fletcher ran Truffes Inc. for 23 years. She now works as the pastry chef at Tony's.

Anyone can follow a cookie recipe on the back of a package of chocolate chips, but the addition of a few special tips and tricks can really take a cookie from ordinary to sublime.

“There's nothing as good as a warm chocolate chip cookie,” Tony’s pastry chef Helen Fletcher told St. Louis on the Air. “Homemade baked goods are the best.”

Pointers can also save you money. For instance, pure vanilla extract is not always required, she said. For baked goods with lots of other flavor in them, imitation vanilla will do just fine.

That’s one of many pieces of advice included in Fletcher’s new cookbook, "Craving Cookies: The Quintessential American Cookie Book," where she details her personal journey through the creation of 80 different American cookies.

Helen Fletcher joins St. Louis on the Air

Her goal is to make the cookie-making process accessible to bakers of all levels. “I want to encourage people,” she said. “I want them to bake.”

Fletcher learned to bake while hanging out with her mother and grandmother, who were heavily influenced by their Yugoslavian heritage.

“Every Sunday, they would make phyllo, the real thin dough … and then some of it would fall on the floor. I had to sweep — that was my job,” she said. “And then, oh, it was wonderful, because we'd have fresh apple strudel or some kind of strudel for dinner.”

“I had croissant, I had Schaum Torte, I had all these wonderful things before America ever even heard of them,” she added.

Fletcher designed many of the desserts at Tony’s, including the St. Louis institution’s tarts, cakes, biscotti and butter cookies.

For more baking tips and information on her work, visit Fletcher’s website: Pastries Like a Pro.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.