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15 Minutes With: French-trained pastry chef Ashley Cardona puts the sugar and spice into the holidays

15 Minutes With: French-trained pastry chef Ashley Cardona puts the sugar and spice into the holidays
December 2023

Get the recipe for her chocolate peppermint Yule log



CM: How did you get into baking?
AC:
I’m a ’90s baby who always wanted to be an artist when I grew up. My passion for food started during my childhood summers, when I would spend time with my nana watching the Food Network. She was a professional cook, and we would write a shopping list and then re-create recipes we saw on TV. The desserts were always my favorite.

CM: When did you decide to make it your career? 
AC:
Pastry was the natural choice. It promised creativity, technicality, and, of course, all the sugar and carbs I could eat. I’ve been able to be a sculptor with chocolate, an engineer with gingerbread, a painter with cakes, an author with recipes, and a true chef challenging the palates of customers. My inner five-year-old is amazed that I found a way to become an artist every day by using butter, sugar, and flour as the medium. 

CM: Your desserts are constructions of flavor and design. Where did you learn such technical skills?
AC:
I studied at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte. At the time, they offered an eight-week program with École Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie in Yssingeaux, France. While there, I focused on advanced technique across different areas of pastry, including breads, confections, laminates, and plated desserts. Much of my current style is influenced by the French technique and flavors that I learned. 

CM: You came here from Georgia’s Sea Island Resort, where you were executive pastry chef. Why the move to Charleston? 
AC:
My husband and I have two beautiful little girls, and it was important to us to find a city where we could both have successful careers and enjoy our surroundings. That Goldilocks city for us was Charleston. 

CM:  What’s your favorite dessert at Circa 1886 right now?
AC:
Our buttermilk pie is steeped in history of the Great Depression, when only pantry staples were available to bake with. We garnish it with poached apples, almond cream, and toasted almonds, which give a nuttiness to complement the sweetness. 

CM: What do the holidays look like at Charming Inns vis-à-vis sweets?
AC:
Guests at the Wentworth Mansion will be greeted by a gingerbread house, and holiday truffles and candies will be on their pillows at turndown. Afternoon tea at the John Rutledge House will be replete with peppermint macarons and eggnog cheesecake. And a gingerbread soufflé with salted caramel sauce and cream cheese ice cream will be the crowning glory of the Christmas Carol Dinner at Circa 1886.

CM: What holiday desserts do you make at home?
AC:
My mom’s pecan pie is famous in my family. We have it every Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, I’m excited to bake cookies with my daughters for the first time to leave near our fireplace for Santa. 

Sweet Spot: Get Ashley’s chocolate peppermint Yule log recipe here.