Scan the tables inside Dessertier—or almost any wedding event in San Diego—and you’re bound to find this hot milk sponge cake layered with buttercream, fresh berries, and white chocolate shavings. It’s the most requested item at the iconic La Jolla Village bakery that Michele Coulon opened 17 years ago.
But her sweets career goes back even further, when a teenage Coulon picked up pastry skills in Paris while assisting her mom, who was attending culinary school at the time. Then, while working as a computer scientist, she also made the desserts at her parents’ San Diego restaurant, Belgian Lion. But the private orders came rolling in. "All of a sudden, people were asking me for cakes," she says. "I had a full-blown business in my dad’s restaurant kitchen!"
Her grandmother, Aileen, took notice. "She was always calling me, like, ‘Are you making any cakes today?’ ‘Of course I am, Grandma!’" Together they created the Gateau Aileen, based on Aileen’s flavor preferences. "She got me to make that cake for her. It’s really special to me," Coulon says. "We have such fond memories of those grandparents. They were the ultimate. My parents were super, super, super strict. No sugar at all. If it was your birthday, you got a little. But my grandparents let us have candy!"
The secret to that and many other Coulon creations is true buttercream, as opposed to powdered-sugar-laden icings or fondants. She makes a stovetop syrup and uses high-quality butter that achieves an almost Bavarian-cream consistency. For the berries, she sources locally from Specialty Produce or Chino Farms. And despite her mostly vegan diet and committed yoga practice, sugar will always be a fixture in her life. "Aileen was a doll," Coulon says. "And I always blame her for my sweet tooth!"
7556 Fay Avenue, La Jolla