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How an Austin Baker Supports Her Home Country of Ukraine Through Basque Cheesecakes

Olga Koutseridi, aka Local Bread Baker, gives back to her Eastern European home country and Austinites with sweets

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A cheesecake with a slice taken out of it.
The burnt Basque cheesecake from Local Bread Baker.
Local Bread Baker

In front of an unassuming bungalow in Hyde Park hangs a small sign that reads “Bakery” that’s easy to miss. But people in the know understand that, during most weekends, those who pull up in front of the house and text a phone number will receive a brown bag with their name and a small heart on a small table on the porch full of delicious sweet treats. This is how Olga Koutseridi, a Ukrainian-born baker and sourdough enthusiast, has been selling her baked goods from her kitchen well before the pandemic made this method of service ubiquitous.

Under the moniker Local Bread Baker, Koutseridi’s business blew up during the pandemic when social distancing became a way of life and people craved her baked goods. The naturally leavened sourdough chocolate babka, lightly sweet cardamom buns, and burnt Basque cheesecakes she made represented comfort. The cakes are intensely creamy and decadent, having as much in common with a custard or a mousse as a traditional cheesecake. There’s the classic flavor, and she has since expanded with others like vanilla bean, chocolate, and dulce de leche, and seasonal ones like pumpkin pie. Selling sweets was her way of giving back during that challenging time. “If somebody experiences joy [when] they are eating a bite of something, that brings me so much fulfillment,” she says.

A huge part of baking for Koutseridi is the community, and this became more urgent last year when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and the ensuing war. Watching the devastation of her home country in horror, she held fundraisers, where she sold her burnt Basque cheesecakes and donated the proceeds to nonprofits aiding Ukrainians, such as Austin-based nonprofit Liberty Ukraine, Mariupol-based nonprofit Tu Mariupol, and dog charity Obnimi Sobaku.

A woman pouring liquid into a cake ban.
Olga Koutseridi making her cheesecake.
Local Bread Baker

There was just one problem: at the time, it was tricky trying to source hundreds of pounds of cream cheese needed for the cakes since there was an ongoing shortage of cream cheese because of supply chain issues in March. Every time Koutseridi checked, the restaurant supply shelves were bare. Undeterred, she reached out to Austin bagel shops to ask if they’d be willing to contribute her needed ingredient. They did, and 200 pounds of cream cheese rolled in. Koutseridi raised roughly $14,000 over the past year

And still, 2023 continues to be a difficult year for Koutseridi, where she’s running a cottage baking business out of her small home kitchen (now solely focusing on cheesecakes), working full time, and raising money for Ukraine. ”A capitalistic society is not super conducive to running a bakery,” she says. “Bakeries in Europe are often subsidized by the government because they look at it like a human right: neighborhoods should have bakeries because people need bread to live. But in a place like Austin, where rents are so high, you have to create a business model that’s profit-driven, and bakeries are not it.”

Despite the pandemic challenges, Koutseridi found it opened up opportunities for those who couldn’t afford the high cost of operating physical bakeries or restaurants in the city. “COVID did really change the whole paradigm,” she says. “Baking and cooking and selling from your home were so rare and niche before.” And now cottage baking has become very popular. “In some ways, that was one of the weirdly positive things to come out of the pandemic,” she adds.

Koutseridi is always experimenting and perfecting her recipes, working on each one until she doesn’t have to measure out ingredients, and she can tell when a bake is ready just by looking at it. The cheesecake took 100 bakes to get to a level she was satisfied with. “It’s all about visual cues and timing,” she says. “It’s like a pasta granny, where someone has done something so many times, the ritual becomes intuitive.”

As food gets more expensive, Koutseridi is looking at other avenues to share her love of food. She is launching a Patreon, which will allow her to pursue her other passion: preserving Ukrainian food culture and introducing more people to the deliciousness of Ukrainian food. When it starts, subscribers will have access to recipes she has developed, as well as her family’s handed-down recipes, like borscht and dumplings. Already, Koutseridi’s recipes have begun appearing in national and international outlets like the New York Times and the Independent.

Being a cottage baker isn’t easy for Koutseridi, but it’s worth it. “To anyone that wants to do it, know your ‘why,’” she says. “You’ve got to love food or love something about it because it’s a lot to manage. It’s worth it if it’s really meaningful to you.”