Streamwood engineer maps out baking adventures for fun

It may be because she was raised in France, where the best pastries in the world are found, that our Cook of the Week - Nathalie Berthelot of Streamwood - loves to bake. Or it may be because once her family, originally from Saigon, immigrated to the United States, she was surrounded by cousins who asked her to bake birthday cakes.

Or perhaps, it was the influence of her mother, who taught Nathalie how to cook but didn't like to bake and thus encouraged Nathalie to do it instead. Whatever the reason, Nathalie's favorite thing is baking and decorating exquisite desserts.

  Nathalie Berthelot baked and decorated this cake for a friend with whom she plays tennis. Brian Hill/

"My mom is a really good cook," says Nathalie, "she makes entrees, but I prefer to make the dessert. It's more of an adventure!" Her mother is a traditional cook who likes to rely on recipes; Nathalie may use a recipe for the cake or pastry itself, but after that, the decoration is all in her imagination.

"Sometimes, I don't know what I'm going to do until I do it," she laughs. To learn decorating techniques (for example, how to use fondant), Nathalie relied on YouTube videos.

"There is nothing you cannot learn from YouTube!" she said.

Nathalie was the go-to for family birthday cakes, holiday cakes and she even made the wedding cake for her college roommate. Ironically, when she started to have kids of her own, she made fewer cakes. Life with four small children and her job as a project manager left little time for baking, and her kids enjoyed Caputo's Italian cakes for their birthdays. In the past three years, however, after changing her work schedule, Nathalie finds herself in her kitchen again.

"My baking is a second shift project," Nathalie explains. "I need to have the kitchen to myself for two or three hours in order to create like an adventurer. I'm a project engineer, so I plan things out and do them in steps. I make the cake ahead and then freeze it because I usually don't have time to do it all at once."

Nathalie loves making cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, cookies and French pastries. A recent trip back to France reminded her of how beautiful French baking is and how time-consuming."

"Nothing compares to France! When my kids are all in college, I would love to go back and study baking. But I can't do it now!" Today, Nathalie shares a holiday recipe commonly enjoyed in Europe, during the Epiphany, (or during Mardi Gras in other places) a King Cake.

  Nathalie Berthelot, of Streamwood made a tennis-themed birthday cake, from top, her King Cake and Tarte aux Pommes. Brian Hill/

"We always hide a toy in the cake, a little trinket. The person who finds it becomes the queen or king for the day." If the King Cake seems too ambitious, you could try her very French apple tart or her savory cheese puffs.

With four hungry boys, like it or not, Nathalie does cook every night and prefers making traditional meals, Chinese being a favorite.

"These days, when you go on the internet, it is hard to find a truly traditional recipe. They all seem to be a hybrid of who knows what! Especially when East meets west - I don't know what happened or where it's going, but I prefer the traditional to "fusion."'

Nathalie often hears that she should start her own bakery business.

"I tell them no, this is fun for me; I want to keep it that way!"

Nathalie Berthelot recipes

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